The recent killing at Washington and Jefferson University in Washington Pennsylvania has revealed a long standing problem with Universities in the greater Pittsburgh area, or in any urban area. Crime directed at college students.
This author can remember when he was a student at the University of Pittsburgh last decade, the incidences of robberies were combined with severe beatings. These are not criminal acts perpetrated for a monetary purpose, the taking of personal property was incidental to the violence perpetrated upon the victim of the robbery.
In light of this people must forget the self-defense advice that was first put forward starting in the 1960’s and fall back on the old mode of defense: be a fighter. In these days when muggings seem to be a pretense for violent assault. Young people should be trained in how to handle personal violence.
In Classical Antiquity the educated class were the property owning class. In the Greek City States the landed class -by virtue of being able to afford the arms and armor necessary for a Hoplite- were expected to train in combatives. These included: wrestling, pankration, and the track and field athletics, all skills needed for their type of warfare [see: Pentathlon.] These arts also grave rise to the first Olympics as part of the reinforcement of the Greek Hero culture. It was also in association with these gymnasiums that the first academies arose. Even in the Roman Republic era men like Cato trained his sons in swimming and boxing along with their scholastic studies.
（παλαίστρα). A private training school where boys received regular instruction in gymnastics and physical culture, and thus differing from gymnasia, which were public establishments for the training of men (Becker-Göll, Charikles, ii. 239; Grasberger, Erziehung und Unterricht, i. 252; and Iwan Müller, Handbuch, iv. 451 c). The training-master (παιδοτρίβης) was paid by the parents of the boys whom he taught, and he trained all who did not intend either to enter the games in competition or to become professional athletes. The latter were trained by the γυμναστής, whose work was of a more special and scientific character. The exercises practised in the palaestra were running, jumping, wrestling, throwing the discus, and spear-throwing (i. e. the pentathlon), and in a mild way boxing and the pancration. Boys were also taught to walk properly and to have a graceful carriage. The Romans did not support the institution of the palaestra to any great extent (Quaest. Rom. 40; Epist. 88, 18; Pliny , Epist. x. 40, 2). Among them, as among the later Greeks, the word is often used of the part of a gymnasium especially devoted to wrestling and often as a synonym for gymnasium (Vitruv. v. 11). The details of the institution are not known with certainty, but it may be assumed that they differed from those of the gymnasium only in being milder and less exacting. See Athletae; Gymnasium.
Harry Thurston Peck. Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities. New York. Harper and Brothers. 1898.
As the Roman empire gave way to the Middle Ages and the barbarians supplanted Roman culture the everyday wear of weapons became acceptable again. The wearing of a sword was common up until the late 18th century. The University started in the Middle Ages and most of the student body was made up of nobility. As part of their training as younger men they were versed in the Medieval arts of wrestling and sword play. Such traditions of sword fighting held on up until World War II [see: Academic Fencing.]
The times and culture changed with the rise of the Enlightenment and by the close of the 18th century men no longer wore swords as a symbol of being a freeman, a significant terminus in the history of the world having its origin in the Bronze Age. The tradition of wearing a side arm as a mark of independence and self-sufficiency finally withered with the close of the Old West period in America. As societies Industrialized a person’s mark of being an adult was no longer their character as shown by a tenacious hold on life and the practice of martial virtue, but by the role they could play for an employer.
It must be remembered that in Ancient Greek and Roman societies state prosecutors did not exist, criminal charges had to be introduced by a private party. The effect this had in cases of personal violence was more a free hand to defend oneself without fear of prosecution as any attacker who tried to level charges of damages could alternately find himself at the receiving end of charges from his victim.
The enforcement of law and statutes changed to reflect this: the old Code of Hammurabi “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,” or even in English speaking culture with “no blood, no foul,” [see: Lex Talionis] gave way to ‘disturbing the peace’, ‘disorderly conduct’, and the slightest personal transgressions being able to be brought before a judge as ‘assault’ or ‘menacing.’
A good case is boxing in the English speaking world versus savate in France. Both were part of their respective culture’s arts of defense, and this is how law influences the manner in which people will defend themselves. Under English law (and consequently American law) kicking someone with a shod foot was considered “aggravated assault” whereas under French law striking someone with a closed fist was considered “deadly assault.” Both arts of defense developed in a manner to stay within their laws, though the French dropped the consideration of using a fist as deadly assault as English style boxing was added to savate in the 19th century. English common law being more restrictive kept consideration of kicking as aggravated assault well into the 20th century.
Both arts were considered good for the young person to learn as a means of self-defense, an idea that continued on until the advent of the sporting culture where the physical arts then became the purview of specialist athletes. The thinking became: “if you can’t fight like Mike Tyson, why bother?”
The Modern World
The young person today is faced with multiple dilemmas in regards on how to defend themselves. Everything from prejudices and attitudes, to the law and social disapproval at school and in the eyes of employers work against the young person: say a student defends themselves, but it leads to the police filing charges, school administrators and potential employers will see the assault charges (regardless of the outcome of the case) and use it against the young person.
The common “reasonable” (as the righteousness of actions in self-defense are based on what is “reasonable”) ideas are rooted in the culture of the 1950’s and 1960’s- avoid bad areas, avoid bad people, dangerous situation, stay alert, and so forth- which worked for their time and place. However we live in a totally different era, so advice over half a century old is worse than wrong, it can be deadly. Violence comes at us in many different places now.
[see: Journal of Western Martial’s article ‘Reflections on audatia as a Martial Virtue’]
[see: Wikipedia entry on ‘Right of Self-Defense’]
In the U.S. in the 50’s and 60’s avoidance was a viable option, people could and did move to suburban and small town settings as most random violence happened in the inner cities. Police Officers were allowed to exercise more judgment calls and target more serious ‘real’ crimes. At that time also a large number of men had served in the military during war time and came from backgrounds where they knew how to handle physical confrontations. Times have change, the culture has changed, the laws have changed.
Where does this leave the student? Even suburban campuses have their share of violent crimes as the truism of “predators seek the prey” holds true: college students are relatively easy prey, they are often young, naive, unfamiliar with life and the environs. Many come from middle class backgrounds where dealing with violence is an alien thing, this is nothing new hence why in the past upper class families would put their sons through Martial training. But post-WWII America has become increasingly non-confrontational, preferring things like soccer over a few years of intense combative training.
People of ill will, miscreants, thugs, bullies, psychopaths are something that exists in every place and time. In fact the teaching of avoidance creates a safe zone for miscreants to develop and hone their skills. A miscreant will have less hesitation in committing in a crime of violence than the average person, he does not fear the consequences of his actions as much as the average person.
However legal policies now take a preemptive stance, which can lead to many potential victims feeling as if their hands are tied when it comes to self defense because of the limitation of what is “reasonable.” The laws are set by what the majority think would be reasonable, and are enforced and prosecuted along those lines. The problem is that most people, especially the older folks of the baby boomer generation have a soccer mom mind set when it comes to violent confrontation.
The best way for young people to be prepared for crime is to receive training as they did in the past. The average person today balks at the idea because they perceive themselves as incapable of physically competing against violent and aggressive people. This is not the case, one doesn’t have to be aggressive but should be assertive. The physical requirement for basic striking martial arts (such as would be needed on the street) are not as high as for other athletics, the basic calisthenics most people learn in P.E. classes are sufficient. The hardest thing is the mindset of being assertive and ready to go all out when presented with violence.
This is why in the past the Western Martial arts were heavily focused on sparring. Most untrained people when attacked freeze hardly able to believe that they are under assault much less mount an effective counter strike. And in an attack seconds of reaction time can mean the different between receiving zero or one blow, or multiple injuries.
The truth is we live in a world where the need for young people to be trained in defending themselves is a prerogative.