What a time we live in. It’s frightening and it’s frustrating. It’s frightening because you don’t know what life threatening challenges you might face from one day to the next. It’s frustrating because as individuals we can only do so much to deal with these challenges.

I live in Chicago. Actually I live in the burbs a little south of Chicago. Unfortunately the city influence doesn’t recognize town lines. Much of my life and business is centered in the city. Many of the areas I find myself in are dangerous and have a history of violence. The young people in the city are calling Chicago Chiraq. Many of the students I have taught live in the city and are challenged with the threats that the city offers. It is my endeavor to give those students a sense of confidence and the tools to survive in the neighborhoods that they have to live in.

The combat some of us saw during the Viet Nam conflict wasn’t as frightening. In the end you can come home from a war. Not so anymore. War is at our back door and the enemy is us. I made it out of the military and the danger of war in South East Asia. I came out with minimal damage. I’ve suffered more damage in and around the streets of Chicago than in any war I was a part of. I’ve been shot in a racially motivated assault. I’ve been wounded several times and by various methods since I was released from the military. That in spite of my physical prowess. I’m an excellent pistol shot. I’m adept with most small arms and explosives. I’m considered a martial art master specializing in self defense, unarmed combat and personal security. I grew up in some of the toughest areas of a tough city and I was a terror as a street fighter. With all of that I don’t feel especially safe or secure in the city that I call home.

When I was a kid being tough gave you some security in the neighborhood. If you could give good account of yourself and weren’t a bully or unnecessarily combative you were respected and lived pretty much free from threat. That no longer is true. We’ve digressed to the code of the west. The gun is the primary tool of conflict resolution.

Many factions cry out for the right to bear arms. We aren’t just talking about a handgun, rifle or shotgun for home or personal security. We’re talking about fully automatic and assault weapons. Our solution for our nation’s problems seem to be greater fire power. Many of us are actually arming ourselves in fear of a class, economic or race war. Others are arming themselves because of their fear, distrust and disapproval of their own government. We’re afraid of terrorism from outside factions when we’re as much in danger of domestic terrorism. How do we deal with this? Where do we draw the line?

Poverty, inequality and greed have always been a contributing factor to violence, especially in overcrowded urban areas. In the past those challenges were limited to certain areas and to certain social economic groups. That is no longer the case. Poverty has become an equal opportunity situation and violence is becoming as prevalent in the formally more affluent area as in some of the nation’s ghettos. Unexpected violence has threatened and on occasion destroyed our, schools, homes and work places. No-one and no place seem to be safe. The causes and motivation are difference but in all reality when facing an imminent threat the cause isn’t an immediate concern.

There was a time when martial ability translated into a deterrent to physical violence. If you were a half way decent martial artist you were more than able to deal with the average day to day threats of the communities we lived in. Not so anymore. The most innocuous conflict or argument can result in extreme violence today. A perceived slight, an unintentional glance, road rage and any of a number of other minor altercations can become life threatening. Since these situations are more subject to be dealt with by a weapons assault than fisticuffs why should we continue to study the martial arts? On the surface it would seem to be a waste of time and effort. It seems that we are practicing hand to hand combat in a weapon oriented society.

As any dedicated martial artist knows the martial arts offer a lot more than just physical prowess. Realistic martial art training does put one in a better stead in the event of a threat that is up close and personal. Muggers, rapists, barroom brawlers and suchlike don’t generally shoot at a victim from across the street. Their endeavors require them to be in your face. It’s in those areas where martial art training is most effective. That’s in the event of an actual threat or attack. Unfortunately aggressors often attack from a safe distance. In such an instance no amount of physical prowess or training in close quarter combat will do you any good. So what do the martial arts offer in such a case?

Actually if the situation has evolved to that extent even a trained martial artist is in serious trouble. In such an eventuality fleeing or evasion is the best approach. In a realistic martial art it would be a good idea to understand the threat and limitations of the weapons that we may face. Learning to flee or evade such a situation effectively requires as much skill as physical combat. Those skills should be a part of any realistic martial art training.

Some of us who live in urban and even a more rural area have been challenged with roaches, centipedes and other such pests. Most of you will agree that it isn’t always easy to send those little monsters to their next incarnation. Swatting or squashing them can be a challenge. They often exhibit an uncanny ability to evade our efforts. They have complex evasion patterns hardwired into their DNA. Evasion is their primary form of survival against wholesale smushing.

Fleeing a threat isn’t cowardly. We should know when to flee and when to stand and fight. We should pick our battles and then stack the deck to maximize our chances of success and survival. Reason and not pride should determine our line of action. Misplaced pride can be fatal. You have better have a game plan. Strategy is as important as execution. By the way, those types of decisions shouldn’t be considered when confronted with an eminent threat. Learning how to react to a threat require forethought and preplanning. It doesn’t happen in the moment. Think and plan for such a situation before it happens. Like combat, if you have to think about it it won’t work. These things need to be preplanned. You can’t plan for every eventuality but you can learn how to react to various provocation.

Realistic martial art training should give you options and realistic levels of action. Fighting should never be a martial artist’s only option. Fighting should be the last option. It should be a worse case scenario but when called on to fight we should go into total fight mode. You either fight or you don’t fight. You can’t half fight. Combat requires total commitment. Being defensive in a deadly situation can and probably will get you hurt or killed.

With that being said, the confidence and sense of awareness that martial art training offers should give the martial artist the ability to avoid most threatening situations. A martial artist should have enough confidence and presence of mind to remove himself from a threat should he find himself unable to avoid it. When avoidance isn’t possible walking away or fleeing the threat should be the next choice. If fleeing isn’t possible practical conflict resolution, de-escalation and reason should come to sway. All of which has to be accomplished without a show of fear or weakness. Fear and weakness encourages the predator. Always deal from strength even when begging for peace. Training and enhanced ability will give a martial artist that sense of strength and confidence. Actually that sense of confidence will discourage many predators. Predators aren’t looking for a difficult fight. They look for a soft target.

Let’s face it, we can’t catch bullets in our teeth or catch a samurai sword between our sweaty palms. What we ca`n do is learn to avoid the people, places and things that expose us to danger. We can carry ourselves with the sense of confidence, balance and awareness that mark us as hard targets. We can have a plan and be prepared for the eventuality of personal threat or violence. We can learn conflict resolution and de-escalation in a potentially violent situation. And, of course, if all else fails we can fight like an enraged tiger.

To a large extent a martial artist trains for the pure joy of training. It’s an excellent form of physical exercise and a means of self discovery. It isn’t the ‘be all, end all’ solution for every possible problem but it helps to equip us to deal with life on life’s own turns. And if push comes to shove and all else fails it gives us the tools to survive a heads up confrontation. Even in the ‘wild wild west’.

God bless you, my brethren. Train hard and go with God.
Rev. Dr. Donald Miskel

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Donald Miskel
Donald Miskel started his training in 1959 at the Jiu Jitsu Institute in Chicago and trained with several well known and respected martial arts instructors in a number of disciplines. He has attained black belt ranking in six different martial art disciplines. Sensei Miskel taught at several locations in and around the Chicago area for many years. His focus was self defense instruction for civilians and specialized, individual, training for law enforcement personnel and security officers. He worked in several areas of law enforcement, mental health and personal security as well as performing Pastoral duties at several churches and ministries for a number of years. e helped to create the Black Lotus Combative System and he founded the Dante Ryu Gojute Kenpo karate/ Ju jitsu fighting system. Dr. Miskel is an original member of the Black Dragon Fighting Society.