Oh yes I am.

Two things happened last week:

  1. Kasey Keckeisen of Keishoukan Dojo (say that in a hurry) wrote this blog;
  2. I was told I’m not writing about self-defence anymore.

Thinking back at how this blog has been going lately, I was half inclined to agree. I’ve been writing a lot about the self-defence subculture and problems/challenges therein, rather than about self-defence. A lot of the rest of my stuff is more about conflict management, or the management of problem people, or recovery, or whatever is bugging me, than about self-defence. I could excuse myself because I’ve been busy with my side project (shameless book plug, now also on paperback). Kasey’s blog, however, spurred me to try a different approach:

Oh yes I am.

Kasey’s blog is about self-defence. So are the bulk of mine. The problem isn’t with what we’re writing about; it’s with the fact that the term ‘self-defence’ is often taken to have such a narrow meaning as to be almost anti-useful.

Yes, that’s a bold statement; but please, hear me out.


Rory Miller wrote:

“It is better to avoid than to run, better to run than to de-escalate, better to de-escalate than to fight, better to fight than to die.”

I’ve yet to see anyone openly disagree with this statement (if anyone has, please tell me in the comments. I’d be genuinely fascinated to see what they came up with). Yet I’m constantly seeing people, particularly people who’re super-into-self-defence, take on attitudes and behaviours that go totally against it. The push is towards “real” self-defence to deal with “real” violence. I’m cool with that, in principle; I don’t much see the point in training to deal with unreal violence. Unless dragons are involved, because that would be cool. In practice, however, that tends to result in those people focusing only on the fightin’ and the dyin’. Lethal solutions to lethal situations. The rest of the options are either taken as given (mistake), or considered somehow less “real” than fightin’ and dyin’ (bigger mistake).

I appreciate that if you look like someone who’s really good at fightin’ and has no intention to do any dyin’, a lot of issues magically disappear from your life. However, that’s not an option all of us have. As Kasey said, we all have to play the hand we are dealt. That should affect how we train “real” self-defence, because otherwise we’re just wasting our bloody time while risking injuries, but it also affects how important the lower-risk options are for us.

My point of view on self-defence is very distorted. It’s not just because I’m oddly wired and weirdly socialised; it’s because I’m under 5′ tall. Things look different from down here. Most hoomans over the age of 12 are bigger than me. Add a few major injuries and the fact that I somehow failed to die young, and fighting is increasingly looking like an unhappy way to spend my time. That doesn’t mean that I don’t want to learn counter ambush methods; if shit ever hits the fan, I won’t get the option to hand my attacker a medical note and demand that we can work out our issues with a chess game instead. It does mean, however, that I really, really want to pay a lot of attention to the lower-risk options. Not just pay lip service to them: actually spend time and effort in working towards developing the required attributes and skills.

Training in the effective use of force will help me if I ever have to physically defend myself. However, it doesn’t do a great deal to help me get good at avoidance, escaping, and de-escalation. The skills do not transfer down anymore than they transfer up. (A lot of the principles do, which is very, very cool. But a. that’s often not obvious and b. learning principles and not practising their applications may or may not be helpful, particularly in an emergency.)

If I want to learn about avoidance, I have to learn about avoidance. That includes learning to recognise and avoid toxic environments and people, including those involved in self-defence. If I want to learn to run away, I have to run, or at least do some kind of cardio. Oh, and remember to wear the right shoes. If I want to learn to de-escalate, I have to practice de-escalation. If I want to get better at all of the above, I need to do what Kasey said: improve the hand I’m dealt with. I have to try and make sure that I’m running at peak performance: enough sleep, the right food, emotional balance, etc. None of that is in itself self-defence (unless you take the super-broad approach of considering anything that’s likely to improve your life expectancy as SD, but I shan’t push for that). However, all of that improves my ability to self-defend, at all levels of the progression.

That’s my excuse, anyway, and I’m sticking with it.


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