The purposefully provocative title of this post is meant to point out a “truth” about martial arts and self defense. In Ketsugo Jujutsu we say that the three possible ways to finish a defense are to kill, cripple, or control. We say that killing is for soldiers, crippling for bodyguards, and control is for the police. This is a mnemonic and, as such, is simplified.

The point I’d like to make is that untrained, unskilled people have been killing each other for as long as human beings have walked upright. In fact untrained animals do it all the time. Any person can pick up a rock and smash another with it.

Granted, in martial arts training, we can learn more elegant ways to take apart the human body, we can do it in a way that we are less likely to also be hurt, and we can do it with style. The most difficult thing to teach and learn is to control an opponent, particularly if that opponent is determined to hurt you.

When I was in college, I once observed the campus police try to evict a drunken gentleman from the steps of a building. First they tried to ask him to leave – he merely ignored them. Then they tried to grab his wrist and put him into some kind of come-along or cuff him (not sure which because it didn’t get that far) – her merely sat there and wriggled a little bit slipping their grasp. The guy was like an oiled-up jellyfish. Finally, two officers grabbed the guy under his shoulders and slammed him on his face on the pavement – giving him a bloody, perhaps broken, nose. At that, the man began to struggle while it took there of them to get handcuffs on him and get him into an ambulance¬† – to go get his face checked out.

Think about that, a barely resisting drunken gentleman eluded an attempt to control him by 3 able-bodied, well-trained, experienced police officers until the level of violence got ramped up.  Whether or not the level of force was justified is almost irrelevant here. These cops have a conflicting duty Рto protect the campus from crime, and from liability. Control without injury is difficult against any kind of resistance.

Almost every time we hear about the use of lethal force in self defense the question comes up – either from the media, ignorant people, or from our legal system, “did you have to do that, couldn’t you have used less force?” It almost never fails when police officers are forced to shoot somebody that someone asks, “did they have to shoot to kill, couldn’t they have just shot him in the leg?” This line of questioning stems from an unrealistic viewpoint highly influenced by the media. We see gunslingers on TV shooting the guns out of people’s hands, this is TV magic not reality. In order not to miss their target (which they do 83% of the time under stress), the police and military are taught to shoot at center mass – the largest part of the body. Asking someone under extreme duress to shoot at a small, probably moving limb is asking them to miss nearly 100% of the time and put their lives in great jeopardy.

People who have martial arts training are also frequently held to a different standard to those who are not. We are sometimes expected to defend ourselves with less force than others who are not trained. A well rounded approach to martial arts training should contain tactics that kill, cripple, and control – but again, controlling someone who is intent on doing you harm is nearly impossible.

Realistic self defense training includes techniques which are very very likely to create an injury to facilitate an escape. Tactics which rely on simply causing an opponent pain are highly unreliable and less effective on opponents who are under the influence of chemical intoxicants, adrenaline, or have some kind of pathology making them pain resistant.

Aikido is arguably the most gentle martial art on the planet, one of it’s goals is self defense without injuring your opponent. Watch people doing Aikido and ask yourself what would happen to the uke (one receiving the technique) if he didn’t know how to breakfall, or if he landed on a curb or up against a steel signpost. Aikido is very high level martial art and, from observation, it takes a very long time to get good at it. Even then, there is no guarantee of injury-free self-defense.

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