I usually get a couple of questions when people find out I’ve been studying karate for a long time.
1) Have you registered with the government as a deadly weapon yet?
Answer: No. I haven’t and I won’t. That was a temporary thing the occupying forces did after WWII.
2) Does that shit really work?
Answer: Yes; unfortunately, so does a lot of other shit.
3) You study sword defenses? Where the hell are you ever going to need to defend yourself against a sword?
The longer I’ve studied karate the more I’ve realized it’s best I stay out of fights. It is a sport/art for the small and fast. I’m neither. I’m pretty sure I could hold my own long enough to make an exit (which, by the way, is pretty much required by Japanese law: when you can get away, you are obligated to get away) but I also think it’s best I never try to prove that.
Part of this is the way my style–and I’m sure many others–teach the various techniques. For example, one of the first things we learned was a defense against a knife attack. As the attacker slashes down at you, you stab both arms up and catch his arm between your crossed fists (right on top). Then, with your arms still extended, grab his arm with your right hand, and twist down as your left hand pushes on his shoulder and you drop to a low stance. At this point he should be bent over facing the dirt with his arm across your knee. Finish with an elbow blow that dislocates his shoulder.
Now, this all well and good and it’s awesome the first few times you do it. You start thinking, who do I know back home that lives in a bad neighborhood? What’s the worst neighborhood I don’t have to travel too far to get to?
Then, at the peak of your power and knowledge, as your aura glows blinding white with flashes of purple spirituality, they teach you the shockingly simple counter technique. You stab up with your fists to block the knife, but as you connect, the attacker jerks the knife hand back whilst simultaneously pushing your arms down with this free hand. He puts the knife to your throat and says “So you studied a little karate, eh?”
Every technique we do has a counter technique and we are authorized to do them at any time if the other guy is screwing up. We are also told to resist any techniques to force the other person to do them correctly. When we’re doing techniques against multiple attackers, the attackers are authorized to grab us from behind. They’re also authorized to go ahead and hit us with the knife or sword if we really screw up (been there, done that).
It helps you focus on the techniques. It also makes you think there’s no shame in running away. Or in using a can of pepper spray.