Meditations On Violence is a fascinating book. Written by professional correctional officer, tactical team leader and martial artist Sgt. Rory Miller, it takes a long look at real world violence and compares it to martial arts training. Not surprisingly, the conclusion is that trained martial arts have little if anything to do with real-world incidents of violence, and that sparring in a dojo and actually being attacked by someone are vastly different things.
Now, I’ve dabbled in various martial arts over the decades; first with Jiu-Jitsu, Aikido and a few related others, later (and still nowadays) various bladed weapons – mainly in a historical combat context, but also with some modern knife fighting thrown in. I enjoy it and find it fascinating for a variety of reasons in addition to being excellent exercise. But here’s the thing: I’ve never been in a actual fight. Oh, there have been some close calls, and some shoving around etc. But a real fight, where people are going flat-out trying to damage each other? Nope. Never want to, either. The more I train with knives, for instance, the less I ever want to be involved in a real knife fight. It’s messy, bloody and brutal, and faster than you think. You also usually don’t even see it coming.
… which leads up to the next point: you rarely see real-world violence coming. Oh, sometimes you do, but oftentimes not. By the time you realize you’re being attacked, you’ve already taken a blow or two and possibly have a knife stab wound (or three) in you. You are also often attacked by many people at once. Very few people are trained to deal with that (understandably). They freeze up – and that freeze kills them more efficiently than anything else. You have to react to the unexpected in a decisive fashion… but nobody trains for that (understandably, of course). They train in controlled circumstances, if they train at all. When attacked with serious intent, they don’t do the smart thing: scream, run, or fight back. They freeze. It’s the natural human reflex when encountering something unexpected and scary.
Miller doesn’t claim that martial arts are useless in the self-defense context, far from it. They put you in good physical condition which is always a bonus. They give you some tiny bit of conditioning for the context of being attacked, if only in a “safe” environment. Many people don’t even have that little bit. But imagining that dojo/salle time is going to significantly help you in a real situation? Mostly a delusion.
The book goes on to ways of training yourself to respond to real violence; deciding at what trigger point you need to act (and go all-out) even if someone is threatening you, your loved ones or an innocent bystander. Trying to react when you’re attacked, preferably with a full-blown counter-attack. Dealing with the “monkey dances” of male groups. That sort of thing.
As I said, it’s a fascinating book. Being the target of real-world violence is scary, and thankfully most people won’t have to deal with it. People are conditioned to not hurt each other, so the concept of going full-tilt with the express purpose of doing serious damage to another person is difficult for most people. And that’s a good thing… except that the potential attacker won’t usually have those problems.
This book busts a lot of myths about martial arts vs violence, and is written based on lots of personal on-the-job experience. It’s a quick read (I read it in one evening, I just could not put it down). Warmly recommended for any and all martial artists, no matter what style or weapons you train. This book will make you think… and that’s never a bad thing.