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The ABC's (and D) of Self Defense Training

Many martial arts schools require that students use the basic techniques and principles that they are learning and use them to create their own self defense routines. The purpose of this is to help the student learn to combine their techniques and train them to fit different situations, in different environments and against different opponents. While self defense routines or drills can not truly simulate a real self defense situation, they do help a student better understand the purpose and intent of a technique, and how they can be linked together to achieve different goals. Self defense routines, sparring and practice of basic techniques form the best possible training combination to prepare you for real life situations.

The ABCD of Self Defense Routines was written by Sisuk Mike Evans. Mike Evans is the Head Instructor of the Medford, NY branch of the Shaolin Kung Fu Studios. He has been a student of the Shaolin Lohan system of kung fu and a Disciple of Sigung Moses Arocho for over a decade.

As you go through your training, more and more responsibility is placed on you to integrate and internalize what you have learned into the very fiber of your being. One of the more basic ways we test this transformation is by asking the student to create self defense routines for their rank test. While true self defense is something that must happen spontaneously in response to a particular situation, this portion of your test allows you to express your personality through the application of the material you have learned. When we judge self defense, we are looking for very specific things, including effectiveness, reality, control, and adherence to the tenets of the system. This last component is a tricky one.

Many students go to extremes: from trying not to "hurt" one's opponent to trying to "Kill" one's opponent. While we are generally a pacifist system, we must remember that, if the decision is made to defend ourselves, then we must execute that decision to the best of our abilities while causing the least amount of damage necessary to reach that end.

One of the training mnemonics I use when teaching effective self defense is "ABCD". These are the four elements that must be in each self defense technique you develop. Let me break this down for you:

A - Attack
If there is no attack, then there is no reason to defend. Yelling, screaming, and name-calling are not attacks, and therefore do not merit a physical response. On the other hand, when creating a self defense routine, make sure the attacks are realistic...not just someone sticking out a hand and calling it a punch. If your partner is supposed to be punching you, make sure that punch would connect if you miss the block, if he is grabbing you, make sure he latches on.

B - Block
This element includes not only blocking but moving, ducking, parrying, and anything else that stops you from getting hit. If you do not have these elements in your routines, then you may as well stop, because you just got hit!

C - Counter/Control
Once you have realized the attack, and stopped it from damaging you, it is time to take take control of the situation. The counter portion of this element includes everything from shifting your position to actually striking your opponent for stun factor. The control portion denotes the fact that you have put yourself in a commanding position, either through accurate and powerful striking, through locks and throws, or simply by putting yourself in a controlling physical position (ie behind your opponent).

D - Deter
Basically, "deter" means to stop your opponent from getting back up to attack again, either through submission style locking, knock out, physical inability (ie you shattered his leg), or various other means of deterrence. Many students either leave this part out or are simply not sure how to do it. If you have gone through all of the trouble of blocking, countering, and controlling, yet do not stop that attacker from continuing, then you have done nothing more than made him angry. While every self defense technique doesn't necessarily end up with your opponent on the ground, it is a good idea - especially when you remain standing.

So remember, make sure your self defense techniques contain all of the ABCDs - any less and you are probably ineffective, any more and you're probably showing off (which is against the humble nature we should be striving for, and can be potentially illegal in a real situation). And if you find out that your techniques aren't working, keep an open mind, realize your mistakes, and learn from them. Only through SELF-correction do we grow better.
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