Self-Control, Aggression, and De-escalation of Violence

The Tenets, Nijukun, and various other martial precepts call for self control of all who walk the path. Self-control seems to be a core theme for those trained to inflict violence on others.

What is the relevance of such self-control in this day and age? For the most part, the general population needs lessons in how to live life fully, rather than to avoid violence and the instigation to preserve civil peace.

Sparring - but with the switch off.

Few who undergo martial training dedicate themselves enough nor have the right guidance to really become effective as practitioners. So instructors who urge self-control are taking the moral high ground and going through the motions. For what is a head high roundhouse kick? Or the backfist you use in sparring? Most practitioners have never known true violence. They would not have advantage over criminals who are more familiar with tactics that work a damn sight better the sparring moves you might have been trained in.

I'm not saying self-control is irrelevant to the dojang. A training environment needs individuals practicing potentially dangerous techniques safely. Instructors need a student body familiar with the same preamble. Registered companies need to have the right policies and waivers in place.

When does self-control become self-defeating? The answer is when it so utterly defangs the practitioner without having prepared him or her against the unknowing face of a real threat.

Preparation isn't simply turning a kill switch on, making the student an unerring assassin. An instructor who lives in a monochromatic environment, and who spouts such classic one liners like 'better to be judged by 12 than be carried by six' or 'better him than me' or 'strike first and strike hard' is poorly equipped to guide you through the use of force for your physical self defence.

I am not a lawyer and can't pretend to know any or all the nuances of the legalities of self defence. I am however very clear that the practitioner is ethically required to use tactics that only meet the level of threat. If the attacker is stealing your wallet, you can't close off his airway. If the attacker is holding a weapon but doesn't look like they intend on using it, you can't close of his airway. If the attacker is attempting to escape, you can't pull him back into your house and close off his airway.

In summary, you really can't go 'full throttle' on an attacker unless you fear for your life. Meaning, you can't use attacks to the head or neck, and if he slips and looks like he's going to hurt himself badly - you are obligated to prevent that from happening.

Most reasonable people will be intimidated by threatening behaviour, and simply by the presence of a weapon. But when does intimidation stop and when do you feel like your life is really being threatened? More importantly, when do you feel threatened to the point where you can use self defence before the point where that blade is stabbing you repeatedly in your gut? Or when that trigger is being pulled?

The signs, if they are going to be present are not unlike what you see when you have a committed sparring opponent in front of you. It begins with a steely gaze and then maybe a face wipe - that's when you have a 'thousand yard stare' where the attacker looks everywhere but you. This dehumanisation helps to reduce you from a person to a victim. Thens there's the clenching and unclenching of fists. The deep breathing. The pacing. Movements become more cagey, more erratic, and more tense. Then there's the preemptive tightening of the body before the sudden move to strike.

Some or all of these signs will come almost all at once - and that's where you can justify your full use of force until the threat has been eliminated or when you can make your escape. Remember, you can't drag a person back to the house and finish him off at your leisure - once the threat is gone, you cannot use self defence tactics and you again become obligated to help keep the person safe - unless of course the environment continues to be a threat to your person.

What if you only train in tactics that have percussive force, where there's only one dial setting for striking power? Or if you couldn't predict where your strike will land? Or you had no clue how to lock him down and control the situation? These are some of the elements absent from most hard style training. Not only absent but probably is the cause for most hard style instructors being unable and unwilling to discuss the force continuum with students.

There is no denying the difficulty in making the leap from kicking or punching targets to handling issues like de-escalation of violence, force appropriate tactics for self defence, or  the balance between sufficient self-control and then being mature enough to turn on aggressive physical self defence.

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