One of the most important lessons you learn in martial arts has nothing to do with protecting yourself from strangers. It’s about the importance of consent, ongoing consent, and your right to start and stop an activity as you choose.
I’ve written a bit about this before in a post on non sexual physical intimacy.
Let me explain. In Aikido we train with partners. One person begins the technique by striking but as all Aikido techniques are defensive the person doing the technique is the person struck.
What you do with the blow, grab, punch, strike depends on the technique.
There’s a lot of throwing and a lot of very mean pins.
You’re lending your body to another person to train and there’s a kind of intimacy about that. I know the bodies of the people in my dojo pretty well. I trust them with my body. I know what the people move like, what they smell like, and how hard they like to be pinned.
There are certainly people to whom I’m biologically related whose bodies I know less well than the people in my dojo.
Suppose you’re the person who started it all. You tried to strike your training partner so they could practise a defensive technique. They’ll defend themselves and take you to the ground where most Aikido techniques end. When they pin you, they’ll keep pinning, until you tap.
Once you tap, the person doesn’t let it all go immediately. That’s not good either. It doesn’t feel good. Instead they gently and slowly release you from the pin, keeping control.
Over time the lesson that touching requires consent and that consent can be withdrawn becomes part of who you are as a martial artist. I’m not sure how well I’d defend myself if attacked by a stranger in a dark alley. I think my responses now (I can yell pretty loudly) are much better than they were before Aikido.
I do know that when people touch me, in bars for example, without me wanting to be touched they get a pretty clear signal from my body language to back off. The idea that I’m in control of who touches me has become part of who I am. This kind of autonomy, a deeply embodied sense of autonomy, is part of what I love about training in martial arts.