Someone asked me the other day whether it was different teaching Ninjutsu to Singaporeans than to others. It was an interesting question because, apart from being foreign myself, I have Singaporeans, Malaysians, French, English, American and Filipinos among my students.
The person who asked me – a Singaporean father – was asking because he felt that there was too much rote learning in Singapore schools which meant Singaporeans were not very good at more independent learning or learning through less structured methods.
Generally, I have found teaching everyone regardless of where they come from largely the same but, as I told him, I find Singaporeans different in one way and it has nothing to do with the way they learn. What I find is that Singaporeans often lack the mental and physical intensity required to defend themselves from an attacker. I call it a “survival mindset”. They are, on average, more scared both of being hit and of having to hit someone else. These are capabilities they need to develop through training.
This is actually a good thing. In many countries, people often take up martial arts because of some bad experience. They were a victim of a crime or a friend or family member was or they witnessed one and it unsettled them. They walk into a martial arts class because they see the world as dangerous.
Most Singaporeans, by contrast, have very little experience of violence, and often none, so they are not as switched on to threats of criminal violence because that threat is pretty remote. They take up martial arts for other reasons such as fun, fitness, discipline and focus. Self defence skills are a nice bonus. These are all wonderful reasons for learning a martial art.
Singapore has one of the world’s lowest crime rates and The Economist recently ranked Singapore as the world’s second safest city after Tokyo (though, to be clear, they measured safety more broadly than just measuring violent crime.)
I think it is wonderful that people can grow up in and live in a place where violent attacks are rare. And while it means I have might have to work a bit harder to get my Singaporean students to develop a survival mindset, it seems a small price to pay for living in a safe place. We should be thankful for it and never take it for granted.
But I do notice that more Singaporeans are joining my dojo because they want to learn self defence in order to feel safer. I have no idea whether this reflects some broader societal change or not but everyone’s feelings are legitimate.
Freedom from fear is one of the greatest benefits that martial arts provide and that is true whether you are from Singapore, Australia, Finland or anywhere else – and something all of humanity has a right to enjoy.