‘Self-Defense’: Principles, Not Techniques

What is self-defense?

‘Self-defense’ is a term that typically connotes the protective actions one takes to fend off a physical attack. It is a term most frequently encountered within the domain of martial artists who may stylize ‘this or that’ technique of a traditional art in such a manner that conforms it to modern trends in assault/battery scenarios.In this respect, it may be said that many arts succeed in providing some form of useful training to students interested in ‘self-defense’, insofar that consensus relates the term to physical attacks of the fists and kicks variety (sometimes weapons).

However, what I aim to express herein is the notion that ‘self-defense’ should not be constrained to the facets of physical, hand-to-hand combat, but rather the term should extensively represent an ever evolving concept protecting oneself against virtually any potential detriment or attack on the mind, body, or spirit. In this regard, true ‘self-defense’ may be considered to comprise a way of living; a lifestyle that mitigates injurious potentials and never ceases to emphasize the imperative of evolving one’s defenses in parity with the evolution of crime and violence.

Understandably, if one prepares everywhere, one will be weak everywhere, or so the adage goes. But consider this – all techniques of self-defense are predicated on easily absorbed and adaptable principles. If you understand the principle, you may be better equipped to work out an effective, specific defense to whatever ‘self-defense’ issue you face.

Principles, not Techniques

To illustrate this idea of ‘self-defense’ principles and their persistence into modern warfare practices, one must simply look to the historical record of violence and warfare.Due to my own predilections for the Sengoku period of medieval Japan, I have chosen to derive examples of the facets comprising warfare of antiquity from Fujibayashi Yasutake’s Bansenshukai.

Written in the 17th century this manual serves to illustrate the technical and tactical disparities of, as well as similarities to, modern warfare and violence; particularly from the perspective of a shinobi engaged in battle. It describes the means by which shinobi best contributed to the practice of warfare as well as alluding to the nature of battle during this time-period.

What principles effuse from the text that might bolster one’s ‘self-defense’? Firstly, Yasutake unequivocally writes that shinobi are essential to mastering the art of war.¹ His reasons stem from the principle of warfare popularly attributed to Sun Tzu which admonishes the reader to ‘know the enemy’. To do this is the function of intelligence which was the key tradecraft of the shinobi.

In Yasutake’s time, and prior, gathering intelligence on the enemy typically involved old-fashioned human observation. The shinobi would sneak behind enemy lines and surreptitiously accrue as much intel as possible before venturing back to allied territory. It was a very dangerous process, quite different from the specific methods of modern intelligence that rely on the high technology of satellites and social media platforms. Where the ninja once used stone pencils and paper to draw up maps of enemy fortifications, modern warfare practices employ the 1.8 gigapixel ARGUS-IS spy drone.

Again, the specific technique doesn’t matter to the ‘self-defense’ mind, what matters is the principle of intelligence present in both the ninja’s and the modern soldier’s techniques. It is the principle of intelligence that serves as the basis of new intelligence gathering techniques. By understanding this, effective ‘self-defense’ can be created for any situation, you simply must study the principles of violence and warfare (along with crime and psychology if desired).

More to come…


  1. Cummins, A. & Minami, Y. (2013). The Book of Ninja. p.56

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