Thought Experiment: Minimal Sensory Input in 4 Confrontations

Imagine that every night for five nights you go to sleep and find yourself in a very similar dream each night.

In your dream, you are knocked unconscious and wake to find that you are  in a physical confrontation, but your memory of what led to the accident is gone, your vision is blurry so you cannot see, your ears are ringing so you cannot hear, and the only contextual clues you receive are physical experiences during the confrontation, and your feelings about them.

On the first night you wince under heavy and large blows. Your opponent’s movement is jerky and imprecise. Every bone aches, teeth bleed. Your opponent shake you, pushes, grabs, rips and tears. You feel tense fingers, with grating nails pull on your ears until they feel they might tear.

How do you respond?

How do you feel?

On the second night you feel light movement, you wince momentarily as someone tugs on your hair, then grabs at your cheeks and eyes, small hands hold on tightly, but then they let go. You wince again as something pounces on your stomach, bounces lightly, then jumps off. Skinny arms curl around your neck as if to take you down to the floor, but they find no support and you are unaffected.

How do you respond?

How do you feel?

On the third night you are squeezed and pulled in tightly, you try to move away but the body slides around to your back andshoves your head repeatedly down to the floor. Light arms move around your neck and constrict. The body of your opponent, that was once mobile and loose, tightens and shakes. Pressure rises and you feel yourself going slack.

How do you respond?

How do you feel?

On the fourth night every blow feels heavy and tired. You seem to walk right into them. You reach out to grab hold of something but nothing is there. Something grabs you instead, it is firm and confident, but it never stays in one place for long.You feel fingers and fists touching you momentarily, guiding you to the floor. 

How do you respond?

How do you feel?

Get out a pen and paper. Each dream included a confrontation from a different person. Write down a description of what each person looks like.

Now return momentarily to your visualization. Imagine that on the fifth night you fall to sleep and wake in the same dream, only this time you catch a glimpse of what happened that led to the confrontation. You are in the dojo. Four new students come into class. Is one of them too young to be here? The instructor asks each one to introduce themself to you, and explains that you will work with each one before class ends. How do they introduce themselves, write down their introductions individually. As you write, think back to your dreams; recall your responses, feelings, and the words you used to describe the  appearance of the new students.

This exercise illustrates how easy it is for most of us to “imagine” a physical description or even a character based on feelings that we get while working with someone. If you are comfortable, compare your responses with a friend. Are the similar? I suspect that most people answer very similarly. Recognize that your partner or opponent will react to your work and the feelings that come up just as you have! So if you imagine the first confrontation to be a violent criminal, there is a good chance that the violent criminal would imagine you the same way if you worked violently in return.

Typically, you don’t get such a clear example of how your relationships affect your work because more often confrontations happen the other way around; you communicate verbally and non-verbally, and only then interact physically. In this thought experiment we reversed the dynamic so you could examine your relationship with your partner after the work. Recognize that the relationship you foster with a partner or opponent, with what little time you have before the physical work starts, will in some part determine the nature of the work. Someone who is aggressive elicits aggression out of those present, someone who is timid welcomes help from others, a child can get away with force because it is innocent and uncontrolled, jovial interaction lightens the room, someone who is calm and slow has an easier time working with their partners because it is contagious.

I may see two students working aggressively with eachother, but when I call to change partners the tone in both students changes entirely because they are working with new people and they have a different relationship with them. Perhaps the atmosphere becomes jovial because they work with a friend, or perhaps they become timid because the person they are working with is superior, perhaps they will compete with one another because they are on the same level, or they will become vengeful because they perceive that the other is treating them ill. As long as you control your own emotional base, and you choose not to let your opponent’s emotional base control you, then you are in control of your opponent.

Everyday you manage your emotional base and you determine what you put into your body and mind that contributes to your character. These factors put you in control of the relationships that you develop with others. If you control this relationship you can control how people will respond to you. Perhaps you think that your own superiority is what will save you, but there is always someone with greater superiority, and always games you can’t win. Your opponent’s response to your character, the messages you are subconsciously sending him, may be the difference between success and failure. I am reminded of Goethe who said, “In the face of great superiority, there is no means of safety but love.”

Feel Tension and Control It

I have mentioned before the two primary ways to “feel” tension in yourself. The first is the physical contraction of muscle and tendon. The second is mental and physical discomfort. Both are equally illusive because they require internal sensitivity and a willingness to confront weakness. Mark Zamarin, Systema Utah instructor, says that people become accustomed to tension and remain tense even when they feel relaxed. The goal is ultimately control. Can you shut tension on and off where you need it and when you need it? Or does your opponent control your tension? Do confrontations send you into a state of frustration, panic, fear, or anger? These are obstacles to comfort. No one can feel comfortable and frustrated simultaneously! Here are a few quotes that may help understand our tension and how we can remove obstacles to our personal comfort.

“The more you discover yourself, the more tension you see in yourself.”
-Konstantin Komarov

“Nothing you do should require any more physical “effort” than it takes to merely move your body through empty space without a training partner or opponent.”
-Scott Meredith, about Soke’s presentation of Jutaijutsu

“There are only two states from which you can respond to any situation. You can respond from love (and focus on honoring, edifying and validating the other person) or you can respond from fear (and focus on what you need). Every other response or emotion fits into these two categories.”
-Kimberly Giles

“For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. For every force applied, there is an equal force applied back. The ‘world’, the universe, maya only exists because of resistance to it: you push against it, it pushes back. The only way to freedom is surrender. You stop pushing, asserting yourself, and illusion stops pushing back, asserting itself. Stop pushing, putting energy into the system, and there is no energy in the system to push back. Stop telling the story, and without that constant input of energy the story collapses.”
-David Carse

2 Ways to Take an Enemy Down and Keep Them Down

I will not give you the advice you want, and many of you will see this as sidestepping what you really wanted to hear, but I want to share with you what I believe are the two most effective and least appreciated techniques for self-defense. Both apply to a myriad of situations–whether we are talking about ignoring intimidation or moving softly and subtly with an aggressive opponent, whether we are talking about showing empathy towards those who despise us or breaking an opponent’s desire to attack further. Enjoy!

Show Love and Compassion

“Heaven arms with compassion those whom it
would not see destroyed.”
-Taoist Scripture

“In the face of the great superiority of
another person there is no means of safety
but love.”

“To ‘love our enemy’ is impossible, because
the moment we love him, he is no longer our
-Thich Nhat Hanh

“When you begin to see that your enemy is
suffering, that is the beginning of
-Thich Nhat Hanh

Refuse to Take Part

“[Your opponent] needs someone to fight to
carry on fighting…”
-Martin Wheeler, brackets added for

“That’s what happens when you are angry at
people, you make them part of your life.”
-Garrison Keillor

“Remove yourself not just from the line of
attack, but from line of opponent’s
-Vladimir Vasiliev

5 Worthwhile Pieces of Self-Defense Advice Your Mother Gave

Advice that everyone knows and has been told since childhood is the most often ignored. In most cases, these axioms are ignored because you can get away with breaking any one of them without serious consequences. However, you can greatly reduce your risk of victimization by simply listening to your mother.

“Stand in Holy Places”
Essentially this means participating in wholesome activities. “Stand in Holy Places” is perhaps the most disliked self-defense advice because we live in a culture that faults the consequences before the choices that led to those consequences. It is too bad that kids must suffer big consequences for small mistakes, but in regards to self-defense it is unreasonable to point fingers when we can easily stop and realize that we must be good stewards over ourselves.

“Let someone know Where you are going”
Whether you are going hiking in the mountains or on a field trip across state lines, you will save your loved-ones a lot of grief if they know where to look for you in case of an emergency.

“Don’t talk to strangers”
Don’t open up to strangers about personal information (who you are, where you are going, etc.) It is important to be courteous and kind, but if a stranger is being particularly nosy, don’t let them into your personal space. Maintain privacy in public places; including social media. Don’t post pictures of your kids online, or display addresses and phone numbers.

“Choose your friends wisely”
Place yourself in a positive and loving environment. If you must make yourself vulnerable, do it in a group of friends and family rather than in a group strangers or people “you think you know.” Make friends who understand, respect your boundaries, and know what your boundaries are. The Buddha said, “People should learn to see and so avoid all danger. Just as the wise man keeps away from mad dogs, so one should not make friends with evil men.”

“Look both ways before crossing the street”
Not just for crossing the street. Stay aware of what is going on around you. Don’t busy yourself with a phone or headphones in public places. Your instinct will warn you of danger, but if you are not using your senses to gather new information your instinct will be mute.