In the depressing wake of the recent stabbing in Streatham, London, the gory details of which I don’t want to repeat, I have been asked by many of my students what one should do if ever confronted with a similar horror. If a man wielding a knife is charging at you on the street, what would you do?
The term fight or flight is often used to describe the reaction of the human body when faced with danger. The human body will either run and escape the threat or turn and confront it. In any dangerous situation, our brain assesses the situation and asks, ‘Can I win or escape?’.
At times, it finds a viable escape route, and your mind chooses to run. If your brain judges the situation as something your body can confront and win, it will decide to fight, although victory is not always guaranteed. In Martial Arts, we view both running and fighting as sitting on the same end of the scale. Both choices involve assessment and reaction displaying a proactiveness to dealing with the situation. The alternative response, and sadly the most common, is that the body completely freezes.
Many people will become paralyzed, cling onto the person next to them or submit to the danger in front of them. People freeze when they are faced with a threat they do not know how to handle.
How do you deal with a 6ft 5” man weighing 120kg swinging wildly for your head? What would you do if you found yourself cornered by a gang of youths in a dark alleyway, and each simultaneously punching and kicking all parts of your body with no reprieve? How do you react when faced with a knife-wielding maniac looking to decapitate you? You may not have an answer, but these are all very real scenarios and can happen to any of us.
How can we handle such scenarios? When confronted with danger, our body needs to react extremely quickly with no conscious effort because applying thought requires time, and our reaction becomes slower. Think about our most basic actions that we carry out daily, it involves a complex series of tensing and relaxing different muscles. Because we have been doing this since childhood, it is done smoothly and quickly with no conscious effort. This is what we call muscle memory. Martial Arts is designed to develop muscle memory to help deal with dangerous and violent situations. Through training, we continually put our body and mind through many rigours to condition it to be perceptive to shapes and actions of dangerous nature. Martial Arts will develop the individual to assess and react in the best possible way. Whether it be escaping or confronting the situation, a trained mind will determine the best solution given the conditions and environment it is found in.
Violence and cruelty can be found everywhere in the world. We can thank our primitive ancestors for those characteristics, and we humans have taken our inherited tendencies to exceptionally vicious levels. It is for this reason that I truly believe Martial Arts is an essential life skill. Rory Miller, a prison correctional officer, famously said -
‘The only defence against evil, violent men is good men who are more skilled at violence’.
To deal with violence, one must understand violence and know how to overcome it. I believe everyone should invest time and effort to learn self-defence, putting in the hours to understand and study the dangers they could face and practise ways to overcome them. Some of you may think all of this is not very relevant or maybe disinterested but if you ever face a situation like the two people last week in Streatham, what would you do?