Monday, July 17, 2006

It's A Crime

When the martial arts first arrived in the West, it was given the generic term "Self Defense". This strongly suggests that for all the techniques one learns in a dojo, the ultimate plan is to not fight. Since fighting to many people is synonymous with "streetfighting", these scenarios tend to be avoidable, assuming you're mentally stable. (Of course this is primarily a male issue. When two women duke it out, it's called a "catfight". I've never seen one, but I digress.) The flip side of the coin is being attacked, and for me, this is the realm for study in the martial arts. Tournaments, belt color, and titles fly right out the window when you're about to be mugged, raped, or have some other heinous act done to you. Your intuition just took the night off, and somebody just decided that you would make a convenient victim. There's no time to invoke philosophy, wisdom, or even judgment. You must act now. What do you do?

Action to strike is when the opportunity presents itself. This is a line taken from the ancient text The Bubishi, and it stands opposed to the more modern there is no first strike in karate. Personally, I'm not too comfortable with the latter. Sometimes the only available defense is an offensive tactic (kobo ichi - defense and offense are interchangeable). This strategy makes you crazier and more vicious than the would-be attacker/criminal. I don't want to wait around to see what this nut is going to do; I want to end this thing now. Patience is a virtue, but not on the street. Sometimes you have to out-bad the bad guys.

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Blogger Mathieu said...

Hmmm... I prefer the Bubishi way too.

And as for Des's comment, well... It's taking the words out of the context. I believe that you were talking of a situation when you have to act now. In such a context, I do prefer the Bubishi way.

Of course, in another context as you also mentionned, these scenarios are avoidable, assuming you're mentally stable. That would be where the modern day mantra "No first strike in karate" can be applied.

In our dojo, we're often taught that if a situation like that happens, throw your hands up, screaming something like don't attack, don't attack, pretending to be scared and the moment the opportunity presents itself - presuming you can't do anything else (point of no return), attack. Because yes, your life and your physical integrity depend on that.

In a situation that just Springs to life? Intuition, instincts and reflexes. That's all that comes anyways. I say since the fire cannot be extinguished, let it rip.

10:02 AM  
Blogger John Vesia said...

Des Paroz:
Welcome to my site. Yes, "there is no first attack in karate" was originally intended to have a much broader focus than I described. The whole idea of sen was what I was hoping to convey in my post. Isshinryu's versions of Naihanchi and Chinto begin with blocks (or block/strike - again the line is blurred).
You know, I could have used the title The Point of No Return. I always think of these things later! Thanks for sharing your points.

12:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Many people assume that because I do Kung Fu I would be able to take care of myself if attacked. 'Self-defence' (and I really like what you say about that, as if the goal is not to fight!) is not the primary reason why I chose to do Kung Fu instead of, say, Ballet Dancing. But I think it might give me an edge that, say, Ballet Dancing, might not. I might still go to pieces if (God forbid) I was mugged, etc, but at the very least, I know what it feels like to be punched and I know what it feels like to be thrown on the ground. For many women, just having those things happen to them can shock them into submission. My reflexes are better than they used to be and I think that being fit gives you at the very least, a fighting chance of getting away.

Would I be able to be crazier/more vicious than a would-be attacker? I don't know. I'm not sure I'd strike first (or even at all - shock can rob you of your skill, I think) but I was also taught to act scared until an opportunity to strike presents itself . . . hands in the air, etc. The concept of 'no first strike' is new to me and has certainly given me something to think about, so thanks for that.

I think, in the end, it's hard to say how I'd react in a situation like this, or indeed, how any of us would react. And for me, self-defense, if it happens as a result of my training, is a bonus. But it's not the main reason why I do this wonderful, crazy, at times seemingly impossible, beautiful art.

2:39 PM  
Blogger John Vesia said...

Fear can indeed be paralyzing. A certain amount of rough and tumble sparring usually has a de-sensitizing effect for students; in time, getting banged up a bit is no longer a "shock". The martial arts forges one's spirit like nothing else. (I know a really good "hands in the air" defense against a knife wielder!)

12:13 AM  
Blogger Rick Matz said...

When I was young, I practiced Yoshinkan Aikido, under Kushida Sensei. He taught us that that your attacker's intent was the first strike, and that you should respond appropriately.

6:25 AM  
Blogger Dr. Augustus Dayafter said...

Rick: I couldn't agree with you more. The INTENT is the first strike.

John: Congrats on yet another thought provoking article man. Keep those things coming!

9:58 AM  
Blogger John Vesia said...


Excellent point gentlemen. "Intent" is a very important word in the martial arts. (Sounds like a good topic for a post.)

10:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

When I learned about how to fight off a knife attack, I learned a hands in the air defense as well. You keep them up where the attacker can see them until you see your opening. The way I see it, if someone is threatening you with bodily harm or a weapon, they've already made the first move. It's now my turn to end it.

10:47 AM  
Blogger Charles James said...

I like your interpretation and I have to add that there is a first attack in karate. It may be your change of direction to avoid possible conflict yet that is your first and best attack. Make sense?

3:35 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Patience is a virtue, but not on the street. Sometimes you have to out-bad the bad guys.

Amen to that!

6:40 PM  
Blogger Rick Matz said...

Intent: see the May archive, the May 25th entry over at my place:

That should be a good start for discussing Intent here.

Best Regards,


9:24 PM  
Blogger John Vesia said...

Black Belt Mama:
Right, the threat might as well be a delivered blow. I couldn't agree more.
My first Isshinryu commenter... welcome aboard Mr. James!

We train for conflict, but always hope for the best, however that may arise. What you're describing is go no sen - a defensive initiative. Though not an "attack", it is a concept that is central to some internal styles (especially aikido).
Thanks Windsornot. It's good to hear from you.
OK, I saw that 5/25 post. I'm guessing that Yi Quan (intention boxing) is the same as Hsing I (shing yi). Isshinryu (the style I study) means "One Heart Way" -- I didn't know that shin had the dual meaning of heart/intention. I really like the Eastern definition of intention: The sound of the heart. I believe this is more than just a metaphor. Thanks for the info.

1:17 AM  
Blogger Rick Matz said...

Yi Quan was derived from Xing Yi Quan.

6:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

good strategy however alternatively I was taught that situations are far too unpredictable no matter how skilled we are so the first thing to do is avoid contact or even run, when all else fails then try your best take them out

11:42 PM  
Blogger John Vesia said...

Good point Eddie. You never know what you're coming up against. Everything's unpredictable to some degree. Doing battle is always a last resort. Sometimes the best skill is not having to draw your weapon. Unfortunately, that's not always possible.

12:31 AM  

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