On self-defense with a walking stick

Patrick over at Mokuren Dojo fired across an e-mail to me the other day about a post he wrote on tantojutso (a walking-cane adjunct to SMR jojutsu). Given the state of my stump at the moment (read more here), I’m currently using my walking stick where practical to get around the place, which meant Patrick’s post was eerily relevant to me πŸ™‚

In 2008 I experimented with learning some stick fighting principles as an adjunct to my usual karate training. While the style wasn’t a strict or traditional one (despite some traditional aspects from the various systems present thrown into the mix), it was focused on some basic stick fighting principles, incorporating eskrima/kali elements with the rattan, bojutsu, defensive techniques with the hanbo and jo, a little bit of yawara training and a walking stick style that had its roots within a French system. The aim of the training was to give the practitioner the tools and principles to defend oneself by using any varietal of stick or pole as a weapon. I feel that, despite only spending a small period of time training in it, that it succeeded in teaching me some basic tenets for defending myself with varying weapons. While the eskrima stuff was probably the most fun (and made cool noises when training πŸ™‚ ), the most relevant was arguably the walking stick techniques I learned.

The basic training showed how to use a hooked walking stick in a variety of ways. It demonstrated basic blocking and striking using various aspects of the walking stick, even down to utilising the different ends of the stick to achieve different ends. For example, if performing a thrusting strike, using the bottom of the stick concentrates the kinetic energy to a smaller surface of impact, giving rise to a variety of fast, poking strikes; however, depending on the walking stick, I found that this technique put excess stress on the shaft of the walking stick and required greater accuracy to achieve a worthwhile result. Going the other way, you can thrust using the hooked end of the stick, which is useful for creating more of a clubbing motion even when thrust. I found this to be quite effective given I found it quite intuitive to do a re-enforced two-handed thrusting strike with this technique from a utilitarian perspective, since I’ll normally have my hand on the hook and can easily use my other hand to grab the other end of the staff and use both arms for the strike. While the greater surface area means you get a different kind of impact than with the butt-end of the stick, it also requires less accuracy, which means it potentially has a greater degree of utility in a self defense scenario where the adrenalin or panic may hinder your usual level of accuracy.

What I found quite interesting is that it wasn’t too difficult to translate some of the broad striking motions and diagonal patterns of attack from eskrima to the walking stick. The difference of course is that a walking stick is generally longer than your average rattan… but that being said, if you’re familiar with short staff techniques (like jo or hanbo) and you have a longer walking stick, then you can also truncate your walking stick skillset with some of these other techniques (some of my favourite techniques from jo and hanbo were the trapping and joint-manipulation techniques, which I think would prove useful with a walking stick).

I guess it shows the level of inter-connectivity with different styles and the relationship between them. I have a feeling my Sensei would be pleased to know I joined the dots in my head and found the commonality in the tools he gave us πŸ™‚

It also demonstrates a strong focus on utility (something that’s a core focus on the posts at The Martial Explorer) and that, as a martial artist, you should be able to not only demonstrate the finer aspects of the forms you learn in class, but be able to take away those core principles and utilise them as essential tools in any instances of self defense, or if we’re getting a bit more philosophical, utilise those precepts as an approach to everyday life.

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Examples of real-world martial arts

Matt over at Ikigai has posted a couple of interesting blogs this month, both of them showing good examples of what I would call “real-world martial arts”, or instances where previous martial arts training resulted in a swift resolution to an act (or perceived act) of physical violence. The first one concerns a home owner who is being threatened by someone chucking a wobbly outside his house:

There are a few comments I want to make on this one, though I’m sure it’s entirely arguable if I have any legitimate reason to since I’m still a young gun when it comes to martial arts training πŸ˜› I’m merely adding to the discussion πŸ™‚

First up, I was extremely surprised and impressed at the home owner’s patience with the aggressor and the restraint he demonstrated throughout the ordeal, including the moment he chose to defend himself and bring the confrontation to a conclusion. There wasn’t outward aggression, he wasn’t itching to fight back, he was calm and collected, even when the aggressor started causing damage to his property or started shoving him around. The fact he concluded the confrontation with a single punch and didn’t follow-up with excessive violence is also extremely important, as it shows the level of self control that a combination of martial arts training and personality quirks can create in a confrontation like the above. As Matt notes, he’s done all the right things from a legal perspective and it would be unlikely that any reasonable juror or judge would consider his actions unnecessary in the circumstance.

In addition, it was great reading through all the responses Matt received from his post, as there are plenty of people that join me in reading his blog with far more experience than yours truly! The common points raised in terms of warnings or criticisms are that he let the aggressor get too close, which meant that if the thug was carrying a weapon of some sort, it would give the victim less chance to effectively defend himself. Another point raised was that action should have taken place sooner, particularly once the aggressor started damaging the property.

I think both of these comments are very important to consider, and as a martial artist, are definitely ones I’ll be taking on board. Personally, I have no idea how I would react in such a scenario – would I react sooner? Would I have let the aggressor get that close to me? Could I have concluded the confrontation with a single, clear strike? I don’t know, and maybe that’s the unsettling part to the equation for me, personally. I can only trust that my demeanor and martial arts training will allow me to approach this kind of situation with a degree of control that only the most appropriate measures take place.

The second I want to share is from a “candid camera” prank gone awry – Matt’s given it a neat summary so I’ll quote form his blog:

This clip comes from a TV Show somewhere in Belgium. It is a candid camera program that annoys people in obnoxious ways (standard affair really). One fateful evening the show decided to visit a mall and harass local shoppers. The β€˜host’ proceeded to throw a net on a man, taunt him, and then run away. Unfortunately, to bystanders, it looked as if he was either robbing or accosting the local shopper. One bystander in particular didn’t take kindly to that kind of criminal activity.

That kick was, seriously, amazing stuff. The fact that he was able to perform a standing roundhouse kick like that without it even affecting his balance despite the amount of oncoming energy and still managing knocking the guy flat on his back – wow, I’m very impressed.

While the guy’s heart was in the right place, this demonstrates the reverse side of self defense, even if in this case the action was meant as the deed of a Good Samaritan rather than pure self-defense – despite the best intentions, there were apparently legal consequences for the martial artist’s actions. I guess this raises all sorts of questions that the hypocrisy of contemporary society paints for us – people bemoan the lack of community assistance when someone is physically threatened or in need of assistance, but at the same time, people are afraid to assist in case (a) they get injured, or (b) the legal repercussions that may result from what they determine to be a community service, even if they meant well. I’m in no way endorsing vigilante violence, but it’s a difficult line to walk today when it comes to assisting someone in trouble, but being worried that you won’t be rewarded by trying to help, rather, you’ll be putting yourself in a situation where you’re punished for your assistance.

If you’re interested in reading through the original posts Matt wrote, the one featuring the home owner is here, whilst the crazy-awesome face-boot is here. I’d highly recommend you check both of them out, not only to get Matt’s even-headed perspective on both of them, but also the great discussion that followed. I was thinking about jumping in, but by the time I got around to reading them, discussion had fallen off, so I figured a blog post might suffice πŸ™‚

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Hints on how to be an urban ninja

That’s a catchy title for what is a really interesting post at The Martial Explorer titled “How to hide in plain sight”. While Jesse’s not in any way suggesting urban ninja action, I thought that the principles there sound like something from an awesome urban ninja film, possibly set in 1980s California or New York, with bad hair and guitar-laden power-ballads πŸ˜€

But enough of the silliness, some of the things he writes about are very useful in an urban context, particularly his final point on blending into your environment so that you don’t present yourself as a target – I remember years ago reading material on self defense and preventative actions you can take to ensure you make yourself less of a target to someone looking for trouble, and a lot of it falls back to what Jesse’s talked about in his post. It’s short and snappy, and while it doesn’t have any images of ninjas in the post, the content makes for an excellent read. Because of my leg and the associated limp that comes with it, I try and use other aspects of my body language to play-down my presence if I’m concerned about my safety, whether it be by matching pace with other people, working hard to minimise the limp, presenting myself as a confident individual (head up, back straight, impassive face, stuff like that), etc. Not sure if it’s ever made a difference, but it’s probably good habit nonetheless!

The only point I would add to or emphasise from his post is to make extended use of your senses – sight (again, using your eyes and peripheral vision, not necessarily your head), hearing (it’s amazing what you can pick up on if you attune your hearing appropriately), and your gut instinct, because sometimes you can pick up on a potentially dangerous situation without “logically” determining it, and it’s worthwhile paying attention to it.

Mind, if you’re a bit on the paranoid side, you’ll find your gut instinct can sometimes get a little jumpy πŸ˜‰ At least that’s my experience!

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