Video, Surveillance cameras and martial arts practitioners


September 25, 2007
Yossi Sheriff

Yossi Sheriff


Recent years has seen the number and spread of video and surveillance cameras on the rise. We can safely assume that the number is going to grow. The current terrorist fright that effected the western hemisphere since the September eleven attack, has given a green light to the explosion of surveillance and surveillance cameras. The state sanctioned videoing, and the fact that many cellular phones have video cameras, leads to a level of transparency unheard of: in youtube alone, 523,000 videos tagged with the word “street”, 15000 tagged with the word “neighbor”, 97,400 tagged with the word “violence”.

What we do can become visible and recorded. Exposed Recorded Action ( ERA) will be a feature of modern life.
Only three decades into the internet-cellular revolution, the lives and actions of an individual are more public then ever. Community and institutionalized surveillance present an immense cultural change. We in AKBAN try to factor this major change in our eclectic discipline.
ERA is intriguing because it has not yet passed the test of time, documented visibility did not have time to evolve and integrate itself into personal habits and individual lifestyles (1).

When we imagine surveillance or as we call it, Exposed Recorded Action (ERA), what might spring to our thoughts is a government taking satellite pictures of terrorists in faraway mountains (2), or the mall or municipal security handling disturbances using CCTV cameras (3 PDF) . But in addition, there are new concerns that rise due to the increase of documenting devices. For example, camera equipped cell phones (4) in private hands.

Whether it will be through “Google street view (5)”, cell phones posting or the far reaching percolation of youtube clips, more parts of our lives are going to be public. It can be safely predicted that new software capabilities will filter, search and sift through visual information, video and images. Some initial projects already exist. These have rudimentary abilities to do basic image processing. For example, search for a specific face in many images. Andy Warhol predicted: “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” We might guess that this fame will be immortalized (6 PDF) and searchable using the World Wide Web.

Through legislature, communities might try to control the amount and scope of knowledge that various organizational institutions have on our lives, but controlling the crowds is not only a different problem but one of a completely different magnitude. Transparency will probably be a dominant feature of our life.

What has this to do with martial arts practitioners one might ask, well, we think, a lot. This immense cultural change has to be reflected by a change in practice, a change in that part of martial arts that is labeled as “self defense”.

Now, web literati are thinking about many ramifications of the exposure of the most private data (7), but what we suggest focuses on this part of personal security, our document-able visibility. The visibility problem is a small but significant part to the more generalized problem, the loss of privacy. Documented Visibility is not only martial artist’s problem, it’s everybody’s problem. Here we focus on the implication to the practice of “self defense”. We use our structured methodical practice to highlight the new challenges and to suggest some new solutions.

In a fight, most of the times, the proceedings are not always clear-cut. Sometimes something was said before, an incendiary remark, sometimes, way after there is no danger from the opponent, one of the involved hits again, carried by a wave of adrenaline, rage and fear. The possibility of the fight being documented must be factored in. Making the correct decision and protecting ourselves and dear ones from violence is one big part of what martial arts are. In AKBAN, we try to look at things from different perspectives. A confrontation does not end when the physical clash stops, it can reverberate for many years.

In this era, all actions of self defense oriented martial arts should be conducted accordingly. To put it clearly, we suggest a lower level of violence in all possible scenarios. Martial arts have many aspects and specializations, in the field of reactions that are intended for defensive use, whether the user is a cop (8), a security personal an soldier or a regular civilian – the possibility of Exposed Recorded Action must influence the level of aggression and the actual nature of the techniques used. Everything has to be moderated down.

Many koryu (traditional Japanese martial systems) techniques are not defendable under any scrutiny in the court of law. Western self defense law prohibits any violent action that is not in response to threat. Old style martial arts carry ancient messages that are just the opposite, for instance, Kendo seitei gata, that initiate a sword cut, cannot be legally justified under regular circumstances.

Even more potentially dangerous are sport oriented martial arts. In sport oriented martial arts a practitioner learns to do the routines, combinations and techniques under stress. Drilling and competing under stress enhance memorization and assist in automatic retrieval under stress (9). In duress, the adrenaline and usability that are gained in competition might prove to have a carryover effect: from the competition to the confrontation. Any automatic level of devastating responses might not be legally justified.

What we, in AKBAN, try to teach in recent years is a segregation of ancient and sport techniques from techniques that are self defensive. We can continue to learn tradition and accumulate a wealth of very devastating techniques, but we must try and separate these from those that will protect us both during violence and afterward, when the video of the confrontation will be public.

Failing to segregate sport techniques, or aggressive illegal ancient patterns might cause severe legal problems, even to an innocent defender.

Not all the time, but many of our actions, especially the dramatic ones will be watched. We must learn new strategies, ones more adaptive to the new circumstances, keep what is appropriate and legal and preserve all the rest as a relic in the training ground only. Failing to do so can get us into deep legal and monitory problems. The era when nobody was watching is gone, now comes the time when we all will be watching.