Self Defence and Over Confidence

Some years ago, I saw an article on the local news showing some girls being schooled in martial arts, Karate in this case, in order to defend themselves from disreputable men (no jokes about tautologies please). It was interesting to note that many felt after about an hour that they were suddenly capable of fending off any male attacker. In particular, and I’ve heard this view expressed by many female non martial artists, it was put forward that a swift kick between the legs would solve all problems.

Now men have exercised undue dominance in world affairs for many thousands of years, and certainly this is true in the military arena. For all that time the basic design has been the same regarding external placement of genitals, and yet the “swift kick between the legs” did not bring about a fundamental change in gender balance. In other words, it’s often not just as simple to obtain victory by that means. If you’re a woman, you shouldn’t count on that being your winning strategy. If it were really that simple there would be much less tragic history of men’s ill treatment of women.

It was interesting then to read about a current scheme in India for training sex workers to defend themselves with Karate. I’m not against any of these schemes, and at least this seems to spend some substantial quantity of time in a training programme. Still, from the article we see:

“I think I can easily handle one man at any given time. I face physical abuse on a daily basis and have been abused and been beaten up by my clients many times.”

“A thug once stripped me of my clothes and told me to run naked. From now on, I think nobody can do that to me. I will kick him.”

Right. Where I have concerns is that, to quote the great Harry Callahan: “A man’s got to know his limitations”, and nowadays that should probably be amended to “person”. I have spent several thousand hours training in dojos with all sorts of folks of all backgrounds, shapes, sizes and available genders. Over this time I’ve trained with people who’ve studied many different martial arts. I would never make such a sweeping statement, and I’m a six foot tall male (ape descendant). You never know what the other guy/girl knows, has as a weapon, and so on. Complacency and overconfidence are dangerous. Self esteem is great, but believing that you just have to kick an assailant once to resolve the issue may well be wishful thinking.

In the Book of Five Rings (Go Rin No Sho) the legendary Miyamoto Musashi warns the reader that when a person has no training, they at least act naturally, without hesitation, for good or for ill. Once you set down the pathway of a fighting art, your goal is to learn new reflexes that become your automatic reactions, but initially, the result can be quite negative, since conscious thought is required, and can cause the novice to “freeze” under pressure. Dabbling in martial arts may be much less effective that people believe.

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