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Updated: Sep 6, 2021

Evolved self-defense requires practice at three levels: the gross, the subtle, and the existential.


The gross level of self-defense is combative martial art, strength training, and conditioning. It is the practice of making oneself difficult for an attacker to kill.

Martial art training provides the knowledge, skill, reflexes, and sensitivity that are required to keep one safe in a dangerous situation.

Strength training hardens the musculature, promotes the bodily production of testosterone, and increases striking power.

Respiratory conditioning allows one to stay in the fight without collapsing from fatigue.

Proficiency in the gross level of self-defense puts one in a position to protect self and others from physical harm and prevent injustice in the world. Not only does strenuous exercise and combative martial training provide a healthy outlet for one’s own inborn aggression and frustrations, being strong and martially capable emboldens one to walk peacefully into dangerous situations and diffuse tension.

An individual can train to be proficient in violence and still choose to live non-violently. However, for one who is both terrified and clueless about the application of violence, and who has allowed their body to become soft and weak such that they are a complete liability in the event of a dangerous situation – non-violence is no choice at all, it is a compulsion.

Training is critical as it provides the choice to be non-violent.


The subtle level of self-defense is dedicating oneself to a regimented lifestyle that cultivates wellness and vitality. It is the practice of making oneself difficult for nature to kill, or put more mildly, the practice of being healthy.

The modern individual’s diet and lifestyle promotes sickness as it stands in opposition to the laws of nature. Learning to breathe functionally, prioritizing sleep and relaxation, getting ample daily hydration, implementing austerity and moderation with regard to nutrition, and getting regular gentle mobility training will eliminate most of the disease states that afflict our culture.

Those who ignore the laws of nature tend to be afflicted with aches, pains, low energy, and depressed immune function; they become easy for nature to kill.

Those who live in accord with laws of nature tend to experience robust health and vitality; they become resilient against disease and malady.


Finally, there is self-defense at the existential level. This level is the systematic teasing apart of the self-experience into its aggregate components through the diligent practice of meditation. The existential level of self-defense is a training of the mind. With practice, the diligent meditator attains momentary direct experience of the dissolution of the isolated and, seemingly permanent, self-identity.

This experience comes primarily through the cultivation of three distinct meditative skills: clarity, concentration, and equanimity, as defined by my teacher, Shinzen Young.

Self-defense, at the existential level, is the systematic daily practice of transcending the illusory identification with a permanent and separate self that needs to be defended at all.

Meditation is a powerful technology that has been refined and passed down for thousands of generations. In the modern era, it is often used to alleviate stress, which is effective, but the true utility of this practice is liberation. Liberation is available to us here, in this lifetime, if we endeavor to practice diligently.

In addition to liberation, the practice of meditation is the willful cultivation of a self that is not only more pleasant to be, but it is also more pleasant for others to be around. Gaining perspective on the mind through the practice of detached observation places one in an empowered position to remove afflictive views and implant beneficial ones. In this way, meditation is an act of service that benefits all. Ultimately, the practice is about being of service.

The evolution of self-defense requires that you cultivate the martial skills that make it hard for others to kill you, cultivate a lifestyle that makes it hard for nature to kill you, and cultivate your meditative skills so diligently that the illusion of a separate and permanent self is killed by the concentrated power of your one-pointed mind.

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