Ever notice KoSho instructors favor the term “personal protection” over the popular term “self defense?” The difference in terminology might seem arbitrary at first but let’s take a deeper look. Research in cognitive psychology and psycholinguistics suggests that language not only shapes our thinking but ultimately how we view the world.
In an article for Scientific American, author and assistant professor of cognitive psychology, Leah Boroditsky, demonstrates this idea with a simple experiment. She asks a five-year-old girl in a small aboriginal community in Australia to point north. The five year old does so without error or hesitation. Later, Boroditsky asks her adult colleagues back at Standford University to do the same. Many don’t know which direction to point at all and few can point with the speed and accuracy of the five-year-old girl. What can account for this difference? Boroditsky claims the answer is found in language.
In languages like Thaayorre (the language spoken by the five-year-old girl) there are no words for spatial directions like left or right – only words for absolute directions like north, south, east, or west. The result – people who speak languages with only absolute directions are able to keep track of where they are even in unfamiliar environments. “They do this better than folks who live in the same environments but do not speak such languages and in fact better than scientists thought humans ever could.”
Boroditsky also points to additional research that demonstrates the impact of language construction on body language. For example, English speakers who traditionally think of the future as “ahead” and the past “behind,” subconsciously lean forward when thinking about the future and backward when thinking about the past. In contrast, speakers of Aymara (a language spoken in the Andes) where the past is said to be “in front” and the future “behind,” speakers gesture in front of them when discussing the past and behind them when describing the future.
If language can go so far as to shape our perception of space and body language, the words we chose to protect our lives might be more important than you may have initially thought. With some help from Mirriam-Webster let’s go back and examine the key differences between “self defense” and “personal protection.”
defense: the act of defending someone or something from attack
“Self defense” implies that something is happening to us. Our action is responsive rather than proactive. In too many instances this means it’s already too late.
protection: the state of being kept from harm, loss, etc. : the state of being protected
“Personal protection” is a state of being, one that implies a vigilant awareness and a constant state of readiness that demands action. It is proactive rather than reactive.