When the average person thinks of self-defense, they think about fighting, physical confrontation, or perhaps a martial art like Karate or Jujitsu. They think of Martial Arts and associate it with physical conflict. But what actually is self-defense? Self-defense is indeed about defending oneself. However, it’s much more than that. There are different types of defenses. True Martial Artists are not fighters, they’re defenders. They don’t fight simply because they have trained. Niseido Jujitsu (2nd Generation Jujitsu or American Jujitsu of Japanese Origin) my Art, is a defensive Art. It’s the Art I’ve studied and taught for the last thirty years. It’s about the Code of Bushido and living life in a decent and peaceful manner with honor and respect.
Self-defense is therefore not about fighting. It should never be about fighting. Self-defense is as much about avoiding conflict as it is physically defending oneself. De-escalation is always preferable to escalation. If I can avoid a conflict by using words, I have exercised the ultimate self-defense technique. It’s my duty to do so, because I understand my capabilities should I be required to defend myself. It may be a difficult concept for some to understand but physically defending oneself should always be the last resort. Morihei Ueshiba, founder of Akido once said, “Master the divine techniques of the Art of Peace and no enemy will dare to challenge you.” It may seem idealistic, but idealism is far better than cynicism. It’s a core belief and why I love the Martial Arts.
Passively avoiding conflict is always preferable to injuring someone. Not to mention that your freedom may be taken from you if not truly an act of self-defense. It’s far easier to injure someone or worse than to walk away. The person who has difficulty walking away from an unnecessary conflict, has much to learn and doesn’t understand the deeper meaning of the Martial Arts. He should therefore not be trained until he’s ready to learn and accept that valuable lesson. It brings to mind Mr. Miyagi asking Daniel why he trains, and Daniel responding, “he trains so he won’t have to fight.”
There is no shame in walking away from an avoidable confrontation, only honor. But let me be very clear so there’s no confusion, if someone poses an immediate, imminent threat and there’s no other option, defending is what needs to be done. Equal and opposite to the potential threat. You can’t kill someone for throwing a punch at you. If someone pulls out a weapon, use whatever force is necessary to eliminate the threat. However, I have witnessed many conflicts over the years that were more about machismo, ego and bravado than about being left no choice. Martial Artist should never purposely put themselves in harm’s way.
There’s a wonderful book called Verbal Judo. It’s about learning what and what not to say. How to engage people through empathy and stopping verbal attacks in their tracks. Ultimately, it’s about diffusing confrontations. Remember, there’s a huge difference between, “give me your wallet or else.” and “why the heck did you just walk into me.” In the first instance, you must make a decision about physically defending or handing over your wallet to end the conflict. In the second instance, an apology, even if not your fault, may end the conflict. It’s never shameful to be the bigger person if it means avoiding a physical confrontation. It doesn’t make one a coward. It’s actually braver than the person who fights for no reason.
Self-defense therefore can be physical or mental, depending on the situation. But one thing that needs to be abundantly clear is that Martial Artists never engage in battle if it can be avoided. There’s a really good measure to determine what those entails. When in a confrontation, think about whether you have more to gain, than to lose. If it means saying I’m sorry, even if not wrong, there’s no shame in that. If it means protecting your significant other or child, then that’s an easy decision. The true Martial Artist trains for battle but always prefers a peaceful resolution.