Health and Self Defence
I suppose this list of articles is one that will occasionally be re-posted. It is a reminder that we have on this Cold Mountain Blog a pretty complete 5-part guide to self-defence. Most self-defence texts consist of 'tricks'. I think this one is more comprehensive because it addresses what violence is and what is necessary, in personal psychological terms, for a successful defence against attack.
Last weekend in Waterloo we hosted a symposium on aspects of club management. It started with a look at the idea of a club Mission Statement and inevitably became mired in the issues of what Tai Chi is and how our answer to that question affects the structure of our clubs.
Attempting to clarify the issue, I alluded to Barry Allen's Striking Beauty: a Philosophical Look at the Asian Martial Arts
... and argued that we should distinguish between purpose and intentionality -- purpose being why we practise martial arts and intentionality alluding to the combative design element common to martial arts principles and movements. I was repeating Allen's argument that one could distinguish between the purpose of self-improvement, seen in terms of health maintenance, and the intention of the medium we use -- namely the study of violent (if need be) personal defence.
In opposition to this, my old friend Jonathan Krehm of Wu's Academy argued that the distinction is artificial and misleading, that the ability to defend oneself against an attacker is a form of self-improvement. I think he makes an excellent point.
My initial experience with Tai Chi Chuan was through the Taoist Tai Chi Society of Canada. I took 'Taoist Tai Chi' up as rehab for a severe martial arts injury I had incurred. At the time, as far as I knew, the TTCSC was the only game in town. The Society's classes did indeed help with my recovery, but their avoidance of the martial aspect of the exercise was something I found perplexing and irritating.
One factor (among others) that precipitated my departure from the TTCSC was when a female co-worker in the insurance agency at which I was employed was attacked in her home by a psychopath who severely tortured her. It was at this point that I resolved that any Tai Chi student I taught should at least have the opportunity to acquire practical self- defence skills and that, if I ignored this aspect of the art, I was neglecting its essence and teaching incompletely.
That was thirty years ago. Since then I have learned that very few people take up Tai Chi as a defensive art. For most, self-improvement is thought of in terms of health, and health is conceived of in terms of issues such as arthritis, hypertension and so forth. In fact some of my students are resistant to being trained in Tai Chi's combative element. As a teacher this is where I must walk a fine line. Barry Allen's differentiation between martial arts purpose and intentionality has helped me diplomatically address the issue, but I personally agree with Jonathan. That said, it is really a personal issue, isn't it? No need for dogmatism!
Several months back another female friend of mine was assaulted in her home. She came through the experience shaken and bruised but otherwise OK. But one thing she has lost is her sense of personal security. This is an inevitable loss in a case of having been assaulted. In fact, it affects all who have to live through a traumatic event. The late Marcy Borders, the 'gray lady' of 9/11, never really recovered from her terrible experience. In her fragile humanity she represents all of us.
The ability to engage in self-defence is, to quote from the 40th of the Yang family documents, an endowment of our humanity. It is a legitimate health issue. My work-mate from thirty years ago was psychologically unfit to defend herself against her attacker. That inability almost cost her her life. Practical martial training, the capacity to employ violence in defence of ourselves, our children, or others, is a legitimate health issue. It is a precious life skill.