Self Defence Explored (Part 1)

Dan Couzens self defence explored

Self-defence is one of the three major focus points of Bushido Bristol, and as such, learning effective combative techniques are of high priority for us. That said we also take a more expansive approach to what self-defence is.


Self-defence exists firstly as alertness/awareness, secondly as behaviours/choices, and finally as physical capability. A good way to look at this is as circles see fig 1.

In this model alertness/awareness is seen as the fundamental aspect of self-defence. The types of behaviours we exhibit, the choices we make are in part based upon our level or quality of our alertness/awareness. Our physical capabilities are directly affected by our behaviours/choices.


The journey of physical learning in martial arts is fascinating.

In the beginning, the extremities tend to be where we have the greatest control. Hands and feet are where our thoughts and intent is commonly placed to succeed at the varied tasks of everyday life. Part of our job as teachers is to gradually help our students bring their focus to the center of the physical body, often referred to as the Hara.

So the middle of the body is where the movement should be stabilized and initiated, we are attempting to create a complete level of body awareness. Once we have gained more control of the body, and the technique has been grasped to a level that could be described as automatic (available to us free of thought when required), then the focus or awareness can start to expand out again, but now the awareness is not on the body it’s on the environment. Now you have the capability to the execute the technique; your next task is to develop the capability of making accurate observations of your environment. If our perception is off kilter with what is really going on and our mind is taken up with excessive thinking and concern, then we have little hope of making an accurate judgment.


I think the principles we live our lives bye, dictate our behaviours and choices. Certain behaviours and choices increase the risk to our security, and others decrease it. The idea here is, if you find yourself in a real life encounter, where your security is at risk, it is likely you have already made many choices that have lead to this scenario.

However every now and again, some situation cannot be avoided and when faced with a threatening scenario it is important to know what your intent is.

My intent is always to bring the situation to a positive conclusion; this is one of the principles I live my life by. A positive conclusion is when you have ensured that life continues to unfold harmoniously by reducing or negating altogether, the impact of a dramatic or negative incident.

We are habitual creatures, so we should work with this much-needed natural human ability. But habits can work against us if they are not flooded with alertness and awarenesses. Habits are by their nature historical, past events have created them and for this reason, habits always run the risk of becoming obsolete. Personal development is an ongoing self-reflection spiral. What was positive yesterday maybe negative tomorrow; for example, you may need to lie in on your Sunday after a busy week; carry this behaviour into Monday and it can lead to negative consequences. Our actions and choices must shift depending on the demands life is placing on us.

Automatic pilot is required for many tasks we do in life. This automatic capability is of great significance for the martial artist, we are trying to train to a level where we don’t have to think about how to execute the technique, we just do it.
Once you can do the technique, then your total alertness/awareness is no longer required for learning and is now free to expand.


Alertness/awareness doesn’t just surround behaviours and choices it is all pervasive. (See fig 2). Alertness/awareness is, in fact, filtering through the behaviours and choices and into physical capabilities. So the colours would be translucent, and the blue should be like a light that is shining through the two other circles that act like filters (see fig 3).


Alertness/awareness are where martial arts and self-defence become intensely rich subjects and experiences. Awareness is about developing a depth to your perception, and alertness is about developing a breath to your perception. Again I use common terminology, but I have defined these words for teaching purposes; alertness is outward, awareness is inward.
Clearly, your level of alertness is paramount to your security, in self-defence, alertness is about having an appropriate level of attention based on your situation, your state of alertness, for the most part, is about the absence of things rather than developing particular skill.

The first step is not to do anything that hampers it, there are many ways we can affect our level of alertness negatively. Things to consider are smartphones, earphones, how stressful our lives are, alcohol, etc. The next step is to adopt some basic observation techniques.
Let’s use the scenario of walking through a busy city center; a very basic idea is to walk with your head up, this immediately increases one’s perspective; much like in advance driving, look to the furthermost distance, the middle distance and close distance repetitively as you are walking. This technique is subtle and stress-free it’s just observation. Just putting observation on the agenda is enough to start increasing alertness. Try it next time you are in a public place and see how much more information you take on board.


If the quality of one’s awareness is high and their behaviours are positive, then the likelihood of ever finding themselves in a threatening situation is dramatically reduced. I will probably never need to use the physical skills I have developed over the past 15 years. But every day I use the confidence that martial arts have inspired in me, every day I benefit from the fitness that martial arts develops and every day a greater level of awareness and alertness goes with me. The real value of martial arts is how good it makes you in taking on the challenges of everyday life.

Dan Couzens