Do You Want to Survive?

I’ve been thinking a bit this last week about something Sensie Russell Wadell said at the Aikido clinic in Grapevine, TX. He asked something like this, “How far are you willing to go to stop someone from hurting you or a loved one?” My friends, this is a critical question that must be thought through if you are to survive a real threat. Please let me turn this question in a slightly different direction and ask you, “Do you want to survive?” The all-out commitment to survive is the most important element to that survival. This commitment includes a positive mental attitude, planning and preparation, regular and consistent training, and, when the shit hits the fan, a will to live.

Positive Mental Attitude
By positive mental attitude, I am referring to a high confidence level in your ability to do what needs to be done to survive an assault. Are you in good physical condition? Are you psychologically and spiritually prepared for confrontation? Do you have the skills and tools you need to survive?

You should exercise regularly and eat healthily. Think through the psychological and spiritual ramifications of injuring or killing another person. And make a self-conscious decision to make the effort and spend the money to acquire the needed skills and tools for self-defense.

A few years ago I met and amazing warrior, Lt Col Dave Grossman. I was fortunate enough to sit in on two presentations he made at my place of employment. I highly recommend two of his books, On Combat, The Psychology and Physiology of Deadly Conflict in War and in Peace and On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society .

Planning and Preparation
Planning and preparation requires you to spend a bit of time meditating on “what ifs”. Play some scenarios by your mind’s eye. You are home alone and someone breaks into your house. Can you get to your handgun (or knife, sword, stick, etc.) easily and quickly? What will you use to protect yourself? How far will you go? Are you willing to use deadly force to stop the intruder? What would be a good plan? At what strategic locations should you place your weapons?

Creating and thinking through scenarios in this way, planning and preparing an appropriate response, greatly increases your ability to survive an attack. Make a plan, and work the plan. If you have no plan, you run the chance of freezing up, wasting valuable seconds deciding what to do. If your plan is in place and the moral questions about using deadly force are already contemplated, then your response can be swift and effective.

Regular and Consistent Training
Regular and consistent training, no matter what martial art you choose, including the use of firearms, is vitally important. Under the extreme stress of an attack, you will react according to the way you have trained. If you do not train at all, or rarely train, your conscious mind will switch off, and for a few vital seconds your response will be to do nothing. Obviously, it’s better to do something in those seconds than to do nothing. And even better is to do something effective to your defense, placing you in a safer and more defensible position. Some martial arts are better than others. Any martial art is better than none.

Will to Live
Finally, the will to live (the most difficult of these four points to articulate) — if attacked and injured, do you have the will to live? This can also be thought of in terms of the will to complete the mission at any cost. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to protect you or another from serious bodily injury or death. Do you have the will to carry this mission through? I believe that some people who have been shot and died did so because they gave up the fight. You are conditioned by television shows and movies, showing unrealistic responses to pepper spray, tasers, knives, and guns, that you expect, if tased to be knocked out, if cut or shot to die, so that you give up if injured. Self-consciously and deliberately determine right now, that if injured, you will continue the mission to the end.

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Beginning Aikido Students

Some things to understand and internalize in your beginning Aikido career are: maintaining your balance, proper distance and timing, the most economical way of walking, the need to get off the line of force, do not confront force with force, and utilizing your opponents off-balance points.

Maintaining your balance requires good posture. Your feet should be about a shoulder width apart, most of your weight on the balls of your feet, knees slightly bent, and your shoulders over hips. Even with good posture and a balanced stance, if you are stationary, there are eight major points of off-balance. The off-balance points are North, South, East, West, North-East, South-West, North-West, and South-East. So, we learn the importance of movement in maintaining balance.

Proper distance and timing in Aikido, maai in Japanese, refers to the minimum distance and time you should allow your opponent before you respond. Maai is more than this, but is at least this. For most times, maai will be about six feet away, just out of reach where your opponent cannot hit or kick you without moving one step closer. Learning to judge where and when you must move in response to an attack is a necessary part of Aikido.

In Aikido, we walk differently than most people have learned to walk. Most of us learned to walk pushing off with our back foot, stretching out our front foot, and striking the ground with the heel of the front foot. This produces an up-down body motion and wastes a fraction of a second as we shift our weight to the back foot in preparation for the step. In Aikido, we use less energy and time when we step. If we make a left step, we begin by lifting our left knee until our weight drops to the left side, step with the left foot striking the ground first with the ball of the foot, then move the right foot up to balance. This produces a down-up body motion.

Common to a lot of martial arts and self-defense courses, Aikido requires movement off the line of force. The line of force is the direction your opponent is moving toward you. For instance, if a punch is coming directly at your face, the movement of force is from North to South. A simple step on your part to the North-West, West, South-West, North-East, East, or South-East, will take you off the line of force. One of the first things you will learn is the Walking Kata. The Walking Kata teaches all the basic movements of Aikido. Practically every movement in the Walking Kata takes you off the line of force.

Unlike most other martial arts, such as Karate, Tai Kwon Do, Kick Boxing, and Boxing, in Aikido, we do not meet force with force. If someone tries to hit or kick, we will not meet that force with a block or strike. Instead, we blend our movement with the attacker’s movement and vector the energy in a direction we want it to go. Whether we enter quickly or float with our opponent, our objective is to blend with their energy and create off-balance. Some Aikidoka use strikes in their techniques, but these strikes are not to knock down the opponent, but simply to distract and off-balance.

Understanding and paying attention to your opponent’s off-balance points is critical to Aikido. When your opponent gives you his energy to use, vector that energy to one of his off-balance points and he falls down. If he does not fall down, then his recovery takes him to another, more dangerous, off-balance point. Keep sending his energy, and your own, to these off-balance points, and he eventually will fall.