Defending Your Life
July 13, 2011 by John Myers
Sometimes, we are in danger because we are in the wrong place at the wrong time. Knowing what to do to avoid such a situation, or what you must do if you cannot, can be a lifesaver.
As a child, I was bullied, and I took more than my share of beatings in the schoolyard. I grew out of that stage and became a satisfactory football player. But I was never confident that I could defend myself.
At 17, I spent a year taking karate lessons. The conditioning part of it was fine, but part of me knew it was a waste of time. There was never any contact, and our sensei taught us that we had to pull our punches. In football we were taught to tackle through the opponent, so I knew there was something amiss.
Later, I spent a lot of years in the weight room. Even as I got stronger, I never had confidence. I decided to go back to traditional karate classes when I was 30. The kata movements that were taught were more choreographed dance steps.
Each day driving home from work, I would pass Matt David’s kickboxing gym. I finally mustered up the courage to go in.
Matt David was an imposing man. He owned a Spartan Gym in the rough area of town, along East Sprague in Spokane, Wash. Matt had a regulation boxing ring at the center of the gym. Surrounding it were speed bags, heavy bags and a mirrored wall. In the evenings, the Lilac City Boxing Club would train there.
I was not so impressed that Matt David had a 7th dan black belt in traditional kenpo karate, a rank he was awarded from the renowned Ed Parker. What impressed me most was that Matt had been an all-state wrestler in high school and was a former two-time California Golden Gloves heavyweight boxing champion.
When I first sat down with Matt, he asked me if I had any martial arts experience. I told him I had spent a couple of years in karate.
“That’s too bad,” he said. “But I can teach you to lose those bad habits.”
So began the school of hard knocks. No longer did I wear a white gi with a belt around my waist. Instead I wore tennis shoes, shorts, a T-shirt, hand wraps and a molded mouthpiece.
Our training was broken into two parts. First, we did calisthenics, hit the bags and shadow boxed. Then, we sparred in the ring with 16-ounce gloves, wearing full protective headgear.
I learned two things: that I didn’t know how to throw a punch and, more important, I didn’t know how to take a one. I dreaded getting in the ring against experienced fighters, but I was willing to pay that price.
That first summer at the gym, I took some tough rounds and suffered a couple of concussions. After one tough round, the head coach for the Lilac City Boxing Club, Dan Vassar Sr., approached me.
“Are you getting tired of getting beat up?” he asked.
At age 34, I joined the boxing club. I started training five days a week. I soon began to improve and gain confidence.
In three years, I had only three fights. I lost them all. But I finished each one of them on my feet. It was an incredible experience to spar against gifted fighters and with great instructors. It was invaluable.
A few years after I stopped boxing, I was cornered by two men on a stairwell when I was with my 10-year old son. They wanted to rob me.
My son and I were lucky: We got out of that mess without a scratch. Our two attackers didn’t fare so well. One ran away, and the other was taken by ambulance to the hospital.
I was not charged. To this day, I know the outcome would have been very different if I had not practiced full-contact fighting.
Three Rules To Live By
I encourage anyone at any age to learn realistic self-defense. No, you don’t have to join a boxing gym. You should not, however, waste another dollar or minute in traditional non-contact martial arts. Instead, study judo, wrestling or mixed martial arts — anything that involves actual physical contact.
In his book Streetwise: The Complete Manual of Personal Security and Self Defence, Peter Consterdine writes that the self-defense combinations most schools teach are a waste of time, that no one ever uses a karate-based attack and they don’t leave their hand or foot stuck out for you to do your stuff.
Consterdine knows his stuff. He is a former British Karate International full-contact kickboxing champion as well as a reputable bodyguard.
If you are unconvinced, consider the adage: “The way you train is the way you fight.”
If you think you might have to defend against a 2-by-4 piece of pine, then by all means, take up traditional karate or tae kwon do and learn how to break a board in half. Then again, traditional martial art students might want to consider what the late, great fighter Joe Louis once said: “Everyone has a plan until they’ve been hit.”
If you want to learn more about real self-defense, pick up a copy of Forrest Griffin’s book, Got Fight?: The 50 Zen Principles Of Hand-to-face Combat. Griffin is a former Ultimate Fighting Championship® light heavyweight champion. Reader beware, he uses graphic language and details the savagery that is a part of his life in and out of the octagon.
The best advice I got from Matt David had nothing to do with throwing punches or applying arm bars. He had three simple rules:
- Don’t be in a place where you will have to defend yourself.
- If trouble comes your way, run.
- If you can’t run, grab the closest thing you can and use it as a weapon.
Hopefully, you can avoid ever having to defend yourself. If you must, you can only hope you have learned a few tactics and that the person threatening you says: “I have to warn you… I have a black belt in karate!”
Yours in good times and bad,
Editor, Myers’ Energy & Gold Report
NOTE: Dan Vassar passed away last autumn. You can read about his life here.