I had a conversation last weekend with some of my students about a pet peeve of mine: Fear based advertising. The conversation went on to cover the extremes of being fearful versus reckless when it comes to self-protection. For me, I try to stay away from extremes, and from a self-defense perspective think both ends of this spectrum to be dangerous.
Look at headlines on the covers of survival magazines, or often the advertisements from some self-defense or sexual assault prevention programs, and you often see ads based on fear. In other words, text that makes it clear you should be very afraid right now! And, good news, the answer to your fear is program x or workshop y. I understand the need to call attention to your program or article, but the problem with this fear based advertising and training is (aside from programs that are frequently ineffective) the more you fear, the more tense and on edge you are, and the more you are likely to interpret everything you see through this lens. The more likely you are to judge poorly and (from a self-defense perspective) create a physical conflict, one that actually began in your mind, not the other person’s intentions.
According to some FBI statistics, violent crime rates have been dropping for 25 years, and you have to go back almost to the 1960’s to find crime rates as low as today. So today in America is statistically a pretty safe place. We should all be happy about that. Then again, statistically low doesn’t mean nonexistent. And those who have been the victims of violence don’t feel like America is particularly safe.
So how do we reconcile these ideas? That’s a balance we want to find in our own training. I for one, don’t want to walk around constantly on edge, thinking everyone is out to get me. Too exhausting. But I don’t want to fall into another danger, the one at the other end of the spectrum. Not feeling the need to be prepared at all, because ‘that’ (whatever that is) won’t ever happen to me, is at the very least, ineffective problem solving. If you wait to solve a problem until it is in your face causing chaos, it is much harder to deal with than it would have been weeks or months in advance. And at worst it is reckless to think problems won’t ever find you. Or that you don’t need to ever be concerned because of x (I’m a male, I’m strong, I have a gun, insert whatever tough sounding language you like here). Not thinking you need to get better than you are today is a kind of recklessness too. Both in self-defense and in life in general as far as I’m concerned.
Preparing for all the ways life can and will challenge you in the future shouldn’t increase the stress in your life. Nor should it be something that only takes place in the dojo because ‘that’ won’t ever happen to me. Nor should we ever be one hundred percent satisfied with where our skills are. It’s okay to have something that you’re afraid might happen, and train to prevent it. But the training should ease those fears. Make you more confident. And eventually make you realize you don’t have to be afraid. Just prepared. That’s what To-Shin Do does. It teaches us we don’t have to be very afraid right now! We just need to be prepared to solve problems. Prepared, but not paranoid. Relaxed, but not recklessly unaware. Winning before the problem has even begun.