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Awareness as Self-Defense

One of the reasons many are interested in learning Karate is to learn self-defense. The techniques of Karate can certainly be effective for self-defense if learnt and trained properly and regularly. However, self-defense can and should be practiced constantly in even the smallest and seemingly matters.

# 16 of the Shoto Niju-Kun is Danshi mon o izureba hyakuman no teki ari - Be aware at all times you are surrounded by millions of potential opponents. While at first this may sound like extreme paranoia, these "opponents" can be many that we sometimes may overlook and/or not even consider "opponents." Some may be actual situations that may have no physical form.

Yoi (ready- mentally and physically) is a moment of 100% readiness and awareness. We begin all Kata with yoi before any techniques are executed in a Kata. During the Kata and indeed at the end of the Kata and beyond the end, Zanshin (awareness- literally "remaining mind") must be ever present. Zanshin must be present at all times in one's training, whether in Kihon, Kata and Kumite. While yoi and zanshin are a huge and important part of Karate training, their principles can be used in daily life.

Some things we do so routinely and regularly that it can be easy to get complacent, possibly careless and are often such routines that we may not even remember if we did them or not. We do things like turn on and off light switches, lock and unlock doors, turn on a burglar alarm, turn on an off the stove, throw things in the trash without double checking carefully that "trash" may actually be. Does leaving a light on knowingly and purposely give the impression that someone is home? Can accidentally leaving it off possibly invite burglars? Being in such a hurry that it is possible to forget to lock doors, turn on a burglar alarm causing our residences to be largely defenseless. Leaving a fire on and or stove on can very possibly cause a huge and destructive fire. Not double checking what "trash" we are disposing of can cause a lot of worry when an important piece of mail, document or check is missing. In these aforementioned scenarios, the "opponent" is actually ourselves caused by our carelessness and negligence. Slow down and take our time.

While alone or in public it can be easy to be complacent, off guard and easily distracted. Whether on a small scale or a large scale, complacency, distraction, lack of self-defense and lack of awareness are all very possible to have been the cause of things such as medical issues (including COVID-19), minor accidents, major accidents, road rage, theft, loss of items, confrontations, verbal threats, physical threats, kidnapping, internet stalking, hijackings, acts of terrorism and death. However, the final example is an example of how awareness and self-defense cause greater appreciation of life. Let's look at these.

Medical issues (including COVID-19) - Following simple precautions such as not going outside with wet hair, not sneezing, nor coughing on anyone are precautions that should be taken by and for all. 2020 is the year that the world has experienced an outbreak of a most deadly virus - COVID-19, also known as Coronavirus. The spread of and lethality of it has never been experienced in history. As of December 8, 2020, there have been 68,017,832 cases, 1,552,303 deaths and 47,109,958 recoveries world wide. To think just how many cases, deaths could have been prevented with the simple practices of awareness of others through awareness of social distancing and awareness of who is and who is not wearing a mask in one's vicinity and location. It certainly would have been less.

Minor accidents - These may not be strictly classified and thought of as automobile and motorcycle accidents. But let's use those as examples. While pulling into a parking spot, it is always important to look not just at the opening of the spot itself, but of other automobiles nearby. Perhaps there is a vehicle that is in the next spot that is preparing to back out or is in the process of doing so. Look to see if its backup tail lights are on. They might be broken, so it is extremely important to be watchful. Perhaps the parking spot appears empty, but in fact there is a motorcycle parked in it that is not seen at first. This is particularly possible at night. When backing out of a parking spot, it is mandatory to look horizontally in all directions to be absolutely certain there is no one around your vehicle. This is even more of a possible catastrophe considering that oftentimes their parent, parents or guardians are not paying attention to them, not holding their hands (in the case of very small children) and may even break free or run away from them. It can also be the case that one may not see an oncoming vehicle while backing out or moving forward from a parking spot. Being alert at traffic lights is also mandatory to lower the possibility of an accident. The driver may not realize that the vehicle in front has not moved, although the traffic light has changed to green. Or possibly not noticing that the vehicle in front is at a stop. Look, listen and wait!

Major accidents - Once again using the examples of automobile and motorcycle accidents, it is all too common to be negligent and/or take one's safety and that of passengers for granted. How many put on their seatbelt before even starting the ignition, much less beginning moving their vehicle? How many do not look both ways before pulling out onto a street? How many look, but pull out and THEN look? The answer to all of these is that many do. While many states do not require by law the wearing of motorcyclists wearing a helmet, the risk of injury and death can be reduced substantially. Speed limits are made for several reasons, among them to reduce the probability of accidents, injuries and fatalities. Being aware that we take all of the aforementioned in mind, our awareness makes us safer.

Road rage - The last precept of the Dojo-Kun is Kekki no yu o imashimuru koto (refrain from violent behavior). Although the Karate-ka may wish to adhere to this principle, others may not. And it is important that the Karate-ka not be drawn into violent behavior stemmed by that of another person or occurrence. The recklessness, verbal abuse or tirade of another should NEVER cause the Karate-ka to be drawn into a potentially dangerous situation. Ignore, ignore, ignore! Likewise, the Karate-ka must allow the lack of self control caused by the discourtesy of others to cause them to act in a violent way. Road rage can easily elevate into a very dangerous and potentially deadly situation. Awareness of others' driving and their own driving can largely reduce the chances of violence stemming from road rage.

Theft and loss of items - This is particularly true when travelling in public and on public transportation. How often it is that we may not be alert to the possibility of pickpocketing in a crowded space? An example of taking a precaution of this could be putting one's wallet in a front and secure pants pocket and being hypersensitive to the closeness of anyone nearby, as well as an "accidental" touch or bump. When on an airplane, how easy is it for another passenger to take the luggage of another without being noticed? How often is it easy to accidentally forget what one may have stored in the overhead compartment? Awareness and not being even momentarily reduce the chances of these happening. It is not always only possible on large public transportation, but on buses, trains and subways. Should someone leave a wallet, briefcase or anything behind on the seat, it's most often "finders keepers, losers weepers" Fortunately, in some countries and societies it is often NOT the case. In Japan for example, stealing (even if "no one will know" or "no one is looking") is abhorrent and disgraceful to a very high degree. It is extremely common in Japan that should someone leave a piece of property, personal belonging, or any type of item that whoever may find it will try to find its owner (through any personal identification or clue as to who the owner or possibly the profession or business of the rightful owner is) and return to them. If this is not possible, the item will be given to the stationmaster, ticket taker or law enforcement officer at the station. This is also the case on larger vehicles of transportation such as the Shinkansen (bullet train) and jet airplane. Awareness can also help prevent these loss of items in the first place.

Confrontations - Using our internal radar and trusting our instincts can help us avoid confrontations of any type. If someplace and/or someone feels "not right," it and/or they are usually not right. This feeling can be brought about by being aware of any others at the location and things such as their volume of speaking to others at the location, their tone of voice, as well as the looks that may be received from them. Keep in mind that there may be numerous possible opponents, some of whom may not be seen. Avoiding eye contact in such situations and in such places is self-defense in itself. If this feeling is present, leave at once. Do not have self pride, nor ego, of feeling that we have the right to be at the location as much as anyone else. Awareness first to avoid this possibility. However, this may not always be possible and may occur when least expected.

While standing in a line wherever it may be; grocery store, checkout line, movie theater box office line, etc. awareness is often absent. How easy could it be to possibly be standing next to another and unknowingly too close for their comfort or for the comfort of someone accompanying them; husband, wife, child, friend, pet, date, etc. This lack of awareness on our part could easily become a very unpleasant confrontation and potentially dangerous situation. Being aware and 100% alert, i.e. practicing zanshin in everyday life can prevent confrontations.

Verbal threats - The essence of these is the same as applies to road rage. Do not respond to verbal threats, no matter what is threatened or who is threatened. Ignore, but always take them seriously and remember them, as the threat may be carried out at a later date at an unexpected time and location. Awareness should not be momentarily, but constant.

Physical threats - What constitutes a physical threat may not be limited to for example, threatening someone with physical violence, or also for example raising a fist toward someone. It may also constitute subtle actions such as purposely blocking someone's walking path, or purposely bumping into another. Similar to the awareness factors to avoid possible confrontations, the same type of awareness is absolute importance. Likewise, it is important to not be unknowingly doing any of the previous actions unknowingly, hence causing others to view one's actions to be mistaken as a threat.

Kidnapping - The term suggests that it is only children who can be taken and abducted against their will. However, this is not always the case.

Children and parents MUST have awareness. Children must be taught from the youngest possible age to never trust, talk to or go anywhere with strangers. Even if a stranger tells the child that he/she is Mom or Dad's "friend" or tells the child that he/she is an aunt/uncle that, "you have not met yet." Children must be taught to never answer the telephone or open the door of the residence without the permission of their parent or parents. The awareness of a child must be taught and will lead to the child being more noticing of things, people and situations that do not seem or look right. The awareness of parents is at times very poor and negligible. Leaving a child unattended in an automobile or unattended in a public place is not only not being aware of their child, but is also child neglect. The kidnapping of adults is often more complicated for the kidnapper, as adults are in general more difficult to physically abduct and deceive than an innocent and trusting child. That being said, adults must also take extra caution and have extra awareness in surroundings, as well as realizing that a physical assault may be leading to a kidnapping.

Internet stalking - Unheard of as recently as 30 years ago was the World Wide Web. The "Internet" as it has become called, is a virtual atmosphere where the risks of numerous types of potential danger lie. Being especially that visual communications are not uncommon online, deception and malice are quite simple for those with ill-intent. Being extremely cautious and aware of anything that may seem amiss and/or suspicious must be noticed and taken account of. Who one is COMMUNICATING with (email, chat room, website Facebook, Instagram, internet forum, etc.).

Hijackings - On September 11, 2001, the most infamous hijacking in history took place in which 19 hijackers synchronously hijacked four airplanes from four different airports in the United States and carried out suicide attacks against targets in the United States. Two of the planes were flown into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, a third plane hit the Pentagon just outside Washington, D.C., and the fourth plane crashed in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Almost 3,000 people were killed during the 9/11 terrorist attacks. How could not just one, but four hijackings be successfully carried out? While there are numerous answers to this question, one answer is lack of awareness. The 9/11 Commission Report clearly shows intelligence lack of awareness and complacency, including prior intelligence of the threats of hijackings and knowledge of the hijackers.

Prior to 9/11/01, those in airports who didn’t have to have a ticket or proof that they were waiting on a passenger or passengers were allowed to wander around the airport or wait at the gate. Passengers' IDs were not checked before boarding the plane. Carry on items were not x-rayed, nor closely examined as they are now. Passengers were not body scanned individually at the slightest cause of concern. Most airports didn’t bother running background checks on their employees and security. Also, checked baggage was never scanned. In addition, the 9/11 hijackers were not properly, nor fully screened in their identifications, carry on luggage, nor were the contents of their carry on luggage examined. Had all of this occurred, they would have also been searched and most likely not allowed on the planes and rightfully arrested and detained. The chances of the 9/11 hijackings occurring could have been greatly reduced with immediate location awareness as well as national and international security awareness, in addition to not being complacent in daily routine activity. While 9/11 is cited as a prime example, all hijackings whether on airplanes or other modes of transportation could have been reduced in likelihood by heightened awareness and security.

Acts of terrorism - Terrorism can be traced back to the 1st Century AD. Terrorist attacks have been committed worldwide in numerous ways, using destructive, harmful and lethal methods. Terrorist attacks are surprise attacks, hence awareness of an imminent attack is virtually impossible.

What is needed is pre-awareness as well. National and international intelligence must be on constant high alert as must all, particularly in locations where terrorism has been frequent. Indeed, the militaries of such nations who have been attacked take all and any possible threats with utmost seriousness. The citizens of those nations are also more aware and vigilant than those of nations who are not and hence the possibility of terrorist acts can often be thwarted and reduced. This is an example of self-defense being practiced on a national level.

Death - The majority of the previous examples are examples of how awareness can reduce the likeliness of occurring and/or being as severe as they would possibly be without awareness. And they are all self-defense on one level or another and often in circumstances and ways which may possibly never have been thought of as self-defense.

Yet one component that they all share in common is the possibility of death (yes, even a lost item could possibly lead to death should for example the thief be so determined not to be caught and convicted that he/she is willing to commit murder). Therefore, bearing in mind that death is possible in these examples and numerous other possible examples, we are more likely to approach everything we do with awareness and seriousness for our own safety and for the safety of others.

Life - Awareness and self-defense can cause greater appreciation of life. Being aware of all of the wonders, endless possibilities and joys of life are indeed literally self-defense against one's own self being overtaken and overwhelmed by day to day occurrences and events which may cause us to forget about the "big picture." Keeping everything in perspective enhances our enjoyment of and awareness of the beauty of life.

References and sources:

Perfection of Character - Teruyuki Okazaki. 2006

Daniel R. Morris (2009) Surprise and Terrorism: A Conceptual Framework, Journal of Strategic Studies, 32:1, 1-27, DOI:

Copyright Doug Walsh


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