As a self defence instructor I often wonder if it’s a pointless pursuit. I mean we teach an array of concepts that are good in theory but when it comes to the crunch, are we actually presuming too much to expect our students to call upon our teachings? Do we have it all backwards? Will it only help certain people? Are we going against the human condition?
There are extreme examples reported daily of people engaging in behaviours we class as common sense and I’m not sure we can assume these individuals can be classified as untrained. Please note it is not my intention to victim blame, I’m only pointing out some examples that illustrate my point, who knows my response could be similar. In my home city of Sydney in 2017 in the early hours of the morning an individual entered a 7 11 carrying an axe. Yes, you read it correctly an AXE! Now in my head someone carrying an axe into a store (except a hardware store!) would capture my attention, I would acknowledge it and be somewhat concerned. The others in the store continued about their business, even turned their back on the individual and watch the video to see what happened next.
I was sent another video a while back of a terrorist knife attack in the UK (I can’t find it anymore) that was the catalyst for this blog & this line of thinking. The assailant had a large kitchen knife and made no attempt to hide it, it was there clear as day. The assailant walked approximately 30 metres towards his victims and they froze, they made no attempt to move, appearing to be in disbelief and made no resistance to their demise. Again not meaning to victim blame but is this the human condition that we are kidding ourselves we can bypass? In my mind if I saw someone with a knife I would like to think I would be proactive in getting the hell out of there. I assumed that almost everyone would do the same but clearly it’s not the case at all.
From my own experience I have made many, many errors when it comes to self defence over the years. After years of teaching verbal de-escalation and conflict communication, while waiting on the line at a supermarket a gentleman decided to push in, after telling him where the back of the line was and his insistence on being in front the ‘communication’ that followed is not something I’m proud of. What happened to the cool Acronym that reminds me of what I'm supposed to say? I wanted to tear this guy’s head off, I really, really wanted to. In my other work I spend time with people who are incarcerated for doing just that and there I was wanting to punch on over something so insignificant. I know I should’ve let it go, but I lost to the ugly side of my ego, I was on auto pilot and I couldn’t override it……..why? A few years ago when I was an accomplished combat sports fighter who had really good technique I was involved in a pretty violent self defence encounter. I can assure you that what ensued looked absolutely nothing like what I did in the ring. Even though I'm ambidextrous I competed and trained solely as a southpaw for decades, however whenever I got into a street encounter I always fought orthodox, why? I also did some things that clear thinking Jeff at this moment would not do & is not proud of, I was not in control, it was not a choice. Where did the training all go? I've had to drag mates off someone they were fighting to stop them seriously hurting the other person. These aren't hardcore guys, one was an accountant and another an IT nerd who this behaviour was very out of character and a huge shock to me, if these usually extremely controlled guys lost themselves in the moment what chance does everyone else have?
This is not isolated to just me as many well trained individuals do the same. Have you ever watched fighters who lose their temper at press conferences or after the bell proceed to fight in a way that looks nothing like the way they trained or just fought? Below is a video from a grappling competition, once it became a fight rather than a competition both of their strategy/tactics changed significantly. Why didn't he do a Sukui Nage or some other Judo technique they'd spent weeks/months/years crafting?
Ok still not convinced, this one is interesting:
I’m pretty certain that Elijah wasn’t a kickboxer! All his time training would be spent throwing hands so where did this come from?
Fighting with emotion or high levels of arousal changes the engagement significantly, there are too many examples to ignore. The more at stake or the more aroused (perhaps the more adrenaline), generally the less technique that appears. Another reason I discredit almost all the Knife Defence Techniques you will see, isn't it less likely as the consequences are greater? If I get into an empty handed stoush with some dude there would be adrenaline no doubt, put a knife in his hand and it would increase tenfold. Where’s the ‘muscle memory’ everyone speaks of? Isn’t the common rhetoric in this industry ‘You fight how you train’? I’m inclined to disagree these days. The way we fight is somewhat predisposed, we can only alter that if we are in control and therein lies the challenge of instructors. Another affirmation is the flinch response and various other survival mechanisms we exhibit, yes we do that but good luck trying to ‘weaponise’ it. Isn't it contradictory? You are taking an automated response that we cannot control and trying to program it ie control it? I know some people would argue that it doesn’t happen to them, if they train it enough. You can practice your katas or your flow drills til the cows come home but it will not change the fact that you will NOT do this in a fight. I always refer back to the video of a kung fu v karate guy who start off fighting martial arts for about 3 seconds & once shit becomes real……..
What does that mean for us? Should we not bother?
One of the biggest challenges I have faced as an instructor is the disappointment of people
‘brawling’ and displaying little technique the moment we increased the intensity. Very little of the
technical stuff we practiced appeared, it was sloppy and YouTubers would say it looks like a drunken pub brawl. Initially I took that as an insult, now I wear it as a badge of honour, that our drills look like one of the very things we are training for, that’s a win! There have been a number of commonalties whenever we have upped the ante, that's where our focus should lie. Most instructors are too scared to venture into this territory, the truth is very inconvenient.
Before you claim to be a prophet of truth, take it to that place. It's the only way you'll know, it's that simple. Critique what you’re doing and how you do it. Instead of trying to fit a square peg in a round hole, adjust what you do accordingly. Look at the abundance of footage available of real world violence and try to create a system that thrives in that environment considering these human factors. Why are we intent on turning a blind eye to this phenomena to protect our system? Why are we so ignorant or conceited that we just presume what we are doing is good enough when clearly evidence suggests it isn't? It’s the same as being a flat earther in my opinion, people make bold claims with unsubstantiated evidence or anything of value to validate their position and dismiss anything contradictory (confirmation bias). It's ridiculously easy to find the truth, take your training there, detach from systems or techniques, didn't you originally get into this industry to help people?