Not Just Like Riding a Bike - Thoughts on Longevity in Self Defence

There are many wonderful lessons to learn from the martial arts. Not just about how to move your body through space, but rather about who you are, who you can be and how to interact with others.

But is there one style that teaches this better than others?

Some styles emphasize this more than others, at the times to the point of obsession. ‘This is the BEST style to learn in order to get benefit X’.

Is there one system that is the ultimate one for learning the life-lessons martial arts can teach you?

Well that depends on who you ask.

In order to understand something fully, one must invest time and effort. To master a skill set – any skill set - takes time. And I use the term ‘mastery’ loosely, because what is a master? Will discuss this at another time.

This can take a lifetime. Or several. The more you learn the more you realise you don’t know. There isn’t a point where you stop learning.

And here is where self defence and martial arts tend to split in the eyes of many people.

Self defence and martial arts are not always the same thing. This is something I have discussed at length and often, and you can find more about this here.

The perception is that self defence can be learned in a short time. How short? Well that’s up to the person selling you their service.

Some will tell you a week. Some will you a month or a year. Some will tell you a day.

I disagree.

Can the skills of self defence be learned in a short time?

Yes, relatively so.

Does that mean you can stop training or stop learning?

Not in my opinion.

Skills – any skills at all – are perishable. If you don’t keep them sharp, they’ll go blunt. At the very least, they need to be maintained, though ideally they should be continuously worked on in order to improve.

The old saying of ‘just like riding a bicycle’ is a misleading one. I used to ride a lot. The first time I rode a bike after a 10 or 15 year break was not fun. Did I break anything? No.

But did I stack it once or twice? Yup. Would I bet my safety or the safety of my loved ones on that one ride? Hell no!

This is where self defence and martial arts, to me, are actually at their most similar.

Martial arts exalt the idea of kaizen or continuous improvement above most things, if not all.

As you become more proficient, you start seeing the intricacies and subtleties. As you work on those intricacies and subtleties, you start seeing them as facets to be worked on in their own right, with their own intricacies and subtleties. This process doesn’t ever end.

So how come does self defence lags behind the curve on this?

The notions that self defence is easy and/or simple are dangerous.

While on the surface learning some basic moves and principles can be simple and easy, it doesn’t always directly translate to successful application in defending yourself. And it certainly doesn’t mean that you are capable of teaching them (you can read more about my views about instructor short courses here).

If we look at the idea that different problems required different solutions, then all of a sudden self defence can become infinitely complex.

Yes, we all want to get home safely – that is the overarching goal. However there are so many things to consider that this is not always simple.

We need to look at the complexities of real world violence (a little more on this here). We need to look at the legal implications of self defence and use of force. We need to consider the emotional, moral and ethical aspects of being involved in a confrontation.

The physical skills are important and, on their own, can take a lifetime to attain competency in.

Learning different solutions to different problems also takes time. For example, a crazy cracked up prison escapee who’s broken into your home and is swinging a fist at you is not the same as a mate who’s had a couple too many beers and is swinging at you half-heatedly. While the physical movement of the attack might be the same, and while there may be some similarities in the movement of the response, at the end of the day the response needs to be totally different.

There can be thousands upon thousands of different examples of these. To always assume the worst case scenario is not only unrealistic, but also dangerous. It greatly simplifies what can be very complex.

Self defence, in my opinion, needs to ultimately be principle-based rather than technique-based. We need to make sure are responses are quick and effective and therein lie a few traps as well. You can read about these here and here. Finding the balance can be a challenge, and one that takes time to solve.

But that’s impossible to do unless you understand technique first.

And this can take us full cycle to the start.

There are some universal truths that apply to martial arts as they do to combat sports, as they do to learning any skill from painting to cooking to playing music to dancing to driving a car to anything.

To gain basic skills doesn’t take long; Mastering skills takes a lifetime.

Do you have to master self-defence skills in order to survive an altercation? Well, that depends on the altercation. For most of us, at least here in Australia, this is not the case.

But there are so many other benefits of training that are neglected when we focus just on physical movements.

Self defence, in my opinion, is not just about learning how to deal with physical attacks. Ultimately, it’s about how to lead a happier, fuller life.

By learning how to deal with anger, disappointment, fear and some of the other rigours of martial arts and self defence training, you will be able to deal with more in your everyday life.

And much like any other skill, this takes constant work and dedication. You can learn some of the skills in seminars and short courses, and maybe that’s enough for you.

Learning how to deal with the physical attacks is simple. Learning the subtleties and refining your tools takes a lifetime. It also what brings the most joy and reward.

If nothing else, continuous training and seeking ongoing improvement leads us to be better people. It helps us build communities with like-minded people. It allows us to be fitter, healthier and more productive. And all of these can contribute to making our community safer and ultimately help us make ourselves safer.

Training – any training – is a journey. Keep training!

Stay tuned, stay safe.


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Ron Amram

Co-Founder and Co-Director of Combat Arts Institute of Australia. Nidan Gendai Ryu Krav Maga & Jujitsu, Shodan Danzan Ryu Jujutsu, Brown Belt Dennis Hisardut, Krav Maga Instructor, Cert IV Training & Assessment

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