Practical self-defence

Many students practice Aikido for the purpose of “self-defence.” Self-defence is a worthwhile objective, but I think that people often misunderstand it. There is a significant difference between fighting and practical self-defence. There are far more common and serious threats in your life than a mugger with a gun.

I once attended a seminar with a friend who shared my interest in the combative aspect of Aikido. We stepped outside the dojo during a break, and he promptly lit a cigarette and began to suck it back with great fervour.

I was astonished that he could do that to his body while it was under so much physical stress. I pointed out the irony…. that if he really was interested in “self-defence” per se, he’d put a high priority on cutting back on smoking as well as on practicing joint locks. He had to agree.

Few of us will face a life-or-death combat situation in our lives. But for those of us who ignore their health, emphysema, stroke, heart attacks, cancer, diabetes, depression and a host of other ailments are fairly likely.

According to Statistics Canada, It is far more probable that you will die in a car accident (well over 3,000 in 2007) than in any kind of assault (just over 500). Do you drive defensively?  Do you drink and drive?  

Do you try to protect your health? Obesity is the source of countless fatalities. Nearly 70,000 people died of heart disease in Canada in 2007.

According to the statistics, you are at greater risk of suicide (3,600 plus in 2007) — dying at your own hands — than of dying at the hands of an attacker. That’s an adversary who is hard to defeat.

More than 2,600 people died of falls in 2007 in Canada. How many might have survived if they knew something about falling safely?

While combat, armed and unarmed, is fundamental to the concept of Aikido, it offers many other benefits.  Does your martial art relax you and revitalize you? Does it offer you healthful exercise? Does it calm you? Does it give you concepts for managing confrontations smoothly and safely as well as for surviving sudden street attacks?  Are you part of a supportive and friendly community? Does your practice give you a positive attitude that makes your life happier and more productive?

These are important aspects of true self-defence. Even a beginner, whose technique is not yet “combat-ready,” can get these benefits almost immediately. From this point of view Aikido is a wonderful art.

Of course combat is a central theme in Aikido practice and Aikido technique is an effective way to protect yourself from violence. But when you consider how much time you pour into learning a martial art, you have to ask yourself whether it is making you a stronger and better person – or just a more dangerous one.