Practicing medicine and teaching Baguazhang has taught me how important words can be. Telling a back pain patient “there’s nothing wrong” or saying the pain may be “psychological” usually leads to more distress, frustration and anger, with worse pain as a result. Telling a Jiulong student to turn out the foot instead of the hip when changing directions will impair her ability to turn around and could even lead to injury.
Given the far-reaching consequences of the words we use, please consider this. Many people equate martial arts and “self-defense”. New students often want to learn to “defend” themselves in various situations. Instructors often use terms such as “defense against” a punch, kick, knife or whatever. I can’t help but wonder if this use of the word defense affects our mental and physical performance in training and actual confrontations.
In Jiulong, all our defenses are really attacks. We learn to respond to all attacks with the main goal of controlling attackers and putting them out of commission as quickly as possible. We evade or deflect incoming strikes or grabs, always with the intention of completely stopping the opponent’s ability to respond. This concept of defense as an attack is very common in many Baguazhang and other martial systems.
Needless to say, this approach to combat requires mental training that is just as important as physical drills. In Jiulong we spend a great deal of time honing intentions and emotional attitudes using specific mental exercises that enhance physical performance. One way of looking at this training is as a method of giving someone the mental/emotional skills and toughness to focus on carrying out the task of (preferably) preventing or overcoming a physical attack. Most humans need this kind of training to counter inborn defensive instincts. The intentions and attitudes we work on are, ideally, calm and controlling, always with the goal of taking complete charge of the situation. I don’t think this is a defensive attitude or way of looking at a threat.
Maybe we should consider phasing out the common use of the word “defense” in our training. It seems to be in conflict with the mind-body attitudes we work on developing, especially in new students. It might not be as easy as saying, “defense against a grab” but I think saying, “totally overwhelming an attacker and demolishing his ability to attack again” is a better way to instill what we do.
What do you think?