Personal Protection (Part 1)
Personal Protection is a relatively new phenomenon in the field of self defence. In fact, it represents a radical departure from the somewhat limited vision presented by most traditional self-defence systems.
It is inspired by and based on two major influences:
1. The work done by two very respected and experienced (in terms of both tournament performance and real life confrontations) British martial artists, Geoff Thompson and Peter Consterdine; and
2. The highly efficient and practical Chinese martial art of Wing Chun Kuen which, interestingly, Messrs. Thompson and Consterdine acknowledge in their video series, “The Pavement Arena”, as having had a major influence on their own self protection philosophy and methods.
Wing Chun is a major Chinese martial art or system that is unparalleled in its suitability for today’s urban environment. It is radically different in its general approach from that of most traditional martial arts, as it is not reliant on strength, balletic poise, acrobatic movements, or a complexity of often flamboyant techniques. Instead of being technique oriented and requiring students to learn by rote an endless variety of movements (which often result in a mental “log jam” in real life situations), Wing Chun is based on a clear understanding of fighting concepts and strategies, expressed via a minimal number of techniques which meet the basic criteria of simplicity, directness and efficiency.
Although widely believed to have been founded and developed by a Buddhist nun, Ng Mui, and her female pupil, Yim Wing Chun, about 200 hundred years ago, Wing Chun has evolved over time via a process of “natural selection”, with a continual discarding of superfluous, complex and ineffective techniques and movements. It is the system that the legendary Bruce Lee used as the foundation of his own combat philosophy of Jeet Kune Do, and has become the most influential style of Kung Fu, allowing even traditional Karate and other Kung Fu practitioners to reappraise and enhance their own skills and techniques.
Successfully tested in real “no-holds barred” fights against numerous other styles in Hong Kong in the 1950′s and early 1960′s by outstanding students of Grandmaster Yip Man, such as the late Sifu Wong Shun Leung and Sifu Wang Kiu, Wing Chun is considered to be one of the most, if not the most practical and efficient martial arts for use in today’s increasingly violent environment. In simple terms, Wing Chun is the “Science of Street Fighting“, designed solely for the purpose of surviving an attack by being a better attacker than one’s assailant. Hence it forms the perfect basis for the concept of Personal Protection.
It should be made clear at the outset that this document is only a basic guideline, not intended to be, or taken for, a comprehensive and definitive work. For example, it does not purport to supply the reader with an in depth examination of an attacker’s psychology. Nor is it a typical “how to” manual, detailing specific, complicated self-defence techniques in make believe, often unrealistic situations. It is certainly not intended to lead the reader through a sequence of events culminating in the inevitable limiting solution.
It is the sincere wish of the authors, however, to encourage readers to take a closer and more realistic look at the concept of personal security, a good understanding of which, under the guidance of an experienced and competent instructor, can provide a sound basis for developing a practical and effective method of self protection. It should be stressed, of course, in view of the complexity of the subject, that this article is not to be taken as a “quick fix”, ready-made set of rules for instant implementation. Considerable analysis, discussion, and testing are called for, as any one of the main ideas or principles outlined could itself become the theme for an entire seminar. Further, a particular idea may not automatically fit in with your philosophy of fighting or it may need to be modified accordingly.
It should be pointed out at this stage that, as few of us can rely on great physical strength, it is vital that the instructor has a clear understanding of power generation utilising an informed understanding of exercise methodologies and biomechanics, thus enabling the students to realise their full striking potential. An open mind is called for, far removed from the “arm lock” mentality* of many martial arts systems, not only to get the most out of the concepts presented in this paper, but also to get the best out of those inherent in all martial arts.
Personal Protection is not a sport, but a serious approach to preparing oneself for potential real life threats. To quote an ancient Chinese sage, Li Chuan, “War is a grave matter. One is apprehensive lest men embark on it without due reflection”. A skilful fighter is one who is able to triumph over his or her opponent by having a deep understanding of their own capabilities and potential. Therefore, the proper training is essential, training that prepares you not only physically, but mentally and emotionally as well.
As stated at the beginning of this article, Personal Protection is certainly a departure from the countless “self defence” instruction methods, widely depicted, showing attackers in unrealistic, static, even clumsily inept poses, telegraphing their movements, and “allowing” themselves to be handled with impunity by the defender. And it is certainly not an exploration of the dramatic scenario so popular with idealistic and inexperienced instructors in countless martial arts clubs around the world, where the two antagonists conduct a gentlemanly bout to decide who is the better man, two noble warriors observing a set of rules and a pattern of ritualistic behaviours, who by mutual consent begin a dignified exchange of technique.
*ie: the mentality that many martial artists exhibit, in that they will try to make a technique fit the situation (eg: try to put their opponent in an arm-lock), no matter what, becoming, in the words of Master Sifu Wong Shun Leung, “…a slave to their art, instead of a master of it”
In the street, the classical depiction of a defender representing a particular martial art squaring off against an attacker from another system is seldom, if ever, encountered. Violence can erupt with little or no sign of threat. And this eruption is usually in the form of a vicious, spiteful act, carried out with deadly intent, with no regard for the rules of civilised conduct and little, if any, resemblance to the set piece duel in the dojo or kwoon. In the street, almost every conceivable weapon, from keys and cutting weapons to baseball bats and house bricks, is used to inflict pain, serious injury, and even death. And it is here that you are more likely to be savagely bitten by a crazed attacker than to be stopped by a beautifully executed roundhouse kick to the head.
It should also be noted that few of us these days have the “luxury” of testing our fighting skills in real combat situations. As such, we are usually unable to duplicate the enormous amounts of emotional pressure that accompany a real fight in the practise of sparring or ‘Chi Sau’. Both lack the physical and verbal aggression so often used by remorseless street opponents.
Most acts of violence and physical abuse are carried out in familiar surroundings, by people one knows. They can be long term, and often occur in the home, perpetrated by a family member or so called friend, and if you are unable or unwilling to confront these cowardly individuals, your best long term defence is to use the laws that are in place to protect you.
Not all attacks, however, occur in the home and not all the perpetrators are known. They are usually carried out by vicious, cowardly individuals and/or people seeking monetary gain. It has been said that 99% of these attacks are opportunistic, ie. they are not pre planned but occur at the time because the “conditions” seem right to the attacker(s).
Environmentally, there are two “basic” ways in which you may be attacked. Firstly, your attacker can strike suddenly from a concealed position, utilising the element of surprise. The object is to catch you unawares and subject you to enormous pressure, mentally, physically and, most importantly, emotionally. The sudden change in your emotional state is effected by the body’s reaction to threat, which is normally experienced as fear. If this reaction is uncontrolled, you will limit or waste your chance to react or retaliate in an effective manner, whether that is to run or to stand and fight. The attacker can use a multitude of situations in which to stage an ambush. This would of course dictate that one needs a highly developed sense of subliminal threat awareness in order to minimise the possibility of being attacked and/or surprised. As it is improbable, however, that one could remain vigilant all of the time, the next best option is to train in such a way as to develop a high degree of control over your body’s reaction to threat. This type of instruction requires a high degree of realism and honesty within your training regime, never accepting a protective technique just because it looks like it would or could work. It requires the continual testing of the limits of your emotional capabilities in a threatening and violent environment.
Another method of attack would be for the opponent to confront you at a very close range, employing psychological tactics. Your attacker needs to be close so that you feel the full force of their aggressive tactic. These tactics can vary greatly, but their underlying purpose is to engage your thought processes and hence control your corresponding emotional reactions in some way, to make you more vulnerable to attack. As in the ambush scenario, fear is a major weapon in the arsenal of the attacker, who may adopt aggressive tactics, where prodding, shoving, abusive and threatening language, and menacing, threatening gestures may all be utilised to create fear and even panic. On the other hand, the attacker may decide to adopt the very different strategy of appearing to be non-threatening, by behaving in a disarming and deceptive manner. He may ask you a seemingly harmless question designed not to upset you, but to distract you in some way, thereby making you vulnerable to a sudden attack because you are in a more relaxed state and off your guard. Here the attacker relies on the ability to launch his attack without you being aware of their intention, and again it is worth considering the distance this is best achieved from.
Amidst the endless variations and combinations of ambushes, surprise attacks, and openly aggressive assaults, it is very important to bear in mind that it is nearly always the attacker who dictates (or intends to dictate) the physical distance at which the confrontation and assault will take place. It is somewhat ludicrous to believe that this distance is the one usually depicted in martial arts movies, or the regimented distance at which sporting competitors begin their exchanges in tournaments. In reality, it is the distance where the victim can be struck with little warning and the full impact of an aggressive approach can be felt. It is the distance where one may engage another in polite conversation, or to stop to ask for directions or the time. The distance is almost, without exception, punching, kneeing, headbutting or stabbing distance. It is only logical, from the attacker’s viewpoint to utilise this range. Afterall, why would you allow someone to have the room to manoeuvre or recognise your initial movement to strike them?
If you accept this notion, and from our personal experience, and from the related experiences of our peers, we believe it to be true, and if you are serious in your intentions to teach or learn practical self-protection, then this is the distance you will base most, if not all of your training strategies, tactics, and power development drills for Personal Protection. It would require enormous discipline to remain fully aware all the time, and the nature of most societies would make it almost impossible to maintain a personal safety area that would inhibit an attacker’s intention to get within striking distance, so the ability to recognise ritualised patterns of assault behaviour is essential.
The Victim Syndrome
On their videotape entitled “The Pavement Arena”, Geoff Thompson and Peter Consterdine say that a booby trap or bomb is deemed to be victim operated. So it is that in many instances an attack on yourself can be said to be victim operated. You can make yourself a victim by your lack of awareness, your meek demeanour and other body language. Once you understand, and more importantly, practise the concepts and strategies of Personal Protection, however, you will be able to project a more positive and confident image. It will enable you to become more aware of someone’s intention to attack you. Put yourself in the attacker’s position, …whom would you attack? Someone who presents a formidable target, or a person who looks like a pushover?
I had to return to my car in the dark. The area was renowned for being dangerous at night and I was nervous to be alone. I walked on the footpath close to the road and watched each door and alleyway for movement. I walked into the car park and kept close to the middle of the driveway lest someone was waiting in ambush. I would look over my shoulder as a matter of routine whilst maintaining a steady, even pace. I was about twenty metres from my car when I could make out two people near where I remembered parking my vehicle. As I drew closer, I could see that they were at the rear of my car. One man was crouched and was busying himself with my bike rack which was attached to the car’s tow-bar. The other guy leaned casually on the boot of my car, smoking a cigarette. I was about five metres away when the smoking man became aware of me, and he looked in my direction and said, “G’day mate.”
I was shocked. He seemed so casual and displayed no concern that he and his friend had been caught in the act of stealing. The rest of the conversation is lost to me, so confused by his manner was I that I doubted for a while that it was even my car. It went along the lines of me saying, “Move away from my car”, and him answering, “Yeah right, …f**k off!” This went back and forth a couple of times, whilst the kneeling man working at the bike rack. Confusion quickly turned to fear when the man who had been busy freeing my bike rack rose, turned and moved towards my right. I had no idea as to what tool he had in his hand and realised that my fear was fast becoming uncontrollable. I was unable to make any rational decision. I was aware that I should be doing something when the man leaning on the boot made the decision for me by flicking his cigarette at me. As soon as it left his fingers, he leapt at me. I stepped toward him and punched him twice in the face, knocking him backwards on to the bike rack.
There was a blur of movement to my right. My arm shot out and I contacted the man with the tool’s arm. I heard a crack and experienced a flash of light behind my eyes. I think that he overbalanced, as I was able to step closer and began punching as fast and as hard as I could. I have no idea where or how many times that I hit him, but I know that he hit me at least four times, very hard! He slipped again and staggered backwards. I could see his head and managed to land a few clean blows that had some effect. He continued to stagger backward until he fell into a low hedge in the flowerbed that ringed the car park. As he thrashed around, trying to regain his feet, I was able to repeatedly punch him hard in the stomach and groin. The weight of his body, coupled with his frenzied movement, caused him to break through the branches, and he fell into a sitting position within the hedge. Although he could still raise his hands, there was little that he could do to stop me from punching him in the face. I knocked him into a stupor, then stepped back and stomped on his ankle.
I spun around, expecting his friend rushing toward me, only to see that he was shuffling around, still at the rear of my car, reaching around to his back. I walked over to him, shaking and with no idea of what I was about to do next. As I got to within striking distance, I saw a man running towards us, shouting. I had no idea what he was saying, only that he was waving his hands around, but showing no signs of aggression. His behaviour distracted me and I lost all interest in pursuing the fight. I was physically spent and thoroughly exhausted. Despite an extremely high level of fitness, all my energy had been used up in a few short seconds. The fight was over, the whole thing not lasting more than a minute. I did not sleep well for a couple of weeks after that, I was profoundly disturbed at my inability to handle the situation. In the aftermath, I replayed the scenario repeatedly in my mind, in an effort to better understand how I could have coped with the situation more effectively, and tried in vain to rationalise my fear.
I came to realise that after years of studying the martial arts, I had yet to learn how to control my fear, and that without the ability to control my fear, I was destined to relive and replay my mismanagement of the situation over and over again. I had been involved in many fights before this one, yet I had never suffered the resultant disruption to my thinking or emotions. What seemed to separate those encounters from this one was the need for tactical positioning, a skill that I obviously lacked. This, coupled with the behaviour of the men involved, triggered a progressive evolution of thinking that I was completely untrained to deal with.
Fear is the most overlooked aspect of any attack scenario. That is to say, those who overlook or pay little attention to this aspect of a fight could not have experienced an attack themselves, or are unwilling to admit to feeling fear. Fear leaves one of the most lasting impressions after an attack. The memories and biochemical residues are powerfully evident and profound. The creation of fear in the victim is one of the major goals and weapons employed by a would-be attacker. As such, any self defence system that ignores or plays down this aspect cannot be regarded as realistic. In fact, martial arts instructors who teach self defence tactics that are repetition/technique based, executed on overly compliant partners, and do not take into account the effects of fear in a life or death scenario, are possibly placing their students in a dangerous position. When in a critical situation where fear is a factor, the student can end up with a “log jam” of techniques and find it difficult to apply the appropriate response as well as deal with the physical and emotional effects of fear. This type of techniques based training can also develop an “arm lock” mentality. An example of this occurs when the martial artist tries to fit a technique into an inappropriate situation.
It is interesting to note the lack of understanding displayed by some instructors where they suggest things like “fight like a tiger” or “have the courage of a lion”. This simplistic approach is ignorant at best and extremely dangerous if the student believes that by simply thinking that he/she is a savage beast he/she will magically adopt the level of courage and fighting prowess attributed to the animal.
The attacker uses fear as a weapon. We will aim to rationalise fear and thereby go some way towards negating its influence on the outcome of an attack. In fact, when encouraged in the right manner, one can learn to harness their own fear bio-chemical responses and effects to great personal benefit. Proper consideration should also be given to the control of anger. Aggression can be a useful tool when channelled correctly. However, anger is a sign of a lack of mental control and can blind you to what is going on around you, affecting your own intuitive responses. Needless to say, if there is more than one attacker, you need to be conscious of all that is going on around you. If you are not aware, you increase your chances of choosing an inappropriate action which may have disastrous results if the people with whom you are dealing are serious in their intentions to do you harm.
Control over your emotions is also required if your situation has deteriorated and your fear has become completely invasive. It is useful in such situations to be able to focus your thoughts around an image that will give you the determination not to give in or surrender to your fears and therefore the attack. For example, if you have been knocked to the ground and your thoughts are in disarray and fear is taking control, you could use this image to help crystallise your thoughts, a thought that would prompt you to act, to fight on, or to take flight. It should be an image which has strong meaning for you and one which gives you cause to take action.