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.


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The best place to begin exploring movement and body mechanics is the ground. On the ground, your body is open to new possibilities and you will discover things about yourself that you were not aware of. With practice, what you learn on the ground will open up new possibilities in standing positions as well. There is a degree of flexibility and strength conditioning involved, but for the most part, you are expected to explore your personal range and movement. In this set you will learn the principles of ground movement, to relax underneath an opponent, methods to stay on top of an opponent, and moving with a partner. You will learn how to transition from ground to standing positions, to fall from Standing and sitting positions, to take down standing opponents from the floor, and how to deal with grabs, holds, and strikes from the ground. Continue reading

Learning by Principle

Learning techniques and principles are two different things. Learning by technique produces clear instruction and is usually well developed. Moreover, while teaching by technique, it is easier to gauge a student’s progress. Indeed, technique is the preferred method of many martial artists. Whereas learning by technique means dedication to step-by-step instruction on particular blocks or strikes or movements, learning by principle means participating in attribute drills and games, as well as dedicating a lot of time to internal analysis. 

While the methods vary, Systema focuses on learning by principle.

Principles produce spontaneity
Principles produce natural and “true” action
Principles open an unlimited reserve of techniques
Principles are necessary for honest self defense preparation

Earlier, we addressed the importance of spontaneity in terms of self-defense and the Tao, but it also plays a key role in success. Spontaneity suggests that a practitioner has internalized life-saving principles and that they are at his or her disposal at a second’s notice. Imagine you were on a road-trip, but only filled up the car with exactly what you needed to reach your destination. You would not be prepared for the unexpected; only for what you expected. Any detours, flats, traffic conditions, or vacant gas stations would cause you to fall short of your mark. Learning by principle is akin to keeping your gas tank full.

Natural and “True” Action
Natural and “true” action relate to spontaneity in that natural action is always spontaneous; it is not contrived, planned, or nervous. Natural action is non-threatening and unique because it comes from within. Some may wonder why a non-threatening appearance is important to self-defense, but besides keeping you out of trouble, it will relax an opponent, lull them into a sense of security, and hopefully, deescalate the situation. Otherwise, natural action will make your opponent’s demise even greater when they realize they are not in control at the last moment! Natural action is confusing, yet simple.

As for “true” action, consider the following quote:

“If you perceive the true form of heaven and earth, you will be enlightened to your own true form. If you are enlightened about a certain principle, you can put it into practice. After each practical application, reflect on your efforts. Progress continually like this.”
-Morihei Ueshiba (Trans. Stevens, 2010)

“True” action is a reflection of the true form of heaven and earth, or the Divine Form. So what is the Divine Form? We know from the same person, Morihei Ueshiba, that the Divine is within each one of us, and we need not look any further than our current position.

Unlimited Reserve of Techniques
You may have already guessed, but principles generate an unlimited reserve of techniques that are reflections of the divine form or natural, “true,” action. Therefore, there is no need to spend a lot of time on technique. Let’s look again to Morihei Ueshiba,

“The techniques of the Way of Peace change constantly; every encounter is unique, and the appropriate response should emerge naturally. Today’s techniques will be different tomorrow. Do not get caught up with the form and appearance of a challenge. The Art of Peace has no form–it is the study of the spirit.”
-Morihei Ueshiba (Trans. Stevens, 2010)

When it really comes down to putting principles into practice without taking time to learn techniques, it is hard to trust that techniques will emerge naturally. A lot of time will pass before you witness this process occurring in your own practice, but it is nonetheless true. You must have faith or all the time in the world won’t help.

Honest Self-defense
Honest self-defense is always principle based. There are many examples. You must train your natural responses to attacks, you must learn to move, to relax, develop a combative body, learn timing, distance, and rhythm among other things. Many profess that one can increase personal safety in an attack by soft movement alone. Pressure points, strikes, and joint manipulation is only part of the story. In fact, most people do not need these things at all. For children, the best defense is kicking and screaming. . .not a karate chop. Right? It is more important that a child (or an adult for that matter) does not freeze and just does what comes naturally.

The best self-defense happens before contact even starts. Consider the children’s tale “The Story of Ferdinand” by Munro Leaf. We all know what happens to a bull in the ring. The banderilleros excite the bull with pins and spears, the bullfighter taunts the bull and finally finishes her with his sword. In the story of Ferdinand the Bull, no matter how much the banderilleros prodded, Ferdinand refused to participate because he preferred to smell the flowers. Ferdinand’s response (or lack of response) drove the bull fighters mad because they couldn’t show off for the crowd. Finally, they sent Ferdinand home  and he lived to sit in his pasture another day. . .no self defense techniques required (Munro, 2011). The story shows that if you don’t add fuel to the fire, it will die.

There is another story by Taoist, Chuang Tzu: a man takes his fighting cock to a well-regarded trainer, but every time he comes back for his fighting cock, the trainer tells him that the bird is not ready because he fluffs his feathers and squawks in the presence of other cocks. Finally, the man returns and the trainer tells him that the bird is ready, because now the fighting cock pays no attention to the other birds, stands calm, unintimidated, and motionless. The trainer says, “the other cocks will take one look at him and run,” (Merton, 2010). This a great example as long as we also remember to show love, respect, with the best intention, to those around us.

Lastly, remember that there are some things that no one can prepare for, but your attitude about it will greatly improve the quality of your life.


Ueshiba, Morihei, and John Stevens. The Art of Peace. Boston & London: Shambhala, 2010. Print.

Leaf, Munro, and Robert Lawson. The Story of Ferdinand. New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 2011. Print.

Merton, Thomas. The Way of Chuang Tzu. Rev. Ev. ed. New York: New Directions, 2010. Print.

Understanding Self-Defense: The Tao

I have often contemplated the Tao of self defense, if one should exist, but found it difficult to justify any sort of violence in the context of the Tao. However, while reading Thomas Merton’s preface to The Way of Chuang Tzu, it occurred to me that self defense must be, what Merton calls, a “perfect action” or wu wei (sometimes translated as effortless action.) In addition to effortless, Thomas Merton also translates wu wei as spontaneous. He writes that wu wei is a “detached action,” meaning that “it is not ‘conditioned’ or ‘limited’ by our own individual needs and desires, or even by our own theories and ideas” (28). Finally, Thomas Merton adds that wu wei is free action, because it is an action that is in harmony with the universe precisely because it is detached from the individual, it is spontaneous, and effortless. As a result, wu wei is void of force and violence; it is natural. Continue reading