Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Nimr Hassan on self-defense

Photo courtesy of Nimr Hassan
Several months ago I got to attend a conference with a lot of very high-level speakers and demonstrators, and I heard several very interesting martial arts lectures. The best in show by far, from my point of view, was Nimr Hassan's aikido lesson.
Hassan started out by calling six or eight demonstrators from the audience and pairing them up. There were karate guys, MMA guys, and ROSS combatives guys in the group. He showed them the attack that he wanted to work on defending - a jab-cross, the likes of which you might see on the street. He showed the principle evasion that he wanted to work on - fading back to the inside with a parry to the attacking arm. Then he asked each demonstrator to show a defence or two representative of whatever style they practiced. They were to evade the jab-cross, parry like he showed, then follow up with whatever they liked - whatever they practiced a lot. The demonstrators were a flurry of throat punching, spine-elbowing, head twisting, eye gouging fury. I started to get sick to my stomach at the display of unconstrained violence. I almost walked out but I'm glad I didn't
Then Hassan asked the demonstrators to show their responses in slow motion as the crowd analyzed the likely consequences of each strike. Virtually all the strikes would have reasonably been considered lethal force. The demonstrators all chose to demonstrate deadly force as a response to a jab-cross. Hassan asked how many demonstrators were law enforcement or military. None. Then he asked how many people in the audience were law enforcement or military. One or two out of a few dozen.
I thought Hassan's summary of this demonstration was especially interesting - These demonstrators, being normal civilians and not law enforcement or military, were not sanctioned by society to use deadly force, but they had all trained to the extent that their first choice was to respond with deadly force. Hassan's summary: These guys were all training to get themselves thrown into prison. These guys needed to work on learning some real self-defense - something with which they could defend themselves against themselves.
Sure, there are instances in which civilians are justified in the use of lethal force against an attacker, but I thought Hassan's point was good and his demonstration of that point was superb. What do y'all think? What level of force do you train to immediately respond with? Might you be a candidate for some real self-defense training?
Subscribe now for free updates from the Mokuren Dojo blog


  1. Wow, that totally blew my mind. Very true - and I'm assuming these guys weren't drunk or doped up when they demonstrated their counter-attacks, either. Add some chemicals into the mix and the only one who's going to benefit from such a scenario is somebody's lawyer.

    I like what you said about witnessing the violence. I was personally recently diagnosed with OCD, and I have learned that much of my diligent and violent martial arts training came from me acknowledging that some of the "scenarios" my mind came up with could indeed happen at any moment - being attacked by a gang, in an elevator, etc. But this is what OCD is - unwanted thoughts that barge into your head. I was juggling violent thoughts around in my mind all day, so it's no wonder I turned to the martial arts to play out all those scenarios.

    Now that I know how much my mind loves to make up those scenarios, as a sort of therapy I've dialed back my pace and picked up some more peaceful training styles. I just wonder how many there are out there like me, who have gotten way too far into the violence without realizing they're mostly responding to a mental glitch. :-/

    Thanks for your post.

  2. Taika Seiyu Oyata has been quoted as saying that there are always two fights: one with fists, and one with the other guy's lawyer.

    My own teacher's approach has always been to do what you need to do to get home alive and unharmed, but to leave it at that.

  3. Excellent story.

    We train a spectrum of responses starting with evade/escape, then run like hell; up to potentially deadly force. We also practice our self-defence wherein we aim to "control" before (optionally) "finishing".

    Of course it takes more skill to control or subdue than to break into small bits.

  4. I have been training with Matl Sensei lately. Not only is he teaching ethics, but he is teaching people to be conscience of what witnesses perceive in self defense - to help the lawyer side of the self defense.

    Yes indeed self defense is not kill kill kill

    I am deeply in love with Wing Chun kung fu, but I feel like it's responses are often too violent.

    When I was 20 I almost got into a fight. I was ready to tear this guy apart - like I had been trained, over a really stupid confrontation. The switch over to Aikido really helped cool my young man hot head down.

    Aiki is a physical embodiment of philosophy. Train in its drills enough and you can retrain the violent tendencies out.

  5. That's a profound demonstration - I wish I could have seen it in person.

    I've often had similar thoughts. Martial artists talk so much about the "harsh realities of the street," that you'd think we were all walking around with targets on our heads. To be honest, protection from life-threatening attack is statistically much less likely for a normal person. We're more apt to get hurt in a traffic accident.

    The thing about the whole self-defense spiel is that most people selling it try to push the notion that it is a no-rules encounter. But nothing could be further from the truth - in a society of humans there are always rules. Rules of social contract, rules of local custom, and rules of law. Breaking any of those rules (even when you are threatened or scared) is going to have consequences.

    Part of training a martial art (IMO) is learning to master our own reactions to events that occur. If we can't determine the appropriate level of force with which to respond in a physical encounter, what does that say about about abilities to respond well in other situations?

  6. Great post, emphasises the need for control and restraint when training in martial arts.

    While I train in karate and most of what I've been taught thus far has been focus on striking techniques, control is an important part of what I've learned to date. I've also been quite fortunate, as the real-world consequences of our actions from a legal perspective are often brought up and discussed in class by our instructors. While they acknowledge the reality of a confrontation on the street, they temper this with a reality-check, encouraging us to use minimum force to maximum effect.

  7. Good post. There is a need to address this point in every dojo/gym. A lot of people are taught how to defend themselves using the most lethal of techniques when not really neccasery.

  8. Excellent post.

    Wouldn't it have been great if one of the guys in the demonstration just dodged the jab-cross and ran off! It's easy to forget that this is probably one of the best strategies, though not one that's practiced very often in the dojo.

  9. good points but ... the way the story goes, it sounds like quite a set-up, like hassan wanted to see what the "deadly martial arts" could do, and that's apparently what he got.

    more a story of stupidity of ego in martial arts demonstrations than on what may or may not be appropriate - I don't think most of us would know at the time and may not know afterwards

  10. You asked what levels of deadly force do we practice. I tried envisioning a scenario where I'd just run away (very easy). Then I tried imagining one where I'd use Aikido to kill someone (very hard). When I was in the military we talked a LOT about Deadly Force and escalation of force. I honestly can't think of a time when I think attempted deadly force would ever be used by me. Even if someone was trying to kill me, I might gouge out their eyes or strike the chin instead of face, but if I ever was in a fight even with someone attempting to kill me, and I used Aikido on them...I'd break their arms and legs and slam them on the ground. None of those would be an attempt to kill or do lifelong injury, just disabling limbs is the max I can imagine going. I always thought if I was training against a life threatening situation, then I should know enough to not take theirs. Aikido suits my philosophy just fine :)

  11. Great post and he's totally right. Lots of overkill out there. In my school, I like to teach variations on a sliding scale of violence.
    The same move but in a different context and with a different goal in mind:
    - To knock the other guy out.
    - To knock him to the floor.
    - To give him some pain so he reconsiders his options.
    - To push him out of your way so you can run.
    - To blast through him so you can run.

    Most students seem to get the implications but I often explain what the context in which to use specific techniques. As with everything, it's work in progress.

  12. I really like John Wood's comment. Broken joints should be enough. "Deadly" seems really inappropriate in most cases if you can actually break elbows and legs, as does blindness causing eye-gouging, permanent damage, attacking the neck, etc.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...