The Elite Martial Art self defense curriculum is a subset of the training in Hapkido which covers many aspects of physical combat. Hapkido is an eclectic system that includes a wide range of techniques that doesn’t waver in the popularity of the newest fads in martial arts reminiscent of the “Karate Kid”, the onslaught of ninja movies, etc. Basic training begins with gaining an awareness of different aspects of self defense including legality, escape techniques, and defensive techniques. Cover all aspects of self defense, prevent it when you can, confront it when you must.
For a curriculum on self defense, one may wonder “when are going to teach me how to take him down!”. The amount of discussion without reference to specific physical techniques emphasizes not only the complexity of issues, but that physical technique may be effective given a holistic understanding.
Common Misconceptions of Self Defense
There are karate schools on nearly every strip mall but few truly offer self defense training. Many schools operate as belt factories pushing the masses selling belts for fees and proclaiming to offer everything from losing weight to self defense as well as a cure to a variety of physical ailments. While there are many legitimate schools that are good at what they do, self defense is often an afterthought. Some offer competitive sport training, some offer traditional programs which often take years to master, while others may even be playgrounds for kids promoting self confidence and “feel” good environments. This is not necessarily bad in itself, but it is an injustice to call that self defense and give a false sense of security when in fact, you’re really not prepared.
Competitive sport training and traditional programs have merits in their own rights. Competitive sparring tries to simulate “real world” and is effective in teaching timing, speed, distance control, and realizing that you do get hit and prepares one for that. Traditional programs may offer good self defense techniques but are often complicated and may take years to learn, let alone master. Hapkido is no exception. It is a complex holistic system and has great strengths in self defense. However, it will take years to master. Elite Martial Art self defense programs are not presented as a martial art, it is an extract of some of the simpler and basic techniques that can be learned effectively, and more importantly, applied with a minimal amount of training.
The greatest weapon that we possess is our minds. Even the greatest fighter in the world will go down in defeat if he or she loses the mental edge. All the training in the world goes out the door when you’ve lost the mental superiority that comes with confidence and awareness. Understanding effective self defense begins with having a good understanding of one’s surroundings and avoiding those situations that may escalate into conflicts and putting one in harm’s way, e.g., don’t go aimlessly wandering into a seedy bar and then realize you are in deep trouble. Be aware of your surroundings at all times, know your escape routes, be prepared and present an air of confidence. Criminals prey on the weak, preoccupied, the easiest targets. In addition, there are the jokes about “the art of running away.” There’s nothing wrong with that and one would be prudent in exercising this technique whenever feasible. In fact, one has a much greater chance at a legal defense in the use of force if they can demonstrate that physical action was a last resort after all attempts to diffuse the situation were exhausted including running away. It may not sound “macho”, but the knowing when to run and when to fight is in itself, a self defense technique.
The book “The Art of War” by Sun Tzu is a timeless classic of military strategy studied by generals and politicians for centuries and has also been taught at the Harvard Business School. Sun Tzu states "According as circumstances are favorable, one should modify one’s plans".
Simply put, know when to fight and when not to fight. Rather than cowardice, it would be a wise decision not to take on a better armed opponent on their own grounds. No one would question that in the battlefield and Sun Tzu’s commentary shows the timelessness and sage words of a brilliant military strategist. Looking at in another way, criminals have very little to lose while most honest people have jobs, families, assets. Is it worth risking financial and criminal liability in a litigious world for your ego’s sake?
Another important aspect not specifically covered in many strip mall schools, is one’s state of mind. One may be physically prepared for a confrontation, but being mentally prepared takes on yet another degree of complexity but one that absolutely cannot be ignored. Painful questions such as “what if there is knife drawn against me”, “what if a loved one is threatened” adds a whole new level of complexity when one is not only defending themselves but faced with the possibility of harm to a loved one. These are tough and quite honestly, painful and unpleasant thoughts for most anyone. However, mental preparedness is key and without it, physical prowess and technique may become ineffective.
The Legality of Self Defense
There are yet, other aspects to consider. Most karate schools fail to address the legality of self defense. One of the basic aspects is the use of force. Generally speaking, one cannot apply greater force than that is being applied against you. For example, if an assailant attacked with pushing and yelling, responding with a well placed karate chop to knock the assailant unconscious would not likely be defensible. A personal example was a good friend of mine who was working with his father when an assailant attempted to assault his father. The aggressor turned his attention on my friend and attempted to throw a punch which was blocked and followed by a kick to the head. My friend had no “visible” injuries and the police arrested him. It was his word against the guy with a welt on his head. Unjust, not fair, certainly, but the law is clear on use of force. The level of response must be in proportion to level of threat. Feelings and egos are poor if not completely inadequate basis for defense in litigation. Said simply, if those things that were harmed can be objectively quantified, a broken arm, physical bruises, etc., then an appropriate level of response may be justified. Bruised egos and feelings are subjective emotional responses and are poor legal defenses. The old adage “kick him while he’s down” in most scenarios will get you thrown in jail.
Having said that, when all other options have been exhausted or one is forced into a threatening, perhaps even a mortal situation, knowing basic techniques would serve one well. Unfortunately, there are no “secret” death techniques that can give one instant “victory”, at least not without years and years of training (not that one would be justified in using such force under most scenarios). It may take weeks, months to learn how to effectively defend oneself to a point where one can extricate oneself from a threatening situation. Notice that it wasn’t “defend, stand, and fight”. One’s primary goal in self defense should be to gain the advantage of time to get out of a dangerous situation, to a crowd, to a public place, anywhere that help may be. Your chances of survival are tremendously improved in a public place and decrease rapidly the farther one gets from public areas where cries for help or struggle will go unheard.
Knowing your surroundings and basic survival skills are good foundations but what if one is faced with what is perceived as a life threatening situation? The basic theory of law says that no greater force than that is applied to you. If one feels that they, their family, loved ones, are under threat of IMMEDIATE GREAT BODILY HARM, then it may be legally justifiable to take an appropriate level of response, again, when all other options such as deescalating or extricating from the situation, have been exhausted.
Please note that no aspect of this discussion is meant to provide legal advice and any such inquiries should be directed to a qualified attorney.