Leaving a Shabbat dinner the other night, I was advised by the hostess to watch out for muggers. Don’t let anybody sneak up behind me. There have been three Orthodox Jews mugged on Airdrome in the past month.
I was told to act crazy if I suspected people wanted to mug me. To thrash about and yell and scream. I guess even muggers prefer to stay away from crazy people.
I’ve heard that if you are stiff or awkward in your body movements, that makes you more likely to get mugged.
Your attacker reads your body language long before you begin your defense. Typically in self defense training, we focus on specific fighting skills. Body usage, or how you hold and maneuver your body, contributes to your ability to perform a specific skill such as a kick, parry, joint lock, etc., but often we forget how fundamental our body usage is to the effectiveness of the technique.
In general how we hold and use our body influences potential attackers whether they are on a training floor, in the street, working with us as business associates or simply friends and family. As a result, our body signals and the psychology behind them become extraordinarily important. Both researchers (psychologists, sociologists, etc.) as well as martial arts masters have written about body usage. It can be very instructive to compare the information and learn from it.
Certainly Gichin Funakoshi, founder of Shotokan karate, understood the importance of body usage. The mind and body, he said, should be trained and developed in a spirit of “humility” which is a somewhat old fashioned term for respect and unpretentiousness. In fact, it is in the fundamental aspects of self defense such as standing position (natural stance), moving position (the transition between stances), and orientation to others that body usage is most important. Let’s begin by examining the natural stance to discover the implications and significance of body usage to both the martial arts training floor and the “real world”.
From a psychological point of view, the natural or ready stance is an opportunity to practice projecting power or authority in order to control a potentially threatening situation. Police officers, for example, are trained to exude an image of authority in order to control criminals. Likewise, Joan Nelson in her hands-on self defense practice book, Self Defense, Steps to Success, recommends projecting “an unvictimlike, confident and vigilant demeanor” in order to discourage attackers from selecting you.
John T. Molloy, of “Dress for Success” fame, researched and reported on body usage in Live for Success. In a chapter on power in the workplace, he points out that “authority is as much nonverbal as verbal.” He goes on to discuss the basic authority stance which he describes as “almost military in nature: the shoulders squared, the head erect, the jaw muscles tight, the mouth closed and unsmiling, feet planted firmly on the floor and eyes steady.”
…The goal here is to keep the neck relatively straight and upright. The head, which weighs about 10-15 pounds, is a wonderful self defense tool and can be used to strike forward or backwards. For optimum balance and comfort to the neck, however, Alexander Technique teachers recommend allowing the head to be “poised lightly on top of the spine”. The common saying, “it’s a pain in the neck” illustrates how easy it is to create discomfort here.
Alexander Technique is a body usage training system that teaches people how to move in the most natural and easy manner. Judith Stransky, an experienced and skilled practitioner in Santa Monica, CA, describes it as “a mind-body experience that unlocks the flow of physical, mental, and spiritual energy to higher levels of well-being and effectiveness”. Alexander Technique training is much in demand by people in the performing arts (including martial artists) and is frequently prescribed by medical specialists to relieve pain that other treatments have not been able to address.
One of the guiding concepts of Alexander Technique is to mentally repeat to yourself the following body usage mantra: Let the neck be free, to let the head go forward and up, to let the back lengthen and widen. Letting the chin drop allows the top of the head to lift upward and the neck to move freely.
Royalty and successful warriors returning to their home cities are often described as entering with “head held high”. Thus the chin/neck/head position conveys stature and maintains your health.