What is Self Defense?

What is Self-Defense?

There are as many answers to that question as there are martial arts, martial systems, and people who practice them. Even the term martial art is a bone of contention between many practitioners. Is it an art form like a dance?  Is it pure combat? Is it a sport?  Everyone including me has an opinion about what self-defense is and how it should be taught.  I am often asked what I teach and how it is different from other forms of self-defense. This is becoming a harder and harder question to answer in such a way, that I don’t appear to be demeaning other styles or systems which is certainly not my intention.  Here are a few universal things I have learned over the past decade:  the human body for good or ill works in a specific manner, as a wise man once said, “there is nothing new under the sun”, and keep learning until the moment you die. Self-defense is a complex study of human nature, the psyche, and our individual cultures. So I don’t think there are any easy or simple answers to the question, what is self-defense?  But seeing as, I have devoted my life to the study of self-defense I will endeavor to wade into its murky waters.

Some years ago I was developing a class for women’s self-defense and upon much reflection I came up with my definition of self-defense. To the best of my knowledge it is original to my mind but as already stated nothing is new. Ahem…”self-defense is the ability to remove oneself from a dangerous situation with as little effort and damage to yourself or others as possible”.  So there is our goal.  The next logical question is how we accomplish this task.  Once again the answer is simple; just “develop a set of awareness, assertiveness, verbal confrontational skills with the safety strategies and physical techniques necessary to escape, resist, and survive all attacks.”  (I have to admit I stole that quote.) Okay, so we can start to see that self-defense is multilayered and not as easy as dropping down to the local Y and taking a few Judo classes (judo is great by the way). To get really good at something/ anything it takes time, effort, hard work and study.  This is what the concept of a black belt always meant to me. A black belt does not protect me it’s just a tangible memento to all the time and hard work I devoted to a particular skillset.

My personal path has taken me through wrestling, military combatives, police tactics, Kenpo, Shootfighting, NRA instructor, vintage Jiu-jitsu, boxing, judo, and anything else that catches my fancy. I continue to study, learn, and teach.  This is the true essence of what self-defense is to me not a particular style or doctrine but the culmination of my experiences.  As Musashi said, “the way is in training”. Regardless of style or tool you use for self-defense strive to be not just proficient but excellent.




Jim 10/10/14

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