26 July 2010

More Thoughts on Self-Defence

In my previous post ("I Don't Like Your Self-Defence") I spoke about self-defence and that what is taught as self-defence in a martial art gym should be relevant to the society in which that gym is located, or to the specific self-defence needs of the students and their most probable violent encounters.

This is not as easy as one would suppose. I’m teaching in Korea a mixed group of individuals, many of them, of course, Korean. The self-defence needs of these Korean students are radically removed from the self-defence needs of my students in South Africa (or even my American students here). Here in Korea violent crimes are so uncommon that practically every time a violent crime occurs it makes the news. In South Africa, on the other hand, violent crimes are so common that they aren’t considered news worthy anymore.

In a recent address to Parliament, South African President Jacob Zuma stated that South Africa has a greater problem with violent crime than any other country in the world. [PASCO: November 2009]

The students whom I teach here, and even the chief instructor, considers my self-defence teaching somewhat violent. Now anybody that knows me knows that I am not a violent person; one of my brothers calls me a hippie because I’m so laidback. It’s different when I teach self-defence. I’ve even been told here, once, that some of my self-defence techniques are “dirty.” True, they are dirty, but if we’re talking actual self-defence then you need every dirty trick in the book. I’m merely teaching a level of aggressive effectiveness which I think would be necessary in actual violent crime scenarios – scenarios reflective of the extreme crimes that occur in South Africa.

A typical person living in South Korea will hardly ever be confronted with real violence in the streets. (Physical abuse at home is another story, which I may talk about in another post.) In public, angry people in Korea tend to resort mostly to shouting and name calling. There are no guns on the streets, and gang violence, I’ve been told, involves sticks and knives, but is something seldom heard of and only in certain parts of a small number of cities. Violent crimes involving the general public in Korea are quite low. (It could be that crimes are under reported for appearance sake. Saving-face is an important concept in Korea.)

But let’s get back to self-defence in South Africa. When we talk about self-defence are we talking about women and children learning to defend themselves against abusive husbands and fathers? Are we talking about high school boys meeting each other after school for a brawl on the rugby field? Are we talking about young men fighting at pubs and outside of night clubs? Are we talking about attempted date rapes? Are we talking about muggings? Are we talking about high-jacks? Burglaries and raping of the women? Farm-attacks and murder?

The thing is, all of these scenarios require different types of self-defence, levels of defence, ways of training, ways of thinking and even legal considerations. Two guys vexing for the same girl at a night club, whom have decided to walk outside and have so entered into a mutual agreement of physical prowess is a completely different kettle of fish from someone ambushed in a parking lot, and this is again far removed from farmers overwhelmed by ruthless murderers on their farm.

What do you mean when you say that you teach self-defence? Who is likely to use it and in what likely situation? Unless you can honestly answer these questions, it is best you don’t pretend to teach self-defence at all.

I do not take the view of some people that suggests that martial art gyms cannot teach self-defence and that self-defence and martial arts function in two completely different realms. They are different, yes, but they also overlap enough for a martial art school, I believe, to be able to teach practical self-defence. However, the first step in that direction is honesty. The second step is clarity.

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