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In his book, Meditations on Violence, on the subject of Sudden Acts of Violence, Sgt. Rory Miller says,
"... skill at fighting is the least likely to affect your survival in a sudden assault. It's better to avoid than to run; better to run than to de-escalate; better to de-escalate than to fight; better to fight than to die.
"To be perfectly clear, I am not talking about brawling, dueling, sparring or martial arts. What you need falls more into the category of [...] explosive "blitz" attack[s].
"No one voluntarily [...] faces a knife unarmed...but look at all the training that goes into that [scenario].
"The very essence of self-defense is a thin list of things that might get you out alive when you are already screwed."
I've posted this for two reasons; first, to recommend the book it is quoted from (to senior black-belts especially, definitely NOT to children) and second, as a reality check for those of us who believe a couple of dojo sessions a week is sufficient training to survive a sudden, un-expected, assault.
That 'thin list of things' Sgt. Miller talks about is a very telling point. It is indeed an extremely thin list of things that your survival may depend upon. Don't be fooled into thinking that all the bunkai we spend hours labouring over will serve any purpose if your life is actually on the line someday.
You've heard me go on and on about the importance of a kiai when executing a technique, of bombarding your opponent with multiple sensory elements. So understand the term 'explosive "blitz" attack'. Explosions are usually loud, not to mention extremely violent and, for most of us, they induce the flinch response. Lightning is very powerful and extremely bright, and as the precursor to a clap of thunder, will usually induce the flinch response if it strikes close by. At close quarters, both elements are also instantaneous.
Blitz means an overwhelming all-out attack at high speed. (Blitzkrieg ... lightning war: tactic used by the German armed forces in WWII to run roughshod over Western Europe). Get the message? In order to survive the sudden assault you need to be able to transform yourself into a one-person lightning war machine, in the blink of an eye.
At best, what we do in the dojo, under extremely regulated conditions, is little better than play fighting. It's not the physical aspects of self-defense that will get us through such an event as a sudden assault; it's not our front kick or our reverse punch; it's our mental resilience, our will to survive against all odds, our willingness to inflict maximum damage (there are legal precedents regarding reasonable force that apply here) against an opponent (i.e., another human being) in order to save our own lives or the lives of others.
So, self-defense becomes self-survival; a very basal human instinct. It's a scientific fact that the ability to kill resides in all human beings; martial arts training may just help to harness this power at times of great danger and keep it under control so that we do not go too far.