Expect the Unexpected?

Self DefenceAs a martial arts instructor I am responsible for teaching self-defence techniques that are designed to help people survive dangerous encounters. How do I know they work? Whether or not I have any real life experience of using these skills isn’t necessarily important as there would be something fundamentally wrong in my life if I could honestly say that I have had the opportunity to use all the eclectic moves of Hapkido. All we can do as martial artists is to prepare ourselves as best as possible through our training. However, part of this preparation is the understanding that we simply do not know how we will respond in a real life situation. Will we freeze, will we panic? Until such an event occurs to us personally we do not know. If you have been unfortunate enough to be in a threatening position before your response may not be the same if you were in this position again. Every situation is different and several factors come in to play.

So how do we prepare?

There is a lot of talk in martial arts about repetition – continuously doing a technique over and over. This practice serves to create an automatic response in your brain, a response that from an outside influence (a strike etc) your body reacts instantly without a moments thought. There is a difference though between practice and ‘perfect practice’. Practicing a technique poorly again and again will reinforce a poor technique which obviously has major pitfalls. Perfect practice therefore is perfect technique being repeated over and over, and the type of reinforcement we want. I like to go a step further in my classes with my own thoughts of what perfect practice is and this is to put as much realism as possible into things.

There is a tendency in training to be overly nice with your training partner by striking slow, not at the intended target, leaving it extended, and going down to the ground very easily and so on. This of course maybe necessary in the early stages of study when thought needs to go into things and confidence needs to be built up but certainly one thing I keep talking to my higher grades about is controlled aggression - trying to mimic what an encounter on the streets would be like whilst maintaining control to prevent injury and keeping the respect of your fellow students. This to me is perfect practice.

This training, with perfect practice, isn’t enough by itself. To help you really be prepared for the streets you must train your mind. I am not talking about meditation nor having a sense of enlightenment – just knowing that bad things can and do happen. And when you know this, don’t allow yourself to be confused or shocked when they do.

If you are alone in a notoriously bad area, in the dark and someone approaches you with a knife demanding your bag/wallet then you maybe surprised but you wouldn’t be confused as you understand the motive of your attacker (they want your money) and you know you’re in a bad area. But what if you’re minding you own business stood at the bus stop or walking in the park and someone throws a fist at your face? This is completely senseless and unpremeditated but these type of attacks are becoming more and more common. We hear about them all the time in the news and through social media. In the first scenario, alone in a bad area you would already be alert and prepared for a potential encounter. In your head this is logical and ‘makes sense’. While enjoying a walk in the park you cannot be prepared for an attack, you cannot be on combat high alert all of the time. This would not be healthy.

How do you prepare for the unexpected? You don’t. All you can do is train your mind that not all attacks need to ‘make sense’ and what is logical to you isn’t logical to everyone else.

A fist comes flying towards you at the bus stop. Chances are you see it coming and be aware of it. Your physical reaction will be slowed down by your mental response “what’s happening?”, “why is he trying to hit me?”, “who is he?”. These kind of questions go around in your head in a split second, but it is this response time that affects whether you get hit or not. These questions form because you are reasonable human-being that would never dream of initiating this type of unpremeditated attack. They are all appropriate questions but only after the event. During the encounter they are useless and dangerous - we must learn to cut them out in order to deal with the situation efficiently.

Act now and ask questions later needs to be the attitude in these situations. In a self-defence situation it is irresponsible to think that an attack needs to ‘make sense’ before you offer a response.

Best Preparation.
Train your mind that attacks can happen without prejudice and without reasoning. Repeat your techniques over and over again until they become instinctive. Practice from different positions and from a variety of expected attacks and then practice them from unexpected attacks. This will not only make your response second nature but also develop your own confidence.

An attack may not make sense but your response should.

Matt Fawcett
4th Dan Black Belt.