by Adam Mizner
Defense against the self
Self defense in modern times: is it practical? In ancient times, before the invention of firearms, the practicality of being skilled in hand to hand combat was very clear. The way things are now in many parts of the world, a violent encounter is likely to be met with at the wrong end of a gun. At times like this, engaging in hand to hand combat is generally a very unwise course of action.
Nonetheless, the training of self defense, within the traditional martial arts framework, is as vital and practical as it has ever been. The lessons learned and the skills cultivated can effect one deeply in many areas and not just in the realm of hand to hand combat.
“It is greater to defeat oneself than to defeat 1000 enemies” – teachings like this point directly at the true essence of traditional martial arts training, true self defense is defense against the self. Taijiquan approaches this principle from day one in a very direct and practical manner, there are many layers of “defense against the self”.
The most basic and fundamental of these is in letting go of the hard wired urge to tense up and fight when under pressure. This skill, which is a direct manifestation of defense against the self, is trained within the practice of pushing hands. When a partner puts a force on our body, we are to let go, follow and yield. Any time we hold on, fight and resist, we are pushed out. Over time this rewires our natural response from one of resistance to one of release.
This process of letting go of resistance and releasing tension inside the body has a natural healing effect, blocks within our body are released and old injuries begin to heal. As well as the gradual and steady healing of old injuries we also become less prone to develop new injuries and sickness. Without the holding and resistance that we normally build up around problems, the energy of the body flows freely, keeping us healthy and strong.
It is the next level of “defense against the self” that I find the most profound and of the most value. This is at the level of the mind. All mental and emotional suffering is caused by our resistance to the way things are, we fight and clash with reality and suffer when reality does not bend to our desires. This is simply the way people are, genuine cultivation works directly with this tendency. As we develop awareness of reality and song, or letting go, with time we become more and more at peace.
When I take on a new student it is very common for them to come and tell me with great joy about their progress, how they feel open and strong like never before. What is most special is that most will also comment telling me how they no longer fight with their husband or wife! This is a natural manifestation of the ability to yield and relax under pressure, to respond wisely to force. It makes little difference if the force is physical, emotional or mental. Becoming more peaceful is the true sign of progress in self cultivation, and if that peace is within the home, with the people closest to you then it is the real thing.
This mental and emotional peace purifies the energy of the mind and body, the qi becomes clear and flows freely, self healing and happiness become part of your natural state. The Dao is close at hand…