There have been a few humorous video clips posted recently by martial artists on Youtube which I have seen and had a good laugh at. I think that the intention behind these clips has been good in highlighting a dangerous preoccupation with confrontation within the martial arts industry, so my intention is certainly not to denigrate the martial artists concerned. I would, however, like to discuss the danger of taking this tongue-in-cheek humour seriously. I have heard some of my students mention the tactic portrayed in the video clips in jest and we all know that what is mentioned casually in jest can sometimes program our response in real situations.
The video clips in question typically show a martial artist (identified by their uniform) squaring off aggressively against an opponent and then rapidly turning and running away just before combat ensues. The most recent one I’ve seen showed a martial artist running rapidly away from one of his students armed with a sword. The caption read something like, “What to do against an opponent armed with a sword.” Luckily for the martial artist involved, his student did not respond and pursue but stood idly watching him flee unexpectedly with a confused expression on his face.
As I said before, I believe that the intention behind these clips has been good. Because of the nature of self-defence and martial arts classes, we can often erroneously portray confrontation as the goal of self-defence instead of getting to a place of safety. When teaching self-defence, it is always important to stress that getting to a place or position of safety away from the dangerous situation must always be our main goal. That said, turning and running away from a determined attacker armed with a sword may quite literally be the last thing you ever do.
Let me explain. On ancient battlefields, during standard pitched battles, the casualties were apparently relatively low on each side. That is until a rout occurred where one army decided to run away. At this point in time, the advancing army would often chase down the routed force and cut violent swathes of destruction into their ranks. There are a few good videos on Youtube posted by contributors like Lindybeige that discuss this phenomenon. There are also a few historic sources that you could research to convince yourself of this.
Why did this happen? Well, there are a number of reasons, but the reasons that are of interest to us within the scope of this article are:
These reasons combined with others that are outside of the scope of this article made the attrition rate so high. The advancing army, gaining psychological strength and morale from the turn of events, would literally steam-roll over the poorly-defended routed army and the death toll would be atrocious.
So what does this mean for our martial artist facing an opponent armed with a sword who is determined to hurt him? Well, the things that he has to bear in mind before turning and running are the following:
Bearing these points in mind, it should become clear that things are never simple. Just simply running away may not be the best tactic to apply in a self-defence situation. This is the golden rule. Self-defence just isn’t simple. If anyone tells you anything contrary to this, they are ignorant, deluded or trying to sell you something. Good, sound combat tactics have to be applied to everything, including withdrawing from combat.
My advice to my students is that getting to a safe position is the end goal of any good self-defence strategy but getting there while minimising our losses is the trick. If someone is intent on attacking you with a reach weapon (like a sword) and you have decided to retreat, at least consider how you may use the local terrain and any make-shift defensive weapons you may have to allow you to disengage before fleeing. You may find that retreat is impossible under the circumstances due to situational factors.
Perhaps the terrain is not to your advantage (limited room) or you have nothing at hand to use as a makeshift defence. In these situations, the best tactic may be to move into your opponent’s space past the reach of their weapon as quickly and safely as possible and then neutralise the threat in some way (by disarm, takedown or overwhelming attack) before getting away. It is impossible for me to say which tactic would be the best to employ because each situation is unique and the tactic used must evolve to meet the situation.
By all means, run away, but please make sure that you disengage effectively before you run.
Written by SiXiong Lester Walters, head of Chinese Martial Arts and Health Centre Australia
© Chinese Martial Arts and Health Centre Australia 2017. ABN 12 792 347 015