Assyrian relief
Assyrian relief
Maneuvers in Iraq
Maneuvers in Iraq
MMA match
MMA match
Victory in an MMA match
Self defense trainning in the dark
Self defense training in the dark
One on one self defense, no protective gear
One on one self defense, no protective gear

by Steve Spano

My approach to self defense training has one objective: help people to defend themselves from and survive an attack. This is what makes it different from most martial art. Because the terms "self defense" and "martial art" are generally confused, I offer the following explanation of the differences.
       From my point of view these two terms, self defense and martial art, do not always mean the same thing. Training in martial art (or war art, Mars being the Roman god of war) can be viewed in three main groups, or historical waves, according to their training objectives.
       First wave training  is the training of military and law enforcement organizations. I regard this as the first wave as it was most likely the first to evolve, beginning with the training of ancient and medieval warrior classes and continuing through to the training of the modern world's standing professional armies. The main goal of this training is to overcome the enemy. Often this goal is sought by putting one's self into danger, which is part of the job of professional soldiers.
       In the sub-category of law enforcement martial art I include its original form of private guard training for wealthy families and trade and religious organizations, up to modern public police forces. Modern police force training is an interesting sub-category in that police officers are often subject to laws that soldiers in war are not, and so the use of deadly force needs to be more circumspect. The basic goal, overcoming the opponent, remains the same.
       Second wave training is sport martial art training. The primary goal of this training is to win some kind of prize, such as social status, trophies, cash purses or sometimes special items of clothing such as colored belts. Many sports historians believe that modern sports in general originated in games that were played by warriors and hunters in order to keep skill levels up in times of peace or when there was no active hunt. Sport martial art has grown extremely popular in the past century, since it was realized that huge financial returns could be made through promotion and advertising. We have seen the rise of boxing, followed by wrestling and, more recently, mixed martial art.
       Secondary goals of this training are often listed as physical and mental health, sportsmanship, self discipline and self defense. It is common for a second wave organization to have a collection of techniques that the student must study, dictated either by sport rules or by the originator of the style promoted by the organization. Almost all commercial martial art schools presently offer second wave training.
       Third wave training has one objective: defend oneself from and survive an attack. This is the point on which many become confused. An illustration will help to clarify. Imagine an ordinary person, third wave
trained, walking down the street and being attacked. Our citizen reacts in such a way that the attack is interrupted, allowing the citizen to escape and make it back home to his or her family. Let’s apply the criteria of waves one and two to this scenario. Did our citizen put his or her self in danger’s way to overcome the attacker? No, since our citizen escaped to safety, we see no evidence of first wave training here. Has our citizen won some type of award or victory? Again, no. In fact, our citizen ran away from the attacker. Therefore, no second wave activity here either.
       It is only this third wave training, with the objective of defending oneself from and surviving an attack, to which I refer as self defense. Third wave or true self defense training is the most recent, since in the past average citizens outside of the wealthy classes could not afford it. There have been some historical exceptions to this, such as farming clans maintaining self defense training through co-0peration.
       In the past 25 years I have seen third wave self defense training expand a bit, although in my opinion it is still woefully inadequate to fill the need. It is this need that I have worked at filling throughout my teaching career. Every session, every exercise in my self defense training is designed to enhance my students’ ability to defend themselves and escape an attack. I don’t care if they don’t crush their attacker. They didn’t win a trophy or a black belt? Again, I don’t care because that’s not the objective of the training. I only want them to get back home safely.
       Teaching one individual's style of self defense to another individual is ineffective in pursuing third wave objectives. Body types, physical talent and mental make up differ greatly between individuals. What works for one may not work for another. My approach is to provide the student with an environment in which to develop his or her own style. One learns to ride a bike by riding a bike and learns to swim by swimming. Likewise, in order to learn self defense you must defend yourself. My training offers an environment in which this can be done through free fighting, without serious injury.
       Individuals always revert to their habitual responses under stress. Along with free fighting exercise, I believe that the following core actions should be practiced until habitual: relax, align, sink, turn, blind and cripple.
       Relax. Entire books have been written on this subject. The ability to enter deep relaxation under stress is key for self defense. It modifies the tendency toward narrowed perception and enhances movement and reaction time. As well, it contributes to the overall general health of the practitioner.
       Align. The crown of the head and the sacrum should be kept in alignment as much as possible. This allows the spine to act as an axis on which to pivot and deliver evasive and countering action.
       Sink. There is a very strong tendency under stress for one's internal energy to rise up in the body. The symptoms of this rise include but are not limited to loss of balance, blurred vision and mental distraction. Loss of balance is particularly dangerous. Many a victim of violence has been beaten to death by a group of attackers after falling to the ground. Habitually sinking one's internal energy mitigates this loss of balance.
       Turn. Turning is essential for deflecting and evading attacks and for lining up with the aggressor's flank for counter attack.
       Blind and cripple. A aggressor blind cannot see and crippled cannot pursue. There are a handful of blinding and crippling points on the human body that every practitioner should immediately and automatically exploit.
       We know from experience that continual self defense training results in increased physical health, strength, endurance and flexibility. Mental calm and clarity are additional results of continual training. There is another, more subtle effect that, in my opinion, is most important on a collective as well as an individual level. It is that through self defense training one moves away from a passive victim mentality towards a state of mind that is independent and creatively involved, that is not constrained by external circumstances and that therefore can truly be termed “free”.
       All of us feel fear and all of us can train to work through that fear. I firmly believe that “freedom” must first be attained internally and maintained individually for a people as a whole to be considered “free”. It is therefore my sincere hope that more and more people come to add self defense training to their definition of a well rounded individual.
Winter, 2009