The Mental Attitude of Self Defense

by William Durbin, Soke of Kiyojute Ryu

Self defense is a part of all true martial arts though many styles have diverted away from the obvious by becoming more interested in the sports that bring instructors, managers, and businessmen money, though they actually destroy the very nature of the martial arts. More because the martial arts should be about self defense, those who really need the training are not drawn to it because of the violence of the competitors.

The Lady

The lady was a typical woman. She worked, enjoyed the time she spent at home, and wanted some form of physical activity. She heard about a local Tai Chi class, offered through the community education program and thought that it might be fun. Thus she joined the class, but found it to be different from the exercise tapes that she had viewed in preparation for beginning training. Her instructor emphasized the self defense aspect much more than he did exercise. At first she wasn’t sure she was going to like the class. She had really joined for the exercise and did not particularly want to deal with the idea of self defense. She mainly wanted to work out, and make friends, which those in the class were turning out to be. After four lessons she found herself really enjoying the training and even the self defense emphasis, though she wasn’t sure it would be important for her.

Then she took a trip to New Orleans. While standing on a street in the big and beautiful city, a man came up behind her and physically grabbed her in an inappropriate manner. Shocked, she immediately reacted by performing an inner circular movement, the second move from the Tai Chi class, and blocked the man’s hand away. He then moved to her right and attempted a follow up assault, at this point she knew she had to deal with him more seriously, so she back fisted the man in the face. That ended the confrontation.

The Police Officer

The police officer was having a good day, better than the guys who had been on duty Friday night. Six of them had been roughed up pretty bad during the arrest of a publicly intoxicated man. It had taken all six of them to get the man down on the ground and handcuffed, and they had taken quite a bit of abuse in the process. The officer was glad he was not involved in the situation. He knew the assailant, and he was an extremely rough customer. The officer had engaged in the police academy’s combatives training, but it was only forty hours of hand to hand combat, and that had been years ago. He had just a month ago, joined a Kempo class, but how good could he be after just a month? Anyway, if he was lucky he would not have to deal with the drunk.

However, the man was back out on the street, and everyone on duty was told to watch for him. It seems he had made some threats against the police when released and they were being taken seriously. The orders were to locate and call in for backup, on one was to approach him by themselves. Looking over the plaza he was patrolling, the officer noticed someone heading, purposefully, towards him. A harder look told him it was the man from Friday night. Quickly the officer called in on his radio the man’s location, he was warned not to approach, but he relayed that there was no choice, the suspect was heading towards him. The call went out officer in trouble and the other squad cars began heading for the location as fast as they could move. In the meantime, the man had closed on the officer.

It was obvious that the man planned to take out on the lone officer all the revenge he wanted on the six officers who had taken him down on Friday night. He approached the officer in a fighting posture. He immediately threw a hard roundhouse punch at the policeman’s head. Without thought, the officer blocked the man’s arm and threw him with an Ogoshi, major hip, throw, which was the very first move he had learned in his Kempo class. The assailant was dumped hard at his feet, and just laid there shocked, not believing that one man had taken him down. At that point more officers arrived and handcuffed the aggressor, congratulating the lone officer on his capture of the man. The policeman just smiled and thanked his lucky stars that he had started Kempo training.

True Self Defense

These two stories are true. Many more stories could be told of martial arts students who have been successful in self defense situations. Yet, just as these two stories tell of beginning students who were able to successfully defend themselves, we have all heard stories of experienced martial artists, who in many cases while holding black belts and having spent years in training, failed in a self defense situation. Why is this? What is it that let’s someone defend themselves? What is the difference between these two individuals and others who were unable to defend themselves?

The answer is simply attitude. When a person has a positive attitude it is possible that they can accomplish any goal. The proper and positive attitude necessary for self defense consists of; confidence, belief, and knowledge.


One of the most important aspects of self defense is the development of confidence. Without confidence, no one can accomplish anything. Talk to anyone of any field of endeavor and they will tell you that the only reason they can get in front of a crowd; such as an actor, singer, minister, or any other field in which they must face personal challenge, and they will tell you they had to develop confidence in themselves.

It is important that the confidence is genuine, for false confidence or over confidence can lead a person into situations, which would have been better avoided. When a person has proper confidence, they know they can handle any situation, which comes their way, but they also know that the best, and first line of defense, is avoidance. Thus they do not seek conflict or confrontation, nor do they seek to prove anything, but merely use their skills when necessary to defend themselves, when there is no other option.

A truly confident person is one who does not feel the need to fight. That is why confidence is so important for a true martial artist. Confidence allows a person to walk boldly, yet peacefully, through life. With confidence, you can deal with any situation, yet never have to feel like you must fight in order to prove yourself.


Along with confidence, a person needs to believe in what they are doing. It brings to mind a story that happened years ago. A teacher of self defense was instructing his class in proper gun defenses. He taught dodging techniques, along with capture techniques, and joint locks. One of his students, who happened to be a gun enthusiast, said that the gun defenses would not work. The instructor assured the student that they would work, if the person practiced and believed in what they were doing. Shortly after the class situation, the teacher was in fact attacked by a gun toting assailant, and used the very techniques he had been teaching his students to defend himself.

A person has to believe that the art they are practicing will in fact be effective, otherwise they will hesitate in their execution of their self defense techniques or not even attempt a defense, since they will not believe they can successfully protect themselves.

This is why many long time martial arts practitioners may in fact fail in a self defense situation, they may simply not believe that what they are learning will actually work. In fact, if they have been involved in tournament play, seeing punches and kicks fail to stop an opponent, may actually weaken their faith in their art, not realizing that they are restraining what they have learned in order to be able to play with it safely.

Another important aspect of belief, is that the art is one that can be believed in. Too many arts these days do not have a practical self defense application. This is not to degrade any other art, but to point out a truism. If a person was in a ballet class, one would not expect them to know how to defend themselves, just because they learned how to wave their arms and perform kicks that look like martial arts moves. Simply put, while they would know all the moves, they would not know how to use those moves in a practical and realistic way. The same is true in regard to tournament martial arts, the moves are the same as combat martial arts, but they are not practiced with practical self defense application in mind.

In example, two men were working in the same factory and started training in different forms of martial arts. One was involved in a non-competition self defense system, while the other was taking a very popular tournament style. After six months of training, the self defense student had only tested once, while the tournament person had taken three tests. One day the tournament practitioner came in very excited and said that they had their first self defense lesson. The self defense student did not understand, what had the tournament student been doing for the last six months? Learning the art, was the reply.

Too many martial arts schools either teach competition to the exclusion of anything else, or they teach an art form that is impractical for self defense. While these arts might be wonderful sports and beautiful art forms, students practicing them generally recognize that they are missing something and never develop a belief in their art.

Real Knowledge

A real martial arts system, which people can really believe in, generally consist of training in all types of techniques; including throws, chokes, joint locks, blocks, punches, kicks, and all other types of strikes. A good style of combat training usually includes weaponry of some type. Sometimes this means ancient weaponry, but with the idea of developing the weapon’s principle, so that anything can be used as a weapon in a self defense situation.

When a person practices moves, which really work in self defense, and train with weapons, which actually have a practical application, then they can believe in their art. They can even develop confidence in their own abilities and generally in themselves. This is the real knowledge of self defense.

Finally, people need to know, need to understand, and need to develop the idea, that they do in fact have a right to defend themselves. All too many people really have not decided whether or not they have a right to defend themselves. When a person has trained in the martial arts, many times they think they have already decided they have the right to defend themselves, but all too often, if they are involved in a sport system, they haven’t. Thus when they finally find themselves in a real confrontation, they just do not know what to do.

Reality of the Street

Teachers of real self defense need to confront their students with the reality of the street. The students need to be made to realize that there are people who will try to harm them, that they are many times more animal than human, and that some of these beings actually enjoy inflicting harm and terror on regular citizens.

Before confronting any one of these creatures, a person needs to have already dealt with the reality of fighting and assault. Once you know, you have the right to defend yourself, then the hesitation is gone, the ability to immediately respond when threatened is present, and this one facet can go a long way in preparing a person for actual combat.

The difference between a person who can actually defend themselves and those who can’t, is attitude. Regardless of rank, a person who does not have the proper attitude, will not be able to defend themselves. But a person who has good skill, proper training, and a positive attitude, will under most circumstances, be able to adequately defend themselves. The right attitude for self defense capability can be readily summed up in three words and phrases: confidence, in their own ability; belief, in their art; and knowledge, that they have a right to defend themselves.

So along with your martial arts training, makes sure and develop a martial arts attitude; one that say you can defend yourself, one that believes your art is right for self defense, and one that knows you have the right to protect your life and the lives of others.

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