Journal of Non-lethal Combatives, July 2003


Treading Water

By Raymond Brennan
Copyright © EJMAS 2003.

Either take him out or take off--these are your only two choices
-Dave Walmsley

Because I had moved to another part of Ireland, I was not living near an aiki-jutsu dojo. I figured that the next best thing was mainstream aikido, so I joined a local aikido dojo.

To my dismay, all the things I disliked from before (the ritual bowing, the exaggerated deference, having to learn terminology in a foreign language) were all present, only more so. Added to that, there was a very heavy emphasis on spirituality, in particular the notion of "ki" or "the energy of the universe, which is love".

Please note that I am not being anti-spiritual here. All I am saying is that my primary priority in going to the dojo to begin with was practical self-defence. A person can only have one primary priority; otherwise, it isnít, by definition, primary.

This sounds obvious, but it bears saying. Anything else that is given an inordinate amount of time can only detract from that primary priority.

On top of that, there was a great deal of time spent on "timing" drills. These timing drills take a great deal of skill to practice properly, as the goal is to move with your opponent and use his own energy and movement against him. I have respect for anyone who can practice them. However, coming out of the dojo one night with another aikidoka (who was a first dan black belt), we were accosted by three assailants who demanded our wallets "or else". My companion waited until one of the assailants moved towards him and then tried to "blend" with his attackerís movements.

This was when I realised fully how difficult it is to throw or push someone who does not want to be thrown. My companion was well over six feet in height and heavily built. His attacker was slightly smaller than me (I am five feet seven inches tall), yet the attacker prevailed. Because he moved first as opposed to waiting for the other person to happen, he was in control. It was pointless trying to "blend" with him or move in time with him, as my companion rapidly discovered. Before he knew it, my companion was punched very hard in the lower stomach and then headbutted. His nose exploded in a gush of blood; he was knocked down and in considerable pain. Then, the other two assailants turned their eyes on me, with a mocking and knowing smile.

I fought the rising tide of fear that was washing over me, the nervous feeling in my stomach, the sudden tightness in my throat, and the hot flush that came to my face. I didnít use any timing drills, nor did I attempt to "blend" with my opponentís moves, because they hadnít moved yet. Nor did I wait for them. Instead, I struck first and I struck hard, very hard. I crouched low and stepped forward, while driving my open hand into the nearest assailantís chin. This lifted his head up, broke his balance, and exposed his entire midriff to me, which I pummelled as hard I could with elbow blows. I donít know how many times I hit him, as in all honesty, I was in a state of near-panic. All I know is that he suddenly fell backwards and remained on the ground, clutching at his ribs.

The second assailant was behind me and grabbed me in a bear hug. Again, I didnít try anything fancy or complex. I raised my right leg up just a little and smashed the heel of my shoe into the top of his ankle. He instantly released his grip on me, whereupon I turned round and punched him as hard as I could in the testicles. I donít know what happened to him, nor did I care.

The third assailant, as loyal to his friends as only scum can be, took off down a nearby alleyway. I was shivering like a leaf from shock, but managed to phone for an ambulance for my companion.

Iím sure there have been all sorts of studies done about a personís reactions to extreme stress and unexpected violence. However, I am neither a doctor nor a psychologist. All I do know is that something happened, my brain as well as my body froze, and all the complex techniques performed in the dojos on willing partners over the years and which I had committed to memory, simply vanished.

What worked was "Hit first", "Hit hard", and "Keep it simple".

JNC July 2003