It’s no secret that I’m proud of what I do. It makes me happy. However, when I meet someone new and the question comes up “what do you do?” or “where do you work?”, I almost visibly cringe. Not because I don’t want to talk about it. Anyone that knows me knows that I absolutely love to talk about martial arts and self-defense. It’s just that I know what kind of response I’m initially going to get. (Something along the lines of “Oh! I’d better not piss YOU off!”) While I’m used to that, what gets me is that they have already decided that what I do amounts to punching and kicking people. They have categorized it and put it into a nice neat little box. There is so much more to martial arts and self-protection than what they’ve put in that little box. In fact, there is no box that it can fit into.
Yes, we do hit and kick things. We also throw people, control limbs, learn how to fall, block, parry and displace. We also learn to be aware of our environment, identify potentially dangerous situations and use common sense to avoid danger. We learn to use our words to say no and mean it; how to be assertive without being aggressive. We learn how to deal with bullies, how to communicate with other people effectively, how to identify red flags in relationships and where to find help when we need it. We learn how to respect ourselves and others. These all may be what you would expect out of martial arts classes, but then again maybe not. However, I’m now going to give you some thing you might not expect. We learn to be gentle. Gentle is not something most people associate with martial arts or self-defense. There may even be some martial artists out there that are currently scratching their heads wondering where I’m going with this!
There are people that we love that suffer from dementia. There are elderly people in nursing homes that for one reason or another become aggressive. There are people in our lives that are mentally or emotionally different than us that lash out at us for reasons we don’t understand. Our children have temper tantrums and escalate to the point of striking, kicking, biting and head-butting. How about your depressed, out of control friend that you need to keep from hurting themselves without hurting them or yourself in the process. These situations all require that we protect ourselves without hurting the other person. For example, I have an adult student who is a nurse. She has had many instances where she was giving direct care to a client where she has been grabbed. We have worked to take sections of kata that she can use in a gentle application to release the grip without hurting the other person while also keeping them from falling out of their wheelchair or bed. She has also had many instances of having to catch unsteady patients where she has found that dropping into a stance has allowed her to catch and safely help the patient regain their stability without anyone getting hurt. Suddenly, what previously was interpreted as an elbow strike is now catching and pulling a person upright while in a cat stance so she doesn’t head butt her patient. When we work on her individual interpretations of kata, we work both gentle self-defense situations like these as well as martial applications needed for self-protection. She and other care givers like her comprise just one reason that we can’t put what we learn in martial arts into a box that only includes fighting. That’s one of the reasons why it’s called an art.