BJJ Tips: self defence, what is it? What is this "self" and what are we "defending" it against / from?

Self defence is one of the primary reasons for seeking instruction in a martial art, such as Gracie or Brazilian jiu-jitsu. The problem, however, is that not all teachers of martial arts agree on what self defence actually entails. Rightly or wrongly, some instructors mean "staying safe from punches and other strikes in an altercation".

Others refer to a preset number of scenarios they'll drill such as "escapes against  bear hugs" or "escapes from pins against the wall"

while others go as far as including local / national legal consequences and definitions of "reasonable force".

I think defining the "self" and "defence" will go a long way to help us address this question.*

The Self: What is it?

There are many ways to look at what constitutes self so I will summarise my way of looking at it here:

The physical: Here, the self simply refers to the body. Starting from the outside and working inwards:

  • -Your skin - are you looking after the first barrier of your body? do you spend enough (but not too much time) in sun light? are you wearing long sleeve rash guards and good gis? do you always wash your gi, belt and rash guard and other equipment after every session? do you protect your skin from germs on the mat or perhaps even refuse to train at a facility (or with individuals) with questionable hygiene? do you cut your nails short?
  • -alimentary (aka digestive) system: do you wear good quality gum-shield? do you look after your teeth? do you look after the quality of your diet and investigate for yourself what is good for you and what isn't? do you use any supplements and why (or why not)? 
  • -cardiovascular systems: do you ensure you have enough access to fresh air everyday? do you ensure that your cardio conditioning needs are met and that you have healthy heart, lungs and blood vessles? do you enough about this subject? if not, who does and how can you learn? do you, heaven forbid, smoke? do you rest enough? do you take too many training breaks during the year?
  • -musculoskeletal systems: do you strengthen your muscles regularly? training jiu jitsu is one thing, but if you are like me then your style of training will mean you have imbalances in your body (right-left preferences, top-bottom preferences, push-pull preferences, flexible-tight imbalances...etc). What are you doing about those? When you do hit the gym, are you focusing on the big muscles such as the chest and quads to the detriment of the core, the stabilisers and smaller support muscles? do you enough about this subject? if not, who does and how can you learn? Are your bones and joints healthy and strong? Does your diet and exercise regime ensure that or are you just guessing? are you agile and flexible or just Grrr strong? do you even yoga?

The spiritual: I've talked a lot about how Buddhism has coloured my view on the struggle between the Ego and the true Self so I'll just leave you with a question: Which "self" are you exactly protecting? I hope you know the distinction between the true self and the Ego because when the Ego is in danger, you better not put the true self in harms way just to defend it!

The mental: do you lead an unhealthily stressful life? are you constantly worried about your income, the well being of yourself or loved ones? are you working a fulfilling job? do you find yourself sometimes creating unnecessary stress for yourself (and / or those around you)? do you spend at least a few minutes per day contemplating your life / meditating? to quote the character "Bane" from The Dark Knight: "Do you feel in charge?"

The threat: What are we defending against? 

Let's look at the threats we face in everyday life this way: Avoidable and unavoidable threats of dangers.

Avoidable: Looking at the above definition of the self, what dangers can we foresee and, perhaps, work towards avoiding?

  • Physical threats - sunburn, skin infections, cuts, dental damage, processed food, obesity, lethargy, some types of diabetes, oxidative damage, lack of concentration, no gas tank, arteriosclerosis and other heart issues, injuries caused by bodily imbalances (some parts will overcompensate for weakness / rigidity in others, leading to higher risk of injury), injuries caused by lapses in focus.
  • Spiritual threats - dangers of mistaking an assumed identity (the Ego) for the true you. This alone can get you into a world of trouble and endless pain and misery. A simple example is associating your selfworth with your ability in some field (such as BJJ) or even worse, the colour of your belt.
  • Mental threats - a certain amount of stress is necessary and indeed healthy. We grow when we are pushed but there's a limit. Confucius said: "the green reed that bends in the wind is stronger than the mighty oak that breaks in the storm", but after a while you must stop and ask yourself: "Why is the wind always blowing in my face? Is it perhaps time to move?". Is your job / family / health situation eating you alive? We all love to play "Hero" but sometimes we need to know when it's time to perhaps seek help from a friend or simply call it quits and move on.

Unavoidable: While you can do everything right to protect yourself, certain things are inevitable: Ageing and accidents will happen. The lives of people will put them under strain during their journey that they might not meet your expectations of them, at no fault of your or their own. Shit just happens.

So how can I "defend" this "self" of mine?

OK, now that we have some vague definition of what we are dealing with, we can start to put together a master-plan. Save the cheerleader, save the world.

At the heart of self defence is what the AA calls the Serenity Prayer**:

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.

A powerful message in three parts. Let's look at those, but in a slightly different order, and use them as a blueprint for selfdefence:

  1. The courage to change the things you can: Don't become a master of fighting in the dark, rather avoid dark alleys. Look after your diet and your body. Exercise in a healthy, balanced way and build a stronger and healthier body, not just focusing on effectiveness. Do not compromise with your health (physical, spiritual or mental) and do not give in to the temptations of self-pity. Be Awesome!  
  2. The serenity to accept the things you cannot change: When life throws a curveball in the shape of an accident, a redundancy, a change in your financial / family / study situation then take a deep breath and smile. It's gonna happen anyway, why not meet it with a smile, a calm heart and rolled-up sleeves?
  3. The wisdom to know the difference: This is a big one. Huge. Not to dissimilar to knowing when to hold on to a position vs let go and move on to the next, you need to question (deeply) if what you have in front of you is something you can avoid (or if too late, fix) or if it's unavoidable. Before you start pointing fingers at all potential suspects as to why you got injured / lost your job / got dumped / got mugged...etc. ask yourself, was there anything I could have done better? If so, what can I learn from this experience? If not, however, really question why you should beat yourself about it any further. Get up and dust yourself off. Grow old, but gracefully.

I was once asked if I felt that the martial arts made me a better person. After some thought, I realised the answer is "yes" and "no". "Yes" since the Martial Arts provide great vehicles for self defence, improvement and, ultimately, growth and evolution. "No" because not all these benefits are handed to you on a silver platter. The tools are there but you have to make it your own personal mission to seek them and learn how to use them yourself.



Liam "The Part Time Grappler" Wandi

Proudly sponsored by Predator Fightwear: Built for the kill and Brutal TShirt: Made By Grapplers For Fighters

*this is MY definition and how I choose to train. You must go your own homework. 
** The inherent message is what calls me here, not the question of "is there a god or not?"

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