by Sifu Laurent Bernardin
With the past few parents’ column articles, I’ve tried to give you an overview of our Kung Fu curriculum. Hopefully this will help you, as parents, better understand what your children are experiencing when they come to class. Perhaps this will help spur conversations and maybe even get you interested in trying out a class yourself! With this, let’s have a look at the fourth pillar of our curriculum; self-defense.
Basic concepts of self-defense are taught at all age levels. A fun warm-up exercise might be designed to instill a sense of being aware of your surroundings. Where are potential threats coming from? Where do you turn to to find a friendly (and safe) face. During sparring and when practicing technique with a partner, we talk about “critical distance”, the concept that, how far away you are from a potential aggressor, determines whether they are in range to hit or kick you. When we practice our stances, we talk about the importance of rooting and of balance, which also represent crucial concepts in self-defense. A solid stance is a prerequisite for being able to effectively respond to a threat. Throughout their training, students are constantly reminded to “keep their guard up”, nurturing an instinct to protect the most vulnerable part of their body, the head.
As they progress through the ranks and age groups, students build a solid base of these fundamental self-defense concepts. In some classes they might also start to learn some basic self-defense releases, giving them options on what to do when, say, someone grabs their wrist.
Once students reach the advanced junior levels or move up into the adult program, self-defense becomes a more formal part of their training. Specific releases are now part of their requirements and will be assessed in gradings. Students learn what to do when grabbed, choked or pinned and frequently practice these situations safely with a partner. However, the emphasis is always on first trying to avoid a confrontation. The best self-defense is to not find yourself in a potentially dangerous situation. The second-best option is to get away as quickly as you can. Students are taught to only engage when there is no other option. At that point, we also talk about the “continuum of response”, the concept that the severity of your response must be proportional to the level of threat. A friend grabbing your arm warrants a very different response than a stranger pulling you into an alley.
Just as important as learning the specific self-defense techniques, is to gain the confidence to stay calm in threatening situations, assess your options and respond appropriately but also decisively.
Mastering these skills is potentially lifesaving.