Of the many reasons people learn a martial art the most common is self defense. If this is your reason for learning, or even considering, a martial art it is vital that you practice your skills. Too many people assume that simply going to a “self defense seminar” or attending class a couple of times a week is enough, no need to practice at home. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Neither of these approaches allows the mind and body to develop fully. These “occasional practice” approaches lead to both mental and physical inability to handle self-defense situations.
Awareness is good, but without skills and ability tied to that awareness, all you have is anxiety. – Tony Blauer, Extreme close-quarters combat trainer
As noted expert Tony Blauer points out, partial training and “occasional practice” can lead to anxiety. In self defense situations you need to remain as calm as possible, able to engage the logical and analytical portions of the mind. When a student attends short term training such as seminars or only practices occasionally they will become more aware of, and sensitive to, the dangers present in their daily lives. This awareness is god, but if they fail to develop confidence in their ability to handle these “new dangers” they are only setting themselves up for failure. Self defense starts with a positive mental attitude, with confidence in one’s ability to survive based on the skills that have been learned. Confidence is built through regular practice and improvement in skill. A mismatch in awareness and confidence leads to “freezing up” in the face of danger. Training and practicing is the only way to develop the confidence necessary to successfully deploy martial arts skills when they are needed most.
You do not rise to the occasion in combat, you sink to the level of you training. Do not expect the combat fairy to come bonk you on the head with the combat wand and suddenly make you capable of doing things that you never rehearsed before. It will not happen. – Lt. Col. David Grossman: On Combat – The Psychology and Physiology of Deadly Conflict in War and Peace.
Under the stress of an attack the mind begins to shut down, making decisions becomes very difficult. Stress produces chemical and physical changes in the body, the chemical “cocktail” of adrenaline and other hormones, along with a lack of oxygen due to labored breathing, can render the mind nearly useless. Consistent practice of the martial skills being learned in the dojo helps stop this “short circuit”. As you practice your body becomes stronger and healthier, better able to handle the stress of self defense combat. Practice also develops what is known as “Muscle Memory”, a state in which the body is able to respond with a pre-trained action without the involvement of the mind.
The key to strong self defense is confidence built on a base of solid physical skills. Failure to practice allows anxiety and fear to take the place of confidence. “Occasional practice” allows physical skills to “rust” and trained responses to “erode”. Through the use of regular practice it is possible to overcome the negative effects of the stress hormone cocktail and put up a strong self defense. Modern martial arts are not that far from their origins, it is still about honing the mind and body to perform under stress and remain safe in even the most extreme circumstances. This goal cannot be achieved without regular practice. Practice as if your life depend on the skills you are developing, it just may someday.