Self-defence arts and combative sports - there is a difference

samurai-with-spearOnce-upon-a-time, in our earlier pioneering days - when life was genuinely tough - social groupings of humans were small and scattered fairly scantily over a wide geographic area, particularly in rural or frontier territory. To survive the unpredictable ravages of nature, unexpected attacks by hungry four-legged predators, and surprise ambushes from opposing bands of violent opportunists, humans needed a strong spirit of self-sufficiency, and a health dose of independence and courage, supported by sound physical and mental strength.

Against this background, particularly in the Middle and Far East and especially in China, carefully structured civilian self-defence arts evolved out of the contemporary martial arts of the various warrior groups. These highly effective methods of personal protection became the reserve of the civilian populace who were largely unarmed except for ready access to common handheld home or farm implements, ranging from knives to staves, and even to makeshift spears.

From these early days, society has historically been divided into two distinct groups: The warrior generals with their supporting soldiers or troops, and the general populace. Their norms of conflict management or resolution were patently very different, essentially determined by the nature and function of their unrelated roles.

Essentially, the warriors' role as professional combatants was to kill; with the attendant acceptance that death was to be a constant companion. Incentives, in the forms of remuneration or pillage, were the rewards for their dangerous duties. The outcome was the development of a range of formal martial arts (arts of the professional armed warrior - arts of battle and warfare).

In turn, the scattered general populace sought to acquire the technical skills that would stand them in good stead when their lives were threatened by assailants who could be lightly armed, drunk or drugged miscreants, or even well armed militants on one of many frequent rogue insurgencies. In many cases, it would have been to the detriment of the peace-seeking general populace to have killed or seriously injured such assailants; official reaction to such events was often swift, ruthless, and disproportionate - even to the extent of destroying entire villages.

The outcome was the development of an array of civilian self-defence arts - skills very different in function and construct from the martial arts of the warrior classes.

Our modern era, particularly in the developed countries around the world, has seen a marked decline (near extinction) of these carefully designed civilian defence arts as the likelihood of personal, violent confrontation decreases as a proportion of the swelling civilised population numbers. The tightening of laws, legislated with the intent to minimise inter-human assault and injury, have simultaneously inhibited the vigorous responses of innocent victims determined to protect their lives, property, and principles of good citizenship. In many cases, the associated outcome has been the generation of attitudes of learned helplessness.

A societal counterbalance, which provided a legally accepted outlet for human beings' inherently aggressive nature, presented itself in the development of combative sports. These mutually agreed-to confrontations, included forms such as boxing, wrestling, fencing - and from the East, activities such as karate, judo, wushu, kungfu - with some of them even featuring at Olympic Games level.

The outcome? The emergence of the problem of competing functions and forms. Although some of these modern sports are derivatives of original Eastern civilian self-defence arts, their modern recreational and competitive intents have changed their original forms sufficiently as to render them largely ineffectual against determined, armed aggressors.

While the probability of a particular individual in developed societies being seriously assaulted now-a-days has decreased over recent centuries, the threat still exists. Certainly, with alcohol perceived as the socially accepted panacea for all things stress related, the incidents of unruly behaviour, and familial and social bullying is sufficiently prevalent that many individuals want to know how to defend themselves in an appropriate and effective manner without having to resort to violent responses. They also recognise the need for the confident mind set and skills of being able to incapacitate, if necessary, a determined assailant who is intent on inflicting serious harm.

Yes, the skills acquired by many of our modern combative sportspersons can be used for self-defence purposes, in much the same way that any of our national level cricketers could execute a well-placed blow with a cricket bat (should one be at hand at the moment of confrontation), or rugby player deliver a crushing tackle (provided the assailant was not wielding a broken bottle or knife at the time). But the truth is that none of these combative sport derivatives were, or are, designed for self-defence against multiple, armed aggressors.

They are sports, games of combat. They are circumscribed by too many rules (even MMA) so as to ensure they stay within the ambits of the law, but this renders them of limited effectiveness on the street.

So what can a person do if they want to learn a genuine form of self-defence training? The answer is simple even if the solution is difficult to source.

One needs to look for one of the older (and rarer) civilian self-defence arts. The older arts, founded in response to an infinite array of the expressions of human aggression and violence, developed over time, very comprehensive systems to deal with scenarios where the assailant(s) were armed or unarmed, inclined to merely dominate and bully, or intent to maim and kill.

The traditional defensive arts were perfectly integrated systems of physical and mental responses that could be called upon whatever the situation required. Moreover, women and men of all ages could apply these responses equally as effectively even though they might well not be in robust physical condition.

With the recreational popularisation and commercialisation of these original Eastern self-defence arts the wide range of their skills began to disintegrate into specialist factions, such as grappling sports (e.g. jujutsu, judo, aikido,) and percussive sports (e.g. karate, kungfu), and even further into almost exclusively kicking percussive sports (e.g. taekwondo). In the process, their specialist natures, particularly in the sport of karate, soon evoked doubts as to their effectiveness and veracity as ‘arts of self-defence’. This soon led to the development of full-contact karate, onto kickboxing, Brazilian jujutsu (in reality, old form judo), cage-fighting, ground and pound, no-holds barred, to the current MMA vogue – in an effort to regain a semblance of reality combat.

The latter, and latest combat sport begs a couple of observations: The name is inappropriate, as it does not contain any 'martial arts' (arts of war - the professional armed warrior), and secondly, by stating it is a 'mixture' (of percussive and grappling skills) it infers a search for some synchronous whole that would improve upon the under-qualifying characteristics of each of its assorted components.

Leaving the dubious 'sport' nature of this activity aside (sport = participants' entertainment = beating the living daylights out of another human-being in the pursuit of pleasure??), the question is begged - for the purposes of effective self-defence why is there a need to search for or to recreate anything? The traditional self-defence systems that had evolved from numerous generations of trial, error, and testing - they were already, the effective integration of all appropriate physical and mental skills and attitudes.

In this context, we need to draw a clear distinction between self-defence arts and combative sports, and reject the latters' claims that they also provide the appropriate training for use in potentially life-threatening situations - the two functions do not, and cannot co-exist. Their required mind-sets, skills, and goals are completely different. Furthermore, both cannot be simultaneously implanted into one’s subconscious with the hope (or belief) that the appropriate response can be relied upon to intuitively express itself on a reflexive demand. That is not the way the human brain functions.

So from the outset, a person needs to decide whether they want to learn an art of self-defence or a combative sport.

The former is an art - it will take much personalised, specialist training, and extensive involvement under the guidance of a highly qualified and extensively experienced instructor to acquire the skills and mind-set needed to adequately manage the extremely diverse nature and range of human-conflict. From an inebriated friend who is getting out of hand and whom you want to bring under control, for their own wellbeing, in a manner that does not hurt or injure them in anyway - to a drugged maniac who is threatening the life of your child, and whom you need to incapacitate instantaneously while ensuring your child’s safety.

On the other hand, the combative sports are a great way to learn how to rumble, to physically engage, and manage many a one-on-one situation, but they are not designed to resolve the array of life-on-the-line scenarios. Any organisation that propounds self-defence functionality while teaching an activity that involves any form of competitive involvement should be avoided. Unfortunately, such inappropriate marketing bears the hallmark of ignorance or an intentional catchall publicity strategy.


07 April 2013, 09:34
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