What is “complete”self-defense? 完全なる護身とは何ぞや?


self defense with a fist

Self-defense; these two words are very popular and we, as karate practitioners, are all familiar with this concept. So why am I writing an article about this, apparently not a mystery subject?


I am happy to explain the meaning of this subject because I feel something important is being missed. I have noticed that there is a big gap between what the general public believes and the full meaning of self-defense. What concerns me more is that I get a feeling that the majority of the karate practitioners also seem to accept the general belief of self defense. It is my grave fear that for this reason many karate practitioners may not be receiving the full potential benefits of true self defense from our daily karate training. I can almost hear the loud disagreement from the readers, “Hey what do you mean? Our practice include both bunkai and in depth self defense techniques. I can handle an attacker in a dark alley.”

Great……. but unfortunately, this very mind set is exactly what I am talking about and the reason for me to write this article. So, my claim is that one would be missing a lot if he believes the main purpose and objective of karate training is to defend oneself from an attacker in a dark alley or a bar or wherever else. I even have to say that one may be wasting their training if he cannot acquire the rest of the benefits. Yes, the term, “waste” that I used here may be a surprising word for the readers but I feel strongly enough to use this word. Do you realize that defending yourself against an attacker in a dark alley is only one side of a coin, so to speak, when you consider all the benefits you can get from total self defense? Without attaining the benefits from both sides of a coin, you could be “wasting” your karate training.

If we can define what “the total self-defense” really means then it will naturally reveal what is entailed for the “other side” of a coin. So, we should step back now and check out the standard definition of “self-defense”. The best way to get that is probably to check what is written in Wikipedia. Here is the link to this subject: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self_defense

Let me quote from the page here: (note: I took out the reference numbers, under bars and different font colors).

Self-defense or private defense is a countermeasure that involves defending oneself, one’s property, or the well-being of another from harm.The use of the right of self-defense as a legal justification for the use of force in times of danger is available in many jurisdictions, but the interpretation varies widely.

Very concise and short explanation. It adds some sub topics to explain further. It lists “Physical” and explains “Physical self-defense is the use of physical force to counter an immediate threat of violence.” I expected to see the section for “Mental” but it does not exist. One should come in the future. Then it lists “Unarmed” and “Armed”. Martial arts is included in “Unarmed”. In “Armed”, of course, they list many weapons. Wikipedia continues with other forms; “Avoidance”, “De-escalation” and “Personal alarms”. I am sure you understand what is entailed in the first two. The last one is interesting and it means a personal alarm; a small, hand-held device that emits strong, loud, high-pitched sounds. Most of you have this device with your car key.

self_defense_cell phoneWikipedia also includes “Self defense education” and “Legal aspects”. Both are interesting especially the second one (California and a few other states consider nunchaku as an illegal weapon) but I will not go into this here.                               

You can summarize that “self-defense” means the idea of defending oneself (including family and protecting material things that belong to him or them) from other people. I suspect many of the practitioners must have started karate training with a hope of learning self-defense abilities. There is nothing wrong with that and we should keep this mind set in our karate training too. It is a shame that you have to watch out for not only the criminals and strangers but also, unfortunately, we need to include friends, relatives and spouses. In addition to the physical attacks, we also need to consider the verbal attacks and and other attacks that affect us psychologically, emotionally and even financially. I am sure I do not need to go into the details as all of us are familiar with the various situations and cases that require some measures to defend ourselves. I strongly recommend de-escalation techniques and the passive self-defense tools (such as alarm bells) that can be carried or learned. There are many specific programs such as self defense for women, children, and senior citizens and even against the verbal attacks. I respect them and there is definitely a place for these programs. I am skeptical; however, if karate ability could help in a real life and death situation, especially if an attacker has a lethal weapon such as a knife or a gun. I prefer to put more value and emphasis on some other ability you could gain in karate training such as alertness and confidence rather than the actual karate techniques to fight an assailant. Staying calm and using a common sense approach tends to result in a better outcome when you face a mugger or a robber.                                         

Unless you live in a slum area or a third world country where robbery with a gun is very common, a possibility of facing a robber with a gun may happen only once in your life time. If you wish to subdue such an attacker I would not recommend karate training at all. I suggest that you hand over your wallet or even a car to stay safe. None of the worldly possession is worth your life. However, if you do not wish to hand over your wallet or a car then I suggest you carry a gun. I personally oppose gun ownership but that is another subject. Though this is a controversial subject and much can be discussed about it, I will proceed to the main subject of this article.

So what I have discussed above is only one side of the complete self-dense issue and that there is another side. I consider this flip side to be more important and it must receive more attention. The concept I will share with you is not that difficult or foreign to the readers. However, it is rarely considered as a part of self-defense by most of the public and unfortunately by many of the karate practitioners as well. OK that is enough of an introduction, what is the other side? Which is our biggest enemy? The answer is simple it is ourselves. Yes, that is correct, ourselves. What we need to do here is that we must shift our attention from an attacker in a dark alley to the hazards and incidents caused by our own actions. To complete our self-defense we must have the strategy to prevent them. There are two major areas of the self-caused hazards. We will examine each of them and we will check why they are ignored I will then present what can be done about them.

The first one is both physical and mental health (there is a spiritual aspect also but we will focus on the first two in this article) aspects. This is a big subject and we will take a look at it closer in the first part of this article. The other area involves the self inflicted accidents including automobile collisions, slipping/falling, sports related accidents, and other accidents.

Let’s face it, we are more dangerous to ourselves than a mugger in a dark alley or a drunk in a bar. We hurt ourselves more frequently and possibly bring more damage to ourselves. They can be prevented or avoided and that would complete our self-defense. Even though the problems from this side are more pervasive and common, yet they are rarely considered as the matters of self defense that need and can be managed. Further we do not tie karate training and discipline to this concept.

HealthyLiving it feels goodLet me start with the health subject. I am sure you agree that health is an important subject. At the same time, you may believe that sickness comes from outside like a mugger in a dark alley and we are the helpless victims. Or you may also believe that we have no control over illness and catching a cold once a year is normal and cannot be helped. You may not agree with me but I believe that most of sickness is self inflicted or self caused. Though most of the cases it is not intentional in some cases intentional without recognizing it. Statistically shown that most sick calls to the work place are reported on Mondays.

Once we get seriously ill we may have to spend many days in a hospital which is very inconvenient and can also it be very costly. We know this acutely, then why not spend more time and attention in preventing or avoiding the sickness? Yes, if you go to your dojo three times per week then you are doing a positive thing for your health but this is only a start and not enough. I have written an article about 7 tips for the good health in the past. I described my ideas and recommendations to make you healthy or healthier. I request that you read that article to complete your understanding of this subject. There are two parts to health; physical and mental. These two parts are closely entwined and integrated thus they should be considered as the two sides of the same coin. However, for this article, I will discuss them separately and reserve the integration part for an article in the future.

Let us start with the physical side of the health.

When we talk about our body we must be aware of five major flows in our body. You know them but how often do we pay enough attention to their functions and affect to our health? Probably not too often.

Here they are;Brain waves

  1. Blood stream

2. Breathing (air)

3. Digestive system (food)

4. Excretion (bowel, urine and sweat)

5. Ki flow, nerve system flow (brain waves)

I am aware that there are other flow systems in our body such as the body temperature, the hormone level and the heart beat (pulse) but they are kept fairly constant so I did not include them in the list despite their smaller scale of flows and rhythms.

I do not think I need to explain about each item of the five items above. I suspect that you are familiar with all of them, except possibly for Ki in #5. If you do not believe Ki exists, just consider the electrical static flow that can be shown as brain waves or electrocardiography normally called as EKG or ECG, used to determine the heart problems. Here is a Wikipedia page for electrocardiography: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electroencephalography to learn more about it.

The point I want to make here is that to keep our body healthy we must keep the flows of all these system smooth and continuous. The easiest one to control and manage is breathing. If it is suspended for more than five minutes you know for sure what the consequence will be. You must breathe several times per minute to stay alive. The other is blood system. Your heart pumps diligently without stopping all through your life. If it ever stops it means the end of your life. We eat food three times every day and go to the toilet daily. As you think about them you can see and possibly feel the flows in your body and hopefully you agree that they are important to your health.

Ying yangBy keeping the smooth and fluid circulation of those five flows it will contribute greatly to your health. This concept is well expressed by an Asian wisdom of yin yang 陰陽 (left). One must know that a slower flow is better than a fast one. I have mentioned in another article about the deep breathing (slow breathing) and its importance and its good effect for the heart and health in general. To have a smooth digestive system naturally moderate your eating and making a habit of eating at certain times are important. If you eat too much your body would tell you with certain symptoms like heart burn or extra secretion of stomach acid.

The excretion part of the flow is not a pleasant topic and many people tend to ignore it but it is extremely important for our health. Constipation is a very common problem among women. Correct diet with natural fibers will solve most of the cases. Popular fast foods certainly does not help this trend. Regarding the last item, Ki, you can probably understand better if I tell you that a meditation will help you with your emotion and peaceful mind. Meditation provides the harmonizing and the calming effect to the brain waves. I have also mentioned that deep breathing will help with the calming of the mind. They are all connected and tied together. When you observe the whole system and understand how they work, it will all make sense to you.

healthy eatingFor your health there are several things that are recommended such as correct diet, proper exercise, getting enough rest and sleep, taking supplements, and regulated life style (time to get up and a time to go to sleep, and time to eat three meals). I will not go into these items as it can expand this article to a book. I will cover these items when I write a new article on the health matter. In addition to the recommended matters, there are things we must avoid or minimize.Fast food kills They are smoking, alcohol consumption, unhealthy diet (soft drink, processed food and Mac diet), overweight, an irregular life style, and there are many more that I will not list in this article.

If you are truly interested in complete self-defense then you would want to know all the details and you will implement them. By doing all that are recommended and avoiding those that are not healthy you will strengthen the immune system in your body. Even if you encounter the flu virus you will not catch a cold as your immune system will take care of it. You may be exposed to extra pollens in the spring but you will not suffer from hay fever because your well functioning body system will not over react to the environment. On the other hand, by doing the opposite such as poor eating habits with unhealthy diet, smoking, drinking too much alcohol, being overweight, etc., your body’s harmony gets unbalanced and your immune system becomes weakened. With this condition, many different viruses can affect your system. You will catch a cold every winter, you will have an allergy every spring. In addition, you may not be able to sleep well at night or youd would get an upset stomach after each meal.

You may say, “OK these may be good hints and ideas but what do they have to do with our karate training?” The key words here are “will power” and the discipline in our life. We learn discipline in our dojo and now we must expand it to our daily life and all the things we do every day. This is exactly what Funakoshi was trying to tell us in his Niju-kun 二十訓; “Karate goes beyond the dojo” and “Apply the way of karate to all things. Therein lies its beauty.” Please ask yourself if you are applying your will power and discipline that you learned in the dojo into your daily life.

Niju kunAnother person may ask and complain, “You listed so many things to do and what not to do. I can understand that we must not smoke and stay away from a Big Mac, but you talk about taking supplements, immune system, brain waves and so many other things. Aren’t there too many for a regular practitioner to cover them all?” Yes, if you try to cover them in one day or even in one week, maybe you cannot cover them all. You need to expand your time to months and years then you can cover them all. When you talk about the other self-defense you think about many different situations and conditions. I am sure most of you have seen the self defense demonstrations where they exhibit many different situations including being grabbed in many different ways, arm or arms being twisted, sitting down, against different weapons, etc. You do not become an expert in all those situations in a day or a week or even after training for a year. You must practice for many years before you can reach that level. Then, why not with the flip side of the self defense? You have much more time when you are outside of the dojo so there is no excuse for not having thetime. All you need is a desire and commitment to complete your self-defense and to become super healthy.

In health there is another aspect however, called mental health. The feeling of happiness comes from your mind. If you have a negative mind or attitude you tend to be unhappy and dissatisfied. All of us are under some type of stress in our life, of course, and if we succumb to a big stress then that could cause you to have an illness. As I mentioned earlier, the physical body and the mind are tightly connected and they influence each other.Laughter therapy article photo It is proven medically that your attitude or mind set affects your immune system. In my article on health I have mentioned several of the alternative treatments to cancer. One was laughter therapy and the other was music therapy. I will not go into the details of these treatments here. You can read my other article to learn about them if you are interested.


Love and affection are important to keep your health. All of us agree that our family is important and a happy family gives us much affection. I am blessed as I have three sons. A member of a karate dojo learns not only the respect but also comradeship between the members. We refer to our dojo as a karate family and the relationship built there is so strong the friendship can last many decades. The doctors recommend that a single elderly person should have a pet especially a dog to keep his health. It is very true and statistically proven that the life expectancy of an older person with a living spouse is longer than the one who lost his or her partner. As I mentioned earlier that physical and mental parts are closely entwined. If your body is healthy then it is easier to feel happy. If you keep the positive attitude your immune system will stay strong and it will sustain your good health.

So, karate discipline, the spirit of Oss or the “can do” attitude indeed does help in your quest to the super health. Your teacher may have told you in the past that you will not be defeated until you give up. Funakoshi also told us in one of his Nijukun, “Do not think of winning. Think, rather, of not losing.” So, we must not lose to the negative attitude, stress, bad news, sorrows, etc. It is natural to have the emotional ups and downs but with your will power you can make the waves as small as possible. If you have trained very hard in your dojo then you will be calm at a tournament match, at a dan examination or even in front of a mugger. The same thing can be said about the mind training for your mental health. A true karate expert will not get extremely angry or be defeated in sadness. Moderation is the key word in the mind of the karate experts.

The second area where you need to pay attention to in your complete self-defense is accidents. It includes slipping/falling, vehicle accidents (car, motor cycle, bicycle, etc), incidents in sports activities and even the small things like cutting your face from shaving.

You may believe an unfortunate accident like slipping and falling from a staircase or a car accident happens because you are simply unlucky and it cannot be helped. I disagree. By applying your karate expertise you are able to prevent and avoid almost all accidents. You cannot call yourself an expert if you cannot prevent those accidents. Though you may not like to hear this, but you failed in one of the key aspects of self-defense. My statement is once again very controversial and it may sound extreme. I can almost hear the voice of a disbeliever, but I can confidently tell you that you will be able to avoid almost all accidents I listed above once you achieve the true martial arts mind and ability. In other words, you need to take your karate training outside of the dojo and apply the complete self-defense mind set to your daily activities.

senior falling from stepsThe most dangerous things for the senior citizens are not the muggers or the purse snatchers. What they have to protect themselves in each and everyday are the car accidents and falling. I have witnessed the seriousness that the falling of an aged person can be by my mother’s experience. She was probably one of the most active and healthy persons in Japan when she was in her 70’s. She practiced Yoga and Tai Chi daily and she looked 20 years younger than her age. When she hit 80 I truly believed she would live to 100. Unfortunately she passed four years ago and she was only 88. She fell when she was 83 and broke her arm, then she fell again when she was 85 and this time she broke her hip. After this accident her health went down very quickly. She was over confident as she was carrying shopping bags when she fell thus she could not fall correctly.. I asked her to use a cane when she walked but she refused to do so. She walked without a cane but very slowly which reduced her exercise and her Tai Chi training. At her age I wished she was more humble and had been more cautious about her safety. But you know how a determined a mother can be; she was a very independent and self sufficient person so no one could tell her what to do.

Let me share another story to show you the common mentality of the senior citizens. I teach a class at a senior citizen’s hall in San Jose. The management requested me last year to talk to its members about self-defense. They offered me a free lunch with them so I took the offer. There were more than 20 members who were older than 60 years old (one was over 90 and she was in her wheel chair). I started to talk about the most dangerous thing for the senior citizens, the same things I described above such as correct diet, car accidents and falling. They stopped me even before I got through the first 10 minutes of my talk. They said, “We are not interested in those things. We want to know if you can teach us a karate technique to fend off the muggers and the purse snatchers.” So I told them, “OK, I teach you a good karate technique for that situation. “ I continued, “When you meet a mugger, just give him your wallet. If you encounter a purse snatcher, do not resist let him have it.” The audience protested after a short laugh. They asked, “Is this a joke?” and I replied, “No, this is not a joke. This is what I truly recommend.” They looked at each other then said, “Common, you are a karate sensei. You can teach us a real karate technique.” So, I replied, “Fine, the true karate technique is not to get into that situation. The prevention is the key. Drive extremely carefully or take public transportation whenever possible. Do not walk in a street alone and avoid shopping at night.” They did not like my answer at all. At this point I asked them a question, “Who takes medication of some kind daily?” All of them raised their hands. I continued with my question, “How many different kinds?” The answers ranged from one kind to more than a dozen different pills. My next question was, “Do you know what are in those pills? And do you know exactly what those pills are doing to your body?” None of them could answer. One guy said, “Hey, these are prescribed by my doctor and I trust him.” I realized that this is the common attitude of the audience. They are not taking charge of their health matters. They go to a doctor so they believe they are taking care of their health. They say ok to all the shots and pills. The doctors love these patients as this is where they make their money. I am sure most of the doctors are prescribing those medications believing that they are good for the patients. At the same time, it is also true that medications are over prescribed in most of the country. I am not guessing, it is documented. Here is an article by Enlighten America, “US Health Statistics: Americans Most Over-Prescribed Country in the World”:


Read it yourself if you do not believe me. If you Google “over prescription” you can find 218 million results on this subject and many of them tell you the facts and the statistics.

My last message to the senior citizen members was “Take charge of their health that is facing them daily”. I do not know how many of them really heard my message but they realized that one karate teacher was not thinking of kicking and punching when he was talking about “self-defense”.

How about the younger people? I say an automobile accident is the most dangerous and likely accident one can expect in the modern world. I wrote an article about this, “Jidousha Dojo (Automobile Dojo)”. In it I described in detail how to avoid the accidents and even traffic tickets. For the younger generations falling may not be a real threat but cutting your face while shaving may be a daily irritation. I also wrote an article about this, “The art of perfect shaving”. If you are interested you can find these articles in my blog (www.asaikarate.com).
Your body is more capable




Sun Tzu, a Chinese military general, strategist, and philosopher of the 5th century BC., is best known for his book, “The Art of War”. His famous quote is “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles”. He is right. If we know ourselves then we can avoid almost all illness and avoid almost all accidents. By doing them you can finally complete your true self-defense training.


4 Responses to What is “complete”self-defense? 完全なる護身とは何ぞや?

  • very true and very specific and easy to understand, i read all the imformation and knowledge shared by you, thank u very much. my sensei joined you and following and now my concepts are also clear.
    thanking you
    dinkar mishra (karate practitioner and instructor from india )

  • Enjoy reading your articles and particularly your holistic understanding of health and self defense. I’m wondering if you have some thoughts on heart attack and stroke as they may relate to vigorous karate training for people in their mid 60′ and beyond.

    • Dear Nouchi sensei,
      Karate training must be moderate and must not hurt the body. If you train correctly one will not have heart attack or stroke. This is the same for the knee and back injuries. The key is the “correct” training which is too difficult to write here. The correct training must not bring any severe pain to the body nor the excessive high rate heart activities. Marathon runners have the shorter life expectancy because they push their heart too hard by running continuously so long which is not healthy.

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