Karate and Personal Security Concepts

    • Enhancing Awareness Through Zanshin

    • Fight or Flight: Psychology/Physiology of Confrontational Situations

    • Training to Overcome Limitations of Flight/Flight Reactions

    • Warning signs of a Violent Assault

    • Legal Aspects of Self-defence

    • Five Stages of Violent Crime Habitual Acts of Physical Violence (HAPV)

    • most common HAPV: man vs man - types of attacker - most common HAPV: man vs woman

    • types of attackers

Enhancing awareness through Zanshin:

In order to avoid or effectively manage interpersonal conflict (including potential violent assaults on your person), it is necessary to develop zanshin, the ability to live fully in each moment so you may be always aware of your environment. Zanshin is the ability to concentrate fully when necessary, ignoring all distractions. Zanshin is an important concept in all martial arts and life in general.

Developing Zanshin Through Focused and consistent Karate training:

    • improves your self-defence potential when you train hard with total concentration

    • improves your awareness of your genuine skills and limitations: martial arts abilities, age, health etc.

    • programs automatic useful physical responses to danger into your system * reduces the panic tendency through the rehearsal of violent scenarios

    • generally toughens the mind, spirit and body Daily meditation (stationary kneeling or seated abdominal breathing):

    • improves you mental acuity/concentration

    • increases your sensitivity to the needs and intentions of others

    • improves your awareness of your own strengths and weaknesses Good nutrition, moderate alcohol consumption, sufficient sleep:

    • enhances physical and mental energy

    • reduces negative stress reactions

    • improves concentration.

This Zen Buddhist concept can be further developed by practicing the following habits on a daily basis wherever you find yourself:

    • constant scanning of your immediate environment: look, listen, smell, touch

    • trusting your gut instincts about possible danger

    • awareness of the difference between threats to your ego and threats to your safety.


The practice of environmental scanning may seem a bit paranoid, but it will eventually become an unconscious habit and may some day save your life. As well, it occurs in your mind and is a private practice. Below is a practical example of Zanshin in daily life: A karate student boards a crowded bus and sits down. Almost immediately, another person sits behind them and begins muttering obscenities to no one in particular. The Karate student smells alcohol from the person and senses that they might be mentally unstable. The karate student is torn between the desire to stay comfortably seated and the more sensible choice of taking a standing position behind the other person. The Karate student rises and moves to the back of the bus, far from the obscenity-muttering person. This simple act resolved an unpleasant scenario in a simple manner with the least effort. Further, they are now in a position to monitor the behavior of the potentially unstable person, thus protecting themselves and possibly others.

Fight or Flight - the Psychology/Physiology of Confrontational Situations:

All potential violent encounters are predicated to a greater or lessor degree on the concept of fight or flight. Both you and your attacker will be affected by the fight or flight response. Fight or Flight is a physiological/psychological response to a threat. During this automatic, involuntary response, an area of the brain stem will release increased quantity of NOREPINEPHRINE which in turn causes the ADRENAL glands to release more ADRENALINE. This increase in Adrenaline causes faster heart rate, pulse rate, respiration rate. There is also, shunting of the blood to more vital areas, and release of blood sugar, lactic acid and other chemicals, all of which is involved in getting the body ready for fighting the danger.

Training to Overcome Limitations of Fight/Flight Reaction :

Some individuals are naturally assertive and aggressive but most of us, especially women; are hesitant to perform a violent act, even in self-defense. However, everyone can learn to defend themselves effectively. The greatest liability to a person in danger is hyper vigilance, which is a fear-induced state of paralysis. This response can be managed using the following methods:

    • train realistically (crisis rehearsal) to reduce your reaction times under stress

    • practice with partners of all shapes, sizes, ages and genders - repetition is the key to automatic response

    • stay fit

    • know that once violence is initiated, survival is your number one priority - things might get very messy - understand that the stress of a violent attack will:

        • cause a mass adrenaline dump into your system

        • sharply elevate you heart rate

        • increase your strength

        • cause muscle tremors

        • decrease fine motor skills - complex techniques will suffer

Warning Signs of a Potential Violent Assault:

The person who attacks you may be intoxicated, mentally-disturbed, seeking to rob you or just plain nasty. While the following warning signs are not fool-proof, they do provide a reasonable way to assess a potential threat. Being aware provides you with an opportunity to either exit the situation or prepare for self-defense.

A person about to attack you may exhibit:

    • blinking/protruding eyes-dilated pupils

    • raised eyebrows - flushed or pale face (flushed generally means anger, pale generally means fear. Research is unclear on signs of anger/fear but both pale and flushed indicate arousal)

    • twitching hands and legs

    • sweaty palms (hard to see)

    • a sudden turn away: most people find it hard to attack someone while gazing at their face

    • hand behind head: possible indication of anger, frustration

    • a squaring of the torso toward you

    • person enters your personal space: varies by culture - for instance Caucasian Anglo/Celtic Canadians have a large personal space compared to other ethno-cultural groups).

Legal Aspects of Self-defense:

Advance warning of a potential violent attack on you or another person is the key to effective self-defense. Unlike police officers, regular citizens must wait for an attacker to actually initiate a physical attack before they can act in self-defense. Under Canadian law, a pre-emptive strike is considered assault and trained martial artists may be held to a higher standard of care than an untrained person. It is a fine line to tread and the key factor is the level of force employed. In self-defense, only the minimum use of force is allowed to protect you or another person. The level of reciprocal force allowed operates on a sliding scale depending on the seriousness of the threat to your health and safety. Zanshin will assist you in interpreting the intentions of a potential attacker. Ultimately, it is a matter of personal judgement.

Five Stages of Violent Crime:

once you establish that a potential violent attacker possesses the ability and opportunity to attack you, look for these elements in their behavior:

    1. Intent: the criminal/criminals assess options concerning criminal intentions i.e. robbery, swarming etc.

    2. Interview: the criminal may observe or speak to you to assess your potential as a victim

    3. Positioning: the criminal begins to physically prepare to attack you i.e. maneuvering behind or above you

    4. Attack: the actual act of violence i.e. empty hand, knife, pepper spray etc.

    5. Reaction: (follows the successful commission of an offence against you - needless to say this scenario is to be avoided by your successful evasion or use of technique).


According to researcher Patrick McCarthy, humanity has always had to deal with the phenomenon of HAPV. He has theorized that martial arts techniques evolved from the necessity of dealing with these acts of violence. As well, since most HAPV are perpetrated by untrained individuals, they are unlikely to be familiar with the techniques being used against them. This fact increases the effectiveness of proven techniques. According to my research the following list represents the most common HAPV likely to occur in Canada. Because of general cultural similarity, this list could also also apply to other Western industrialized nations like the U.S., Germany, France, etc.

HAPV: MAN vs MAN (in tentative order of likelihood)

    • shoving push from front

    • large circular punch to head/face (haymaker)

    • single hand lapel/wrist/hair grab and large circular punch to head (haymaker)

    • wild flurry of unfocused punches to head/face from various angles - clinching

    • crude standing grappling with attempts to punch head/face or throw to ground and punch head/face

    • crude linear kicking

    • prone struggle with attempt to mount and punch head/face or pound head into ground and possibly: hair-pulling biting eye-gouging single or double-handed choke attempt side headlock

    • attacker armed with blade or stick-type object (circular or linear attack)

    • single handgrab lapel/wrist/hair and attack with blade or stick-like weapon

Type of Attackers:

    • intoxicated stranger: wild flurry of punches

    • sneak attacker: sucker punch from all angles

    • experienced street fighter: tough, aggressive person who fights habitually (little fear/much experience/quick-strong-adaptable/takes offensive and thus offers openings

    • chargers: rush and tackle - high kickers

    • gang: intent to ground and kick opponent

    • attacker armed with blade or stick-type weapon

    • martial artists/boxers: more predictable than untrained attacker but potentially more dangerous because of skill/experience

    • after the fact attack: beaten/frustrated attacker resumes attack and/or employs handy object as weapon

    • excited delirium: attacker under influence of drugs (crack cocaine/PCP/methamphetamine anabolic steroids etc) or mental illness: impervious to pain, increased strength and speed, irrational

MOST COMMON HAPV: MAN vs WOMAN (in tentative order of likelihood):

    • push/shove - strike head/face (circular or linear slap/punch)

    • push/shove and strike head/face

    • single hand wrist grab and strike head/face

    • single hand lapel grab and strike head/face

    • single hand hair grab and strike head/face

    • double lapel grab and shove or throw to ground

    • single/double hand choke from front

    • one arm choke from rear

    • one arm choke from rear with arm grab

    • attack with blade or stick-like weapon

    • grab wrist/lapel/hair and strike with weapon

    • overarm bear hug from rear

    • underarm bear hug from rear

    • unfocused linear kick

* all of the above may occur in a domestic situation, as a simple HAPV or as a prelude to a sexual assault

Types of attacker:

    • male date or intoxicated acquaintance

    • spouse

    • man intent on robbery

    • man intent on sexual assault