Saturday, 21 September 2013

Why current rape support strategies may be creating victims (ADULT CONTENT, TRIGGER ALERT, EXPLICIT LANGUAGE). 21.09.13

“We're making a better world. All of them... better worlds.”
Serenity.

Before I even start, I want to answer a question many people are going to ask, probably in rather unkind tones: who the hell am I to talk about rape?

I am not a rape expert.  I have not studied it, I have not gone through systematized advocate training and I have not worked in support organisations.  I am just a person who spent a lot of time with people whose lives have been overly eventful.  I have been honoured by people sharing with me their experiences when there were no inducement to – and I mean “honoured”, because they did it by their own choice.  I had nothing to offer but my ability to listen.  I have also been the person who was deemed able to help people in times of need, when they needed someone to lean against whilst navigating the official support system.

“The plural of anecdote is not evidence”, I know.  But what I have seen and heard happened; and no amount of accepted theories and peer-reviewed papers is going to make me discount it.  Furthermore, yes, I am an amateur at rape support.  That also means that I have never operated within an ideology or a system.  I have never been officially indoctrinated about what rape is or isn’t.  I am not engaged in a moral crusade against it – which DOES NOT mean that I condone or support it, merely that my focus is different from that of most specialists I have met.  The only thing I ever cared about was to help people recover, as much as they could, as quickly as they could.  I have never been guided by accepted best practices or lofty ideals.  I just tried to do whatever needed doing to help them get their lives back together.

Also, if you think that I am talking about the subject in a cold and unemotional manner, please believe that this does not come without some serious, deliberate effort.  I am doing so for two main reasons.  Firstly, I believe people are entitled to hear my thoughts, not my feelings.  Venting how I feel about the issue is not going to help anyone other than me.  Secondly, the way I feel about the issue, if left to guide my writing, would result in a lot of vehement and vulgar language.  I know that it would be a barrier for a lot of people.  The bottom line is: it’s not that I don’t care.  It’s that I care enough to make the effort to try and present the issue in a coherent, polite, controlled manner.

……………

I have some serious reservation about whether the current accepted strategies for rape support are helping survivors recover as well as they could.  In fact, from my limited experience, some of the accepted methods seem to actually increase the likelihood of survivors suffering long-term psychological effects from the event; in actuality, they may be turning the survivors into victims, rather than the other way round.[1]

Firstly, and it is almost an aside, post-rape support in this country (UK) is that it is often tightly linked with the reporting system.  The accepted strategy is to contact the police; they will then arrange all necessary medical follow-up procedures.  This is great if a survivor wants to report.  If, for whatever reasons, the survivor does not want to report, accessing acceptable medical support can be an ordeal, and I don’t use this emotive word by accident.  The medical system often does not appear to be geared up to handle this kind of emergency.  The most significant issues I have noticed are as follows:
  • Hospitals and surgeries unable or unwilling to offer the option of picking the gender of the doctor, and/or to have a same-gender nurse present, and/or allow someone supporting the survivor to be present.  Quite often, the last thing a recent rape survivor needs is to have one’s private areas examined one-to-one by someone the same gender as the rapist.
  • Medical professionals not having the skills to talk to rape survivors.  Some of the comments I have heard were quite staggering, ranging from the dismissive to the insulting to the plainly, obviously disgusted or terrified.  I have also seen plenty of professionals handle the situation with great aplomb and professionalism; however, the fact that some of them don’t know what to say and don’t seem to be able to keep quiet or hide their feelings on the subject can be a real issue.
  • Medical professionals telling survivors that “they should report it”.  Not having any legal or psychological training, they are ill-qualified to give advice on this issue.
  • For long-term resulting sexual health issues, the only port of call is often the public genito-urinary medicine clinic.  Now, there is often quite a stigma associated with having to visit that particular sort of clinic.  Whether that should be the case or not is beside the point – that’s how it is.  The bottom line is that survivors are effectively forced undergo a humiliating experience in order to access the necessary medical support.

And my all-time favourite:
  • Emergency departments that force people to state what the emergency is in the lobby, in front of other members of the public, with no privacy whatsoever.


This is, as I said, almost an aside.  Things, to my eyes, can get considerably worse when one tries to access the official reporting and/or support system available to rape survivors.  Once the physical and medical issues are resolved, the most significant issue rape can have on a survivor is psychological damage.  It seems to me that the way support is often offered can greatly increase the risk of long-term problems of this nature.

I have known three groups of people who I have seen reliably recover from rape, returning to “normal” within as short a period of time as possible: sex workers[2], people in the very lowest socio-economic levels and women living in war zones or under military dictatorships.  These groups have some characteristics in common:

    They accept rape as a real possibility.  They do not condone it or excuse it, but they do accept that it can happen to them.  Rape and other violence are a reality in both street culture and lower socio-economic levels.  They are facts of life.  People living in those cultures have a completely different grasp of the subject from the majority of the public, to whom it is a vague, mythical issue that is grasped only conceptually, if at all.  These people don’t live “under the spectre of rape”, because rape to them is not a spectre – it is flesh-and-bone reality.  This has three huge impacts on how they operate around the subject.
Firstly, if it does occur, it does not blindside them.  It is not an unexplainable horror that comes out of nowhere.  It is not something that “just doesn’t happen to the likes of us.”  It is almost an occupational hazard, a calculated risk. 
Secondly, by accepting it as an eventuality they prepare against it to the best of their abilities.  They have a plan to avoid it as much as they can.  If it does occur, they can genuinely say that they have done everything they could to prevent it from taking place.
Thirdly, they have a plan to survive the actual physical events.  They have thought of steps to minimise the physical damage they incur.  More importantly, as the rape is unfolding they are not necessarily passive victims; they are actually busy keeping themselves as safe as they can.  This can have a huge impact on the way the view their role in the event[3].

They know other rape survivors.  They have seen people who have gone through the event and come out of the other end relatively unscathed and functional.  This is called “modelling” behaviour.  They know functional people whom it has happened to – so they know that recovery is possible.  They also know that rape survivors are people just like them, not a separate class of human.  They are able to share their experiences, if they want to, with people who understand their position.  They are able to get some informed practical help without having to access the “system”.  Most importantly, when rape is a shared experience it loses a lot of its stigma[4]

They do not see rape as “a fate worse than death”.  Rape is a horrible event.  However, we shouldn’t ignore the fact that there are worse things out there.  It can be terribly hard for a lot of us to appreciate that for some people rape can be the least injurious option, because we do not deal with death and/or torture as part of our daily life.  Some people do.  Some people can walk out of a rape and genuinely think that “they got away lightly”, because they didn’t die.  All of their limbs, although injured at times, are still present and correct.  To a lot of people who walk with death on a daily basis, that is a definitive bonus.   Furthermore, the hyperbole about it being worse than death is a big part of modelling permanent victim behaviour.  Rape is, overwhelmingly, not meant to kill.

Please note that I am NOT minimising or excusing rape.  All I am doing is listing the characteristics of three groups of people who seem to survive it remarkably better than the majority of us.  The reason I am doing so is that these strategies seem to work, yet they run antithetically to the way rape support is currently offered.

We are taught to view rape as an alien occurrence that just shouldn’t take place.  When it happens, it blindsides us.  We may or may not have a strategy to avoid it.  In fact, there is an increasing resistance to teaching women about self-protection but pre-assault risk reduction.  This because it is classed as “victim blaming”.

We are also taught that all rapes are the same.  They are all monstrous, traumatic, unforgivable event and they are all about power and control.  The truth is that rapes happen for a whole variety of reasons, in a whole variety of settings, and some of them are just about the sex.  It doesn’t justify them in any way, shape or form, but it makes them different.  We should be allowed to have feelings and thoughts specific to our personal experience. 

My biggest bugbear, however, is the throwaway sentences you routinely get as soon as someone comes forth as a rape survivor.  “It is not your fault”, I have no problems with.  We operate within the belief that there is still a stigma associated with being the survivor of a sexual crime.  How much of that is based in reality is a different story.  Personally, the only people I have ever seen genuinely “victim blaming” are people who are likely to rape, rapists, and people who have a vested interest in defending rapists, for instance lawyers and close family members.  We are unlikely to ever be able to fully eradicate those groups, I guess, so it is worthwhile to continue to reinforce this concept.  It hurts nobody and it can do some good.

However, the second sentence is usually “there is nothing you could have done to stop it.”  THAT I have huge problems with.  Saying that “there was nothing I could have done” makes me blameless, to be sure, but also powerless.  I was powerless to stop that attack.  Hence, I will also be powerless to stop it happening again, and again, and again.  If you want to build neurosis into a person, I can’t think of a better way.

How much control do we have on whether we get raped or not?  Well, how much control do we have on our lives?  The only answer that makes any sense to me is “some”, but I have hit a lot of sharp corners in my life.  As humans, we tend to operate within accepted narratives that grant us illusion of control and an acceptable story about things we can't control. These often work together (e.g. I'm in control of my world, but the reason I can't get ahead is because I'm the wrong gender/ wrong race/wrong size/my family is keeping me down/the boss hates me, etc.).  By hanging onto these narratives we make ourselves gods and in control of our world, yet we can farm out the blame for many of our problems.

Going from “I am in control of my life and that kind of thing doesn't happen to me” to it having happened is a hardcore reality crash.  The person feels exposed and vulnerable. The easy options to choose at this point are the extremes – either it’s completely someone else’s fault and I had no control, or I will take full responsibility so I can still be in control.  Usually neither of them are factually correct.  Often there was something that could have been done, but there is no knowing how much it would have helped, if at all.  The more balanced, healthier conclusion we can reach is “I can control some things, but not others”.  The way we often reach it is by going through the two extreme phases first – only, if you are a rape survivor, you are not allowed to.  You are never allowed to “blame yourself”, because you’re a “victim”.  It does make me wonder whether one of the reasons survivors are often not willing to seek help or to continue getting it is purely the fact that it can hinder their recovery, that it only makes them feel worse.

The system may be engineering trauma into survivors, and this isn’t a theory I developed out of thin air.  If we look at the criteria for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, they include both exposure to a trauma and a response of fear, helplessness, or horror[5].  The current system teaches rape survivors that they were helpless and they should feel horror.  How can this possibly help them recover?

On the surface the focus of the system is not on so much on helping the existing “victims”, but on a moral drive to abolish rape altogether.  The emphasis is on “I will right this wrong!” rather than on “how can I help this?”.  As a consequence, unpalatable or “morally unacceptable” solutions are often disregarded, even though they can be seen to work for those groups who have to survive rape because they just can’t avoid it.[6]

If you do not believe that support systems are being hijacked by a moral crusade, just think of the contrast between the response to rape and other forms of interpersonal violence, which is frankly no picnic either.  You can be beaten to within an inch of your life, be severely physically damaged as a result, yet the moment you come round you will be automatically treated as a survivor.  This makes logical sense, because you did survive; you didn’t die.  The emphasis from that point forward will be on your recovery, not on your trauma.  You will be given a menu of services to aid your recovery that may include psychological help, but you will not be told that you will need it.  You will be told that you need to manage (not repress) your emotional reactions, and supported as required.  You will also be told, with due care and respect but quite clearly, that you might need to make some changes if your emotional reactions are hindering your recovery.

As a survivor of non-sexual interpersonal violence at no point are you likely to be exposed to professionals having any sort of emotional meltdown regarding your ordeal.[7]  This is really very important, because humans are designed to emotionally infect each other and usually trained from a young age to respect the authority of professionals.  This is particularly true during emergencies.  If a specialist is openly horrified and tells you that you must be very traumatised indeed and probably broken forever, you are likely to buy that unquestioningly.

By contrast, generally speaking, the system expects rape survivors to fall apart.  In fact, not only do they expect it, but with the modelled behaviour and information they provide, they pretty well guarantee it.  It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Now, you should not be ashamed if this happens, because it can be a natural reaction.  It isn’t the only acceptable reaction, though, and you shouldn’t be made to feel ashamed if that’s not what happens to you.  You should be allowed to think that “it wasn’t so bad”, if it helps you – even if that may be perceived by some as deflecting some of the blame from the perpetrators, because it should not be about them.  You should not be encouraged to feel more traumatised than you actually are.

The other thing you won’t be told as a survivor of non-sexual interpersonal violence is what coping mechanisms you should select.  That is often not the case with rape survivors.  Now, I have known rape survivors to use all manners of coping mechanisms, ranging from hunting down the perpetrators, to having sex with them again to exorcise the fear, to discounting the whole event as “just another f*ck”.  Some of these mechanisms would work with me; most wouldn’t.  This doesn’t matter to because the thing is, this is not about me – it’s about them.  And as far as I’m concerned, anything that helps them get better and move on, as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else (including themselves), is just grand.  This applies even when their choices do not fit in with my ideals and my strategies – because, let me repeat it, this is not about me.  Ultimately, telling people that there is a “right way” to feel and to cope is a bit too close to teaching them how to live, which nobody can convince me I have a right to.

It seems apparent to me that there are inherent flaws in the support system, and they all seem to stem from the fact that it is focused on fighting rape.  Now, you tell me that rape is an abomination, and my thinking is “Gee, well spotted there.  Congratulations on this amazing realisation.  Now, can we focus on the fact that a person is hurting?  Can we save the crusading for later?”

I hugely admire people with ideals.  I am all for the abolition of rape, as well as all other forms of violence.  It would be lovely to be living in a completely safe world.  But we don’t, and I can’t see it happening in my lifetime, if ever.  Right here, right now, we have to deal with the reality we live in.  I find it morally repugnant to put ideals ahead of people, principles ahead of practicalities, theories ahead of what can be seen to work in practice.  I think we are letting rape survivors down, and I believe that they should come first in our considerations.  I think we should select whatever strategies can stop them from becoming victims, before we engage in any moral crusades.





[1] I dislike the word “survivor” when it is misapplied.  I appreciate that it is used as a “term of empowerment”, but to apply it to certain situations is inaccurate and often hyperbolic.  However, I HATE the word victim.  To me, a victim is someone who not only had no control over what happens but also does not recover; that is the one thing I have always tried to avoid.  For this reason, I will use the word “survivor” throughout the article as the lesser of two evils.

[2] If you think you can’t rape a sex worker, congratulations: you have successfully managed to lead a more sheltered life than many of us.  Please watch “Leaving Las Vegas” before reading the rest of this article.  If that doesn’t help you see things from a slightly different perspective, go fuck yourself.

[3] To take things to extreme, consider the difference between thinking “I got raped and couldn’t do anything to stop it” and “I got raped but I stopped the bastard from slitting my throat”.

[4] And no, I am not advocating that it SHOULD be a shared experience. 

[5] Based on criteria from the Fourth Edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Text Revision (DSM-IV-TR; American Psychiatric Association, 2000).  The current edition of the manual will remove these criteria.  However, a significant reason behind the change is that they were preventing military personnel from receiving adequate psychological support.  As we are dealing with civilians, I feel justified in sticking with the old criteria.

[7] Unless you are dealing with domestic violence and/or domestic abuse, which is often handled in a very similar way to rape.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

A woman’s place – is it the dojo? 5.09.13

“The problem with thinking outside of the box is that you can end up forgetting
that the box is where most people live.”  R. Webb




I recently became involved in a conversation about women in the martial arts and in self-defence in particular.  We were trying to work out why women are so underrepresented throughout the field.  In most disciplines, in most dojos, males dominate, if only in number.  Why?  Given that the average woman is, statistically, not as strong as the average man, you’d think they would have a greater need to train purely to level out the playing field.  Yet, it doesn’t seem to happen.  Whilst a minority of women does very well indeed in MA and SD, the vast majority avoids the field altogether.

It quickly became apparent that the conversation was being conducted largely by male martial artists.  This made absolutely no sense to me.  As a. males and b. martial artists they quite simply do not belong to the demographic in question, hence they were making assumptions.  It would make as much sense if they joined a discussion about how it feels to have menstrual cramps.  However, on they went, mourning the lack of female participation in their chosen field.

A few non-martial-artist ladies, when asked why they don’t even read about self-defence, came up with some very interesting answers:
  •       Because it's not something I need.  I avoid that situation.  I am either out with people or I am in places where there are other people.  I know this sounds silly, but I expect someone to be there to rescue me.”
  •          “Cooking - self-defence - cooking... I just wouldn't go to that part of the bookstore.”
  •          “Honest answer - I have never really thought about it. I have quite a good Glasgow kiss and if any kind of self-defence situation arose I would probably be able to deal with it.  Yes I am aware that is totally naïve…”

And my personal favourite:
  •          “I don't buy self-defence books because I don't believe I'll be able to do that manoeuvre anyway when the time comes... if the time comes... I hope that time never comes... Don't you call these things into your life by reading about them?


I wondered, after a while, whether we were not getting a sensible answer because we were asking the wrong question.  If you look at a flock of birds or a school of fish, and you see that the vast majority is going one way and a small minority is going another way, you wonder what’s up with the minority.  You question what is making them act differently, not what is preventing the majority from changing their behaviour.  Maybe we should be asking why there are women in MA and SD at all.  Given the statistics, after all, the abnormality is not with the women who don’t join a dojo.  It is the ones who join who are the oddities.  But why?

If you think about it, martial arts, historically, have been primarily a male concern.  Throughout most of history humans followed certain gender roles.  Looking at a very broad, generic (hence not terribly accurate, but revealing) picture, men went to war and to hunt; women raised children and kept the homes.  Back in the days where humans actively struggled against survival, this arrangement made sense for a variety of practical reasons.  Not only men are stronger, but they are notoriously bad at breast-feeding; keeping young children and women together and safe was a necessity rather than a lifestyle choice.

Moreover, women are necessary to the production of babies.  If you live in small communities, as humans did in the distant past and still do in some areas, women are less expendable then men.  If you lose all but one of the men, a relaxation of the taboos on polygamy (and sometimes inbreeding) will still guarantee you a healthy crop of babies.  Lose the women, and the community may dwindle down to an unsustainable number.

It’s not just about fun stuff though, like slaying beasts and waging wars.  Our comfortable lives make it easy for us to forget that for countless generations men were the gender expected to work at the vast majority of the “death professions”[1] – those jobs where you were expected to die early from a lifetime of back breaking, manual labour.  Men died like flies mining, fishing, logging and building, sacrificing themselves because they were supporting their families through the only means available to them – selling their bodies.

It’s not that the women couldn’t do the work, but that it carried too heavy a cost.  That kind of hard, mangling and body destroying labour often prevents women from having children, both because it is so brutal on their bodies that they may become barren and because it can induce miscarriages.  In the days before modern medicine became readily available to the majority, complications during child birth were a leading cause of death among women.  Nowadays child birth is considered safe, but back in the day, every time a woman got pregnant she was risking death.  It was a known danger.

So, there is a high chance of your women dying in bearing your children.  On top of that, you want to put them out doing physically destructive manual labour? And THEN send them to war?  In a world where a group’s survival was not guaranteed, this would have been a poor strategy indeed.  The bottom line is that, much as the feminists may want to ignore it, a lot of “restrictions” on women were originally put into place with the purely pragmatic need to protect them from harm.  Not because they were weak – but because they were crucially important.

Of course, from our privileged position we can ignore all this.  In this society, in this time, with the lives we lead and the amount of technology at our disposal it is easy to hop on a soapbox and let rip about the misogynistic male hegemonies of the past.  You could even look at the death statistics for the last century – how many young men died during the wars, versus how many young women – and still try to claim that your great-grandmothers were being oppressed.  Even if we determine that gender roles are a passé example of society’s brainwashing, though, we are still left with a problem.  What about the thousands of years of evolution that lay behind and beyond that?

We like to forget that we’re mammals.  We like to think that we are rational beings, without a trace of the ape in us.  That, however, is quite simply not true.  We may struggle daily to overcome our basest instincts, yet they are still there, still a part of us.  Moreover, those instincts are not necessarily the same for men and for women, because, back when we had tails, we needed our males and our females to behave differently in the face of violence.

Yes, I am well aware of the danger of getting between a mother bear and her cub.  Hell, I have seen a ewe attack a completely clueless and innocent pitbull who just so happened to get between her and her lamb, and she won.  Spectacularly.  However, the bottom line is that females need to not get hurt, or the species won’t do well.  Males, on the other hand, are quite welcome to near-enough cull each other prior to breeding, so that only their best genes will be brought forward.  In most mammal species it is the males who fight or display prior to breeding.  In humans, up to the very recent past, social violence as shown in the “monkey dance” popularised by Rory Miller[2] was almost uniquely a male affair.  Social violence in the female mode used to be far more commonly purely verbal, if just as vicious.

Why don’t more women get involved in the martial arts?  Well, maybe because it just doesn’t necessarily come natural to them.  Maybe because generations of social conditioning and thousands of years of evolution stand against it, by providing them with a set of instincts and unconscious thought patterns which guide them away from unnecessary violence, for their own protection.  Not because they are weak – but because they are crucially important.

Things have changed, though, and in our society, in our time, it’s perfectly ok for women to join into any activity they want.  The shackles of the past have been cast aside!  However, something else has also changed.  We view violence as an aberration, as an alien, traumatic intrusion into our lives.  This has not been the case through most of our history.  Our ancestors would have been staggered to hear people earnestly stating that “violence never solved anything”, because to them it was an accepted way of obtaining and protecting resources.  It may have not been seen as desirable, but it was a fact of life.  In many other societies it still is. 

As martial artists, spending time with other martial artists, to us practicing martial arts is normal.  The fact is that in our society it is not seen as desirable or even acceptable to engage in physical conflict or even to resolve a conflict physically.  If you don’t agree with me, just consider the fact that more and more schools have a “zero tolerance” policy for violence; if a child is attacked and fights back, s/he gets punished.  School policies are hardly cutting-edge.  They are a reflection of how society at large views a subject.

In essence, women have to overcome centuries of social conditioning, millennia of evolution and the current zeitgeist before walking into a dojo.  And when they manage to drag themselves there, what they often encounter is an environment which is far from gender-neutral.  This is not just about the decor, but about the fact that martial artists aren't necessarily your average bunch of people.  For instance, my self-defence classes are right after the MMA training sessions.  Now, I am more than happy to have a cup of coffee and a chat with our MMA fighters, as they are all, without exception, utterly lovely guys.  My mother, however, who is the perfect victim profile, would take a look at them (huge, muscle-bound, tattooed and sometimes sporting the scars of their sport) and run away screaming.  Yes, she would be guilty of “profiling”, but that’s how people operate.  Even if they were in a suit and tie, the mere fact that they are MMA fighters is a clear indication that they probably eat babies and little old ladies, anyway.

When you think about it, the weird thing is not that most women never manage to get themselves to a dojo; we should be amazed that any manage to do it.  Whilst self-protection is interlinked with martial arts in its delivery and marketing, it seems inevitable to me that those women who have not had some inducement, either in the form of positive encouragement or a negative event, will steer clear of the whole subject, regardless of how much they may need it.

The only martial art I am aware of where women are well-represented is Tai Chi (if you class that as a martial art in the form that is currently taught in the West).  Women are learning moves which were once designed as a form of fighting, largely without knowing that that is what they are doing – perhaps precisely because they don’t know that they are doing it, given how Tai Chi is marketed.  The classes often take place outside dojos.  The presence of other women makes it easier for more women to join.

Maybe if we want to involve more women in self-defence we don’t need to change their minds, which is often what martial artists are trying to do now by trying to sell them the benefits of martial arts or scare them into realising their necessity.  Maybe what we need to do is change our dojos and the way we present our arts to something more appealing to them, more - dare I say it? - feminine.  Because the gender bias is there, whether we like it or not, and ignoring it won’t make it go away.

Monday, 2 September 2013

My self-defence sucks. 30.08.13.


A few weeks ago I broke myself.  This is not a rare event in my life; however, this time I broke myself so badly that I actually resorted to looking for medical help.  The NHS being its usual procrastinating self, I had to go private.  Someone recommended a guy; the moment he told me that I was “letting down thousands of years of evolutionary efforts by standing like an ape” I knew we were going to get along.

Between insulting me and causing me horrendous pain, he said something that struck a chord, along the line of: “it’s ok to do stuff that’s bad for you, as long as most of the time you do what’s good for you”.  The problem is that he wasn’t talking about my diet, spending too long in front of a computer, wearing stupid shoes or any of the things I know are bad yet still do.  He was talking about my training.


I have to admit that my first instinct was to reject his statement.  Exercise is GOOD!  Being active is GOOD!  Then I recalled that I can’t remember the last time I wasn’t sore, stiff or tired.  I have been bouncing from injury to injury for months now, and I’m not alone in this.  Training sessions these days remind me of the post office queue on pension payment day[1]: “is that a new knee support?  It looks great!”  “I found a new osteo.  I can nearly move my shoulder now.”  “What was that clicking?  Your hip?”  We are largely a bunch of walking wounded.  This isn’t restricted to my gym, either.  One of our guys recently went to a seminar where the participants were asked if anyone had any relevant injuries.  Two thirds of the group raised their hand.

This would be bad enough if we were carrying out something considered a high-risk sport, such as mountain boarding[2], street luge[3] or Crossfit[4].  What makes it particularly ironic is that we’re studying self-defence.


If you ask around, martial artists in general have a reputation either for determination or stupidity; that is, they think they’re determined, and the rest of the world thinks they’re stupid.  Sometimes I struggle to blame the rest of the world.  I mean, if you think about it, it really doesn’t make much sense.  I am studying self-defence and in the process of doing so I have accumulated more injuries than I have ever done actually defending myself.  I appreciate that a single successful gun disarm may make any amount of pulled ligaments worth it, but the truth is that, luckily, for most of us our studies will never be put into practice outside the dojo.  In the meanwhile, we’re accumulating damage.

I am not suggesting for a moment that my dojo or my style are culpable.  They're not.  In fact, they're the only dojo I've ever been to where the self-defence curriculum for children includes healthy eating, along with many essential life skills. They give me good information which I routinely ignore or misuse. I am, however, not unique in this. It seems to be a cultural thing.  Not all martial arts are alike, obviously, but there does seem to be a mental current through this world which makes perfect sense until you actually think about it.  It’s all about pushing yourself well beyond your comfort zone; about achieving what you thought was impossible; about increasing your strength and determination by doing what you thought you couldn’t or wouldn’t.  Rory Miller, as per usual, says it best: “…all valuable training happens outside the comfort zone.  Physically, mentally, emotionally you have to push the envelope.  It's gotta hurt.”[5]  However, he also says “Train hard, don't train stupid.  Injuries make you less survivable.”  The fact that he felt he needed to say that is a reflection on the people he’s talking to.  It is, sadly, a necessary statement.


 On the 20th of January this year, Dave Hedges of Wild Geese Fitness Training wrote “Consider this my official notice of retirement from Kettlebell Sport.  I am at ease with my decision, even though it didn't come easily, but from here on I will train only in the manner that will keep me awesome. Not broken.[6]  I LOVED that sentence.  I loved it so much that it has remained etched it my mind ever since.  How did it change my training, though?  It didn’t.  Not a bit.  It got buried in a heap of statements that, whilst sounding very epic, didn’t make half as much sense and didn’t help me at all.  Again, I am fairly typical in this.  If you look at a lot of martial artsy facebook pages they are cluttered with many a mighty meme about how one must push on and endure.  One of my favourites is “Sweat dries, blood clots, bones heal; suck it up, Princess!”  My immediate response to it was “but cartilage and ligaments are gone forever…”  which is technically true, but just isn’t very martial-arty.


That’s ok, though, because I’m not a martial artist; not really.  I’m purely into self-protection.  I’m so into self-protection that for most of last year I spent more money on my training than on food, and my training isn’t that expensive.  So yeah, I’ve been trying to make my body stronger and faster by pushing it with training whilst feeding it on cheap crap.  I’m asking it to perform whilst denying it the nutrition it needs.  How is this self-protection?  Like many of my fellow students, I am learning to defend myself against violence, but not against poor personal care: excess drinking, bad eating, smoking, sleep deprivation and/or exercising past breaking point are all too common.

This really got me thinking about how narrowly most of us look at self-protection.  I know a lot of people who live and breathe it at the dojo, yet operate in a completely different frame of mind in their daily lives.  They could comfortably fight off an attacker, but are harassed by their partners, disrespected by their children, exploited by their bosses, bullied by their co-workers, guilt-tripped by their parents, and the list goes on.  They can dispatch a mugger without a second thought, but cannot find the courage to speak up if they are shortchanged at the local shop.

I remember the time I stayed in a motel for a self-defence seminar.  They failed to service the room during the day, which meant not only no clean towels but a complete lack of caffeine; yes, it was an emergency situation.  On the way out, when they asked me if I had had a nice stay, I mentioned the problem.  I didn’t make a fuss but I did tell them that I was disappointed.  On the way out, the INSTRUCTOR told me how impressed he was with me, because he would not have been able to do that.  The man can kill people with his bare hands[7].  He is not worried about facing deranged or armed attackers, but he can’t find it in himself to report a minor issue to a receptionist.  Erm, excuse me while I reassess my opinion of you...  The mind boggles.



I recently had another light bulb moment reading “Horrible Stories I Told My Children” by R A Ellis, who is no other than Rory Miller, again.  Now, I admit to being grossly biased as my little world is illuminate by sunlight emanating directly from his nether regions; however, this is quite simply one of the cleverest books for parents I have ever read, as well as one of the funniest.  Check this out:

“Free parenting advice: to make this work, you must never give in after the fact.  If you want a child to be a good adult, they must learn that actions and decisions have consequences, both good and bad.  If those consequences are negotiable, then all behaviour is negotiable and right and wrong become matters of feelings and selfish whims.  Remember it is your duty to win any battle of wills with your child, unless you are losing on purpose for a greater lesson.”

Ok, so this should be Introduction to Parenting 101.  However, if I wanted to organise a convention of parents I personally know who stick to this all the time, I know that I could do so in a telephone box.  What this book showed me is that Miller’s behaviour as a parent appears to be consistent to his beliefs as a self-defence expert.  He walks the talk, and he walks it throughout his life.  I know that I can’t claim the same, which is great.  It gives me a really significant goal to aim for.

I am still not entirely sure what brought me into martial arts.  What do know, though, is that I want my self-protection to be something that runs throughout my life, something that applies to every aspect of it.  I decided that I was worth protecting; now I just have to apply this principle consistently, in all settings.  I can’t see the point in learning flying back kicks but being unable to defend myself from everyday events, petty interpersonal conflict or my own stupidity or negligence.  I can’t see the point of being able to control a fight, but live a life largely outside of my control.