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.