The Science of Self Defence

By: Magister

I hope it will challenge, provoke & maybe even enlighten. Give it a go. If it does arouse something in you, please feel free to drop me a line & let me know what you think.

The justification for self defence

We all take part in this thing we call martial arts, but at the end of the day, what is the real point in the activity? What is it within man's psyche which seeks to control something as harrowing as being attacked by another?

The martial arts are necessary to mankind, since every person has a built-in fear of attack. This is proved in the very existence of Adrenaline, a Fight or Flight hormone. It is part of a law of self-preservation & self-protection. Evolution has built every creature with this quality, which conforms to the natural law.

It is a sad truth that potential harm could be caused to you by another human being. There is no manner of protection you can give yourself, but to prepare for the worst. It makes no difference how big or strong you are, how intelligent you are, or how fast your reactions. You alone will not be enough to defend a gang, & therefore the fear is always present.

In that famous philosophical & political text, the Leviathan (1651), Hobbes argued this case most succinctly. He stated that although some men may be stronger or more intelligent than others in their natural state, none are so strong as to be beyond a fear of violent death. This consequently justifies self-defence as man's highest necessity.

This necessity, though slightly pessimistic is at the same time realistic. Even those with a "Love thy neighbour" philosophy recognise the natural necessity for self-defence. Evidence even suggests that Jesus himself was said to have believed in the need for self-defence. In the Gnostic gospel[EN-1] of St. Thomas, Jesus tells Thomas; "Fortunate is the man who knows where the brigands will enter, so that he may get up, muster his domain, and arm himself before they invade."

So the case for self-defence as a necessary human endeavour is apparent. It does not matter how much money you have, how many bodyguards you surround yourself with, the fear of being attacked is a homo-psychological "ball & chain".

The need to critique Lee's works

How many people have actually considered Bruce Lee's ideas & taken them further? Let us not forget the death of this legend, but also let us remember that he died whilst many of his theories were still evolving. As great as he was, (which I do not disagree with) he was a single man who was a part of the evolution of martial arts as Newton was to physics & his ideas were evolving continuously. Lee himself stated that:

"The founder of any branch of Chinese gung fu [or any form of martial arts] must be more ingenious than the common man. If his achievement is not carried on by his disciples of the same ingenuity, then things will only become formalized and get stuck in a cul-de-sac; whereby breakthrough and progress will be almost impossible."

In other words, Lee has pinpointed the reason for crystallization and tradition in the martial arts (or indeed any subject). The fact that truly innovative & ingenious people are rare, means that if it is carried on by people with less ingenuity (not to be confused with intelligence[EN-2]), through the attempt to retain the innovation, the system is taught in a formalised way, lest any secret be lost in digressing. Eventually, the system becomes stale & hence "breakthrough and progress will be almost impossible". Lee's concepts were like the prism to a beam of light. His concepts showed the spectrum of colour present in light. But he did not invent light.

We must remember, that as innovative as Lee's ideas are; they can always be improved upon. The danger lies in when people are satisfied, or accepting of the ideas & unwilling to challenge them [EN-3]. This is the very reason for martial arts becoming crystallised and traditionalised. When no fluidity & flexibility is present, death commences.

Your own path to the truth; the secret of ingenuity

"Seek not to follow in the footsteps of great people; but seek that which they themselves had sought"

-My philosophy

There are many different paths which will lead to enlightenment. However, mastery can extend from understanding the path which so-called "Enlightened ones" have taken. The secret is not to assume it's impossible because you find it hard. But to recognise that if it's humanly possible, you can do it too [EN-4]. Basic psychology tells us that in most situations, under the same stresses, people act & react in much the same way. Therefore, given the same impetus as Lee had, taking the same course of study & reading the same books as Lee, you will come to realise that which Lee realised. For that reason, my philosophy is not to blindly follow Lee's method, but to study that which he himself had sought. Furthermore, this resonates in the understanding of anything. I read that which Aristotle read, so that I may come to the same conclusions as Aristotle. Given the same impetus, most people will come to the same conclusions. Everything in the world manifests itself.

The secret of realising the so-called secrets of martial arts is to look at what is in your sight. The secret is that there are no secrets. Consider that the secrets descend from the founder of the style. The founder of the art discovered the truth, & naturally, after his passing this truth was protected by his followers in order to keep control of the school. However, if the founder discovered it in his own path, you may follow the path to reach the same conclusion [EN-5]. In the words of the Greek philosopher Meno, "by a process of mere questioning, will he attain a true science, knowledge in the fullest sense by the recovery of such science out of himself."

Only then will what was once hidden become plain to you. Others will recognise the innovation of your thought, because they realise it has always been there - but they were unaware of it. Gravity has always been present on the earth, but the innovation of Newton was that he brought it to people's attention. If gravity had always been present, what did he truly say that was innovative? He simply saw what was in his sight (the apple falling) & what was once hidden (the existence of gravity) became plain to him.

Lee looked at what was plain to him; the movements of the human body & their application to fighting - and what was out of sight became visible. His own teaching of this path was what he called Jeet Kune Do. By looking at what is in your sight; what is unknown will become evident to you. That was the purpose of JKD. "Again let me remind you Jeet Kune Do is just a name used, a boat to get one across, and once across it is to be discarded and not to be carried on one's back."

So consider those basic techniques you practice over & over. Do not wish for more, for you have the secrets already. When you can truly understand this, then you too will have the secret of ingenuity.

An individual truth or a universal truth?

Bruce Lee once stated: "The Truth in Combat is different for each individual."

To critique this statement, we must first look at what "truth" is. To the philosophical Pessimism movement in Western philosophy, no truth can ever be known, because our entire understanding of the world around us is constructed by what our senses tell us (and our senses can often be mistaken).

For example, our perspective of fire tells us that it is hot & causes pain & damage; but if we were to view it from the perspective of granite, fire would not cause any damage at all. It's powers of destruction are purely relative depending upon the subject receiving its effects. Therefore, we can only know anything from a human perspective.

The meaning of truth was summed up perfectly by a Greek philosopher named Parmenides who stated that one should "...view the world with an independent, or true view (that is independent of time and position, the accidents & peculiar view point of the receiver)". This is a much better explanation than that which the dictionary gives; "that which is not False...conforming with reality".

It stands to reason that in any situation, there will be many different sides, but there remains only one truth. What happened, happened - that is the fact & the truth. But ask any observers & each version will be slightly different. Thus, the very meaning of the truth, suggests that an individual truth is impossible - a mere illusion.

The truth lies in seeing passed the "versions"; the perception, to see the totality; the truth. Each martial art is a version of the truth, a perspective. Tae Kwon-Do teaches that kicks are the answer, Judo demonstrates that throwing is the answer; Muay Thai promotes elbow & shins as the answer.

Terminal simplicity

Lee had the right idea in "taking what is useful & discarding the rest". With this idea, Lee infers that martial arts have elements that are useful, but they also have parts that have missed the point. This is true since all martial arts are a "version" of the truth. In the same way as a police officer will ask all the witnesses to build up a true picture of the event, or an historian who will look at all the sources in context. It is your faculty in discovering the truth to identify that which is useful as separate from that which is useless. What is useful is universal. This universal will appear in many art forms. Be your own police officer; look at all the arts, take what is useful, it's point of view within context, compare with others & build a true view of the martial arts event by discarding the rest.

This being said, however, what Lee didn't quite reach is the fact that what is useful will always be the same. Perhaps this was part of his theory which was not fully explored. Why is it that he opted for Boxing techniques in his JKD? I believe that it is because they are natural techniques, which follow a principle of natural simplicity. He didn't use "Boxing" techniques, he used techniques which are natural to the human body, which happen to also be in boxing. Why did he not use Karate gedan barai? How many non-martial artists do you see use a Gedan barai in a pub brawl? Techniques with more artifice than reality are useless and are therefore the first methods to be discarded. In accordance to the dictionary description, these techniques are not true because they do not have a basis in ordinary reality.

So why these specific techniques? The Roman philosopher Marcus Aurelius stated that "To a reasoning being, an act that accords with nature is an act that accords with reason." The explanation as to why nature is a perfect example of reason & structure is too complex to argue in this article. Nevertheless, nature has an inert way of being terminally simple. It is only our human inability to see the bottom of the iceberg that makes our minds consider the world as complex.

The secret to mastery of any martial art: Ding An Sich

Take your mind away from your body, & what you have left is an object. Imagine that your body is an object like any other. The body is a weapon like any inanimate object - it has its very own armoury in the form of bones. Conversely, the human body has many weak points; where nerves converge, where tendons are just beneath the skin & where bones cannot protect the vital organs well enough (the floating ribs for example). This is a good argument for the proof of Dim Mak or fabled "Death Touch".

Now if your body is a weapon, consider it "Ding An Sich", or "The thing in itself". This was a philosophical idea popularised by a German philosopher named Immanuel Kant (22 April 1724 - 12 February 1804). He argued that because the mind bases it's knowledge of the world around it from the senses, we must recognise that these senses are a purely human perception. Therefore, objects exist in & of themselves & do not need someone to perceive it in order for it to exist [EN-6]. This means that we should consider the weapon in itself - take the hand for example.

The most powerful parts are the knuckles, the palm & the base (when clenched). The application of these areas to the open targets of the opponent creates a phenomenon more commonly known as a "technique". I argue that many martial arts teach techniques without looking at their elemental purpose. If the body's weapons were considered Ding An Sich, alongside the target of application or it's point of convergence, then the techniques will happen naturally.

If we take these possible techniques as the parameters of fighting we can begin to construct the truth in combat. Parameters & elements are present in every subject. Music, for example, is based upon the same notes. Any kind of music, from classical to Punk rock uses the same basic notes. With this in mind, all humans have two arms & two legs, which means that all movements possible are limited to the range of motion possible with these limbs.

Once you have identified which parts of the body are best used as weapons, we must also consider the targets on the human body in which these can be applied.

[1] The Gnostic gospels are thought by some to be the true Christianity. These texts were discovered in Egypt & are referred to as the Nag Hammadi. Arguably one of the most important archaeological finds of the 20th Century, they are texts much closer to Jesus' original teachings. Some even pre-date the more well-known 4 Gospels in Roman-Catholic Christianity. These texts have gained much modern popularity because of conspiracy theories as well as The Da Vinci Code. For a good account of the texts & the religion, see Ehrman's "Lost Christianities". For the full copy of St. Thomas' Gospel, consult Ehrman's "Lost Scriptures".

[2] It is evidenced in many martial arts systems whereby the founders ideas are not furthered & are not progressed. A good example would be Lee's JKD. Some masters have taken the art further, looked into what Lee was studying & improved the system where Lee was interrupted. Others on the other hand state, sometimes ignorantly, that Lee's ideas can never be improved & describe the highest point achievable in the martial arts. This would be a mentality based upon faith rather than informed reason.

[3] Einstein once remarked that ingeniousness was a unique combination of knowledge & imagination. Many people are intelligent, & knowledgeable, but few are ingenious.

[4] A truly inspiring statement, however, I have simply paraphrased the words of the great Roman philosopher Marcus Aurelius, Book 6, 19. For more inspiring lines, see Aurelius' Meditations.

[5] Although my philosophy is geared towards self-teaching & learning, there are many pitfalls. The study must be made soberly, looking at all the possible areas of study & viewing the whole picture. That way, any knowledge gained can be put into context. We must consider the main exponents of the study, say Bruce Lee, Morihei Ueshiba, et al, and seek to learn the underlying principles of each masters method. We cannot rule-out any masters ideology based upon our own favourites, or our own opinions. Self-teaching means you must act in two minds; as a student & as your own critical teacher.

[6] Remember that well known saying; "If a tree falls in a forest, does it make a sound?". Consider this carefully. The word "sound" infers a sense - which needs a living being to perceive it. Since trees have no sense to perceive "sound", would the tree falling make a "sound"? In effect, the phenomenon of "sound" cannot exist without a sense to make the vibrations of the air mean anything.

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