Picture the scene: you are an eager adult martial arts student with a firm interest in realistic combat methods for today’s civilian and, having found a club that seems to tick all your criteria boxes, you are suddenly paired with a child training partner. You are a no-nonsense type of person and a veteran of many different martial arts classes. The belts, rituals and exotic movements no longer impress you. In fact, you would rather steer away from clubs that promote these attributes. This club seems to do just that. You have looked long and hard for this class, given up your valuable time, paid your training fee and so far the lesson has progressed well. Then, just as your blood was up and the sweat slowly began to trickle down your back, you were told to change partners. You look around, somewhat embarrassed, as the rule of averages seems to dictate you will be getting the child student. Time rushes on and to your horror you realize that the numbers mean you will not even be able to talk another adult into joining you for a training threesome. The next round of training will mean you will be holding back and you will not be pressured in any way. You are stuck with the kid and frustration suddenly turns to annoyance. I mean, what the hell has training with a child got to do with self-defence anyway?
One day, you are sat down at home and the TV is showing an investigation into youth crime. Being a good citizen, raised by responsible parents, you pride yourself on a good set of morals. However, the scenes that flash before your eyes seem to be completely out of sync with the code of ethics you have been brought up to believe. Youngsters, many not even into double numbers, are wrecking property, violently attacking one another and terrorizing adults. As you watch members of authority seeming to lose a hopeless battle against their young, your mind recalls things you have heard on the news and read in the papers. School students raping teachers, whole gangs of children ruling neighbourhoods through fear, teenage bullies killing the protective father of their usual teenage victim, young siblings conspiring to and actually killing their grandmother, youths luring and killing a handicapped boy and a group of three teenagers on a night’s rampage of “happy slapping” adults culminating in the death of a defenceless homeless man are all just some of incidents you can recall. A horrible revelation starts to enter your head: a new type of war is underway outside our very doorstep and inside our homes, and we have very little idea of how to handle it.
In a bid to rationalize your shock and disgust, you recount your own memories as a child and teenager. You recollect occasionally cheeking your elders as a child, you remember the teenage angst, you might even recall the very odd case of a wayward kid getting expelled after daring to strike a teacher, but this is something very different. The whole mood of human society has changed and changed fast. So fast that it appears parents and other adults just don’t know what to do with their succeeding generation. The TV viewing schedule seems to be jammed with iconic figures re-training parents and teachers how to handle children. From “Super Nanny” to “Jamie’s School Dinners, it seems like the “Baby Boomer” grandparents have left a generation of adults who are completely at a loss in the raising and educating of their children.
The point is that the civilian violence dynamic has drastically changed, as children have begun to establish themselves as a real threat to each other and their elders. However, the world of martial arts, just like the rest of civilised society, does not often recognise this change. The reason for this is that the British have long been tied into a violent honour system derived from pugilism. Ever since 1720 when Jim Figg gained patronage for his boxing displays in a market square and then chose to teach upper class gentlemen the “noble art of self-defence”, the British have embraced the notion of settling disputes in single combat. This can be traced back through duelling and before that to the ancient judicial method of “Trial by Combat”. It was not such a difficult violent custom to adopt, after all it was merely a refinement of natural alpha male characteristics initiated by testosterone. Today, however, this custom is not respected as it once was and certainly not by the people most likely to engage in recreational violence.
Few schools in the twenty-first century teach boxing, which used to be a common sport in many British institutions. This means that children are no longer brought up on the concept of the “square-go” or a “straightner”. One-on-one fights are becoming far rarer than ambushes or fights involving multiple attackers. In fact, a challenge of this nature will more than likely be a tactic used to deceive a victim. Single combat was born out of a primitive desire to be the dominant member of a pack. Such disputes in nature rarely end with one party being seriously injured, just made to submit to the might of the other. Humans have ritualized this first as a judicial process (trial by combat), then as private honour system (duelling) and finally as an actual sport (pugilism, boxing and full contact martial arts). Society understood these conventions and violence for violence sake, such as a matter of honour, rather than violence for avarice or revenge, would be undertaken often with an agreed rules, however primitive or sketchy.
The British and the Americans were among the most rigid sticklers for this tradition with eighteenth and nineteenth century pugilists regularly venting their disgust at the kicking aspects of French La Savate or Boxe Francais, even in a self-defence situaiton. However, in an age where loyalty is no longer encouraged, where alliances between people are as quickly broken as they are made and where alienation between human beings is becoming more commonplace, there seems small reward in dominating a pack.
Yet we are still naturally clannish or tribal as a species. It is commonly accepted by many anthropologists and sociologists that the foundations for inter-dependent civilisation were built on our ancestorsâ€™ cooperation in hunting. In the twenty-first century our primitive instinct to hunt is still within us, but has very few outlets. Our advanced society provides most people in the developed world with all the necessities needed to survive. Criminologists such as Colin Wilson and Eliot Leyton have put forward the theory that without the need to fight and kill for survival, violence is often directed towards recreational pursuits and such pursuits are not always lawful. Whereas an “alpha male” mindset was just a clear case of contesting domination between two consenting fighters, the hunter mindset only recognises prey. It is, on the whole, a far more lethal attitude because the prey, as opposed to the challenger, is considered to be merely an object to fulfil a certain desire.
Recreational packs of violent people have gradually evolved throughout the second half of the twentieth century. The most obvious example of this is the football hooligan. Unlike gangs that had gone before, where violence was a by-product of their way of life, violence was the sole motivation behind becoming a football hooligan. Despite reports of violence between supporters of rival football teams being around almost since the sportâ€™s inauguration, the subculture of Football Hooliganism has its roots in the 1960s. In the 1970s it grew at an alarming rate forming links with skinhead and racist groups. By the 1980s it had become highly organized and the violence climaxed in several infamous and tragic incidents. The problem attracted attention from the government at the time who initiated a massive crackdown. However, by then it had become a firm global institution with reports from places such as Argentina, where strong allegations have been made and publicly acknowledged by such footballers as Diego Maradona that Football Hooliganism has a lot of influence on the actual sport. The movie industry started taking notice, producing such films as “The Firm” in the 1980s, “I.D.” in the 1990s, and “The Football Factory” and “Green Street” in the early twenty-first century. The last film depicted the scene in a semi-heroic light and was well-suited to the stream of autobiographies being ghost-written on big names in the Hooligan scene.
However, Football Hooliganism is still really a tribal extension of alpha male street-fights. On the whole, the gangs were mainly interested in fighting one another in pre-arranged places and were not interested in preying upon anyone not connected to the scene. The peaceful hiatus of the early ’90s “Casuals” scene is significant in that after this period violent culture in western society would change drastically. When Football Hooliganism became a serious problem for authorities again, the world would be a different place. Rather than having violence restricted to organized gangs who attacked other organized gangs, as with football hooligans and regular street gangs, packs were formed with little notice and the objective had changed from being about territory or a distorted view of pride or patriotism to pursuing and overcoming prey.
Gangs were starting at a much younger age too and the supposed introduction of girl gangs, it was argued by certain tabloid journalists, had changed the rules on the street. Girl gangs would use “dirtier” tactics and the “grassing” (passing information to the police) rule was thrown out along with any other form of “honourable” conduct. According to certain journalist, girls used whatever it took to get one over on their rivals. Whereas there is a good argument that females are better natural fighters than males, having a maternal instinct that will use whatever means necessary to survive and not having years of alpha male conditioning, we can see that the “honour” attitude on the street had already been eroded through changing trends and other contributory factors long before girl gangs were recognised.
The predator mindset, as we have discussed, is an inherent characteristic in human beings that manifests itself in many different ways in modern society. However, the clearest example in terms of recreational predator crime is that of the serial killer, rapist or attacker, who has also risen in number and degree of severity over the past century. This particular lone and sometimes (in the case of the Hillside Stranglers and the Fred and Rosemary West killings) duos of criminals has steadily increased since the late nineteenth century. Such types – and I am very loosely grouping their myriad of subgenres together – consider other human beings as prey when they attack them. I am not going to dwell on the complex psychology of the matter suffice to say that they almost exclusively seek out human targets that they perceive to be vulnerable. Unlike the Football Hooligan or the gang member they are not looking for a challenge from a member of their own subculture. It is not an alpha male or female contest. The predatory criminal is only interested in satisfying their own warped desires. Today’s enemy is a dangerous marriage of the predatory hunter with the gang member.
Gangs are becoming less structured and more impromptu. Groups of like-minded individuals come together for the sole purpose of selecting a “soft target” to be exploited violently for pleasure. This has occurred in a time where violent gangs have crossed genders, class structures and are being formed by younger and younger people. Without the gang structures and codes of old, the violence can take any form from long standing campaigns against certain targets to sporadic spree attacks occurring in one night.
You are on your toes. Your enemy is coming at you, flailing their arm in slashing and stabbing motions. You do your best to avoid, but get caught a few times. In desperation you grip the attacking limb. The weapon switches hands and you are stabbed again, several times. Finally you make a break for freedom and escape. The drill is over and now it is time to look at your white t-shirt and assess the “damage”.
The coloured marks betray where your partner’s weapon has struck home. It was only a marker pen, there is no getting away from this “unreality” element, but the “enemy” is a different matter. The giggling child whose presence had so annoyed you has proven that, when armed, he is a different animal altogether. Your pride is injured. “But in real life I would hit the little bastard with a full force strike or broken his arm”, you say to yourself, and then recall the same preface to an argument made by other martial arts students when they were put under pressure and their responses came out wanting. Do you remember these little beauties?
“But in real life I wouldn’t have allowed you to get so close”. Really? Well this is real life and you have let me enter your personal space numerous times, despite obviously making you feel very uncomfortable every time. “But in real life I would have put the hold on harder or distracted you with a backfist strike.” Really? Then do it now because I am not holding back. “In real life I would have blocked it” – would you hell!
The truth of the matter is you know that, even with your very survival at stake, your sense of decency, not to the mention your perception of the law, will stop you from fighting a child in the same manner that you would deal with another adult. In most cases, you will be stronger and heavier than your enemy, dictating restraint as the best course of action. Yet the risk is still high. When armed and/or in numbers, children and teenagers are perfectly capable of killing you, and if matters continue the way they are, the chance of you being confronted with abusive and potentially lethal youngsters is more likely than by another adult.
So what am I proposing? Integrated full-contact adult and child classes? Classes where adults learn how to defend themselves from children? No, the point is that the social dynamic in violence has changed drastically in recent years and in order to address it properly we need to start thinking differently. Children-only and adult-only classes definitely have their benefits, but there has to be a time when these barriers come down and both generations address the real physical threat each can be to one another. I carry this over to my opinion onto women’s only self-defence classes. If a common enemy of women is men then surely it is they who they should be training with as well as other women. Again, I am not discounting the advantage of using women-only classes in order to start students off in a comfortable setting, where they will feel confident, but some time soon they should have to deal with the psychology of interacting with a male “enemy”. Likewise, in order for children to address the threat of the adult predator and the adult dealing with the child predator, different age groups need to work together in some form of pressure-testing exercise.
However, in order to do this type of training requires students and teachers alike to make dramatic shifts in their understanding of training for self-protection. It requires initiative, creativity, understanding and, above, all it requires many comfort zones to be breached. Comfort is not consistent with progress. When you are comfortable you will, at best, stay at the same level in whatever you do whether it is your thinking or physical performance. It is an organic process, without discomfort you cannot grow. Therefore in order to improve at whatever you are doing significantly you need to breach your comfort zone. Because psychology or – more specifically – attitude is inevitably linked to self-protection, it is fairly straightforward, in principle, to transfer the correct mental mind-set from pushing yourself in realistic training to pushing yourself in other areas of life.
I see realistic self-protection training and teaching to be based purely on uncomfortable thinking. This is why it is so controversial. Training for real-life violence in a safe training environment is a contradiction in terms. In other words, it will never be real as long as it is safe. No matter how tough you make the drills or how limited you make the rules to your sparring, if there is a safety element then that automatically cancels out the fundamental reality of an actual assault. For those who have trained hard for long periods of time, perhaps since their martial artsâ€™ proverbial bubble of mysticism was burst, it is a tough reality to face and denial is a common reaction. It takes honesty and courage to acknowledge the safety restriction in every training method. Once the safety restriction is understood, the next task could be to find a method that does not have this particular restriction, however, it will require you to acknowledge what other restrictions have taken its place. A child training partner or partners â€“ get them armed and in groups – represents obvious restrictions, but the exercise will also be more in touch with the enemy of today. As an intelligent and progressive martial artist and self-protection student it is down to you to weigh this up accordingly.
Creativity is required to make the particular method relevant, to improve the method and to develop from the method. If you have read my previous trilogy of introductory articles on realistic training for children you will know that I believe a proactive attitude should underlie all training methods. Our CCMA (Clubb Chimera Martial Arts) classes encourage our child students to work out efficiency for themselves within certain training restrictions. They also self-critique and test their teachers by asking questions on the relevance of certain training methods. Their ripe imaginations will produce many weird and wonderful hypotheses, which pressure the generic tactics you are teaching. We then brought this approach into the adult classes, which immediately exposed the barriers of adult student comfort zones. Considering that the methods being taught to the children were concepts that had been exclusively taught to adults in the first place, CCMA has seen a cyclical knowledge feeding process emerge.
Having a dependent training partner will stretch you teaching ability, which is in alignment with the proactive policy of a good self-protection attitude. Likewise the child will be able to feel more progressive pressure from an adult, a likely predator he may have to face in reality. We are no longer in an age of duelling. We are in an age where child abuse cases have risen and where more crime is being perpetrated by children than ever before, it is time that children and adults who want to make a difference face the problem together. Those who do this can really be seen as the founders of twenty-first century martial arts.