One of the most commonly cited reasons for starting a martial art is “self defense.”  It makes sense.  Martial arts are designed for personal protection.

But what is self defense, really?  Is it the flurry of punches and kicks we see during sparring matches?  Is it grappling and ground-and-pound?  Sure, on occasion.  But when it comes to real self defense, there are more dimensions than just technique.

In karate there is a saying – ‘Karate ni Sente Nashi’, which translates to ‘there is no first attack in karate’.  This is one of those great sayings that has a few levels of interpretation.  On the surface, it simply means “do not physically strike first”.  Wait until your opponent has begun his technique, and counter or preempt it with a technique of your own.

Gichin Funakoshi - Karate Ni Sente Nashi

Legendary Karateka Funakoshi Gichin – Creator of the phrasing “Karate Ni Sente Nashi”

Upon deeper investigation, Karate Ni Sente Nashi can be seen as a preempt of intent.  Martial arts training helps practitioners become in-tune with factors like body language and severity of threat.  The esoterically inclined will suggest that it allows you to connect your martial spirit to your opponents.  However you’d like to explain it, Karate Ni Sente Nashi dictates that if your opponent has projected his will to harm you, you may take adequate steps to disable that harm.

Of course…this wouldn’t be a classic saying if it stopped there, right?  Karate Ni Sente Nashi can also mean that you should do what you can to prepare for an encounter, and devise ways to avoid using karate long before the encounter occurs.  This way, no strike is necessary.

The final interpretation brings me to my main point for this post – what can we do to prepare for encounters long before they happen?

Safety Before Street Justice

We all love to imagine ourselves taking out a gang of street toughs, who eventually learn the mistakes of their ways and help us break into a drug barons home in order to rescue our forlorned girlfriend (No wait…that was Crocodile Dundee II).  Nevertheless, “street justice” is a dream our egos like to indulge.  Every now and then we have to keep that stuff in check and think about what we can do to escape dangerous situations safely, instead of daringly.

Here is a perfect example – one serious threat in the real world is muggers.  Muggings happen all the time, especially in the city.  Instead of trying to kick a gun out of your attacker’s hand, have you considered giving up your wallet?

I know what your thinking – it doesn’t take 30 years of training to give up a wallet.  But what if you planned ahead, and organized your important cards and bills so that they weren’t in the wallet?  You’d just be giving up a bunch of business cards and coupons to Applebees.

My personal preference is the wallet/magnetic clip combination –

wallet and money clip

In case your worried about the magnetic strip ruining your cards, don’t be.  The Mythbusters proved that it would take a far greater field of magnetism than we encounter in every day life to strip a card.

I have absolutely no qualms about giving up my wallet.  And trust me, in the neighborhood I work in, I might have to one day.  Something tells me a few readers out there know how I feel.

Women who carry purses can utilize the same concept by only carrying what they absolutely need if they are going into a risky situation (or even on a day to day basis if they can make that change in lifestyle).

There are other checks you can make.  What kind of shoes do you wear?  Flipflops won’t help you in a bar scuffle.

What kind of jewelry do you sport?  Nose rings are a passport to pain.

Ultimately, we are all vulnerable – especially if we are facing a seasoned and intelligent attacker.  But don’t be afraid to analyze your daily habits and tighten up any obvious flaws you might see.  Karate Ni Sente Nashi may seem like a real hassle, but it’s for our own good in the long run, and it’s one of the keys to training the way our progenitors trained.