Sunday, June 2, 2013

Karate Kids Get Lesson In Fighting Back

'Karate kids get lesson in fighting back' is an article that published in The Age yesterday. Given my work for my book, I found some of the comments interesting.

Most children are taught the ''stranger danger'' message from a young age, but many parents are viewing martial arts training as a means of reinforcing that message with some physical self-defence skills, as well as for its health and fitness benefits.

My book uniquely contains a chapter on injury science, a relatively new science that studies injuries and the causes of injuries. All of the factors that interact to cause an injury are considered: the host, vector or vehicle, and environment. In this case, the host is the kids, the vector is a potential attacker, and the environment includes social and physical.

Injury events are divided into three time frames over which the factors interact: pre-event, event, and post-event.

Creating a matrix with the factors and phases of an injury event provides nine possible intervention points to prevent and control injuries from violence.

The stranger danger message is an intervention for the host in the pre-event phase. The physical self-defence training is an intervention for the host in the event phase.

Does martial arts training provide self-defence training? That is a contentious question with different opinions.

One of the biggest problems of martials training in terms of preventing and controlling injuries in a violent event is in the definition of the vector, the potential attacker. The definition of the vector is crucial to designing strategies, tactics and techniques to prevent and control injuries in a violent event. Most martial arts focus on the host and not the vector, or, the vector is themselves.

Most martial arts develop defences against their own style of attack. Karate teaches to defend against karate attack; judo against judo attacks; wing chun against wing chun attacks. Mixed martial arts was suppose to solve that problem except, through the principle of counter-response and symmetry, a new martial art evolved and defences were designed against those same type of attacks. How effective is this approach in preparing someone to defend themselves against someone who does not attack in the same fashion as those similarly trained?

This raises the issue of teaching one martial art to different ages and sexes. In another blog, the question of the applicability of male centric karate for females was questioned and explored. What then of adult centric karate for kids? Should there be different tactics and techniques taught if self defence is a supposed benefit of training and the vector is defined as an adult or a child of similar age?

''Part of martial arts is [trying] to avoid a situation by potentially seeing what's going to happen beforehand. It's not always easy, certainly for a young child, but you can at least teach some basic lessons, and that could help them.''
Trying to avoid a situation by seeing what's going to happen beforehand is an intervention in the pre-event phase. Do the martial arts teach skills that allows one to avoid a situation by seeing what's going on beforehand? Do they teach conflict resolution strategies that do not involve violence? I would suggest they do not. The martial arts focuses almost exclusively on the host-event cell in the matrix to prevent and control injuries from a violent event.

I'm not suggestion martial arts training does not assist in preparing a person to defend themselves. I'm suggesting that it may do so indirectly. I think not a lot of thought has gone into the suggestion that martial arts teaches one to defend themself when that is touted as being one of the functions or benefits of martial arts training.

If we truly want to ascribe a self defence function to martial arts training, then we need to review the martial art and its training. The abovementioned matrix, known as the Haddon Matrix, is a wonderful tool to help in reviewing the self defence function of martial art training and to develop enhanced capabilities.


  1. Excellent post John. Children are not small adults any more than women are like small men and therefore need a more tailored approach to their self-defence needs.

    I think you hit the nail on the head in discussing the need for pre-event strategies and these may be different for men, women and children, and indeed for every individual depending on their age, sex, personal, professional and social circumstances. Pre-event strategies are rarely discussed in traditional martial arts classes and therefore no framework is developed for individuals to understand how to apply their art to their own circumstances and needs. In fact, if people had a good understanding of their own likely pre-event scenarios and how to deal with them then most situations would never proceed to the 'event'. It always seems to be taken as read that people understand avoidance and awareness and lip service is paid to this even on 'reality based' self-defence seminars.

    1. Thanks Sue. This work may not be revolutionary in terms new ways of thinking, but injury science does provide a structured way of thinking about how to prevent and control injury from a violent event. You're more than welcome to email me if you want a copy of my draft chapter on this or any other subject.

  2. Karate vs karate, wing chun vs wing chun...youre right. Each art helps you mostly defend against others of the same art.

    This does not really address the subject of children and abductions, but perhaps the best way to learn to defend holistically is to use something like meetup(dot)com and join a martial arts group that engages in lots of sparring.

    One must realize that sparring is quite different than real violence, but I think it can be a helpful supplemental tool. I can tell you that being hit by a boxer guy I met at a meet up helped me realize I've got lots more to learn.

  3. In the end some training is better than nothing. Hopfully enough training teaches you to have an automated response. But the quickest way to learn to defend yourself is to hit and get hit


Your comments make my work all the more relevant as I use them to direct my research and theorising. Thank you.