Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Do You Really Have To Be In Shape In Order To Defend Yourself?

By Matthew Schafer

Copyright 2008, All Rights Reserved

My articles are published in several martial arts publications and they are generally seen as somewhat controversial. I believe that is just because I see things a little differently than most people do in that I tend to focus on the context of martial arts as opposed to the content. The context of the martial arts is simply that someone is trying to cause serious injury or death to you and you intend to prevent them by causing serious injury or death to them first; the content is simply how you get that done. The content of the martial arts include all your punches, kicks, blocks, throws, disarms, and every other technique and weapon in the martial art arsenal, and that is where most people tend to keep their focus.

Tae Kwon Do is a fine example of this; I studied Tae Kwon Do for about 3 years and, despite that I found it to be a lot of fun, I was disappointed in that it was nothing more than a library of kicking techniques and forms. To get my black belt I had to learn so many punches, so many kicks, so many hand techniques, so many stances, so many forms, spar so many people, and break so many boards (and also write so many checks) and voila...I am now a black belt in Tae Kwon Do. In the end I knew a lot of techniques but I still didn't know how to use them. My training had been 100% content (how you get things done) and 0% context (learning how to use violence to cause injuries). By ignoring the context of the martial arts that Tae Kwon Do school that I attended was cranking out black belts that had no idea what the realities of violence and injury are and therefore stand a very poor chance in actually defending themselves from a real attack.

I understand why people don't focus on the context of the martial arts and that is because 1.) people don't understand the context, 2.) people are happy with the content and don't care about the context, and 3.) the context can be damn scary and people don't want to acknowledge it. The content of martial arts is a lot of fun and the reality of the context is not so much, but still is has to be addressed if you ever want to be able to defend yourself. One of the great things about the context is that it is really easy! The content of the martial arts can be very complicated and hard (I never could do a jump spinning hook kick) but the context is causing injuries to people and that is incredibly simple.

Causing injuries to people is so simple that anyone with a fairly functional use of their body can do it. So, here comes the big you have to be in shape in order to defend yourself? The answer is both yes and no and depends on the context of the defense. If I want to step into a ring and compete with someone to find out who is better then I'd better be in shape if I want to win, but if I'm walking down the street and some punk sticks a gun in my face it really doesn't matter what condition I'm in because I’m not going to get into a boxing match with my attacker; so the answer is no you don't have to be in shape.

I understand that that flies in the face of what every single other martial arts instructor will tell you, in fact in a recent issue of Black Belt Magazine noted security expert Kelly McCann, aka Jim Grover, stated, "It's laughable when people who are completely out of shape think they can defend themselves". While I respect his opinion because he is a very competent man, he and the majority of other instructors are focusing on the content and competition. They are in a paradigm where the confrontation starts with two people facing each other in fighting stances but that's called competition.

I've stated this many times before in my articles and in my classes, if you take an honest look at violence, if you look at the data compiled by the FBI, footage of attacks in prison, and security camera footage of real crimes being committed you'll see that no where are fighting stances used. If you are in a competition like a tournament, sparring in a dojo, boxing, mma, or "stepping outside" to see who is tougher then you will most likely start by sparring off in fighting stances; but in an actual instance of criminal violence the criminal is not going to square off with you and duke it out, they are going to walk up to you and just attack, then if things don't go their way they'll most likely run for safety.

If I'm squaring off with somebody and I'm going to attack and defend and he's going to do the same then it would benefit us to be in top condition as the fight may last a minute or even a few depending on our ability and what the rules will allow, but real violence, a real fight, generally lasts less than 10 seconds and the attacker seldom does anything defensive but run away if he gets hurt. An attacker who wants to punch you will just walk up to you and swing and his focus will be on taking you by surprise and injuring you and not on defending himself. A real criminal will stand there and attack you; he won't be in a fighting stance, he won't be bobbing and weaving, he won’t be dancing on his toes, he won't be trying to block your blows or counter you, he'll just be standing there attacking you and he'll run away if he gets scared or hurt.

Real violence is much, much, much simpler than the martial arts make it. If someone is actually attacking you he or she will be wide open the entire time and all you have to do is step in and cause an injury. For example, let's say that a criminal is stalking you and he intends to stab you repeatedly and then rob you. He walks up to you and says, "Excuse me, do you have the time?", so you stop and look down at your watch as gets closer and pulls his knife. Out of the corner of your eye you just happen to see the blade come out of his pocket as you begin to read your watch, so what do you do? Do you step into a fighting stance and try to counter? No, by the time your hands are up you'll have a knife inside you. Instead all you have to do is immediately take a big step into him and punch him in the throat. He's going to be just standing there getting ready to stab you so he'll be completely open, and as soon as you drive your bodyweight into his throat he won't be able to stab you because he'll be traveling backwards from the force of your blow.

Most people, even seasoned military trainers, get competition and actual violence mixed up. If you're going to compete with someone then you better be following a strict diet, doing your pushups, and dong some intensive cardio a few times a week. However, if you are going to injure a criminal who is standing right in front of you completely wide open in an altercation that is going to last 10 seconds or less, then all that exercise really is optional. Some of the best students I've had were overweight or even obese, as they had so much bodyweight they could easily end a confrontation with a single blow.

Now please don't think that I'm trying to say that you can ignore your physical health because being in shape will only benefit you. Also let’s not forget the value of being able to run away from danger when you need to. The only point I'm trying to make with this article is that being in shape is a great thing but if all you want to do is be able to defend yourself then you don't need to run three miles a day.

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