Mind, body, and spirit

The name, Three Rivers Defense, and the Roman numeral III within the enso (the imperfect circle) signify that we need to train three aspects - our minds, bodies, and spirits - for optimal self-protection.


At Three Rivers Defense, we refer to aspects of mental training as personal safety education. Among many other topics, mental skills include acquiring knowledge about violence dynamics - how attacks happen. We learn about stages and characteristics of reactive, emotionally driven violence and about common precursors and other aspects of planned, predatory violence. This is important because responses that may deselect you as a victim of predatory attackers, may increase your chance of getting hurt by emotion-driven aggressors. For example, an overly aggressive reply to an insecure teenage mugger, surrounded by his buddies for whom he needs to prove his manliness and alpha status, might escalate a robbery into a shooting. Your aggression might trigger an insecure leader to stab or shoot you while an intentionally submissive demeanor might have only cost you your easily replaceable wallet and its contents. With a predatory rapist, on the other hand, a strong, assertive response may deselect you as a target.

Mental preparation can increase your violence awareness, reduction, recognition, and avoidance skills. It can help you better recognize what type of violence you are confronted with and how to respond more appropriately to different types of aggression. It can also provide you with information about other issues surrounding self-defense such as legal issues, and physical, mental, and emotional self-care after an attack.


Physical training is what most people associate with the term “self-defense,” but it’s only one part of a holistic self-protection system. You should use physical self-defense only when your mental strategies have failed or weren’t sufficient to protect you, and when you have no chance of safe evasion or escape. Our training is geared to maximize your physical effectiveness and efficiency. It includes such skills as:

• Basic movement for stability, balance, and agility;

• Seeing valuable targets on your attacker’s body;

• Using your natural weapons as well as weapons of opportunity;

• Defending and counter-attacking from confined spaces and from the ground; and

• Changing the predator/prey dynamic as quickly as possible.


The third prong of our training is spiritual. Both mental and physical skills need a solid spiritual foundation. First, we need to explore our willingness and capacity to use justified force to survive. What does your survivor spirit allow or constrain you to do in a violent encounter? Essentially peaceful and decent people who have never had to use violence and who haven’t resolved under what circumstances and against whom they can and will use brutal counter-attacks, may be mentally paralyzed when confronted with a life-threatening attack. Being frozen may cost them the few seconds they had to launch a counter-attack. Overwhelmed, they may never apply any of the physical tactics they might have practiced in the safety of their gym and with inanimate heavy bags or other targets. Keeping the civility of most of our trainees in mind, we often start spiritual work with gaining more clarity about our core values and beliefs and our inherent obstacles to using violence. Spiritual training includes exploring and nurturing your self-worth and your willingness to fight back. You need to be as honest with yourself and as realistic as you can in assessing yourself and determining your spiritual strengths and your obstacles to defending yourself physically.

In Zen Buddhism, the enso encapsulates a moment where the mind lets the body and spirit create a work of art; in self-defense, for me the enso symbolizes that your spirit needs to nurture and cultivate your will to survive. The enso also signifies that you need to give yourself permission to protect yourself, if necessary with physical force sufficient to neutralize your attacker. This requires that you consciously explore and resolve your willingness and ability to use violence for your protection or survival. Self-awareness and honesty are essential in this process.

On the other end of the spectrum of self-protection, the spiritual prong of our self-defense system, coupled with mental self-protection skills, also encompasses recognizing when aggressive responses are counter-productive. Thus, spiritual work also includes nurturing your peaceful nature, becoming familiar with your triggers and your monkey brain, and honing your skills in de-escalating potentially violent situations.

Protect your mind, body, and spirit

Finally, mind, body, and spirit are not only what we use for self-defense; they are also what we protect through self-defense. Rather than being only tools, they are also the objects of self-defense. Under the Three Rivers Defense system, self-defense is about more than protecting our bodies; it extends to protecting our mental and spiritual selves. In essence, self-defense is about asserting autonomy and protecting our wellbeing on all levels. When we use all three “rivers” of protection - mental, physical, and spiritual - we maximize our options for effective self-defense.

Holistic self-defense goes yet further: we learn to realize and cherish our needs as humans to connect with others. Deep connectedness is a much stronger force than isolation and fear-based threat management. Awareness and relationality, the process of relating to others, use the same brain circuits. The ability to live your life fully aware and to enjoy relationships with other humans who respect you and deserve your respect is the ultimate goal of holistic self-defense.

Brigitte Schulze