Self Defence v Self Improvement

Everyone who’s followed CSP for any length of time will know that we place a huge emphasis on the personal benefits that Martial Arts Study can bring, as well as the actual physical “throw the attacker over your shoulder” benefits.

In fact, I’ve often been heard to say how I fully believe that the Real self defence skills you learn in our training, and from others like us, should ultimately be a by-product of the study, and not the primary objective. After all, if your mission is to avoid physical confrontation and remain aware in order to prevent such situations from arising or escalating, then we’re ultimately training for an event that we intend never to happen. And even, on the rare occasion that it does happen, we’d like to think our training has resulted in the conflict being over very quickly. Which means we’re spending an awful lot of time on the mat, training for something that we intend never to have to use for real.

Now I am also fully aware that I don’t intend on crashing my car any time soon, but I still pay for the absolute best insurance policy I can afford, such that I am as well protected as I can possibly be, should this unfortunate, and hopefully, rare event happen.

So that does mean you should be prepared to invest a lot of your time, on top quality instruction and on concepts and techniques that are functional and applicable for street based attacks – but as I said, I don’t believe this should be the sole purpose, nor the primary purpose of your training.

Another article I read recently has triggered my thought in this area, because, the author stated how their own Self Improvement was being impaired by their Self Defence mechanisms.

Things such as, not listening and acting on well constructed criticism, but instead, immediately going on the defensive and finding justifications or excuses in order to somehow protect themselves from the attack of negative comment.

Where in fact, changing their approach to being more vulnerable and listening to the comments, would have given them some sound advice on which to base change and improve who they are as a person.

When I look to my own training, and the wonderful people and instructors I now train with/alongside/under, it’s no coincidence that, the way we learn and the way we progress most quickly, is when we are having our mistakes highlighted in a constructive way.

Guro Terry Barnett introducing the awesome Paul Hill to the rest of the group

I then move forwards and do my best not to repeat the exposed mistakes….. well, for at least a few minutes anyway 🙂

The same can be said for when I, or any of my training partners offer each other advice.

We do this regardless of mutual levels of experience or background.

What we don’t do is immediately throw up our defences, or worst still, go on the attack, when we come under this critique. Which WOULD, however, be my suggestion if you were to come under physical attack in a confrontational situation on the street.

So this here is the conflict between good personal security against physical attack, and self improvement.

Survival Training

A typical training drill we perform is what we call “Survival Drills”. These are intended to teach a whole host of attributes, such as:-

Having faith in your guard.

Trusting your structure and defence mechanisms.

Ensuring your defend proactively and not just cower away in a foetal ball.

etc, etc

The drill is quite simple.

  • You stand in a restricted position – perhaps with your back to a wall, or on the floor, or between some solid objects.
  • You put up your guard.
  • You then ask your partner to punch, kick and throw any strikes at you.

The aim is Not for your partner to beat you up – but it is most definitely to put you under severe pressure. This forces you to cover and defend effectively, because if you don’t, it will hurt.

But the primary aim of this drill is to encourage you to maintain a good awareness of your attacker whilst the flurry of strikes and blows are coming towards you.

During my early days in martial arts and boxing, I was taught how to keep my eyes open, even when punches are being thrown at my face. It’s something that has never left me – much to the intrigue of Lou, who continually tries to surprise me by flicking things at me to see if I blink.

The reason for learning this is to ensure that, when punches are heading in my direction, I don’t flinch, blink, or turn away. This gives me more opportunity to assess the attack, find gaps in my attackers own defences and exploit these gaps and openings when they momentarily appear.

It also gives me a better chance of defending more safely, by riding punches, bobbing and weaving, slipping and covering, etc.

Normally, in this drill, the defender is instructed not to fight back – instead, to simply trust their own defences and guard. But when we do give them the opportunity to counter attack – it highlights even more the importance of maintaining a good visual awareness throughout the entire drill.

So, if we take this drill as an analogy for someone throwing constructive critique, then the only way we can really understand, digest, respond and maybe even counter attack, is if we have the faith in our own structure. Have confidence in our own inner strength and mental hardiness, and are prepared to lets these “attacks” come in, under our full observation.

Not, as some might do, and immediately overtalk, shout-down, ignore, argue, force their own opinion – as these will simply be wild shots in the dark with your eyes closed – hitting and hoping.

“We need very strong ears to hear ourselves judged frankly, and because there are few who can endure frank criticism without being stung by it, those who venture to criticize us perform a remarkable act of friendship, for to undertake to wound or offe”
Michel de Montaigne

As an illustration, how many times have you offered someone advice, only to be stopped half way through your suggestions with their retorts of “well I believe this”, or “well I know this to be the truth”, or “what do you know”, etc etc??

So – the Martial Arts Training, if done well, actually teaches us how to change our Self Protection strategy, in order that we can move forwards and grow in a self-development scenario.

The challenge now, as with all aspects of our training, is to transfer that skill into all other areas of our lives.

I don’t think this means we should leave ourselves open and vulnerable to vicious attack and criticism from anyone who feels like abusing us verbally or emotionally.

But rather like when we are defending in sparring – we don’t simply lash out or cover up into a ball – we remain guarded, with our hands held up for protection – but with our eyes open and focused on our attacker in order to see and process the attacks that are heading our way. By seeing the attacks we can deal with them in whatever way we feel is best

So, outside of the dojo, we should be prepared to let the criticism come in, listen to it, process it, and act on it accordingly.

After all. If I was to put myself onto the “Britian’s Got Talent” stage, and sing at the top of my voice. There’s no point in my listing to Simon Cowell if he says I’m great – but yet slagging him off for “not knowing what he’s on about” if he thinks I’m useless.

The message here is to stay safe – but don’t become so guarded and over protective that your reactionary self protection mechanism actually prevents you from self-improving.

Stay Safe and Have Fun

Al x

One comment

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