By Hakeem Alexander
(Exercising Your Mind) To say that being physically fit is all that you need to defend yourself and leave it at that would be misleading. Many of us have heard stories of very fit people jogging alone at night being overwhelmed by attackers, regardless of their high performance capacity for exercise. Healthy Living is a great place to start, but much more is required to be as effective as you can. There is a lot of work to do if you want to perform at the positive extremes of your personal, innate potential.
There are many definitions of Self-Defense. I will define it here as I have used and understand it from my literal “hands-on” and sometimes feet on experience. Self-Defense is a specific application of Martial Art to protect oneself and/or others from unprovoked, dangerous or otherwise unwanted aggression or advances. In essence, the following material will be about the mind-set required to effectively defend yourself and the importance of sparring.
Let us be clear about another definition. Martial Arts were mainly developed during times of crises, conflict and war. The word Martial translates to of or pertaining to war. And as we all should know, war is a brutal, violent theater of conflict, killing and death. Art is just another way of saying skill. So Martial Art is really the skills or ability to prevail through brutal and violent conflict that may result in serious injury and death. This is precisely the reason why we should never desire to engage in this type of activity. But having the knowledge and conditioning to prevail should this occur is very empowering and confidence building.
It has to be intellectually as well as emotionally and physically understood that there is a big difference between being healthy and fit and being able to defend oneself. In fact, there are many unhealthy and unfit people who can effectively defend themselves. However, the more physically fit or athletic you are, the transition of your athletic ability to fighting techniques becomes a whole lot simpler to adopt and adapt to your Self-Defense needs and desires.
While shadowboxing and using striking equipment like punching-bags and focus-mitts is a very good start to training, you will need to spar with non-compliant partners and opponents in order to bring your strengths and weaknesses into the light of conscious observation and analysis. In sparring you will experience the unpleasantness of being hit and learning how to avoid being hit. You will also learn how difficult and frustrating it is to strike or get a hold of another person in order score an effective blow to be confident in your Self-Defense capabilities.
One of the things I have learned from continually being certified by the American Red Cross for the past 13 years is the idea of being prepared. I am glad to have the life-saving skills of CPR, First-Aid and the knowledge of using an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) and not having to use it. I can imagine it would be somewhat frustrating if I did need to help someone and did not have the skills to do so. In fact, there have been a few occasions where I was the only person on the scene of a devastating car accident and another time a “strong-arm robbery” who proceeded to give care to the victims, most probably because I was the only person trained, and therefore confident enough to do so.
[Q] How does this mind-set apply to Self-Defense?
[A] Being prepared of course!
First you must build up a basic arsenal of fundamental strikes such as the straight punches known as jab and cross; the looping punches known as hooks; and the arcs called uppercuts as well as front kicks, side kicks, and roundhouse kicks.
Second, you have to persistently practice them so that you develop a reasonable amount of strength and cardiovascular conditioning so you can effectively apply them without being distracted by fatigue.
Third, you must gain a reasonable amount of control so that you can not only accurately place your strikes on target, but also so that you do not foul your training partner excessively by poking them in the eye or hitting them in other sensitive areas that should only be struck in real street fighting and Self-Defense situations.
Then, as soon as possible, which means you and your partner are comfortable, you should begin sparring to put all of the skills and condition you have earned together into a functional personal defense system. It does not matter if you are training in boxing, wrestling, capoeira, kickboxing or any other fighting specialty or mixed martial art, sparring is absolutely essential to learning how to intelligently defend yourself in most cases.
So what I have outlined here is that the basic steps to Self-Defense are roughly
- Healthy-Living or physical fitness,
- the killer instinct from understanding that martial means war and conflict,
- being prepared to confront such a situation, and
- sparring to get as close as possible to actual fight and combat action in a controlled environment where you can learn.
If this seems like hard work, it is because that is exactly what is required of you to really know how to protect yourself in this way. It is simple in process, but it takes discipline. Scientific, persistent, continuous practice is essential.
You must be sufficiently motivated to learn such skills. Perhaps playing a game like Capoeira would be inspiring. Maybe knowing that you will gradually change the shape of your body is motivating. Or just knowing that you will feel great, physically, mentally and emotionally is enough to get you going. For me, feeling and looking great are just side benefits of my persistent training. My motivation was to be able to fight effectively and prevail in combat with confidence in my hard earned skills.
Finally, I must note that being prepared does not mean that you will not be scared, nervous or intimidated. What it does mean is that you acknowledge the fear you may feel as a sign that something urgent must be done, and intelligently take action to resolve the situation. Your preparation is what will guide your ability to respond as effectively as possible during many types of stressful and emergency situations.