On self-defence

Aliza Chin shares her opinion on Wom*n’s Self Defence informed by her experience as a martial arts student and teacher.

Image ©2012 Shama Ko Photography
Image ©2012 Shama Ko Photography
Image ©2012 Shama Ko Photography

As a martial arts instructor, one tends to experience a lot of things: the joy of being picked for grading, the applause of your peers when you break a board in two, the fierce competition in your friend-turned-temporary-rival’s eyes as you attempt to outdo one another in exercises, the shared drinks and exhausted grins with friends, the mental and physical strain of learning a new pattern from scratch, the proud pull of a new belt around your waist, being accused of being a victim-blamer. Wait, that doesn’t sound right!

Victim-blaming: essentially the victim of a crime/wrongful act (in this case, assault/sexual assault) being held responsible for what befell them, and wrongly so. So what does this have to do with self-defence? I will admit, there are certain issues between the two, namely the focus on the victim’s role and their actions, but is teaching martial arts/self-defence and providing a resource for people to learn martial arts/self-defence victim blaming in itself? In my opinion, no.

In my years as a martial arts student-turned-instructor, I have seen people come and go, joining for various reasons: fitness, self-interest, curiosity, desire to learn martial arts/self-defence, to make new friends, to join current friends, and to try something new, just to name a few. Because the thing about martial arts/self-defence classes is that it isn’t just about self-defense/martial arts; it’s also about the learning and strengthening of discipline, patience, respect and leadership skills, the relationships that you make within that class, and the establishment of a place of support. Brushing off self-defence/martial arts classes as a victim blaming agenda therefore ignores the multitude of reasons as to why people undertake martial arts, which are often unrelated to self-defense.

This now begs the question, what exactly does martial arts/self-defence training consist of? In addition to standard self-defence tactics, exercises in strength, speed, agility, flexibility, (muscle) memory, aim and endurance, patterns (kata) and sparring exercises are also common sites in martial arts/self-defence training centres. At the end of the day, martial arts/self-defence classes provide so much more than just self-defence; they provide a safe and supportive environment to learn how to blow past your limits, they teach you the skills and values of martial arts, and most they encourage the making of new relationships. What’s so victim blaming about that?

I’ll repeat, what is victim-blaming about the provision of a resource which can be used in many different ways and which itself, has many different uses? About encouraging the strengthening and creation of new relationships? About teaching martial arts/self-defence and its values in a safe and supportive environment? About supporting people so that they can and will do their best? What’s victim-blaming about that?