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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Just How Much Do You Really Need to Know About Self-Defense? Or, Getting Bugged for No Good Reason

I got to thinking about just how much a person really needs to know about self-defense in a roundabout sort of way. See, I was out at Herman and Kate Kaiser Library (the staff there are wunderbar, and the facility is to die for), and I happened to see a whole bunch of little kids all dressed up in karate uniforms about the place. Naturally, I had to ask, so when the black-belted lady who was taking registrations or memberships or whatever was done with everyone in line, I asked if she had a minute to tell me something about the system's (I will not name the system; I am not trying to denigrate or embarrass anyone here) background and history.

She started to tell me what the system was, that it was an "Americanized" (her word) self-defense system that--so I gathered--was developed principally by her aunt, who was one of the first black belts in another state (which I won't name), herself, and unspecified others. I clarified, telling her that what I meant was, was the system influenced by Goju Ryu, by Shotokan, or Taekwon-do, or what? And she still didn't have much of an answer, telling me that the instructors basically brought whatever they liked best from whatever other systems they had studied. So I asked if they had a particular set of kata that they worked with, and she allowed as how some of the students worked on the heian, or pinan forms (she didn't say pinan), and that they also let the kids make up their own kata.

She might as well have just bluntly said that she didn't have a clue what kata was all about. I didn't let on that that's what I thought, though. Just thanked her for taking the time to answer my questions and left.

The whole thing kind of bugged me, but it put me to thinking: would it be so bad, really, if she, her aunt, and a handful of others had put together their own system out of bits and pieces of other systems? The reality is that one of the most popular martial arts in North America, Ed Parker's American Kenpo (along with the multitudinous variants of Parker's system) arose from just that sort of thing. Who knows?

Maybe that lady is the next Ed Parker.

And just how much do you need to know about self-defense, anyway? You will never learn enough to stop a bullet, especially one fired at you by someone who hates you enough to lay in wait for you and gun you down while you're not looking. And...

...look, many years ago, when I was still quite young, I had an acquaintance about a year or so younger. I think I am remembering this story correctly, but it's been a long time. At any rate, this fellow had apparently informed on some nefarious character, and he had been threatened. The ne'er-do-well had threatened to bust my acquaintance's head when he got out of jail, and my acquaintance was concerned, for he had never given a thought to fighting in his life.

He wasn't able to take up martial arts at the time, and I ended up giving him some very simple techniques. I showed him a low sidekick (I may also have shown him a low front kick, but I can't remember for sure) and told him to practice it on a tree he had in his back yard. I also showed him (and a very flawed rendition it no doubt was, as I only knew what I had read) the basic Wing Chun punch. Now, I had heard that Bruce Lee once said, "When in doubt, straight blast," by which he meant deliver one of those punches after another, as fast as you can, constantly moving forward. I knew from experience (limited as it was at that time) that most people don't cope well with that. They end up getting hit whilst trying futilely to block one punch after another, or backpedaling so fast that they trip over their own feet.

And then I left him.

I heard later that he had in fact been assaulted by the ne'er-do-well, and that he had had his glasses broken and gotten a black eye. His assailant, on the other hand, wound up with a broken nose and a broken rib, so I guess that my guy "won" by a score of two broken bones to one black eye, if you want to think of it that way.

Successful self-defense? Some would say so. And look how little knowledge it took...

I remember when I was in taekwon-do. When I left, I was about two or three months away from taking the test for first-degree black belt. The reality is that I didn't really know anything at that level that I didn't know at the yellow belt level, except for a greater number of hyung, which was pretty much worthless, as no one (as I found out later) had a clue how to make them work (that was a biiiiiiig factor in my switch to RyuTe, or Ryukyu Kempo, as it was then known: they knew how to make the forms work; I just knew how to make them look good). Same kicks, same punches, same everything. I was just better at it.

Sometimes I think the same is true of more martial arts systems than you might think. There are a certain number of basic techniques and concepts, and advancement consists of getting better and better at those.

It's fairly clear that a lot of systems run out of testable curriculum by the time you reach third- or fourth-degree black belt, and advancements beyond that level are for time-in-grade, service to the organization, and so forth.

All of the above meandering thought, I guess, amounts to this: I think RyuTe is the foremost life-protection system out there. I really do.

On the other hand, there are a limited number of places in this country (anywhere, really) where you can learn it. And if you can't learn RyuTe, I suppose that if you picked up a good sidekick and front kick from karate, a good reverse punch, a good knife hand, a good elbow strike; if you picked up the "straight blast" from Wing Chun; if you picked up, say, the six most fundamental throws of judo; if you picked up the half-dozen most basic locks from Aikido; if you picked up a basic knowledge of the weak points of the human body; if you got better and better at those over five or six years--

Well, I don't suppose you'd be doing too badly. And maybe that's what this lady and her aunt were in the middle of doing.

Whether it bugged me or not.

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