In keeping with my recent theme about the importance of self defence law in a martial arts program, I would like to expand it and look at the role of ethics in martial arts and self defence.
I often ask new students what would they be willing to do protect themselves and their loved ones and most of the time I get a blank look and then, after a while, they will say “anything.” It sounds like the right answer but it is anything but a considered one.
Most of the training in our dojo is done in pairs with one person “attacking” the other person “defending” against that attack. Something that happens often with new students is that the person “attacking” cannot even throw a straight punch at their partner’s head. They are scared of hitting them so they pull their punches short or veer their punches to the left or right so as not to hit their partner. Many times the same people who claim a willingness to do “anything” to stop an attacker cannot even hit another person.
Talk is famously cheap but what we say, think and feel are often not the same. The people who tell me they would do “anything” to stop an attacker are not lying. They are giving what they “think” they would be willing to do. And when they pull their punches short they are not consciously do so; they are reacting to how they feel about harming someone else and they feel so bad about it that they do not want to do it.
That is a good thing. It means they are normal.
Occasionally, when I ask what people would be prepared to do to defend themselves, I will get the honest answer of “I don’t know.” I like that answer. It is the perfect point from which to start finding out.
And that is the point. You need to work out – honestly – what you would really be willing to do and what your limits are (which means what you are not willing to do) and then work towards training and building the capacity to defend yourself within that framework.
You cannot rely on self-defence techniques or strategies that violate your own ethical standards. Your approach to self-protection must be possible within the realms of what you are actually willing to do. To imagine otherwise is fantasy.
Most people can build the capacity to do what is required to defend themselves and people soon stop pulling their punches and learn to hit people. But with proper instruction this ability comes from a position of healthy self esteem: people realize that they are of worth, that their life is of value and that they are worth protecting. This is an important realization in building self defence abilities.
This essential part of martial arts and self defence training is not a case of people having to abandon their ethics. It is the exact opposite – from a position of self worth and knowing what you are willing and not willing to do, you can learn to stay safe, protect your loved ones and live an ethical life.