Zanshin and Personal Security Concepts

Harmonizer-April 2010

Table of Contents
- Enhancing Awareness Through the Martial Arts Concept of Zanshin
- Fight or Flight: Psychology/Physiology of Confrontational Situations
- Training to Overcome Limitations of Flight/Flight Reactions
- Warning signs of a Potential Violent Assault
- Legal Aspects of Self-defense
- Five Stages of Violent Crime
- Habitual Acts of Personal Violence (HAPV): Hanshi Patrick McCarthy
- Most common HAPV: man attacking man
- Types of attacker
- Most common HAPV: man attacking woman
- Types of attacker
- Protecting Yourself – Five Habits of Safe People
- Analysis of 28 Months of Ottawa Citizen Reported HAPV in Ottawa Gatineau area: September 2006 – January 2009
- Conclusion


In order to avoid or effectively manage interpersonal conflict (including potential violent assaults on your person), it is helpful to develop zanshin, the ability to live fully in each moment so you may be always aware of your environment. Zanshin is the ability to concentrate fully when necessary, ignoring all distractions.

Developing Zanshin Through Martial Arts Training:

Focused and consistent training:
- improves your self-defense potential when you train hard with total concentration
- improves your awareness of your genuine skills and limitations: martial arts abilities, age, health etc.
- programs automatic useful physical responses to danger into your system
- reduces the panic tendency through the rehearsal of violent scenarios
- generally toughens the mind, spirit and body

Daily meditation - stationary kneeling or seated abdominal breathing:
- improves you mental acuity/concentration
- reduces stress
- increases your sensitivity to the needs and intentions of others
- improves your awareness of your own strengths and weaknesses
- good nutrition, moderate alcohol consumption, sufficient sleep
- enhances physical and mental energy
- reduces negative stress reactions
- improves concentration

Fight or Flight - the Psychology/Physiology of Confrontational Situations:

All potential violent encounters are predicated to a greater or lesser degree on the concept of fight or flight. Both you and your attacker will be affected by the fight or flight response.
“Fight or Flight is a physiological/psychological response to a threat. During this automatic, involuntary response, an area of the brain stem will release increased quantity of NOREPINEPHRINE which in turn causes the ADRENAL glands to release more ADRENALINE. This increase in Adrenaline causes faster heart rate, pulse rate, respiration rate. There is also, shunting of the blood to more vital areas, and release of blood sugar, lactic acid and other chemicals, all of which is involved in getting the body ready for fighting the danger (a tiger, a mugger), or running away from the threat. Feelings of fear and impending doom are common.”

Training to Overcome Limitations of Fight/Flight Reaction:

Some individuals are naturally assertive and aggressive but most people are hesitant to commit a violent act, even in self-defense. However, everyone can learn to overcome this natural hesitation if they receive and practice the correct skill set. The greatest liability to a person in danger is hyper vigilance, which is a fear-induced state of paralysis. This response can be managed using the following methods:
- training realistically (crisis rehearsal) to reduce your reaction times under stress
- practicing with partners of all shapes, sizes, ages and genders
- repetitive training to hardwire automatic response
- enhancing fitness
- accepting the unpleasant fact that once violence is initiated, survival is your number one priority - things might get very messy
- understanding that the stress of a violent attack will:
* cause a mass adrenaline dump into your system
* sharply elevate you heart rate
* increase your strength
* cause muscle tremors
* decrease fine motor skills - complex techniques will suffer

Warning Signs of a Potential Violent Assault:

The person who attacks you may be intoxicated, mentally-disturbed, seeking to rob you or just plain nasty. Never underestimate their willingness or ability to hurt you. While the following warning signs are not definitive, they do provide a reasonable way to assess a potential threat. Being aware provides you with an opportunity to either exit the situation or prepare for self-defense. A person about to attack you may exhibit:
- blinking/protruding eyes-dilated pupils
- raised eyebrows
- flushed or pale face:
* flushed generally means anger
* pale generally mean fear
* research is unclear on signs of anger/fear but both pale and flushed indicate arousal
- twitching hands and legs
- sweaty palms (hard to see)
- a sudden turn away: most people find it hard to attack someone while gazing at their face
- hand behind head: possible indication of anger, frustration
- a squaring of the torso toward you
- person enters your personal space:
* varies by culture - for instance Caucasian Canadians of British ancestry have a large personal space compared to other ethno-cultural groups

Legal Aspects of Self-defense:

Advance warning of a potential violent attack on you or another person is the key to effective self-defense. Unlike police officers, regular citizens must wait for an attacker to actually initiate a physical attack before they can act in self-defense. Under Canadian law, a pre-emptive strike is considered assault and trained martial artists may be held to a higher standard of care than an untrained person.

This is a fine line to tread and the key factor is the level of force employed. In self-defense only the minimum use of force is allowed to protect you or another person. The level of reciprocal force allowed operates on a sliding scale depending on the seriousness of the threat to your health and safety. Zanshin will assist you in interpreting the intentions of a potential attacker. Ultimately, it is a matter of personal judgment.

Five Stages of Violent Crime:

- once you establish that a potential violent attacker possesses the ability and opportunity to attack you, look for these elements in their behavior:
- the criminal/criminals assess options concerning criminal intentions i.e. robbery, swarming etc.
- the criminal may observe or speak to you to assess your potential as a victim
- the criminal begins to physically prepare to attack you i.e. maneuvering behind or above you


- the actual act of violence i.e. empty hand, knife, pepper spray etc.
Reaction: (follows the successful commission of an offence against you - needless to say this scenario is to be avoided by your successful evasion or use of technique)


According to martial arts researcher Patrick McCarthy, humanity has always faced the phenomenon of HAPV. He and others have theorized that martial arts techniques evolved from the necessity of dealing with a wide variety of physical assaults. As well, since most HAPV are perpetrated by untrained individuals, these attackers are unlikely to be familiar with the techniques employed to thwart their violence. This fact increases the effectiveness of proven techniques. According to my research the following list represents the most common HAPV likely to occur in Canada and the U.S. Considering generalized cultural similarities, this list could also tentatively apply to Europe and Australia.


- large circular punch to head/face (haymaker)
- shoving push from front with large circular punch to head/face (haymaker)
- single hand lapel/wrist/hair grab and large circular punch to head (haymaker)
- wild flurry of unfocused punches to head/face from various angles
- clinching: crude standing grappling with attempts to punch head/face or throw to ground and punch head/face
- crude linear kicking
- prone struggle with attempt to mount and punch head/face or pound head into ground and possibly:
single or double-handed choke attempt
side headlock
- attacker armed with blade or stick-type object (circular or linear attack)
- single hand grab lapel/wrist/hair and attack with blade or stick-like weapon

Type of Attackers: man attacking man

- intoxicated stranger: wild flurry of punches
- sneak attacker: sucker punch/charge and tackle from all angles
- habitual street fighter: tough, aggressive person who fights for recreation:
little fear/much experience/quick-strong-adaptable/takes offensive and thus offers openings
- gang: intent to ground and kick opponent
- attacker armed with blade or stick-type weapon
- martial artists/boxers: more predictable than untrained attacker but potentially more dangerous because of skill/experience
Other Factors:
- after the fact attack: beaten/frustrated attacker resumes attack and/or employs handy object as weapon
- excited delirium: attacker under influence of drugs (crack cocaine/PCP/methamphetamine anabolic steroids etc) or mental illness: attacker impervious to pain, increased strength and speed, irrational
- athleticism: aggression fueled by contact sports like football/combat sports like MMA


- Over arm bear hug from behind
- double wrist seize from rear*
- over arm bear hug from front
- underarm bear hug from behind
- underarm bear hug from front
- single wrist seize*
- single wrist seize from rear*
- hair seize from behind*
- hair seize from front*
- single or double-handed front shove
- back or forehand slap
- single arm across neck from behind
- single arm across neck from behind with wrist seizure
- single hand choke from front*
- double hand choke from front
- single hand lapel seize from front *
- double hand lapel seize from front
- rear straddle with various seizes*
- prone straddle with single choke/lapel seize
- prone front straddle with double choke/lapel seize

* often with addition of slap or punch to face/head
* all of the above may occur in a domestic situation, as a simple HAPV or as a prelude to a sexual assault

Types of attacker: man attacking woman

- male date or intoxicated acquaintance intent on sexual assault
- spouse intent on sexual assault
- man intent on robbery
- man intent on simple assault (usually intoxicated)

Protecting Yourself – Five Habits of Safe People:

- avoid dangerous places and solitary risk-taking
- constantly scan your immediate environment: look, listen, smell, touch
- trust your instincts about possible danger
- be aware of the difference between threats to your ego and threats to your safety
- carry a fake wallet, hidden cash and a charged cell phone will 911 on speed dial
- stay fit; learn to fight and practice regularly
- remember that your wits and empowered survival instincts are your best defense.

Analysis of 28 Months of Reported HAPV in Ottawa-Gatineau urban area: Ottawa Citizen – Sept. 2006- Jan. 2009

The analysis below represents 28 months of reported HAPV in the Ottawa Citizen, a local newspaper published in Ottawa, Canada; a racially-diverse city of approximately 900,000 people located in Eastern Ontario near the Quebec border. I must state that while these newspaper reports were rarely rich in detail, they do provide enough raw data to make some tentative conclusions about the state of interpersonal violence in a Canadian setting. I think the main difference between Canada and the U.S. in this regard would be the greater frequency of crimes involving firearms in the U.S. but I will leave definitive conclusions to criminologists.
Since it is very likely that many HAPV go unreported for reasons like fear of reprisal I do not claim that the information presented here is definitive. However, I present this information both to address the topic’s importance and also to possibly inspire other researchers to dig deeper and present the more precise information likely contained in the files of law enforcement agencies. As a martial artist who teaches women’s self-defense I focus my instruction on teaching defenses against the type of HAPV most likely to occur.
I might add that my efforts to seek richer data from law enforcement met with little success as the agencies I contacted were completely unwilling to share their files with anyone not officially and actively working for a university. They erected such an obstacle course of discouraging administrative barriers that I decided on the limited course of research presented here. Since I am not a statistician, I will leave the calculation of percentages to interested readers. Again, I emphasize the tentative but suggestive nature of the facts I present.

Reported Acts of Interpersonal Violence in Ottawa

Type of Attack: Incidents (Fatalities)
Stabbing and/or slashing 86 (10)
Sexual assault 58 (2)
Empty hand percussive impact 29 (4)
Various blunt force weapons 14 (2)
Group attacks (swarming) 9
Pepper Spray 4
Strangling/Choking 3 (3)
Biting 2

Total: 205 (21)

(Source: Ottawa Citizen: Sept. 2006 – Jan. 2009)

Analysis of findings:

This analysis mainly addresses sexual assault against females by males because 57 of the 58 reported victims of sexual assault were females attacked by males. The majority of the reported attackers were men between the ages of 20-30 but again, the details beyond that fact are too limited to justify further comment. As well, while the paucity of detail forbids me from attempting to establish a direct correlation between the testimonial evidence of sexual assault survivors and the numbers below, I will state that violent seizing seems the most common prelude to sexual assault. I base the curriculum of my women’s self-defense instruction on this assumption and teach accordingly.

Types of attack:

Seize and fondle: 16
Seize, fondle and sexual assault: 25
Seize, fondle and sexual assault with weapon: 2
Seize, fondle and sexual assault after punches: 4
Seize, fondle and sexual assault after victim bound: 2
Seize, fondle and sexual assault after victim forced into vehicle: 6
Seize, fondle and sexual assault from vehicle: 4
Arm seized and sexual assault: 1
Seized from behind and sexual assault: 6
Seized, choked and sexual assault: 1
Seized from bicycle and sexually assaulted: 1
Seize, fondle and sexual assault in prone position: 3

Seized from bicycle, sexually assaulted and drowned: 1
Seized/beaten/sexually assaulted/repeatedly stabbed: 1
Cases with active resistance:
Struggle and run: 3
Struggle, strike and run: 6

Location of attacks:
Indoors: 8
Outdoors: 50

Reported Times:
Early am: 2
Late am: 7
Afternoon: 14
Early evening: 7
Late evening: 5
Other instances unspecified

Age of victims:
Under 13 years: 3
13-18 years: 20
20-30 years: 9
other victim ages unspecified


Everyone had the right and the innate potential to defend themselves. While regular participation in martial arts is helpful you need not be a black belt or an MMA competitor to survive a violent attack. Reputable martial arts organizations, law enforcement and community groups are always ready to advise you regarding personal security and self-defense training. Get informed, be aware and stay safe. You and your family are worth protecting!


- personal accounts from female students of self-defense
- individual martial artists
- individual police officers
- research and theories of Hanshi Patrick McCarthy
- Government of Canada sources: Status of Women, Statistics Canada etc.
- Introduction to Psychology, Ninth Edition
- /htm
- Ottawa Citizen (for 2006-2009 HAPV in Ottawa Gatineau)
- author’s Karate training/research/ teaching experience

Author Bio:

Morgan Duchesney is a Canadian writer and martial artist who has published work on martial arts, political economy and international affairs. He has operated Ottawa Karate Jutsu for 14 years, teaching Karate and women’s self-defense as a member of Sensei Paul Leonard’s World Congress of Shintani Wado Kai Karate.