Saturday, August 16, 2008

Have You Ever Used It?

When people find out that I am involved in the martial arts, the first question out of their mouth is "Are you a black belt?". Immediately after I respond "Yes" the next question is "What rank?". These first two questions are easy to answer and the usual response is "Oh". However, it is the next question in this script that I often do not know how to answer.

Have you ever used it? The first thought that goes through my head is "Of course, I use it everyday. My training and involvement with karate shapes how I move and my approach to life." But, that is not the answer they are looking for. They want to know if I was ever in a fight or did I ever use karate to defend myself.

I was never in a fight. One night in the dojo, the students were predominately female. The subject of fighting came up and after a lengthy discussion I found out that 8 out of the 10 females in the room had been in a fight with other females. The stories were mainly about fights in high school. Girls would send notes to other girls telling them to meet them after school. I had never seen or heard of a fight when I was in high school.

In regards to self-defense, I do believe that I avoided a serious confrontation. I worked as a manager of a wholesale clothing warehouse. My job was located in the middle of the city in an undesirable location. It was an interesting job to say the least. Many of the temporary employees wore ankle bracelets and were on work release. There was one temporary employee that would talk to her "imaginary friend" during work. This woman fell asleep at her examining table and I had to let her go. I was six months pregnant at the time and she left the building threatening to kill me.

One night I was scheduled to come in to work late to help prepare for a warehouse sale. I was to meet a co-worker at midnight so we could finalize the preparations for the opening. My husband went along with me so I did not have to go alone. My co-worker parked his car a half of a block ahead of us. My husband and I parked the car. As we opened the door, a truck went speeding past us. The truck stopped at the corner and the driver opened the door, stood on the edge of the car and started screaming at us. The driver did not see my co-worker who was a half a block ahead. My husband and I stood there. We did not yell or rush back to our car. We stood there and waited. All of a sudden, he hopped back into his truck and drove off. My co-worker was speechless. He was certain there would be a confrontation and amazed at our reaction. My husband and I looked unified, calm and ready.

I do believe that I use my karate training on a daily basis. So, let me rephrase the question: "How have you used your karate training in a non-combative way?" We talked about this briefly in the dojo and here are a few examples:

My sister-in-law works as a child care assistant. She was on a ledge twelve inches off the ground. The children were playing on the floor close by. She lost her balance and was delighted to tell me that she did a karate roll fall to avoid injury.

Removal of target. When walking in a crowd have you ever cut angles or minimized the target?

A student came back from climbing Mt. Rainier. He mentioned how the karate stances of Seisan and Sanchin helped his climb.

When lifting a heavy piece of equipment my husband was losing his balance. He dropped into a Kosa stance and avoided falling.

The no-touch flush. This is the technique of using a slow front thrust kick to flush a public toilet.

I used my experience in karate to help with my ACL recovery. I would spend time analyzing how I walked in an effort to eliminate my limp.

I made a calm, clear decision during my car crisis.

Has martial arts training helped your everyday living? Do you move better? Are your reaction times quicker? Are you more aware of your surroundings?


Wei said...

I've found myself using my taekwon-do training to analyze situations and remain calm when everything else is in chaos. I've also found that my reaction times are much quicker; for instance, I can easily catch things that fall off the table within the first few moments of seeing it fall. I know that TKD has given me a lot of confidence since I started practicing, too.

I'm always amused at how people react when they ask me if I've ever been in a fight. I never want to be in that position, despite all of the training I've had. I'm also curious as too why people who haven't had martial arts training are so eager to find people who have, and determine whether or not they have gotten into fights.

Perpetual Beginner said...

I use my karate training all the time in non-combative ways. Certainly I've saved my neck by falling appropriately at least three times that I can think of.

The only fight I've ever been ever been in, on the other hand, happened before I ever set foot in a dojo. It couldn't be properly called a fight, though. I was attacked by an eighty-year-old Alzheimer's patient. Mostly I stood there while he tried to strangle me, emerging with no worse that a couple of bruises. Karate would have mostly been useful in reducing the sickening feeling, since that was the first time I'd ever been hit with intent. As was, I was pretty shaken up, even though I was unhurt.

Martial Arts Mom said...

I think I carry myself better in general. I also think I make better decisions. (See "Beware the Man of One Book" post I posted about a month ago...I avoided a situation rather than tested myself, and I'm sure it was the right thing to do.

Steve said...

Awesome stories! I reread the one of you going to the store at midnight several times to really picture what it was like!

I "used" karate when I avoided a confrontation with my neighbor several months ago that I blogged when he came back from Iraq. In the cul-de-sac, I stood straight up, with my hands on top of each other near my belly button and just talked. He eventually walked away after 5 minutes of being "tough guy." I've been taught that this is a non-threatening position, but is still "ready" should an attack come at me.

BobSpar said...

It's disappointing to people, but I agree that often martial arts allow us to de-escalate potential conflicts. One of my friends took karate because he got into a road-rage fight by the side of a highway. Several years later, shortly before he got his black belt, he got into another potential road-rage situation (I make no apologies for his driving!) but this time he was able to de-escalate it and it ended with the two of them shaking hands.

In less dramatic ways than you, Michele, I have also found that being calm and silent in the face of people who are enraged can just defuse them. It's much easier being calm knowing that you can defend yourself if necessary.

Michele said...

Thank you for your comments and stories.

Wei: You are right. It is the non-martial artists that are curious. I do not think I was ever asked this question by a martial artist.

Perpetual Beginner: Wow...I would have been shaken up too.

MAM: I think that MA training makes us more aware of the warning signs of danger.

Steve: It is amazing how posture and "presence" can diffuse a situation.

Bob: I think being calm is critical. Disappointed is the right word to describe the reaction.

Anonymous said...

Ditto here. I've never been in a real fight since taking my first class. I suppose I did come close once at a friend's med school graduation. When my friend's brother heard I was studying a martial art (Aikido at that time), he wouldn't stop pestering, then grabbing at me, and finally forcing me around. In keeping with the observations here, he'd never studied a martial art. But he was way bigger than me, so after a bit I felt happy to oblige him with a hip throw. I'd only been training for a little more than a year, so I was kind of surprised and very pleased that it worked. That is, until he reached up, grabbed my tie, and yanked me to the ground! Luckily we were both very amused by this, so that ended that, but I learned quite a few lessons learned that evening.

Apart from that I'm with everyone else. I've got better reflexes and better senses of space and how people move. I've used my falling techniques a couple of times. (One time I was talking with a friend and walking backwards, when I hit an uneven patch of ground and backrolled up to continue the conversation without hardly missing a word :-) I love using my movements to confound my sons when we do some gentle roughhousing.

I've never been in horribly confrontational situation, so I don't know how calm I'd remain. But I do think that the more I study the less likely it will be that I'll find myself in that type of situation.

Colin Wee said...

Thanks for prompting me with that link exchange post, Michelle.


I've been practicing martial arts for the last 25 years. I can credit the martial arts with giving me a lot of tenacity and tolerance when I've needed it. Non-combatively it has been a life saver in the face of physical accidents, business stress/disaster, and dealing with professional challenges (public speaking, hostile negotiations, etc).

I have used the martial arts combatively once while I was in the army. I don't think it was a serious fight, but I got into a tussle with this huge guy who outweighed me by at least 20 kilos and towered over me. Ultimately the fight went to the ground and was really messy - he was just too strong. My benefit was I ended up on top of him and applied a kotegaeshi (wrist turn out) to one of his hands. It would have ended up badly had I not been able to pull that one off. Thankfully it was a non-lethal technique and its effects wore off soon after - and not much more than his pride was bruised. So we ended it well.

Traditional Taekwondo

Michele said...

BBblues: I think you are right that the more you study, the less likely you will be in a confrontation. Way to go on the hip throw!

Colin: Thank you for your comment and link exchange. I have been reading your blog for a while and look forward to reading more.

Colin Wee said...

Thank you Michelle. I'm just realising now that people actually stop by and read my blog. :-) Regards, Colin

Anonymous said...

In general martial-arts give you confidence and courage (if a situation turns physical you know you can handle yourself) and this alone is often enough to deter potential attackers. Not to mention it greatly enriches your life of course. I for one have only been in two serious fights in my whole life and I attribute this mainly to avoiding potentially dangerous situations (situational awareness) and looking and feeling confident. I'm not afraid and always look people straight in the eye in a confident but none-threatening way. As a martial-artist you should get into fights less and less instead of more. If you end up fighting more often it means you were either looking for trouble or your zanshin (situational awareness) sucks.

When someone does try to badmouth me I usually shrug it off and tell him to take a hike: I have no interest in beating up a defenceless, drunken fool who couldn't put a decent fight when his life depended on it. Once when he just wouldn't go away (looked like a fairly sober, strong guy) I stepped into a fighting-stance and invited him to have a go at it. Apparantly some part of his brain was still working and he backed off, I didn't pursue and allowed him to leave without calling him a chicken or whatever. As I said I have no interest in fighting, for one because it can go either way (even as a trained martial-artist you may still lose with possibly dire consequences) and because I like to walk the path of peace. There is enough pain and suffering in the world already and there's no need to add more.

Those who like to get into fights to test their skill, manhood or whatever I'd like to caution: this sort of behavior could land you in alot of trouble and if he happens to be carrying a knife or a gun(while you were counting on an old-fashioned fist-fight) or he has a whole bunch of his buddies hanging around you'll be in serious trouble. Besides that it's bad karma to strike the first blow and a disgrace to whatever art you practice.

Btw: I'm fairly certain none of the people commenting here will ever be inclined to look for fights but I've heard of certain individuals and clubs (mostly kick or thaiboxing) that do this and it just goes to show the idea that martial-arts are meant for defense and self-improvement is not universal, unfortunately.