I was reading a book the other day called Meditations on Violence: A Comparison of Martial Arts Training & Real World Violence by Sgt. Rory Miller. It discusses the nature of violence putting it into context for a martial artist. This book is excellent and I highly recommend it. Anyway, one of the points it makes relates to our assumptions and how it affects the way we train. Many assumptions we carry with us limit our actual abilities. We assume that we can or can’t do something, that violent attacks happen in a certain type of context, that certain types of techniques aren’t practical, etc. Unsurprisingly, we start to read books or take in information that supports these views.
In one example the author provides, a man had 2 different types of martial arts training, one that he considered to be unrealistic and worthless, and another that was more grappling oriented that he felt was more like a “real fight.” The man in question had been involved in a number of “encounters.” In one of these encounters, he was surprised and he reacted with is old “worthless” style, using a quick front kick to the chin, knocking the attacker flat at no harm to him. In another encounter, after this man had been training in his new style for awhile, he interfered in a conflict between a biker and a man who owed the biker money. He got hurt very badly while trying to use his new skills. Now despite actual experience in which he has fared better using is older style in fights, this man still believed that his new art was better because he felt it was more like how a real fight would be. His assumption overrode reality.
In another example, the author refers to a woman who didn’t think she could hurt a large man. He gave her an excellent illustration to see the fallacy of her reasoning. He told her to picture a 200-pound man holding a cat and asked her if the man could kill it.
“Sure,” she replied.
He then continues on, “Now imagine I throw a bucket of water on them. What happens?”
The woman replies, “The cat goes berserk and starts scratching the guy up.”
“Does the guy let go?”
“So the cat wins?”
“I guess. Sure.”
“So you’re telling me that an 8-pound cat can hurt a big man and you can’t?”
“The cat has claws and teeth.”
“And you don’t?”
She then replies. “But I’ve wrestled with my boyfriends before and I couldn’t do anything.”
And there’s the problem. She drew from experiences in which she didn’t want to actually hurt the person with whom she was tousling, which is completely different from real combat in which she theoretically would not hold back. This assumption almost caused the woman to give up on her training too. It is for this reason that I discourage women who take my Vancouver women’s self-defense class
from showing what they learned to their male friends and family. Many of the moves “won’t work” because they hold back not wanting to actually hurt their friend or loved one. And when this happens they may mistakenly think they wouldn’t be able to use these skills effectively on the street.
I take active measures to dispel assumptions that women have about violence. One of the first things I do when I teach women’s self-defense is describe what the typical attack on a woman is like: Usually a man, 3/4 of the time someone you know, and the attack usually takes place in a home or a vehicle. It gets women out of the idea that an attack on a woman is some strange man in a dark alley and into the reality that they have to practice being aware not only when they’re walking alone late at night, but everywhere in their day-to-day life.
Rory Miller tells us in his book, “Do not let yourself be crippled by something that only exists in your mind.” This is great advice. We should always be willing to challenge our assumptions and accept that reality can unfold very differently from what we expect, regardless of what we’ve trained in, learned, or experienced.
So what assumptions do you have about yourself, about martial arts styles (yours and others), or about violent attacks? Have you had any experiences that have made you take a hard look at those assumptions?