In the case of civilian self-protection, our situational awareness and specifically, the way we interact with people is always far more important than the development of physical attributes. Of course, trouble can come your way regardless of how you act, but being a game of 'managing the probability of risk', any good personal safety game-plan would be best served on the basis of one being a decent human being within society.
"When your temper rises, lower your fists. When your fists rise, lower your temper."
Take a look at the following clip, where Tim Larkin reviews footage of two experienced MMA fighters taking a pretty severe beating outside a gas station. In the review, Larkin raises a number of valid points covering the specific context of their skill-base, plus the reality of weapons or multiple opponents. However, the real message that pops out to me is the fact that this whole situation could have been completely avoided had Maiquel Falcao refrained from such anti-social behaviour towards the two ladies. A perfect example of how people skills should always be prioritised over physical skills...
Many civilian interactions that grow to become violent do so due to escalated disputes. Our good old ego certainly has a lot to answer for in terms of getting us into trouble. Therefore, in self-defence, it's important to develop our strength of character in tandem with our ability to physical protect ourselves. The idea is to have a long enough fuse to refrain us from instigating the escalation of violence, but with a large enough explosion to deal with violence should it ever arise or indeed, become necessary.
"Be nice...until it's time...to not be nice!"
The ability to empathise with other people's point of view, whether genuine or not, can go a long way to de-escalate potential problems before they become real threats. Swallowing a little pride or simply choosing to ignore words spoken to anger us can have a profound effect on the outcome. Contrary to popular belief, this shows far greater strength than mindless fighting ever could.
One of the foremost ironies in traditional karate is that practitioners are conditioned to spend many years polishing mind, body and spirit within the 'conduit of combat', whilst incorporating a strong will to refrain from using such skills for real unless absolutely necessary. Whilst this classical disparity brings up other issues surrounding what may or may not be 'effective' in contemporary self-defence and has no doubt caused certain training methodologies to lose potency, the realisation still stands that physical protection against a potential threat is best avoided, than managed.
"A demon’s hand, a saint’s heart."
Traditional karate has always incorporated into its physical teachings, the development of a virtuous character. Often mystified and revered against a lifetime of training, I agree that although the character may be polished through a martial arts journey, I think it first requires the framework of a decent human being as a solid foundation to build upon. Thus, transmitting any form of combat training to individuals with malicious or dishonest tendencies would be foolhardy. I always remember a few years back asking a local MMA practitioner why he trained. He told me that it was so he could enter no holds barred competitions and beat people up without getting arrested! A perfect example of combat skills being taught to the wrong kind of person.
"A true martial artist is one who's smile will warm the hearts of little children, and who's anger will make tigers cower in fear."
This above is probably one of the main reasons why old teachers of karate used to subject hopeful students with some menial tasks to test their character before accepting them. It is also why the monotonous repetition of basic techniques serves so well to not only build a solid foundation, but also to reveal any chinks and help weed out those individuals who may have insincere reasons for training.
Any good self-defence strategy should always prioritise people skills over physical skills, soft skills over hard skills and avoidance over situational control. Undoubtedly, trouble may one day find you and your physical skill-set may indeed be necessary but until then, personal protection is best served first with a smile :-)
Thanks for reading and best wishes,
Chris Denwood has been studying martial arts since childhood and specialises in the practical application of karate's traditional principles for civilian self-defence, personal development, life integration and discovery.