Self-defense is a State of Mind

I was walking down the street by myself and I noticed someone look at me as they were walking towards me. The guy abruptly turned around and in about ten steps he made a comment to a second guy. The second guy made eye contact and the first thing that came to mind is to pay attention to people who are paying attention to you. As I passed, he turned and started walking next to me. It was a crowded street and he wasn’t within arms reach so I wasn’t too concerned for my safety, but I maintained him in my sight and after twenty paces or so I glanced back to be sure the first guy wasn’t following. It turned out the guy walking next to me just wanted to sell me stuff, but he did not make his intentions clear fast enough and he walked alongside me for far too long. Fortunately he finally gave up, told me to have a nice night, and turned around.

After the encounter, I made a mental checklist of what went right, what went wrong, and what I would change for the next time. It was fine to answer “friendly” questions that had obvious answers; I don’t want to be a jerk to random people. It was not good to reveal any other information about my reasons for being there or who I was with; it would have been better to just say “hey, I’m sorry, but I’m just minding my own business and out for a walk.” It may have been a busy street, but an extended walk created more opportunities for unforeseen situations. It would have been better to stop at a time of my choosing and dictate the surroundings to my liking if I was going to engage in any talk at all. While having my hands up in a conversational/self-defense ready fashion wasn’t likely necessary, it would arguably have been better, and it did illuminate that I should never walk down the street with my hands in my pockets. After disengaging, I should have visually confirmed sooner that the person had truly given up and was not following from a distance or from across the street.

None of this was stressful; it was purely analytic from start to finish. Next time I’ll incorporate the lessons I learned from this encounter and reinforce the things I did right. This mirrors what happens every time I spar on the jiu-jitsu mats. Mistakes of any scale are analyzed, actions that help me are optimized, and it’s a constant process of evolving my response to any situation.

Above all, there is an enormous amount of security in knowing that without someone having a weapon on me, my jiu-jitsu gives them virtually zero chance of controlling or harming me. Even if they have a weapon, I know the questions I must ask myself and what the answers mean for my actions. Jiu-jitsu and the style of thinking I get from it is what gives me calm in any situation short of a dire life threatening situation. Even in the worst-case scenarios, it gives me a huge advantage over someone else in that scenario who doesn’t train.

I have seen a lot of students express no desire to train self-defense, and after training for about six months, I had no desire to train it either; I don’t frequent bars or put myself in situations that I’d consider dangerous and self-defense training was taking me away from the stuff I used all the time for sport. Yet jiu-jitsu is first and foremost a self-defense art. If you don’t train the self-defense aspects, you are similar to the “street-fighter” that thinks they can walk in to a jiu-jitsu school and control the small dude with a blue belt. When you are truly tested in a self-defense situation off the mats, you are taking unnecessary risks if you don’t train self-defense.

Once you realize that the same skills you use to develop your sport jiu-jitsu can be used to easily develop your self-defense, and the self-defense skills give you real security in random and potentially stressful situations off the mats, self-defense simply becomes another game where we optimize our play. Just as sport jiu-jitsu requires us to develop our mind and body, self-defense does as well, and it’s even better suited to the mental aspect of the optimization game once you take the physical portion more seriously.

When your professor insists that you train self-defense, don’t complain. It’s a great opportunity that you should embrace as part of your jiu-jitsu training. Your sport training will certainly help you in a street self-defense scenario, but just as the “street fighter” isn’t prepared for a real jiu-jitsu environment despite their confidence, you are not ready for a real self-defense situation unless you train it on the mats and make it a state of mind off the mats.

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