My Philosophy, Part II

by Stephen LaBounty (2007-10-26)

Early in my development as a martial artist, I realized every technique I was learning required a very narrow practice parameter, i.e., little room for "creative expression." My teacher's example set the foundation for learning and practice, without which the technique had greater chance of being useless or awkward. This is the benevolent dictatorship nature of the teacher/student relationship. A teacher's ultimate challenge is to nurture confidence, flexibility, spontaneity and wise decision making under pressure, while providing a solid training foundation. If a student "free forms," there is the possibility of a lethal technique being applied to a situation that may not require it. Conversely, if a student has no confidence in a maneuver, he/she may be weak in delivery and possibly suffer harm.

Learning is personal and unique to each individual. Most people enter martial arts study because they want an advantage in a battle that hasn't happened yet, or in response to an attack that has happened that shook their sense of being "in control." This powerful issue of control is present in every student who enters a dojo. Unfortunately, the fact is we neglect issues of personal safety. Not in terms of wearing a seat belt or avoiding drinking and driving, but rather in terms of the up close and personal confrontations we fear. In our society we insulate ourselves from such a nightmare by denying it may happen. Fact is, for most of us, it won't happen. Being somewhat cognizant of personal safety issues in a violent world, the person who embarks on martial arts study has already decided to prepare for, or at least "rehearse," such an event.

The problem I see with "rehearsal" is we have unrealistic ideas of how the scenario will play, born again of denial. With a modicum of training, the danger is we will think we are competent and ready. We can't go out and attack someone to see how we will fare; we are decent, law-abiding people who really want to be left in peace. Well, then, how do we prepare and train of confidence and self-control? Let me offer some short opinions gleaned over forty years of training and almost sixty years of living.

The first avenue towards being confident you will be able to handle a frightening aggressor, is preparation. Your attacker can beat you, shoot you, stab or slash you; he is reacting at mid-brain level (undistinguishable from that of an aggressive animal), and he has given himself permission to engage. This mid-brain reaction is also present during great fear and has been evidence by pilots, police/fire personnel, and is at the core of the stimulus-response for which we train. The commitment to diligent training is crucial. Even the "one more time" repetition of a move in practice benefits us when the body and mind are under great stress. Every extra pushup, squat kick, two minutes on the bag, etc. can help you bring a controlled and explosive response to a terrifying, life-threatening assault.

"Repetition is the mother of the skill" - Bob White. I love that simple command. Repeat, repeat, repeat. In an actual situation, the forebrain dictates first response, and can convince you to jab a thumb in an attacker's eye, slash him with a knife, or grasp his throat 'till you hear a "crunch" and let go. You may be so much in fear of your life that these options are viable and do-able. But this puts you smack into the mid-brain crisis, i.e. the taking of human life, and the repercussions of such an act. Forebrain compliance becomes the rationale to do such a thing and unless you are a certifiable sociopath, the delay may be terminally long. If the training I do is geared towards the things I do well and the situations I most fear, if the training is repetitious to the point I have honed my speed, power and strength in application, and if, most importantly, I have a route of escape to the next level, then I have overcome most (but not all) major objections to defending myself, my family and friends. Forebrain and mid-brain want me to survive, and have given me permission to do so.

This is the crux of my philosophy. Not just physical conditioning, but the mental conditioning to NOT become a victim. Even more importantly, emotional conditioning; to handle life and death decisions, the aftermath, and the part of our mind that "de-briefs" the whole scenario. This conditioning is done in a variety of ways, too numerous to cover in this short overview. But placing yourself in a battle situation, first in imagination, then in physical presence, is the best way to prepare for an attack. Preparing yourself mentally for battle is the only way to survive and function competently when the situation is real. Example: A thirteen year old boy in Paducah, Kentucky, only fired a gun once, an .22 caliber rifle belonging to a friends grandfather. The boy stole an eight shot pistol from his dad's closet, went to his school and shot eight classmates, four in the head. His victims were moving targets, yet he calmly, some say effortlessly, emptied the pistol. How could this young man be so lethal given the fact he was not versed in shooting? He was a latchkey kid who played hours of "shoot the bad guy" video games. He was conditioned beyond many police officers and even military personnel. Fore- and mid-brain were conditioned in the "game" and he got extra points for head hits. This gruesome and sad story is evidence we can condition ourselves to a stimulus-response that will be successful, or which will at least increase the odds of survival. If we play close attention to Training and Rehearsal, then Conditioning will give us the upper hand in one of the most stressful events of our lives, an attack from someone who only wants to hurt, maim, or kill us.

Fortunately, most of us will probably never find ourselves in this situation. We will never experience the "intimate brutality" of personal assaults, or see ourselves pitted against an angry, violent sociopath. But, in our efforts to prepare ourselves for this unlikely event, we find our peace. Peace in knowing we are training, rehearsing, and conditioning to be safe. We can rest in confidence, knowing our swords are sharp but sheathed for now. Being vigilant and prepared frees us to cherish the other most important aspects of our lives: Faith, Friends, Family, and our Futures.

Stephen LaBounty, Kudan Student of Kenpo Karate