Self-defence or self-development

Without self-development, there will be no self-defence

Many people start a martial art with the intention to study self-defence. This is not wrong in itself, but before you can survive in a confrontation, you must study yourself.

  • physical
  • mentally

As long you cannot control yourself, you will be not able to defend yourself.
Fear, for example, creeps up in your body and freezes all flexible movements.
Anger can give you a wrong answer to solve a physical or mental confrontation.

Can we find an answer for fear, anger or other mental situations in martial arts?

This was of course also a problem for famous Japanese swordsmen and they also tried to find answers.
In Japanese swordsmen literature are many stories about this problem. Do they find a direct answer? Lets have a look at some stories.

Yamaoka Tesshu

Yamaoka-TessuYamaoka Tesshu (1836-1888), a famous swordsman from the end of the Tokugawa era through the beginning of Meiji era, wrote an essay about martial arts.
In this essay there is a story of Katsu Kaisu (Japanese statesman, end of the Tokugawa era through the beginning of Meiji era) recalling his encounter with Shirai Toru (1782-1843).
Even after a long period of training, Katsu Kaisu was afraid of the eldery Shirai Toru and his sword.
Shirai Toru gave an interesting explanation about his fear to Katsu Kaisu.

You feel fear towards my sword because you have some knowledge and experience in the art of sword fighting. A person without ego and no thoughts has no fear. That is the secret of the art of sword fighting.

Fear and anger

After the age of 40, most of the people’s physical power will deteriorate. When we don’t take enough attention to our self-development, fear and anger will come more apparent in a physical confrontation and this will kill you. It is not the opponent who is killing you, you kill yourself, because you cannot control your fear or anger.
Young people are compensating their fear by muscular power, but as we said before, power will deteriorate after a certain age.

There is another  story of Shirai Toru (mentioned higher) and his teacher Terrada Muneari (1745-1825, founder of Tenshin-Itto-Ryu). Shirai (28yrs) thought he could easily handle the elder Terrada (63yrs). But he didn’t have one chance to hit Terrada. Later Terrada said:

Self-awareness and spiritual enlightenment is the only way


Self-development is closely related to self-awareness. How you see and feel yourself. Can you accept yourself, with your quality and your human weaknesses?

Martial arts are a mirror for you. Very soon in your training, your weaknesses are coming to the surface. This is the moment to become consciously aware of these weaknesses, to know yourself is the first step in self-development.

A practical example:

When an opponent (your training-partner) is attacking your face. How are you avoiding or handling this attack? Jumping away, freeze, panic,…..

Just ask your partner to slow down, and perform your defensive action also in a slow manner. From the moment you feel comfortable, ask your partner to add more speed and power. Can you handle? Maybe you have to go back to a slower performance, maybe you have more confidence and you can ask for more speed and power. From very structured training, you can evolve to unstructured training. If you are fortunate you will never use your skill in the real outside world. But you can test yourself in some kind of “competition” set? Not to become a champion, but just to test yourself.


Self-defence is a practical application of martial arts, and are mostly performed with a partner. Remember this model from an earlier post:

autopietic system

Your movement is always the result of a communication with the opponent. This is only possible if you have developped the skill of awareness, physically and mentally.

Having confidence in your abilities and knowing your shortcomings will create the perfect strategy for you in a confrontation, hostile or friendly.

The last words of Musashi Miyamoto

Abstract: The “Dokkôdô” is the last handwritten manuscript by Miyamoto Musashi. Due to its apho- ristic style it is often quoted and used to illustrate his thinking as well as his way of life, it has however until now not been intensively, thematically dealt with, so that the interpretation of several verses is still contradictory, which often leads to misunderstandings. In order to improve this situation we have ini- tially tried to interpret all words in each verse as literally as possible, then from here to form a sentence under consideration of its grammatical as well as its historical context and finally to present the entire translation of the “Dokkôdô”. The author hopes that this small contribution may become an inspiration for further discussion, which could lead us to a deeper understanding of Musashi’s truth.



Published by

Eddy Wolput

A passion for Martial Arts since 1964

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