I have been touched by moments in my short time teaching self defense at Todai. I have seen students take leap and bounds in growth through their sheer determination and enthusiasm. I have scratched at the walls of my limitations as I’ve stumbled through the dark of finding new identity. I have seen a community rally together to persevere through times of uncertainty and challenge as we face new horizons. I have seen new students come into our community, and others leave. I have marveled at the surprising feats of courage and ability from unexpected places. I have grown as students have grown. I have received admiration from students though I don’t feel deserving of it, but rather aspire to one day indeed become worthy of it. I am both constantly reminded and constantly challenged about why I teach self defense.
I had a moment that shook me to my core recently – that caused a paradox of emotions to collide. It was a letter left on my door by a student with a short tenure at our school. In it, they described how someone much larger backed them into a corner and attacked them. This student reacted swiftly and without hesitation, inflicting great bodily harm on their attacker who just so happened to be someone very close to them. In the letter they went further to describe the disgust and great personal hardship they felt about hurting someone so gravely that they cared about so deeply. It continued to say that they would not be training in the immediate future due to the recent events.
I wasted no time in contacting the person who left me the heartfelt and appreciative note – although I wasn’t really prepared for what could I say. Part of me wanted to do what I could to keep them as a student and a member of the community, while part of me wanted them to know that they had our support – even if that meant never training here again. They were gracious, and explained that the training they received in all likelihood saved them, but the emotional fallout needed to be dealt with foremost – to which I agreed. I told them I understood, and could only reassure them that they did the right thing, as it was not their choice to hurt them, but rather the choice of the attacker that forced them to defend themselves.
At first there was this moment of pride; in just a month this person was able to acquire this great degree of capability to defend themselves. It was a testament to the effectiveness of the art and the training methods. It further solidifies the view I have long had of this art in its efficacy. But this was quickly dispelled by the harsher realities of what self defense really is, something that I may have failed to prepare this brave person for. It is indeed this desire of preparedness and confidence in one’s self that continues to drive my passion.
I, like most who teach self defense, have a past of being bullied. I grew up as a minority in my community, and was often left on the outside. Dealing with this often builds character (as my Dad would say) but it can also have detrimental affects on self confidence, which lead me to seek out this art. As I became older, I became exposed to increasing levels of violence in my not-so-safe neighborhood; I’ve had friends lose their lives to gang-violence and other unspeakable acts. This can leave a feeling of helplessness in one’s heart. Training in self defense gives options; gives power back to the would be victim. I wanted to ensure for myself that I would have the ability to defend against such violence if directed at me, or someone I’m with. But even more so, I want to empower everyone I can so they, too, can have that ability to protect themselves.
The incident that student faced reminds me of that, of our purpose at Todai Dojo, and why I continue to teach self defense: to empower the ability to protect.