by Bruce Tegner

Almost anyone can learn self-defense in a fairly short period of time without becoming an expert fighter. This point of view is based on a lifetime of experience in the field.

tai otoshi The principle obstacle to learning and teaching practical self defense is a persistence of concepts and practices which do not serve out present needs. It is time to examine and re-evaluate out-dated ideas on the subject of self-defense. It is imperative to apply rational, ethical, humanistic standards of behavior to this subject. It is necessary to apply modern concepts of education since the major consumers of books and instruction are young people.

A definition of self-defense is in order. One way of defining self-defense is to enumerate the things it is not. Self defense is not warfare; it is not personal vengeance; it is not ritual or ceremony; it is not an art; it is not a sporting event; it is not a way of life; it is not a spectacular tv/movie fight scene.

Self defense instruction is preparation to minimize the possibility of assault, to minimize the possibility of engaging in physical confrontation; it is training to learn and use a group of simple, effective physical actions if no other alternative is available. Learning self defense is primarily the process of learning how to avoid being a victim.

For a long time we have been exposed to either/or, all-or-none fallacies about self defense. It is still widely believed that the alternative to becoming a highly trained fighter is to be a completely helpless person, unable to cope with the threat of assault. Put another way, it is a statement that the only alternative to passivity is aggression. There is, in fact, another possibility. The rational alternative to aggression is not submission, but assertion.

Many victims of assault are not victims because they fail to become fierce fighters; they are victims of assault because they have been given no preparation to deal with this special kind of emergency. The view that self defense instruction is preparation to become a skilled fighter has the effect of eliminating those individuals who most need to know self defense. It is precisely those individuals who are unable or unwilling to become expert fighters who benefit from practical self defense instruction to the greatest degree.

Our capabilities ought to bear some relationship to real life objectives. People learning to defend themselves against assault out not to be trained as though they were preparing for warfare. In warfare the objective is to inflict grave injury or to kill an adversary. the legal and moral definition of self-defense expressly limits the degree or amount of force to the least amount which can be used to avert or stop an intended assault. Warfare training is preparation to use the maximum degree of force.

The concepts, techniques and methods appropriate for training Samurai warriors are not those appropriate for teaching self defense as a practical skill.

Punitive responses to violence do not contribute solutions –they escalate violence. Community safety is a community problem. Safe streets will not be achieved through reckless counter-aggression. The “harder” we come down on individuals who resort to physical assault, the more we seem to convince them that violence is a legitimate form of persuasion. Personal vengeance is not consistent with protection under the law. It is understandable that individuals take violent action when they are severely frustrated, but personal vengeance destroys the law, just as kicking a TV set because it doesn’t work destroys the possibility that it might be made to work. Personal vengeance is a dramatic theme for plays and stories, but the outcome of personal vengeance is always tragic.

Street assault is not a sporting event and self defense is not a sport. A sport has rules, regulations, judges, referees. Opponents in a sporting match are expected to be of approximately equal size and weight and to have approximately equal skill. In a sporting match the participants have a mutual agreement to engage in contest and they have agreed to abide by a set of known rules.

The objectives of a sporting match are demonstrably different from the objectives of street assault or street defense. The method of instruction, the techniques selected, the amount of training and practice are different for tournament and for basic self defense. Preparation for tournament requires hard work, long training, exercise to get into top physical condition, continuing practice to maintain a high level of technical skill and competitive spirit. Such requirements are appropriate for sport training and they are utterly without relevance for practical self-defense. Contest oriented training ignores those most urgently in need of self defense instruction–the frail, those who are not competitive, those who are not in superb physical condition, those who are not exceptional in physical performance.

Many forms of the ancient fighting skills, the martial arts of Asia, include rigid patterns of “attack-defense” exercises which originated as practice procedures to enhance technical skill. Through the years, they have evolved into ritualized, formal movements, some of which bear no relationship to defensive actions which would be appropriate in contemporary assault-defense situations. The ritual and formal aspects of the fighting skills bear about the same relationship to practical self-defense as the tea ceremony has to making a cup of tea. There is no doubt but what the tea ceremony is one of the most beautiful patterns of formal ceremony in the world, but no one would claim that it is the most efficient way to brew a cup of tea for everyday consumption.

Calling Self Defense an “art” is, in my view, counter productive. Self-defense is a practical skill which ought to be available to great numbers of ordinary people. “Art” implies aptitudes, gifts, talents, and accomplishments which are beyond the reach of most of us. Even when the word “art: is used to describe a craft, it is applied to those who have exceptional ability. Self-defense is a practical skill which most people can learn.

It used to be alleged that Judo is a “way of life.” Now that judo is an Olympic games event, it is clear that Judo is “A way of life” only in the sense that swimming is a “way of life” for an individual who expects to become an Olympic champion. Champions must devote the major part of their lives to learning and practicing the activity in order to excel. The individual who wants to learn the fundamentals of swimming as a safety skill and for the pleasurable exercise does not need to make swimming a “way of life.” The person who wishes to reach a high level of skill in any weaponless fighting specialty must devote much time, attention and energy to reach that goal. The person who wishes to learn basic self-defense need not.

Bruce Tegner was a specialist in both sport and self defense forms of weaponless fighting. Both his parents were professional teachers of Judo and Ju-Jutsu and they began to train him when he was two years old. His education covered many aspects of fighting, including Judo, Ju-Jutsu, Karate, Aikido, Yawara, Savate, as well as instruction in sword and stick fighting arts. Before giving up competitive Judo, he was the California State Judo Champion. In the U.S. armed forces, Mr. Tegner trained instructors to teach weaponless combat, he taught military police tactics and he coached sport Judo teams. Mr. Tegner trained actors and would devise fight scenes for films and TV. Mr. Tegner also authored over 25 books on the martial arts and self defense.