The first thing I tell my students is that you’re only as good as your basics. All of the training, all of the time that you spend learning self-defense will be useless if your basics aren’t strong. That kick you tried to deliver? Worthless if you break your toes. That takedown you tried to execute? Ineffective if you lose your balance.
Practice doesn’t make perfect. Proper practice makes perfect.
The basic for this first lesson is Awareness. This is one of the most important principles to learn and one of the easiest to turn into a powerful habit.
Why is awareness so important? Even if I could plug your brain into the Matrix and instantly have you master five differently styles of self-defense, that knowledge would be worthless without the use of a higher level of awareness.
I won’t go into statistics about your chances of becoming a victim of violent crime. I don’t need to tell you about the people who could’ve survived an attack by simply being aware of it before it happened, nor will I recount the stories of people who were killed because they simply went into catatonic shock and couldn’t respond or escape. I’ll assume that, because you’re reading this, you’ve already acknowledged the need do something -anything- when confronted with an attacker. I’ll also assume that you want to make “doing something” a knee-jerk response to violent confrontations. Good for you! You’re already better off than 9 out of 10 people around you.
Let’s take that further, shall we? Let’s make you “surprise-proof.”
As you can see from the video above, none of those people featured had any awareness of what was going on around them. Let me ask you this: If this were a setting in nature (let’s use the Serengeti), and you were a lion in search of prey, who would be your first dinner choice- the strong gazelle that sees you and runs quickly away, or the unaware gazelle with its head down? Right.
Most bad guys are looking for the easy victim. Unfortunately, about 90% of society makes it easy for the bad guy. To see the extent of this, pick a spot on a busy street and watch people go by. Maybe one out of ten people will notice you watching them. The other nine will have their minds and their attention elsewhere. Easy targets.
On the other hand, usually just your acknowledgement that someone is watching you is enough to make them turn their target elsewhere.
Awareness must not be confused with paranoia or fear. Awareness is about using your senses fully and being completely in the moment. Rather than sticking your head in the sand and thinking that it couldn’t or won’t happen to you, or fearing that it might, teach yourself to be more aware of everything around you. Awareness repels violence, fear attracts it.
One of my favorite Sifus told me, “Make it a point to never let anyone sneak up on you. Keep track of it, and see if you can go an entire month without anyone being able to surprise you.”
This may sound like a simple concept. That’s intentional. Self-defense isn’t about flourish or showboating; dramatic movements are best left to the movies, and to the actors who can pull them off. In reality, most fights end within a few seconds, and they’re usually far from artistic. These simple concepts are often the difference between surviving an attack, and becoming another victim.
Speaking of reality, this would be a good time for a few disclaimers and facts.
-Martial arts are for defense only. Anything you may learn from this section of STAND is intended to be used for self-defense only, and only AS A LAST RESORT.
-When facing someone with the present ability and intent to harm you, do not hesitate to use deadly force. No one has the right to harm you.
-Deadly force is only to be used to stop a fight. Once the fight has stopped, excessive force is illegal and unnecessary.
For this month, I would ask that you pay attention to your surroundings. Stop driving, stop walking, and then finish texting. See what’s down the street while you’re walking with friends. Look to see if there’s anything behind those bushes, or around that corner. Check to see if there’s anyone near or under your car before approaching it in an empty parking lot. Once you open the door, check to see if anyone’s in it. You’ll find that this heightened sense of awareness is empowering. Pair this with good positioning (staying on the safer side of the street, keeping to more crowded areas, avoiding dangerous situations, etc.) and you’ve already won half the battle.
But positioning is the topic of next month’s basic training, dear reader, so I’ll leave you with this:
Practicing higher awareness is tantamount to a daily sparring session toward achieving effective self-defense principles. In the words of Miyamoto Musashi,
“Practice this often.”
Peace, good health and happiness be with you.