Self-Defense and Stress: You are Your Own Last Line of Defense, by Jessica B.

I have seen many articles on Self-Defense. What I have not seen is topics regarding that moment that you find yourself in a stressful, self-defense situation and how to overcome it. I have taught my children from age 4 that you are your own last line of defense. This realization in itself can be pretty stressful. What most people don’t realize is that when attacked you only have ½ a second to react. This may not seem like a lot of time, but I assure you, your life can be ended by what happens in that initial ½ second.

People that have not prepared themselves for this have an initial reaction of holding their breath.  Any ground they could have won by defending their self from a hand to hand attack is lost as the attacker gets a better and tighter hold on their victim. Go ahead, take a moment right now to hold your breath. You just lost your ½ second of reaction time.  In that moment, the heart starts beating faster, the blood begins to flow and by holding your breath, you have begun to starve your body of the life giving oxygen needed in order to react faster, and think clearer. You have created extra stress on the body at a time when your body needs to be at its quickest.  When you suck in that one breath, your body contours even change, giving your attacker the edge in which to squeeze you tighter. How do you defend against your body’s natural reaction? You have to train. In order for this to be overcome, you have to employ the “no mind” technique of the ancient warriors.

Mushin no shin is the technique of having a “mind with no mind”. Highly trained martial artists enter combat in a state of “no mind”. I am a 2nd Degree black belt in Small Circle Jujitsu, Ryu Kyu Kempo and Tae Kwon Do. I am also a 1st degree black belt in Modern Arnis or Escrima (stick fighting). I also teach self-defense classes to ladies. What I try to teach them is that you don’t have to be a highly trained warrior in several different martial arts. You just have to overcome the initial reaction and trust your instincts and training in a survival situation. In every single self-defense class, 99% of women stiffen up and immediately hold their breath when attacked. They begin to doubt themselves, second guess themselves and make excuses. How do I teach them to overcome this? I make them work through the same technique over and over. When they believe they have got a certain technique, I have them go over it some more. Then, when they are ready, I randomly attack them. If they defend without holding their breath or pausing within the technique, they can move on to the next technique. What happens during this training period? Have I magically imparted a secret knowledge to them? No, the truth is, they begin to become comfortable in their own bodies. As they become comfortable in their own bodies, they begin to trust themselves. When they learn they can trust themselves, they can react without the halting fear that freezes a victim.

When fear freezes someone, the breath is shallow and unnatural. This sends all sorts of signals to the brain. Some people that have physically been attacked have told me that they felt like a deer caught in headlights. They were unable to move let alone breathe regularly. This sometimes led to disastrous consequences. This is when I work with them on a few martial arts techniques. After they become comfortable with them, I begin to coach them about their breath. Most people breathe shallowly, from the chest. This results in never providing the brain, organs or muscles with enough oxygen. Therefore, most people walk around stressed and oxygen deprived without even realizing it.

There is a simple technique to training yourself to breathe deeper. The martial arts master’s that employed the “no mind” technique were keenly aware of how important breath is to the body. In order to achieve deeper breathing, sit down in a comfortable quiet spot and close your eyes. Take one inhalation. Ask yourself what rose, the chest or the stomach? If your answer was the chest, then there is a strong possibility that you are a shallow breather. Take another breath. This time focusing your mind on the chest rising and then the belly button pressing away from the spine. You will have more oxygen intake if you do this. The next step is to take an inhale and use a counting method. Try to inhale for 5-7 counts. Then try to exhale just as slowly, pressing the navel into the stomach and rolling the exhalation upwards. This breathing exercise fills your body with much needed oxygen, reducing stress and enhancing focus. It is the focus that works our brains just like a muscle, allowing us to push out all random thoughts and allow the mind to become focused and unwavering. When unconscious deep breathing is achieved, it is easier to defend yourself.

This technique of “no mind” can be applied not only to martial arts, but to operating a firearm, bow or any weapon. If you are stressed while operating any weapon, you will not handle it well. In order to move past this, you must know your weapon. Your weapon should be viewed as an extension of yourself. Whether you are training with escrima sticks, bo staff, or the sword, your weapon is simply an extension of your arm. You can’t just drop your arm when you get scared. You can’t forget how your fingers work. It’s your arm and they’re your fingers. The idea of you forgetting how they work is comical. They are yours! This view does not just pertain to ancient weaponry; the same thought should be extended to your pistol, shotgun, rifle or bow.  Know them and use them until they feel as if they are a part of you, just as your fingers and toes are a part of you.

When I received my first compound bow, I carried it around the house with me. Everywhere I went, my bow was there. I examined every part of it. I practiced with it day after day. I wanted to know it. What I knew was I was a horrible shot. That’s when I realized, every time I released my arrow, I was holding my breath. I was thinking about what if I lost my arrow again, what if I hit the target here instead of there. What if, what if, what if ran through my mind. I had lost my “no mind” mentality. When I became aware of this flaw, I removed it from my mind.  When I began to shed the extraneous thoughts and trusted myself and breathed, I became a better shot.

When we practice or train in self-defense, the mind can become cluttered. We want to be able to perform like we think we should. We have a preconceived notion of how things should turn out. We have to release those thoughts. If the mind is that crowded, we will never perform the way we want to. These simple techniques will serve to help anyone that wants to employ the “no mind” sentiment and take their self-defense skills to the next level.

  1. Trust yourself. You are the only you that you have! There’s no other, better you that’s out there waiting. Just as a 4 year old can be their own last line of defense, recognize the fact that you are your own last line of defense. You are going to have to rescue yourself.
  2. Clear the mind. It’s just you and your clear mind allowing you to focus and react. If you wait and ponder things, you could be dead in just a second. Remember, you may only have ½ a second to react.
  3. Breathe! Breath is life. If you hold your breath, then your muscles are immediately starved for oxygen and your reactions are slower. You grow tired quickly.
  4. Practice. And then practice some more. When you think you have practiced enough, you are just beginning to learn that you should practice even more. Without practice, all the weapons and martial arts in the world aren’t going to help you.

We are not born knowing how to walk. We had to crawl first. Did our finite minds vacillate back and forth about if we could crawl and therefore walk? No! We practiced, and therefore learned a skill that we do not even think about when we use it today. We are not born knowing how to execute the perfect kick to blow out a knee, or how to hit a bulls eye from 100 yards. We practiced. We began to trust ourselves. We began to feel comfortable in our abilities. This is how the experts excel at what they do. They have employed the “no mind” technique. They have learned how to “crawl” with their weapon and now can “walk” with them unconsciously, perfectly.

When you have practiced in your chosen self-defense so much that you feel comfortable and trust yourself, you begin to eliminate doubt and fear and replace it with confidence and a higher level of skill. This is the beginning of “no mind”. You have begun to eliminate hesitation. You have eliminated any excuses. You have grown and therefore begun to attain the ranks of the ancient warriors that entered combat with “no mind”. You can perform without conscious thought. Your actions to an outsider would seem spontaneous, but they are only the actions of someone that has removed the stress factor out of the equation and replaced it with action.

When you are practicing your chosen self-defense, be aware of your surroundings. Recognizing a threat before it presents itself helps to eliminate hesitation with your course of action. One of the ladies that I train was at a gas station. I decided to see how close I could get to her before she realized I was there. I got three feet from her. She turned around with eyes wide, focused and poised. When she realized it was me, she was relieved. I asked her what her initial reaction was. She said her first thought was, “How did I let someone get so close to me?” Her second thought was, “I’m going to target the knee, blow it out with a side kick. Then I’m going to palm strike the nose upwards.” While she was down on herself for her first reaction, I congratulated her. She assessed the situation and was fully prepared in a split second to react with force to save her person.

If you do find yourself in hand to hand combat and react accordingly, you then deal out a measure of surprise. This is not normal behavior for a victim. Remember, the attacker also has an expectation of your reaction as well. For example, if they grab your arm and pull you, the normal reaction is pull away from the impending danger. If, however, you were to step into the attacker’s personal space and execute a hand to hand self-defense, you have just reacted in an abnormal way to the attacker. You have then taken the power away and now they are the ones that have to react to the “surprise”. This could give you vital extra time to save your life.

If we want to fully prepare for our lives and world to change as we know it, we must be well rounded. Our focus and determination can only carry us so far without practice in real life applications. Clearing our minds through breath can lead us to be focused enough to react quickly to save our life or one of our loved ones with no hesitation.  We can further reduce stress in our lives by meditating on scriptures as they contain much wisdom. After all, the first Master of martial arts was God as he taught David’s hands to war in Psalms 18:34. We must rely on our determination, focus and dedication to teach our hands to war in the correct way as well.