Mental Kenpo: Psychology of Martial Arts

Fact is, it’s an adversarial world out there. Not only can you be attacked physically, but there’s plenty of people taking mental jabs at you, manipulating you and trying to direct you where they want you to take advantage of you psychologically. They get a thrill out of doing it, they take your energy, it’s their way of puffing themselves up at your expense. They want power and control over others.

Well, whether these predatory actions are done physically or psychologically, it doesn’t matter: It’s all still violence. Consequently, much of what you learn in martial arts to defend yourself against physical attack also applies to psychological attack.

Kenpo is the art I’ve practiced for many years now. So, I thought it would be instructive to use some of the rules and principles of Kenpo to show how martial arts can apply to your psychological self-defense.


Establish Your Base

One of the most important rules in Kenpo is establish your base. You need a base to work from to make your techniques strong and effective. Conversely, to defeat an opponent, you must disturb his base and capitalize on his moment of disruption.

Well, it doesn’t take a lot of connecting dots to see that people do this psychologically. Projecting images, saying nonsensical things, lying, implying things, insulting you passive-aggressively, gas-lighting you. Gas-lighting, by the way, is a psychological trick in which the abuser makes you doubt your perceptions so they can maintain control over you.

As in Kenpo, you must handle this person by disturbing their base and keeping or re-establishing yours. Or simply keeping your base. Your base is your awareness. They attempt to influence your mind and divide your thoughts. You can call them on the carpet, question what they’re saying and, yes, even insult them. Whatever it takes to loosen their strangle. In addition, you remain aware, uninfluenced by divergent thoughts. That’s your base. They can’t throw you.


Read Time

In Kenpo you’re taught to cover until you can check. This means your hands are in position to cover your targets but once in range and it’s practical, you grab and control the opponent.

This is true when dealing with the abuser. It is wise to step back and take it all in, give yourself time to read it all. This is your awareness too. You can only act sufficiently from awareness. If you’ve already allowed them to disturb you, your next action will reflect that confusion. Stop, move back, look at it. You’ll see what they’re up to and you’ll know what to do from there.


Weakness and Leverage

Self defense is mainly a process of trying to gain leverage. You create or spot a weakness in the attacker and take advantage of it.

The psychological attacker also has weakness. They often, for instance, wear a mask. They are always phony, because they’re cowards. Expose them and keep putting salt into the wound until they get the point.


Energy Conservation

Economy of motion is a standard principle in any practical martial art. You must not waste your own energy, you’re going to need it, and you have to destroy the attacker’s energy. So, do and say what you must, but don’t let yourself be drained by the confrontation.


Distractions and Re-directions

Possibly one of the most important, often unstated, principles in striking arts is that pain is induced to shut down your opponent and stop the attack. You are trying to change his mind. You get his mind thinking about something other than attacking you, like the pain in his eyes or the spasm in his groin. You re-direct his mind long enough to finish the fight or get away.

Obviously you can do this with the psychological abuser. You keep them on their toes, wondering what to do instead of the other way around. They want to keep you nervous, you have to make them nervous.

The Final Word

It’s an unfortunate fact that we deal with psychological predators daily. People who are trying to prey on us and capitalize on our weaknesses, either for financial gain or just to have power and control over people. It’s right to stop them in their tracks. They have no right. Being aware of what they’re doing is the first step. You must see the problem before you can tackle it. Step back, look at what they’re doing without being disturbed by it. Then you’ll know what to do.






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