The philosophy of self-defence, its meaning, purpose and basic use.

The philosophy of self-defence, its meaning, purpose and basic use.

Self-defence philosophy and meaning

We can understand the philosophy of self-defence through the lens of or own art and its Moo Do Philosophy.

The word “Moo” in Korean is based on the Chinese Character 武 and is generally translated as “martial” or “military”. The character itself is made up of two separate characters “sword” or “spear and “to stop” or to be “not willing”.

In modern life, we are involved in continuous conflict, however, we can learn to manage these conflicts, - we can view them as challenges to our lives that help us grow to be stronger individuals or we can succumb to them and be a victim. It is much more preferable to choose the former, but to do so, we must enhance our capacity to deal with them, in this way, Moo Do is a relevant practice to our everyday life since it is the practice of cultivating our capacity to deal with the set of inevitable disturbances arising in our lives.

Three major sources of disturbance.

·         External

·         Internal

·         and a combination of both.

External conflicts are those which arise due to circumstances outside oneself. They include the threat of physical violence, or an obstacle which stands in the way of accomplishing your goals and can also include problems such as oppression and discrimination.

Internal conflicts are those which arise from within one's own mind or body. They can be related to one's personality. For example, a lack of respect for one-self and others, a lack of ethics, irresponsibility, laziness, passivity, overconfidence, and aggressiveness can all contribute to conflict situations.

Finally, the source of conflict may be both internal and external. In many cases the causes of conflict will not be separate, but interactive. An external disturbance may provoke an internal response which causes conflict. Further, the effects of external disturbances usually become greater for those who are burdened with serious internal disturbances. For example, economic difficulties can cause the person of weak conscience to steal.

In practicing Moo Do we are training to develop a strong self, in order to overcome both external and internal sources of conflicts and disturbance.

The character Do means Path or Way. It is not a Path or Way in the terms of a physical road to travel, but rather a mental road. The Do or Path that the Moo Duk Kwan teaches is one of human relations. Although we are learning combative techniques, they are not the final answer. The philosophy of the Moo Duk Kwan teaches use to solve conflict both within our self and between others through human relations, not violence. It gives us the mental strength and guidance to properly use our techniques for defence.

Thus, we can take this as an action-based philosophy for self-defence - in the words of the founder of the Moo Duk Kwan – Hwang Kee; -

The ultimate objective of the skilled disciple of the martial arts is to obtain victory without combat. Once one has engaged in combat, however, he must win even against great odds”

This guidance leads us not to seek any disturbance by cultivating oneself to not be in internal conflict and thus not seek external conflict, however we must be prepared for it and have the will along with the means to fight.

Purpose of Self-Defence

It is a countermeasure that involves defending the health and well-being of oneself from harm. The use of the right of self-defence is a justification for the use of force in times of danger.

Its purpose should be to defend ourselves against an attack that threatens the safety and wellbeing of ourselves, those we hold dear, our principles, livelihood and our freedom.

Defence of property should be considered but only after weighing the risk – if you could walk away from a dangerous situation by giving a mugger your wallet (or any other personal property) you should consider this, however if this did not pacify the attacker then fight you must.

If it cannot be avoided your use of violence (force) should not be to take life rather than that you should at all times seek to preserve life.

Use of Self-Defence

Let’s discuss three strategies for self-defence;

1, Avoidance

Being aware of and avoiding potentially dangerous situations is one useful technique of self-defence.

We must be aware of our surroundings being able to spot danger signs is important to your safety.

This means following your instincts every time. Often, we can read other people’s intentions just by the way they look at you, or what they say to you.

Potential danger signs may include people trying to distract you by creating an unnecessary ruckus or dramatic situations: these are often pretexts used prior to attack.

If you feel uncomfortable in a situation make your excuses – if you have to – and leave.

Also do not appear to be a victim - attackers will typically select victims they feel they have an advantage against, such as greater physical size, numerical superiority or sobriety versus intoxication. In this our body language is important - most attackers would choose preferentially someone in a crowd as a victim who is not aware of their surroundings – headphones on – scrolling on their phone etc, but more importantly lowered head closed body posture. Thus, our appearance must be strong and confident, open posture, aware upright - an outward display of our rigorous training.

2, De-escalation

Using one's words to prevent, de-escalate or end an attempted assault. This kind of 'conflict management' is the use of voice, tone, and body language (as discussed in avoidance above) to calm a potentially violent situation before violence actually ensues.

You can attempt to deflecting the conversation to individuals who are less passionately involved, or simply entering into an empathetic position to understand the attacker’s motives better.

Raising the attacker’s ego on ever time they verbalise something not immediately directly threatening in the “now” is one way to de-escalate a potentially violent situation.

This is a very hard thing to achieve as usually the would-be attacker has already chosen a path of violence and would see such an engagement (violence) as the preferred outcome of the conflict and thus the only way to make this work is for the attacker to feel that the odds of winning a physical encounter is poor.

This sometimes means that de-escalation may only be successful after some sort of physical altercation that didn’t achieve the attackers’ goal – i.e. beat you, thus even if you are attempting to deescalate you must be prepared to fight.

3, Be prepared to fight and engage

The right to fight is no good without the will to fight - in order to effectively defend ourselves and those we hold dear against from a would-be attacker we have to be prepared to fight, both physically and mentally – there is no avoiding that issue.

We can try to deescalate the situation, negotiate a peaceful resolution, escape but ultimately unless we are prepared to submit to our attackers will – we have to be prepared to fight.

We must take this course of action only when other options are exhausted, are deemed unlikely to succeed or the attack has started.

We also must realise that once engaged in combat we have to follow through with our actions until we have reached a point of personal safety – i.e. the attacker has no longer the will or the capacity to continue and to only work to that goal and no further.

To be able to do this we must prepare – we do this through our Soo Bahk Do training – through the scientific use of the body in methods of self-defence, combined this with the strict philosophy of the Moo Duk Kwan guiding us towards discovering our full potential.

In this way we forge the body and mind towards gaining ultimate use of its faculties through intensive physical and mental training. If we are honest with ourselves when we train and do this to our full capacity, we can develop the skills, endurance and mental fortitude to engage our would be enemy.

Kwan Jang Nim gave a good example:


If someone were to try to hit you in the nose, would you think about blocking the attack, or physically block it?


If you think about the block you will be hit, if you act and do the block you will defend yourself. Action and thought should be one in the same.”

And In the words of our founder Hwang Kee; -

“With preparation there is no fear”

To Conclude

As a martial artist we must at first seek to resolve any conflict without engaging in violence, however, when all else fails we must respond to violence with violence in order to protect ourselves and  those we hold dear, the principles we uphold and our freedom – this is not done with the attitude of “I must win this fight” – but rather “what can I do to prevent my attacker from doing me harm and then getting to a safe place”.

We must always be prepared to defend ourselves and although through the practice of Soo Bahk Do we are learning combative techniques, they are not the final answer. Moo Do philosophy helps us to solve conflict both within our self and between others through human relations, not violence. It gives us the mental strength and guidance to properly use our techniques for defence.


Self-defence is about love – love of yourself (self-worth) and that your cherished ones, your way of life, your freedoms, principles and of life itself, thus, at all times we must be in a state of physical and mental preparedness for any type of attack.

It has been said time and time again “it’s not the size of the dog in the fight but the size of the fight in the dog”

You feeling of self-worth, your honour, your integrity has to be such that your stake in this game is way higher than your opponents (the fight in your “dog” is bigger). Hence giving you the fortitude (heart) to prevail.

Everyone talks about doing this or that, but often they do not follow through with the physical action. We should not just think about how to defend ourselves, improve our mental fortitude and human relations; we should do the work that is required to make those thoughts reality. This takes discipline, kindness, love and strength.