Outside the school gym, two men sat idly on a bench, waiting for Tai Chi class to begin. “If anyone were to attack me,” the first student offered, “I would simply run away, living to fight another day.”
A faint smile crossed his companion’s face, as both continued to enjoy the summer sunset. Allowing a respectful pause, the second man finally replied: “And how fast can you run?”
While it is true that a fight requires two consenting parties, a brutal beating does not. There are times when strategic retreat is not an option. We all know that martial arts experience is valuable in such times, for everyone.
But did you know that martial arts training offers special benefits for the kind and gentle?
Two underappreciated facts about self-defense:
- The time for avoidance is before the fight starts. Once it has started, you should abandon any notions of yielding or appeasement, and focus on not losing the fight. To honor this distinction, you must be able to recognize the seeds of violence before they sprout.
- Statistically speaking, your probable attacker does not care about you. It’s nothing personal, really. If someone else had walked into the wrong place at the wrong time, they would have been assaulted instead.
No martial arts training should be required to appreciate these points, which can be derived from basic human empathy. The worst Karate move I ever learned, however, flagrantly disregards both of them. Before examining that inferior technique—and a superior alternative—let’s briefly consider the context in which it is taught.
Pick up an issue of Black Belt or Inside Kung Fu magazine. Watch a self-defense DVD. Browse a martial arts website. If you had to write captions under each picture, what would they say?
My hands are deadly weapons.
I am nobody’s victim.
Don’t mess with me, or you’ll regret it.
These poses remind your would-be attacker what they stand to lose. And sure, they are intimidating, to a degree.
The problem is, your attacker doesn’t harbor any intention of losing, and so the potential downside may just be disregarded.
I prefer not to play Tai Chi at home. Each of the Five Directions holds an unwelcome distraction. Look left: unpaid bills. Gaze right: a pile of laundry. Whenever possible, I head to a local park instead, where the sunshine, fresh air, and vibrancy of nature provide a pleasant environment for practice.
I have practiced outside daily for years, and I would recommend it to anyone, with one caveat: you need to know how to handle your audience. Here are a few tips to keep you safe and out of trouble.