Positive Aggression

by Michael Billings (2004-09-14)

Psychologically it is imperative to arm ourselves and our students with a realistic world view, allowing not only the physical training of our bodies, but also the mental preparation for confrontive situations which would optimally be dealt with in a positively aggressive way. To some extent Kenpo students have already acknowledged that we exist in a potentially threatening environment, or we would not have sought out instruction in the martial arts. It follows that a system of threat awareness and evaluation needs to be incorporated in any martial art as part of the psychological preparation of the student. Sifu Swan's "green-yellow-red" threat evaluation system may be helpful example of a type of threat awareness.

Condition Green =Sitting watching TV at home, an environment where we feel relatively safe and secure.

Condition Yellow =Driving a car. This is a level where we are more alert and aware of our environment and potential hazards. We are constantly re-evaluating the conditions around us, and actions of others.

Condition Red = When someone runs a stop sign, or a fight breaks out around us. The fight or flight reflex takes over, with the adrenal glands pumping adrenalin into our systems preparing our body fraction.

Through training and practice we hopefully reduce the likelihood of a panic reaction and use the energy provided by our systems to give us control of the potentially dangerous situation and ourselves. When the threat is abated we automatically go back to a yellow condition.Miyamoto Musashi in his A Book of Five Rings states, you must train day and night in order to make quick decisions. This does not mean crisis must be faced every day. What is referred to is training ourselves to be aware of our environment, our response to that environment, and how to make decisions based upon these two things. By training these day to day we are more able to use them in a truly threatening situation.

Visualization is one of the tools we work with to improve our responses to hostile or dangerous situations. This visualization is a component of the psychological preparation for positive aggression as it trains an aggressive response to a simulated target. We imagine an opponent facing us at all times, whether training basics, forms,or self-defense techniques. This visualization lets us systematically desensitize ourselves from the panic reaction,which may set in when facing an actual opponent. The same technique is used by psychologists in working with controlling phobic reactions, by sports doctors in preparing athletes for competition, and by Martial Artists in preparing for tournaments. Through a series of successive approximations we become more able to face an actual aggressor and have an effective response. The first approximation may be something as simple as seeing a "target" mugger when doing basics. This should move to seeing an opponent or opponents stepping in attacking us as we do forms or self-defense techniques. From here we can work on the heavy bag seeing an opponent, but also learning what it feels like to have actual contact. Working with a fellow classmate gives us some idea of what our techniques do,but on with an aggressive fully padded opponent can we work our techniques with some idea of what it would really be like on the streets. Using this concept of visualization allows us to reach a point where we can be more effective in our utilization of force.

Psychologically we also have to face the fact that in a combative situation, the odds are that someone is going to suffer an injury. The flashy controlled techniques practiced in the dojo, that work so effectively when we are trying to subdue a cooperative classmate, go by the wayside when we are facing a drunk weighing 50 to 100 pounds more than us. If we are not prepared to put out 100 percent effort, we may be opening ourselves up for serious injury. There is a profound ethical and moral question here for each individual to answer for himself or herself. How far are we willing to go to protect ourselves, our loved ones or our fellow human beings from the aggression of others? Are we going to allow ourselves to become victims? The way we train will answer these questions. If we do not train to the fullest of our capabilities, then we are denying ourselves the choice of how to respond. As training progresses, more options open in terms of the responses to a threat. If we deny ourselves the training or are unwilling to give it the time necessary to make it effective, then we are limiting ourselves in our ability to take care of ourselves and others. It is an issue of choice and responsibility.