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Reality Based Systems - whose reality?

Posted Feb 11 2011 12:00am
If you were to stretch the whole of martial arts out along a continuum so that at one end you had the purely ‘jutsu’ systems (very applied ‘fighting’ systems) and at the other end you had the purely ‘do’ systems (spiritual, self perfecting/actualising systems), then the system of karate that I am learning would probably be about in the middle of that continuum. We spread some tendrils towards the ‘jutsu’ end with our goshin waza techniques and exploration of bunkai; and we spread a few tendrils towards the ‘do’ end with an emphasis on perfecting kihon technique and pushing ourselves to our physical limits to improve mental strength and spirit.

However there is a plethora of new systems developed in recent times that would firmly and proudly put themselves at the ‘jutsu’ end of the scale – they call themselves Reality Based Systems.

Now, I don’t doubt for one minute that many of these systems are highly effective, taught by skilled and experienced instructors and ‘do what they say on the tin’, which seems to be a common phrase in reality martial arts. However, I do have one doubt about them – I’m very dubious about their interpretation of ‘reality’.

Bearing in mind that these systems are targeted at ‘ordinary citizens’; apparently the perils they tell us we all face on a daily basis in our ‘reality’ are: bombings, armed robberies, drive-by shootings, carjacking, gang violence, sniper attacks, multiple attackers, knife attacks, gang rapes….. the list goes on. Okay, these things happen in a modern society but they are not everyday scenarios and they do not accurately represent reality for the vast majority of ‘ordinary citizens’.

As you go about your daily life you are much more likely to encounter a bit of road rage, an argumentative or threatening customer/client, an opportunistic bag snatcher, a belligerent drunk, an intimidating beggar, a potential distraction burglar or for some people, a ‘domestic violence’ situation. These types of events are much more a part of reality for people than the former list, and even then they are not encountered every day.

These ‘reality based’ systems are often designed and run by ex-military people, people who seem to think they have a better handle on reality than the ‘ordinary citizens’ they are instructing. But modern society is not a theatre of war. Modern society may have its criminal element and is occasionally (though rarely) subject to an act of terrorism, most people will never be involved in this or even witness it in their entire lives.

The definition of reality is: “the state of things as they actually exist, rather than as they may appear or may be thought to be.” This is actual reality but of course there is also ‘consensus reality’. Consensus reality is “when two or more individuals agree upon the interpretation and experience of a particular event. This being common to a few individuals or a larger group, then becomes the "truth" as seen and agreed upon by a certain set of people. Thus one particular group may have a certain set of agreed-upon truths, while another group might have a different set. This allows different communities and societies to have very different notions of reality and truth about the external world.”

I would advocate that ex-military people who have seen active service will have a very different notion of reality and truth about the external world than ordinary civilians whose daily self-protection needs are very different. Thus ‘Reality based systems’, or at least the more militaristic ones are only really of any value to people working in situations with a similar consensus reality i.e the military, law enforcement and the security services. They are of very limited practical value to us ordinary citizens. One website I looked at promoting reality based self-defence boasted that it was, “Born in Battle, Christened in Combat” and promised that: “The Self Defense Training System is everything there is to know about man-on-man violence. Once you complete your training you will be an extremely dangerous person, feared and respected by all.” Is this really what ordinary people need? Do I really need to learn ‘counter-terrorism’ techniques or how to avoid a sniper?

I just think that some of these reality systems create a ‘fantasy reality’ that they then design a program to defend against and teach it to a high standard. The whole thing is very internally consistent but it doesn’t represent the actual reality that most people live in. Even reality based systems aimed at women focus on dealing with violent confrontations such as stranger rape or knife attacks. Though these may represent 'common crimes' at a society level, on an individual level a womans life time risk of being raped or attacked by a knifeman is very low, particularly if she learns about avoidance and awareness. However, her chances of feeling threatened by an irrate customer/colleague/boss/neighbour/partner are much more common - how many reality systems deal with this?

No doubt there are many self-defence courses and systems out there that do teach useful, everyday self-protection techniques based on avoidance, common sense and conflict resolution. They probably don’t call themselves ‘reality based’ but actually represent a much more common civilian reality than so called ‘reality systems’ do.

I just wish these macho ‘reality’ based systems would re-brand themselves as ‘situation based’, or ‘contextually based’ self-defence systems and stop marketing themselves to ordinary civilians as they simply do not address their true needs but instead create a fear of violent confrontation when none is warranted. This type of training may be suitable for people working in law-enforcement, security or the military but in my opinion they are not much use to anyone else.

Okay, I’m off my soap box now and awaiting the fall out…….

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