Self Defence
by Mark Sessions (2002)

Self–defence - Dictionary definition:

  1. n. The act of defending or justifying oneself.

  2. The legal right to defend oneself with reasonable force against (the thread of) violence – self defensive adj.

Experiences of self-defence through Goju ryu

Before commencing my training of Goju ryu under Richard Barrett Sensei, my interpretation of "self–defence" would have been very similar to that of the dictionary definition quoted above; and I am sure most people would think the same way.

About 10 years ago, when my girlfriend, Liz, and I went to opposite ends of the country to our chosen University/College, I recall feeling much anxiety about how safe she would be, walking the streets of Sheffield, sometimes alone, after dark, taking her usual route from her digs, through the Botanical Gardens to her lectures in various buildings dotted around Sheffield. I worried so much I soon brought her an air-powered rape alarm for her to carry around everywhere. But this didn't do much to allay my worries, as I felt quite useless being 200 miles away in Winchester.

I recall some feeling of relief when I heard Liz and her friends were going to attend a self-defence course. When I asked her how the course was going, she basically explained that they taught her various moves that would enable her to knee or kick the mugger/rapist in the groin, as obviously for a slightly-built female, this would be one of the better target areas. Unfortunately, these self-defence lessons soon came to an abrupt halt when I heard Liz had accidentally broken her best friend's collarbone whilst practicing in pairs during one of the lessons.

Little did we know at the time, but there are much more practical forms of self-defence than trying to be a hero and protecting yourself or, if you're lucky, disarming your attacker. Unfortunately, the law of physics tells us that no matter how well trained you are, male or female, you would be lucky to save yourself against someone twice your strength and size, especially if they are holding a weapon, are drunk or high on drugs.

The training in Goju ryu opened my eyes somewhat to the bigger picture.

Firstly, as seen through all kata, starting with a defence move rather than attack, you are therefore never the aggressor. I was also initially surprised when Sensei, Richard Barrett was talking through an imaginary scenario of being confronted by a drunk in a notorious part of town at pub closing time. When he mentioned the words "turn around and run!". Why would a karateka have to turn around and run? At first, I thought it was a joke, otherwise what is the point of all this conditioning and training if you are never going to use it, - until it dawned on me that this was the safest and most sensible option whenever appropriate.

However, when this is not appropriate, then our training may lead into all manor of possibilities, from politely talking your way out of a situation, to fighting your way out of it, as a last resort.

Then there came an onslaught question from Sensei, such as, by putting yourself in such a notorious part of town at such unpredictable time of night, are you not asking for trouble? Could you also be drunk and therefore more vulnerable?

Perhaps you could have avoided these scenarios with a slight change in your evening's plan to reduce any chance of this ever happening. If I were in a better area of town and had not drunk so much, then this may have reduced the chances of confrontation. Or perhaps if I went around a friend's house for a drink, this would have been even less of a risk.

It soon became clear that there are many other ways of defending yourself if given a little forethought to a situation. This consideration can stretch further than avoiding the classic punch–up or mugging and can be adopted throughout life and day to day situations.

I recall turning up to one training session and before I even had a chance to get out of my vehicle, Richard Barrett Sensei jumped in the passenger seat and said, "Right, let's go for a drive". I had no idea as to the point of this exercise, until during the journey I was bombarded with questions:

  • "When did you last check your tyre pressure, oil, screen wash, etc.?"

  • "Do you eat, drink or answer your phone while driving?"

  • "Do you think you're too close to the car in front?"

  • "Have you got enough space to drive out of the way if the stationery car in front stalled at the lights and rolled back towards you?"

  • "Do you drive with your doors locked?"

  • "If someone waved you down on the road to speak to you, would you fully open your window or just enough to hear them and not get grabbed?"

  • "Have you driven while being tired?"

Many more questions followed until we returned back to the Dojo when Sensei told me of a situation when a friend was trying to sell their car. The prospective buyer seemed very keen and asked if he could be taken for a drive. So the seller happily took him around the block. Half way round, the buyer asked if he could drive the car back, so the seller stopped the car, got out, leaving the keys in the ignition ready for the buyer to take the car for a spin. Whilst he was walking round the back of the car to get in the passenger seat, the buyer locked the doors, jumped over the seat to the driver's side and sped off stealing the car. If the seller had a little forethought and removed the keys whilst changing seats, this may not have occurred.

Self-defence has again been brought into everyday life and it was apparent that it can be adopted in all areas of life.

Eating: Eat sensibly, avoid being overweight and possibly heart problems.

Drinking: Drink alcohol in moderation to avoid liver and heart trouble or perhaps losing your driving licence or life (or someone else's).

Money: Don't build loads of debt on credit cards or similar. Be sensible and discipline your spending to avoid stress of how to pay off your debts.

Time management: Try to be realistic about what you can achieve to avoid rushing about and increasing your stress levels letting people down or being unreliable.

And the list can go on...

Much of this could be regarded as just being sensible, but with a little forethought a lot of misfortune could be avoided,

Perhaps if the person teaching the self-defence classes to the students at Sheffield University emphasised a little more on whether they should be walking the streets of Sheffield alone anyway, or what is the safest route to take and how is it best to raise an alarm, or what type of clothing and footwear is most suitable to run away or to hinder rape, then perhaps the emphasis on the collarbone breaking (secondary self-defence) would not have been necessary (although granted, very useful). Maybe the old saying "prevention is better than cure" comes into the equation.

And although the Oxford English Dictionary definition for self-defence is correct, perhaps it is missing one key word: "Foresight!"

Mark Sessions
October 2002

“No matter how you may excel in the art of Karate, and in your scholastic endeavors,
nothing is more important than your behavior and your humanity as observed in daily life.”