On many occasions, I have heard Steven Weber Sensei (Godan, Nihon Goshin Aikido) speak of those students who seek “The Answer”. …That one absolutely correct response to a given attack, technique, question, or conundrum. On these occasions, he paints a picture of an inexperienced martial artist begging him for the “right way” to respond, rather than thinking the situation through and selecting some appropriate response based upon the circumstances at the moment.
In truth, I was probably one of the students he talked about when I started my training. Most of us start out believing that there is one infallibly correct way to respond, and if we can only get our instructor to divulge this secret, then that particular attack will be rendered harmless.
However, that is not the case, as we all eventually learn. There is an aspect of personal judgment and creativity involved in every defense we craft as martial artists. What works in one situation will not necessarily work in a nearly identical situation. Yes, there are a few rules that can be covered regarding a specific attack, a specific technique, or a specific combination of body sizes and types. However, combining just those three criteria (and think of how many more we could we name without even trying hard!) produces so many variables that there can no longer be even the possibility of a single correct answer that would cover all of them.
What then is (for want of a better phrase) the answer? It is for students to learn the underlying principles of the techniques they are taught, and then to seek ways to apply those principles – rather than simply the movements they learned – in combinations that will produce appropriate (notice I didn’t say “correct”) responses for differing situations. Yes, the instructor must teach these things, but in the world of martial arts, the best instructor simply offers knowledge and experience, and the best student must take the knowledge and experience offered by his (or her) instructor and makes it his (or her) own. The burden of the work must lie on the backrest on the shoulders of the student. If the student is simply a receptacle for the instructor’s teachings, they will always look to the instructor for “The Answer”, and will never truly be capable of understanding the art and putting it to effective use in unforeseen circumstances.
The underlying principle here? Accept, adapt, and act. Accept the situation (rather than wishing it were different, accept and work with what attack was given), adapt your defense to meet the situation presented, and act to execute that defense. Every student must learn to adapt what he has learned to the situations he encounters. Without adaptation, the student has learned answers to a few questions, and is likely to find that the questions asked in a self-defense situation are entirely different.
Gerry Seymour is the founder of the Self-defense Academy of Western NC, in Hendersonville, NC.