Self-defense vs. Protection Rackets 

Kids need love and protection. They may wander off. They may get frightened or hurt. They want someone who can do protect them.  Families do that. Part of growing up is the transition from wanting protection to providing it. As a teenager you learn to look out for yourself. You take care of your body, your dignity, your stuff.  As an adult you take care of yourself and your family. You start watching out for other people too. It becomes a habit.

Two good things about being a first responder or in military service are 1. you take responsibility for protecting people, and 2. you get fit, focused and fierce, in order to do it. For some, those values become a way of life. 

In the villages on Okinawa, where our karate came from, in the old days people came together for mutual defense. They came together for training, to stay ready.  Defense was personal and local.  It was everyone’s responsibility. People trained hard. Their lives, their families, and their community depended on them. 

Some people sacrificed their lives. All risked them for the common good. When the threat passed, they went home, to their fields, fishing boats and families.  Training together, fighting together, living together was how people survived. Patriotism and pride came naturally from shared effort and shared interest.

Under feudalism or oppression people’s need for protection is turned into a racket. 

When Washington led a few thousand tired men barefoot through the snow at Trenton and lopped off the tentacle of the western world’s greatest superpower, most important people were surprised. 

Edmund Burke, famous for something he didn’t say (“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”), might better be remembered for telling the King and Parliament that, to paraphrase, if they didn’t ease up on the protection racket in the American colonies, the colonists would rebel. (Note 1. at the end.) To the King and Parliament this was weak, sentimental nonsense. Their message to the colonies was consistent: Give us more money and we won’t hurt you. The King and Parliament were incompetent.

A competent national leader knows who to cut in, for how much. A country, leaders all know, is run as a business or a mafia. That is the spectrum. New leaders need buy-in from their people.  Decadent aristocrats however will stop at nothing to squeeze more out of their people, in order to cling to their privileged positions. 

When a country is run as a business, everyone can exchange value, which they create. When the country devolves into a cartel, gang, oligarchy or a mafia then everyone seeks to extract value without producing it. There is less value to go around. Public life turns from markets to threats, from stability to poverty. 

Then, people are separate even when they live on top of each other. People are made incapable of providing for themselves, or their children, or their community. They are not permitted to defend themselves. They become accustomed to delegating everything.  They are reduced to childlike status. They are unhappy. They seek protection. Which makes them easy to distract and intimidate. Willing to pay to be protected from all the fears that have them surrounded, they are easy to manipulate and shake down. 

Trenton, at the time of Washington’s victory, was an agricultural village built on fertile land. People lived by the work of their own hands. Now look at it. Look beyond the fabulous government buildings. How did it get like that? 

At a time when our culture is getting weaker, poorer, more dangerous and more dishonest it is up to us to become rich in what matters – in character, vision, skill, purpose and honor. 

Where do you get the power to do that? We use our martial art to do it. But that is only a means. We learn to take responsibility. To excel – in our martial art, but also in school, on the job, in athletics, in all the areas of life we need to master. That gives us the confidence and the competence to take risks. 

Because we practice honesty and kindness, knowledge and determination, we are not ruled by fear. This is a way to protect people. 

Any association can become a racket. A group that formed for mutual defense can be turned into a mafia. It can happen to a government, a religion, a school, an agency, a martial arts organization, a dojo. But it is not inevitable. 

We cannot delegate our self-defense, any more than we can delegate our dignity, family obligations, or love. We take the responsibility. We train. We get strong, focused and flexible. We put our skills and our character in the service of the people who need us – our families, our neighbors and beyond. Imperfect as we may be, we can all take one step forward from where we are right now. 

We need to do it because no matter what they promise, the racket cannot protect anyone. It is not intended to. 


  1. Edmund Burke, Speech on Conciliation with the Colonies


Post by Jeffrey Brooks, Mountain Karate, Saluda, NC, Yamabayashi Ryu, author of The Good Fight – The Virtues and Value of the Martial Arts and The Rhinoceros Tale – Martial Arts and the Path to Freedom. Post copyright © 2022 Jeffrey Brooks and Mountain Karate Dojo, LLC.

Photo by S. V. Klimkin via Pexels

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