Graham Butcher – Stav Teacher
Martial Arts and Civilisation
I followed the TV series Sons of Anarchy up to about season 5. SoA is about the trials and tribulations of a California Motorcycle Club. The context is closely based on the Hells Angels and the plot is heavily borrowed from Hamlet. SoA is brilliant story telling through the medium of a TV series. Most episode plots are based on some act of violence which would then be avenged in some way until the body count got into double figures.
The members of SoA are meant to be hard men, unflinching in their use of force against those who oppose them. Then, in series 4 as I recall, the gang is relocated to Northern Ireland for a few episodes where even these California Bikers are disturbed by the level of violence and cruelty on daily display. Being an outlaw in California is one thing, the unpleasantness that is commonplace because of the troubles is on a whole other level.
I stopped watching SoA when I could no longer see the upside of belonging to this biker gang. Such were the levels of mayhem and size of the body count in each episode. Lots of TV series have lots of violence. SoA is different in that it showed the reality of violence and how much human beings can suffer as a result. The series made clear that the value of civilisation in seeking to curb violence and thus reduce suffering.
If you are reading this then you probably live in a relatively civilised place. You probably regard yourself as civilised human being. You probably also think that civilisation is maintained by civilised behaviour (using means other then violence to resolve conflicts). That violent and aggressive behaviour needs to be appropriately resisted and controlled. So who is the right person to teach 'realistic' self–defence? There is a lot of social media discussion as to which instructors are 'lying' to their students about what will and will not work in martial arts and self-defence. Here are my seven key points for civilised people who wonder what use martial arts may be.
1. Do not use the word 'fight' in relation to self–defence and conflict resolution. If you go to Spain you might see a man in tight trousers and a red cape being chased around an arena by a bull. That is a Bull Fight. If you are on a country walk and you get chased by a bull in a field (not nearly as common a risk as it once was) you are not in a bull fight. You are in a survival situation. Please refer to encounters which are likely to lead to people getting hit as: Potentially Violent Confrontations or Violent Confrontations. Then talk about satisfactory, or unsatisfactory, resolutions rather than winning or losing. This is more than semantics, the way you talk will influence the way think which will, in turn affect the way you behave under pressure.
2. The purpose of the law is to maintain a civilised society. Thus, the law does not permit the use of violence against another person. If you lay hands upon another person then a charge of assault may be pressed against you. Depending upon how much harm you have done will depend upon the charges that may be pressed. These charges can range from Common Assault all the way to murder if someone dies. Self-defence using reasonable force is a justification for having laid hands upon another person. However, if you do hit someone and charges are pressed, the person who decides whether or not a crime was committed (senior police officer, magistrate or Crown prosecution service) needs to be satisfied that whatever you did had justification. A good start on this is to be able to say, 'It was my honest belief that the action I took was absolutely necessary to facilitate my escape from a violent confrontation. I would also like to add that the confrontation which was not of my choosing.' That statement is going to sound a lot better than. 'We got into a fight and I kicked his a***** because the b****** deserved it.'
3. Martial arts is really very simple. There are just three principles, Action, Intention and Movement working together. If your intention is to escape from a situation then an initial action maybe needed to break free and facilitate movement. If your intention is to defend a fixed position you will need to move into the position and then take action to defend the position. Should you find yourself in a situation where your action or movement is unexpectedly constrained then you probably need to change your intention. Whenever an application doesn't seem to be working don't try harder or faster or get more angry. Instead, look for the optimal balance of Action, Intention and Movement. That is how the real experts make it look easy. That and many years of training of course.
4. To be really effective at anything you really need to understand Pareto's law, otherwise known as the 80/20 principle. Eighty percent of the benefits come from twenty percent of possible inputs. Out of all the techniques you know a very few will provide you with most of what you need for self-defence. Very few of us have the time and energy to master every technique taught in a particular style. The good news is that you don’t need to master them all, most of the benefit you will derive as a martial artist and certainly for self-defence will come from a small selection of the techniques you could practice. The clever bit is working out which ones are the most useful. The 80/20 principle goes much further too. Most of the trouble in a given area will occur in a small proportion of the venues. Most of the trouble will be caused by a very small number of people. It should be easy enough to find out the places and people to avoid. If you are a teacher then eighty percent of the serious training will be done by twenty percent of your students. You thought the others were just lazy and unreliable? Well, yes, but they are also obeying a law of nature.
5. Violence is transactional. No one invests time and energy in creating violence without wanting some kind of return on their investment. Marc McYoung says that there are three kinds of violence. Monkey dance or social violence. On this level violence is about maintaining status and getting annoying people to shut the f*** up or just f*** off. Violence on this level can be generally avoided by simply not annoying other people and apologising if you do upset someone unintentionally. The second kind is predatory violence, basically robbery. 'Your money or your life.' As Highwaymen were reputed to say. Make it difficult for people to rob you by keeping away from such predators. In the last resort just hand over the money and valuables. Make sure you carry as little cash as possible. Then there is the process criminal for whom the excitement of hurting another person is the reward. If you think you are falling into the hands of a process criminal then any action to escape is justified. The good news is that social violence is easy to find but just as easy to avoid most of the time. Predatory violence can happen to anyone if they are in the wrong place at the wrong time. Wrong places, wrong times and wrong people should be relatively easy to avoid with some common sense. Process criminals are very rare and avoiding them comes back to the adult equivalent of 'not taking sweets from strangers'. Trust your instincts and use your common sense.
6. The spiritual or energetic aspect of training and practice is as important as the physical and mental. In Geoff Thompson's book Watch My Back The author describes how he got into one violent encounter after another. He was working as doorman at rough venues but no one else seemed to have as much trouble as Geoff. Then he realised that it was his own energetic state that was attracting and effectively creating the violence. By consciously changing his emotional and energetic state the violence stopped almost overnight. I personally have never usually attracted violence. Most of the time I have a clear and peaceful energy. However, there was one period in my life when I was very unhappy and my energy got seriously out of balance. I usually get on very well with animals. However during this period perfectly nice dogs would go crazy around me and bark furiously. During this period I also managed to get into a violent encounter for the only time since my early twenties. I still have a damaged finger from that occasion. A cleansed and positive energy will attract similar energy and tend to bring peace. Likewise a dark and angry energy will attract the same and tend to bring conflict. Your choice.
7. The Japanese word we take to mean 'Martial' is Bu, as in Bugei (martial skills), Budo (martial way) or Bushi (the feudal class or warrior gentility). When Bu is written in its ideographic form the symbol represents a spear with additional strokes that mean 'suppressing a revolt'. So the symbol for martial literally means 'quelling an uprising by the use of a polearm.' So Bu, or martial, arts means the maintenance of order, the restoration of harmony and the defence of civilisation by the appropriate use of force. Civilised people need to understand the importance of martial skills for defending the common good. We only have to watch the news to know what happens when a society fails to keep peace, order and harmony.
There is no definitive answer as to who is or is not the right person to teach martial arts and self-defence. We all have our strengths and our weaknesses, our insights and blind spots. This is why we need to learn from each other, share experiences and try out each other’s approaches to teaching and training. My personal opinion is that a genuine balance of body, mind and spirit development is essential to creating the civilised martial artist. If anyone wants to see how I teach these ideas please check out my teaching calendar or opt into my email list below.
Of course there is no substitute for face to face and hands on training. So, for those willing to get stuck in, I am teaching two three day seminars this year where I will be demonstrating how the principles listed above can be manifested in practical training. There will one seminar in the USA in May and another in the UK in June, For my full programme see the calendar page.
However the first thing to do is get a free PDF copy of Peacock Kung Fu by opting in below. The four principles described in Peacock Kung Fu are all most people ever need to know about self defence. Even if you are a martial arts expert this booklet will get you to focus on what is actually important in the study of self protection. So get your copy right away.