Posted by on February 19, 2020

 And if they are digging incorrectly – just one degree up, burrowing too close to the weight of Lake Ontario during this mad scheme by Commissioner Harris to collect lake water 3,300 yards out in the lake? They have all imagined the water heaving in, shouldering them aside in a fast death. Michael Ondaatje, In the Skin of a Lion.

Recently, I reread Michael Ondaatje’s excellent novel In the Skin of a Lion. The passage quoted above refers to the construction of Toronto’s Prince Edward viaduct that links Bloor Street and Danforth Ave. The main character, Patrick Lewis, is part of a crew digging under Lake Ontario in 1930. Their lives, it is clear, depended on attention to detail.  

So, my mind wandered to details and, among other things, to self-defense.  

Violent conflicts are messy and chaotic. Ask someone to recall the details and they will say things like:

It was a blur.

It happened so fast! 

Details, particularly under stress, are difficult to recall. When speaking or performing in front of a large crowd, for instance, how many details about the room, peoples’ faces, or clothing choices do you remember? Not many. However, the details you attend to – your preparation, your cadence, eye contact, body language – can greatly determine the outcome.  

In self-defense, attention to detail can save your life. The angle of your arm when you slide against a hammer attack. Your footwork to escape a rear headlock. How you make a fist. On and on…

Accordingly, during training, you need to continually refine your techniques no matter your level or athletic abilities. Sometimes we forget this. While teaching escapes from chokes during an instructor training a couple of years ago, expert Megan Berkman pointed out how the stronger members of the course displayed less precise techniques, relying more on brute strength. Those with less strength demonstrated more refined and effective techniques. The problem for the stronger, she astutely pointed out, is that there is always someone stronger.   

No shortcuts. When you train imagine the attacker is more than your physical match and pay attention to detail.   

Like Patrick Lewis and his co-workers burrowing under Lake Ontario almost a century ago, your life can depend on it.   

Michael Odaatje, In the Skin of a Lion. Toronto: Penguin Books, 1987.

Image by Borko Manigoda from Pixabay


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