The Way of the Warrior: Yoga as Self Defense Training?

Back in my karate days, my teacher used to try to make me mad to make me fight harder. It never worked. I was a better fighter when I felt calm and centered.

After years of reflection, I’ve finally figured out why anger didn’t work: I associate anger with being powerless. I get mad when I run into a barrier I can’t get around, a problem I can’t fix. If there’s an obstacle, but I can see a solution, I get intense and I’ve been told I become intimidating, but I don’t get angry. Anger doesn’t work for me.

I don’t know if other people have the same issue. I have seen people fight well in anger, though I’ve also seen people who were calm and centered handle an angry person with little trouble.

I’ve been reflecting on the issue of anger again because I read this interesting article in the NY Times by writer and yoga teacher Elizabeth Kadetsky on how she used skills learned in yoga class to save herself when she was attacked in the foyer of her apartment building.

Now yoga isn’t a fighting art, of course — even though one of the basic poses is called “warrior.” But it does teach breathing and awareness, and how to bring all your forces to bear on a problem. Kadetsky writes:

I knew only, with crystalline sureness, that I had to marshal every bit of force in my body and spirit if I wished to survive.

And she did: She screamed. She screamed with such force that the man attacking her pulled back and ran away.

Kadetsky credits yoga for saving her:

I do believe that yoga, and other things, gave me the mental clarity that saved my life in that moment. And I also believe that my training helped me survive in other ways, in the aftermath.

I think she’s right. Yoga gave her the mental clarity to deal with a very dangerous situation and that allowed her to save herself.

Warriorship isn’t about being the toughest person around.As I pointed out in a quote from Nicola Griffith last week:

[N]o matter how big and fast and strong you are, how heavily armed or well trained, there’s always going to be someone out there who is bigger, faster, or stronger. Always.

Warriorship is about using what you know to solve the problem in front of you. Fighting works, but it’s not the only solution and sometimes it isn’t even the best one.

That applies to war as well as self defense.

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Nancy Jane’s flash fiction for this week is “Getting Rid of the Monsters.”  Her collection Conscientious Inconsistencies is available from PS Publishing and her novella Changeling can be ordered from Aqueduct Press.

Check out The Nancy Jane Moore Bookshelf for more stories.

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The Way of the Warrior: Yoga as Self Defense Training? — 2 Comments

  1. As a student of internal Chinese arts for 26 years, I was taught that one should remain completely relaxed except at the exact moment of impacting a strike. Then relax again. My teacher, John Painter, uses engrams to help his students learn to stay calm and to not be surprised by anything, which could cause one to freeze up. I also like a quote from my teacher’s teacher, Li Long Dao. As a boy, my teacher asked Master Li, “You always talk about peace and yet you teach me to fight. Why is that?” Master Li responded, “It is better to be warrior in a garden than to be a gardener in a war.”

  2. I would characterize my training as a process of understanding my stress response so I can maintain calm and appropriate action taken. I think all martial training could be distilled to this.