Self Defense, Safety, Or Common Sense?

By Dennis Lawson
Published on Jun 13th, 2013

As an environmental, health, and safety professional, I define safety as the ability to recognize dangers in the area around me while managing an acceptable level of risk when performing any type of job. This can take the form of being protected from a dangerous event or from an exposure to something that causes health or economic loss. Safety is about managing risk and includes both the protection of people and possessions. As a martial artist, actively training for four decades, this concept can be valuable for any martial arts studio or organization to use as a basis for teaching “Self-Defense”.
The formal study of Martial Arts has a history that goes back millennia. During the last 100 years, Safety has also developed into a formal discipline. A number of safety principles have been identified through various research methods. One area critical to both Martial Arts and safety is human behavior. Currently, many safety professionals recognize that more than 98% of all injuries, whether on the job or away from work, can be attributed to human behavior and not equipment failure.
The critical behaviors that contribute to accidents include:
Haste --- Being in a rush can affect your ability to accomplish any task safely. How often have we forgotten something critical to the process in an effort to “get it done” in a hurry? Martial Arts skills take years to develop. Patience and timing are crucial skills in any martial artist’s repertoire.
Being Tired--- Fatigue can affect your ability to concentrate on the task at hand. In a recent Center for Disease Control study, about 4 percent of U.S. adults admitted they nodded off or fell asleep at least once while driving in the previous month. This CDC survey of 147,000 adults concluded that 1 in 24 U.S. adults admitted falling asleep while driving! Other studies estimate that about 3 percent of fatal traffic crashes involve drowsy drivers; other researchers have put that number as high as 33 percent. I think we’d all agree that awareness and quick reaction time are essential when driving a car. Speed, whether Mental, Perceptual, or Physical is also essential for success in any martial arts encounter, whether in the studio, the tournament ring, or in the street.
Frustration --- When you become angry about a perceived hindrance, your perception clouds and you can become less aware of the steps necessary to accomplish a task safely. Anger clouding your judgment is often a precursor for an accident. Repetition of various exercises is used in the Martial Arts to heighten learning. Training in this demanding fashion allows the martial artist to “make a friend of” frustration. Training this way enhances one’s ability to laugh at errors. Learning to accept frustration, yet persist, is the basis for the calm so indicative of the well trained martial artist. The formal study of all the martial arts requires the student to progress from rote memorization, through frustration, to learning to solve potentially life-threatening challenges at the moment of any encounter.
Physical needs --- Hunger and thirst can be incredibly distracting and adversely affect your ability to maintain your concentration. The effects of, even minor, dehydration or low blood sugar can cause fatigue, headaches, dizziness, poor concentration, and muscle weakness. Often, when focused on the job, we don’t know we’re hungry or thirsty until it’s too late and the above symptoms are already upon us. Body awareness, being able to perceive even a slight change in routine, is essential to martial arts or any sports performance.
Being complacent --- When you’ve done a task soooo many times it’s easy to become smug about your ability to continue to accomplish the task safely. Statistically, the highest rates of on the job injuries occur in the first year of employment, the next highest rates occur in year 7. After seven years, the job tasks have been habituated and complacency often sets in. The martial artist trains to hone high levels of alertness and concentration. She understands that awareness of her physical state, her opponent, the environment, etc. are critical for self-defense. Her training emphasizes that it could be fatal if she allows her mind to wander away from the opponent,
These Five attitudes or physical states directly influence one’s ability to:
Keep your eyes focused on the undertaking --- Being tired or distracted, texting while driving, eating in the car, etc., causes many deaths and injuries because people feel the need to get it all done now --- haste or they’ve become complacent when they’re behind the wheel.
Keep your mind on the job at hand --- anger, frustration or your stomach’s grumbling can be powerful distractions, focus on the job at hand, like the opponent in a martial arts encounter, your life may depend on it!
Create a Margin for Error --- make the necessary time and space to allow for a mistake --- proper spacing between cars while driving or clearing the ground of rocks and twigs before going over it with the lawnmower, are good examples of this principle. A martial artist who can properly gauge his opponent’s timing and distance will always have a much better chance of success in the encounter.
Critical Awareness Techniques (CAT) to avoid a catastrophic loss:
Take charge of your attitude. Become more aware and increase your focus when you’re in a hurry, tired, frustrated, hungry or thirsty.
Limit your illusion of invincibility. It CAN happen to you. The more complacent or distracted you are performing any task the greater your chance of injury.
The following habits can also assist your ability to be a ‘safer’ martial artist:
Analyze any close calls you might experience, evaluate your mental and physical state when the close call happened, this will help you find out the real cause of the “near miss”.
Observe the mistakes that others make, and learn from them to limit your own. As Ed Parker, the undisputed Father of American Karate said, "Although one can learn from his own mistakes, to capitalize on another's mistakes is much wiser."

Filed under Philosophy and Opinion

Author Bio :: Dennis Lawson

Dennis Lawson has trained for 4 decades in Ed Parker's Kenpo. During his varied career, Mr. Lawson has been an IKKA Regional Director for Region #3, has acted as Master of Ceremonies for the International Karate Championships, and has published numerous articles in publications for the International Kenpo Karate Association, The Martial Arts Learning Community (TheMALC), and Kenpo 2000.

Mr. Lawson has had the opportunity to study other Martial Arts and holds advanced rank in Aikido and Takemusu Aiki Budo. Dennis taught, competed in, and promoted events in the New Orleans area for 20 years. Among his list of favorite achievements is choreographing and performing Kenpo for the Dance Council of New Orleans. His academic background in psychology and love of music allow Dennis to offer a unique and entertaining approach to tailoring "the Art" to the individual. Dennis has taught seminars in Ireland, Jersey Channel Islands, The Netherlands, Portugal, and throughout the United States.

Dennis holds a Sixth Degree Black Belt in Ed Parker's Kenpo and was awarded the title “Professor” under the auspices of The Martial Arts Learning Community (TheMALC). Mr. Lawson was inducted into the International Black Belt Hall of Fame as Master Instructor of the Year for 2006.

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