Survival, karate and the violence we live in.

"To acquire knowledge, one must study; but to acquire wisdom, one must observe." - Marilyn vos Savant

This is a post that I have sat on for a while.

I originally was going to call it 'karate is bullshit,' in the vein of Enter the Dojo, the Youtube show on the fictitious art Ameri do te. The show is funny, but it does highlight the dangerous mentality of many 'martial artists' in North America. The claim made is that, pound for pound, ADT is the most dangerous art around and that practitioners harness a lethal skill.

I laugh at these videos, but in my mind, I know there are people who are out there that likely believe that their art or their skill will protect them in the event of an altercation. I actually worry for these folk. Kicking, punching and blocking are not the only skills that one needs to survive a violent encounter. And the level of machismo and false sense of security that the master espouses and that his groupie suck up like water is a surefire way to become a statistic. Confidence is one thing, humour is another. The fact that real people like this walk among us scares the complete shit out of me.

Sadly, I use the example of Wyatt Lewis to prove that skill alone will not protect you from a violent attack. The only known details of his death was that there was an altercation between groups that spilled from a building out to the street. Wyatt, according to friends and associates died protecting a friend. An honorable death, indeed, but perhaps needless on the overall scheme of things. Time and deeper investigation will likely reveal more details to tell more of the story that led to his death. For now, though, the only thing that we know is that his skills were not an asset to him in this attack. I am not here to mock or criticize Wyatt. My heart goes out to his friends and family. But, his death serves as a wakeup call to fighters and warriors of all stripes that there is a different element of fighter outside the walls of our training halls.

The street and the octagon are ruled by different rules. The ring warrior and the street warrior have totally different codes. Like most MMA fights, Wyatt likely trained to dominate, to win. He did not train to kill, nor did he likely invest time in dealing with that situation. While we marvel at stories like those of Anthony Miranda (who seemingly fed a carjacker his own version of Miranda rights... and maybe a few lefts), Jesse Singh or young Jack, the likelihood is that the situations we may find ourselves in will be of a much different and of a much more immediately violent nature where we may not get the upper hand.

Having had a few scuffles in my life, I know that fights or violence rarely occur when we are prepared. Getting the upper hand, taking advantage of a situation or employing a weapon that will ensure dominance of the encounter (wherein the assailant likely knows that grievous harm or death will occur) are more likely the avenues of the scumbags that will likely initiate violence. I've gone home with my share of scrapes and bruises in my time. Sometimes the blood on my clothes was not mine. Sometimes it was. Luckily, I've only had to visit a hospital once (fat, drunk guy landed on my bad knee while I was attempting to controlling him on a bar floor filled with sand... now there is a story of variables going south) due to a violent encounter I was involved in.

Lately, my own city has become a lightning rod for shitrats again (last year we were the murder capital of Canada): murder using a firearmsexual assault, and a shooting in the north end of the city. City police also recently warned folks in the north end of potential for robbery with violence at two of the train stations. Each incident is different, but each incident has traces of a common theme of violence. The odds are not in the favour of the victims. It would appear that in each case, the individuals are caught unprepared or unaware of the danger that is around them. Lemme tell ya kids, awareness is the first skill you need to survive an encounter. And if your karate is not helping you develop your awareness, then you may wanna check outta class now.

Jodan uke goes to meet jodan seiken. Chudan uchi uke meets chudan punch. gedan barai meets gedan tsuki. And on and on it goes. Pre-determined responses to preset attacks. In short - we get used to responding to attacks that look nothing and feel nothing like the violence that may envelop us. I am speaking in generalities here, but for the most part we don't defend against a sucker punch. We don`t train people to block against a bottle or a knife. We don`t employ the tricks of the shitrat`s trade. But maybe we should.

I subscribe to the notion of theories such as Patrick McCarthy's HAPV theory. Violence is violence wherever you find it. The players may change and some of the moves may vary slightly, but the same threads and elements will be there. And here is where I see where karate, as we generally practice it falls down: people are not going to use shutos or seiken to attack us. A long time ago, I read a quote from Benny Urquidez that said `the way you train is the way you react.`I believe wholeheartedly in that phrase. I also think that if you train to react to certain attacks, you will react in accordance with those same attacks. Anything outside of that continuum of violent assault and we risk being at sixes and sevens for a response.

Some of us may have been directly exposed to violence in our past. Others may experience encounters of a violent nature as a part of their lives (work, etc). But, thankfully, most of the people who come on to the dojo floor do not have any real knowledge of this aspect of our society. Thus, it would seem to me quite unjust to expect them to understand how their training correlates to the realm of violent and aggression that exists in corners of our collective worlds. I find it no more plausible that, in teaching people numbers, they will be able to understand, manipulate and extrapolate mathematical theorems without any further instruction.
So, how do we solve the problem? How do we adapt our practice without becoming a survivalist martial art a la ADT? Well, we can adapt some of our practices without shifting all of them. Turns out the masters had a good idea that there were lots of stupid violent people out there. Also turns out that the blocks they employed also seem to respond to many common angles of attack that shitrats use today. Huzzah for martial forethought!

It takes some slight adjustments in mindset and practice - through drills and through coaching/ discussion of how to employ all elements of training into reacting/ acting in an attack. But changing thought process is not the only key to this issue. Where there is will to act, there needs to be intent to overcome. And that intent must contain the possibility of 'if it's him or me, I pick him to lose.' In Meibukan, the expression we learn is 'how not to lose.'

So, if that truly be the case, some practices must change - to meet the times and to meet the application of what we may see or experience. basics drills, kumite drills and partner practices have to adapt to the times. Time for the old to have a small taste of the new. More focus on practical bunkai. Simple, effective, brutal. Be taught rules of engagement for weapons - knives, guns - but from people who are in the know. Not some guy who did one seminar with the foremost knife fighter this side of the Pecos. There are resources out there to help build the curriculum or learn the methods of defense for things we do not know or understand.

For the love of jeebus, we learned how to score kata and hand out trophies - this is a shift in thinking from classical Okinawan karate. And, in case you do not know my stand on the subject - I think it is useless. So, for the sake of giving our students something more than a false sense of security, can we not adapt our practices to fight some of the battles that are relevant to our times?

It takes some will on the part of the instructors and the students. Ideally, there should be buy-in across an association, but with varied agendas and objectives, that may be a hard sell within many ryuha. Maybe you think you are ready to face a violent encounter. For your sake, I hope you are right. You may not get a chance to correct any errors you make in your defense or in your reasoning of your abilities.

Take one last consideration in to mind if you think that your current training and skill will hold you in good stead: karate was, at best, designed as a defensive art against violent but untrained attackers. Some of these folks today have plenty of experience with violence. And, lest I remind you, many are armed as well.

Be safe. And say a prayer for Wyatt.


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