The Martial Artist in Violent Situations

Why do we choose to learn self-defense? For many, the choice is based on the knowledge that bad things happen to good people. Take last week in France, for example. A gunman emerges from a bathroom on a train with a rifle over his shoulder, intent on violence. The passengers on the train were not armed, not at all prepared for what would have happened if the gunman had succeeded. Many, many good people could have been injured or killed, were it not for the actions of a few heroic individuals.

Violence robs us of our sense of security, our freedom from fear. The goal of terrorism is to incapacitate using fear as a weapon. The word terror, in one of its earliest recorded uses, describes a fear “so great as to overwhelm the mind.” And once our minds are overwhelmed, our bodies follow suit. Self-defense is one tool we can use to stay active and vigilant in situations involving fear and violence.

Even in situations of lesser scale, we can be incapacitated by our fears. We see something happening that should be stopped, yet we ignore it and hope that someone else gets involved. School bullies often rely on this bystander effect. But what if, on a daily basis, we were more self-confidant, more prepared to face unexpected events? It is no secret that a practice of martial arts instills these things, and more. An understanding and respect for of the value of all human life, self-integrity, and a personal ethics that does not leave room for by-standing are hallmarks of the martial artist, as well as many others.

Those who were able to subdue the gunman on the French train were not bystanders. They understood the situation and chose action over inaction. Not all of us are physically able to take action, but those with training in self-defense and martial arts are mentally prepared to adapt to situations of uncertainty because they are certain of themselves and their own values. This is probably the greatest benefit that training in self-defense offers: a higher degree of self-confidence and courage.

Martial Arts for Women: Where to Begin?

If you’re a woman and looking into martial arts, chances are you’re interested in self-defense and a good workout. Good for you. So where do you go? How do you choose which martial art to begin with? How do you choose an instructor? And what can you expect when you start? All good questions. Let’s get some answers.

Fortunately for women, the martial arts in Western culture have expanded in their acceptance of women in the arts. It’s very common for women to participate in all forms of martial arts, including previously male-dominated arts like Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Most instructors are males, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get an instructor who knows how to train women (and there are some differences!). Check out studios before you decide which to join: sit in on a class and observe the instructor. Look for respect in the students (means the instructor deserves it), and look for patience and expertise in the instructor. If there are already women in the class, chances are you’ve found a good one.

When you are choosing which martial art you want to practice, you really need to ask yourself a hard question: why am I really doing this? If your answer is that you want a demanding workout to be in absolutely the best shape of your life, you may want to consider a different path. Martial arts are much, much more than just a physical expression of strength and physical control. The arts are about self-discipline, understanding an opponent, building your own character, and becoming a better person. If those things fall somewhere on your list of why you might want to do martial arts, then keep reading.

Self-defense is an honorable reason to learn martial arts. Hopefully (and this is true for the majority of those who practice), you’ll never need the techniques you learn in class. But having the knowledge and ability to execute a self-defense move that could save your life or someone else’s instills a level of self-confidence you just can’t get from a cross-fit class.

So you’re committed to doing this. Now you have to decide which art to focus on, at least in the beginning. Not sure you want to be thrown around just yet? Consider starting with something like Tae Kwon Do, Wing Chun kung fu, or Aikido. You’ll learn self-defense, self-discipline, and how to diffuse negative physical energy coming at you. And what’s really cool is that Wing Chun kung fu was named after the young woman who used it to get rid of a marriage proposal she didn’t like! Try one of these styles of martial arts for a challenging entry into the practice.

Of course, if you want to get right into the hard-core fighting, you have plenty of options. We already mentioned BJJ, but there’s also Muay Thai kickboxing (there’s your workout). You’ll want to make sure your instructors are certified, as there are many out there who teach combinations involving kickboxing and grappling without staying true to BJJ or Muay Thai.

Your options are limited only by your own desires. Choose an instructor, choose an art, and become the martial artist you dream of being.

Life Lessons from Martial Arts

Many people are attracted to martial arts because of the self-defense aspect, but many more learn that there are greater lessons to be learned from the arts than how to avoid or deflect a physical attack. Even if you go through training and a whole lifetime of never needing to use martial arts in self-defense, you will inevitably come out a better person. Continue reading Life Lessons from Martial Arts