Friday, September 15, 2006

No guarantees, no insurance

There are no guarantees, and can be no guarantees in this life. Any instructor that tells you in unqualified statements that you can insure yourself against armed, violent people is a liar or a fool. Any martial artist that is not at least a little discomforted by violence like this is either a fool or is dishonest.
Despite this, dojos (including mine) advertise as self-protection and many people who take martial arts classes in the United States are concerned with issues related to self-defense (see this article). In pretty much all aikido classes in the world, at least some of the practice involves taking knives and swords away from violent people. In jodo we practice using a stick to defend against a sword-wielding person. The self-defense kata in judo involve disarming violent people armed with sticks, swords, knives, and even guns! Is this really inconsistent or what? Are we all charlatans?
Well, while there are no guarantees and no insurance, there are some principles that can improve your chances of surviving armed violence. Numerous instances have demonstrated in violent street situations that these principles affect the likelihood of survival:
  1. Attacks are probabilistic events – nothing is certain. Good weapons are terrible things but people are remarkably resilient. I have personally seen people who have survived being stabbed through the heart or having their aorta burst.
  2. Everyone has potential to be dangerous – even the defender. It is not unheard of for an attacker fall on his own weapon. The smallest, weakest defender in the world can still put a finger in an attacker’s eye.
  3. Make use of defenses that you can put into effect and then forget – locks, security systems, etc… They are not foolproof but they rarely hurt.
  4. Think carefully about how you live your life. While you have the right to go to a rough bar or a bad neighborhood, do you HAVE to exercise that right?
  5. Be aware of your surroundings. Be in the present and connect with people around you (metsuke, ki musubi, zanshin). Attackers favor weakened, distracted prey.
  6. Try to stay away from violent people (ma-ai, taisabaki). If they can’t reach you it's harder to kill you.
  7. Get out of the way of violent people and move toward safety (tai sabaki, shikaku). Knives only cut with 1-2 surfaces. Guns almost never kill the person behind them or beside them. Elbows only work in one direction and the person standing behind the attacker is harder to kill.
  8. Get in synch and move with the violent person (shikaku). If he can’t turn to face you, you’re harder to kill.
  9. Don’t fight with violent people – control or injure them enough to disengage and move to safety. Fighting is about winning but survival is about surviving.
  10. Don’t grapple with violent people – evade, disengage, and flee.

This list contains only ten principles out of many that are internalized over the course of a lifetime of martial arts study. Suppose that each of these principles only improves your chances by 10%. That is, the attacker has a 90% chance of killing you rather than 100%. These principles combined would produce a .9 to the 10th power chance of being killed. Thus, a 100% certainty (which really doesn’t exist anyway) is reduced to about 33%. Anything that has the conservative potential of reducing a near certainty of death to a 1-in-3 chance is worth exploring. Particularly with the fact that most Americans will not be a victim of violence three times in their life anyway.

But keep in mind…there are no guarantees and no such thing as insurance in this life!

1 comment:

  1. It's definitely the "who had their Wheaties that morning" scenario, as I like to say. Anybody, including those with no training, has some chance of taking out another person, with or without training, with or without a weapon. There's an unlimited number of factors that play into who "wins" or, more importantly, survives.

    As long as we, the teachers of any martial art, are honest about what we are offering (essentially, a better fighting chance), then we adhere to the tenets of Aikido (choosing the highest ethical response probable).


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