Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Post Violence - Surviving the Aftermath - Part II

In Part I - Surviving the Aftermath I discussed how traumatic a violent encounter can be on peaceful people. This can be exacerbated by losing, or believing you lost. Physical injuries aside, it’s the mental ones that will likely take the greater toll.

I feel it’s important to touch on this a bit more.

Depending on the nature and severity of the violence you experienced, you may experience some symptoms of post-traumatic stress. It’s important to recognize these symptoms and get them out in the open. Talking about them in a timely manner can be one of the most effective ways to mitigate the stress, and prevent a ‘trauma membrane’ from developing.

A ‘trauma membrane’ is one analogy of what people who have experienced a trauma sometimes go through. Over time, this ‘membrane’ thickens as you develop a psychological defense system to insulate or protect yourself from the post stress hyper-vigilance or constant re-living of an event. The downside of this is that that same membrane also inhibits the efforts of others to help you. The take away point here is that early interventions/diffusing/debriefing or just talking about your emotions is very important for the healing/dealing with a trauma.

Left untreated over time, some people may develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). PTSD and its effects are worthy of a separate article and I've barely scratched the surface.

Bottom line, recognize when you’re struggling mentally and emotionally from the effects of post violence and seek help if you need it.

Moving on to training:

You’re likely challenging the value of your training, and you may be thinking of changing martial arts or quitting altogether. This is also natural. And this is a tough one. We put a lot of faith into those who teach us martial arts, believing we are getting effective and realistic self defense (assuming that’s why we are taking it in the first place).

For someone who has only trained for a couple years, this can be tough to judge. What qualifies someone to teach the martial arts? Is the ability to deal with real violence necessarily a pre-requisite? How would you even judge that? 

Many teachers of martial arts have never been in a real violent encounter. They may be extremely well equipped to deal with it, of course, or they may not be. This is why it’s crucial to find someone that understands the ‘why’ of what they’re teaching, not just the ‘how’. 

Without understanding the action/reaction/consequence/reason for it, you’re essentially going through the motions. It’s like learning the movements of a kata, but never knowing what you’re actually doing to your imaginary opponent. It might look pretty, but it’s unlikely any of it could be applied in the real world.

Examining/evaluating your teacher is quite important but it’s a delicate and touchy subject. Try to seek out teachers that take the time to explain the ‘why’ behind what they’re teaching you, and ones that are open to the ‘what-if’ questions (within reason). Most teachers confident in their skills don’t mind explaining or fielding questions, or having follow-up discussions, as long as it’s done in a respectful way. You have a right to know what you’re getting, after all.

You may also be thinking there’s something wrong with your chosen martial art. I know of one fellow that took Karate for many years. He was really into it. He was on a business trip and was mugged on the street. Sadly, he was so shaken from the experience that he quit Karate, and training all together. He said Karate doesn’t work.

Well, Karate does work. Or more accurately, it can work, provided you have the right teacher and the right student. All martial arts can work. It’s how they’re understood, taught, explained, examined, interpreted, applied and passed on that count.

I don’t know where this fellow trained, or who trained him, so I can’t specifically speak to it, but a blanket statement like “it doesn’t work” is sad. His confidence was shattered and he lost faith in martial arts to be able to protect him.

It could have been how he was taught. It could have been a watered down version, or it could have been his teacher.

Or it could have been him.

And no, I’m not assigning blame to the victim. Sometimes violence is unavoidable and sometimes no matter how much you’ve prepared, the DFL (dumb f’n luck) factor takes over.

In the next part, we’ll discuss what you bring to the table when it comes to training, attitude and action.


  1. Nice article JM.

    I haven't yet been attacked on the street but there have been more than a few choice instances where I recognized what was going to go down and stopped it without violence (body language/ verbal skills/ walking away without turning my back/ etc).

    I could easily see myself becoming doubtful of my training if I were to loose to someone on the street or fail to protect someone I was with.

    Still, since I loose half the sparring matches I'm in (since I try to pair with higher rank people) I think I might just have the perspective to see it as simply being beaten in the first round; rather than seeing my art as useless.


  2. Brett, thanks for the comments.

    First off, I hope you never have to prove anything in the street, in a real fight, you lose somewhat no matter the outcome. Prevention/avoidance is the key.

    As for sparring, I get your point but it's also quite a bit different. What if you had to win a sparring match? What if your life or someone you love's life was in danger? It would be an entirely different situation, I imagine.

    I like your perspective on training. Thanks again.