In the self-defense industry it is very common to hear instructors, students and even people with no self-defense training nor any real-life experience dealing with real-life violent attackers, proclaiming that a specific technique or self-defense system offers the best way to finish off an attacker. Some even take to social media and demonstrate how a specific self-defense technique or a technique of another self-defense system “would not work in the real world”. This is exactly where the challenge lies.
What is the real world?
- Is it a military battlefield where highly trained and super fit camouflaged special forces soldiers covertly gain logistical and operational intelligence about the enemy to allow the infantry, artillery, air force and navy to fight each other with assault rifles, sniper rifles, artillery, fighter jets, drones or warships over a distance?
- Is it the school student who punches another child in the face or flush his/her head in a toilet?
- Is it the cyber bully who drives another person to commit suicide because of a post made on social media that ruined that person’s life?
- Is it a brawl at a nightclub where two guys fight over the fact that they one guy stared at the others girlfriend?
- Is it a vicious criminal punk who stabs an innocent 75-year old defenseless lady to steal her pension money?
- Is it an adult pedophile abducting a 4-year old girl to sell her to the underground sex industry?
- Is it the husband who brutally assaults his wife when he gets home intoxicated?
- Is it an attractive male attacker that uses sweet-talking tactics and his handsome looks to buy a girl at a restaurant a drink spiked with a date rape drug to later overpower her?
- Is it the attacker who preys on people with physical disabilities?
- Is it a well-coordinated and well-armed gang committing a home invasion or carjacking?
- Is the attacker under the influence of a narcotic substance which makes him super strong not feeling pain because of that?
- Is it the Police Officer who responds to an incident not knowing what to expect when arriving at the scene getting attacked?
- Does the attacker prefer to attack in car parking lots, inside cars, in elevators, at night, on a slippery surface?
I am sure by now you get the point?
Not all attackers are the same
Attackers come in many shapes and sizes and all have their own motive for doing what they do. They may be motivated by greed, perversion, revenge or psychological reasons. They always control the time, place and method of the attack. The victim never has the luxury of knowing exactly where, when and how he/she will be attacked. The attacker thus always has the tactical element of surprise. The victim can empower himself and reduce this tactical surprise of the criminal by various strategies. Physical counter attack/defensive tactics are just one of your defensive options and often it is the last option that you have to use when all other options failed. The bad news is that the physical tactics may not work!
Examples of other preventative measures which actually contributes much more to prevent becoming the next victim include:
- Understanding that there are various types of attackers and that the various categories have different reasons for doing what they do and how to make yourself a less attractive target for each type of attacker.
- Understanding the victim selection process and what each type of attacker is looking for before selecting their next victim and attacking the victim.
- Understanding and being able to recognize the various methods that the various types of attackers use to lure, distract, intimidate, overpower and incapacitate their victims.
- Understanding the mental weakness/mindset of the various types of attackers and knowing how you can use that to your advantage.
- Being able to recognize the common pre-attack indicators including verbal, situational & physical indicators.
- Having the skills to avoid conflict or if it cannot be avoided how to verbally de-escalate the situation.
- Understanding what actually happens to your body when you are suddenly faced by a violent attacker and how adrenalin dump can shut down normal ways of thinking and physical action, especially if you have never been in such a situation before. How simple things like tapping and racking a jammed gun will almost be impossible when your fine motor skills shut down under duress.
- Knowing how to vocalize to draw attention, intimidate the attacker and psychologically put you at an advantage.
- Understanding the various layers of personal security and knowing how to delay an attacker to afford you time to call for help when needed
Not all physical techniques will work all the time
Think about this for a moment. MMA Fighters, the UFC Guys we see on TV, they are the example of professional warriors. These guys train every single day with one objective- To Win. They are in top physical condition, many have sports psychologists preparing them to have a winning mindset, they practice their grappling, punching, kicking and escape techniques over and over again to become the absolute best they can be. They study their next opponents for months at a time, they watch recordings of previous fights. They study their opponents strong and weak points and together with the best coaches they can find, they develop various strategies to outsmart their opponents. When they finally enter the octagon and meet their opponents, they are the ultimate best they can be. They are super warriors determined to win, to knock out or tap out their opponents. They give their absolute best. What happens next? ONE WARRIOR LOSES. Yes, one of these super warriors have to lose. That is how fighting works. Both are prepared, trained, highly competent but one guy managed to outsmart, outlast, out power, hit harder or to see a gap and took it to knock the other out. Both fighters were there to win. There are only so many techniques they can do. The body can only do so much. There are only so many ways to kick, punch, grapple etc. Both knew the same techniques but only one won. In a previous fight one of the warriors managed to win the fight using the same punches, kicks, armbars and it worked. It earned him the title. In this particular fight it did not and the other guy took the title. Why is that? Because not all physical techniques work all the time. Now think about this, both these fighters had the opportunity to properly prepare for the fight, yet one lost the fight. He knew everything about his opponent and still lost the fight. It is not only about the technique. It is about all the various factors involved, everything from strategy to agility, to perserverence to luck.
The very same principle applies to self-defense. Not all techniques will work every time against all attackers. In a self-defense situation you are at a severe disadvantage compared to the UFC Fighter. You did not have the opportunity to study your opponent’s tactics and look for a weak point. Your attacker in most cases have zero training in physical fighting and will not attack you in a certain manner so that your technique can be executed perfectly. There are no judges to stop the fight after a tap out. They do not care about tap-outs, technique or rules. Changing the angle of attack or moving his hips or hands in a certain way may severely hamper your defense options. He may have a weapon while chocking you. Now you have two threats to deal with, being choked to death or being shot to death. The choke might render your gun defense technique useless and the gun may make it impossible to escape from the choke without being shot. Suddenly your perfect technique does not work. But it looked so cool on social media when my instructor demonstrated it! O dear! What now?
Everyone has a plan until they get stabbed
To survive under the stress of a real-life attack, you have to be able to adapt your technique at a moment’s notice. It has to come automatically. There is no time to think about what you will do next if your perfect technique suddenly does not work. Let me use an example. If you want to take a screw out of a wall you will use a screw driver to do so. Sometimes the head of the screw becomes damaged and then you struggle to get the screw loose with the screw driver. Now you go to your toolbox to get the pliers to try and take the screw out in that way. That does not work, then you go back to your toolbox and get your clawed hammer and pull the screw out of the wall with the claws of the hammer. Suddenly the screw is out. The point is, you had to use three different tools to get the job done. The same applies to self-defense. The attacker chokes you from behind, his hands are not in the same place as your willing training partner of instructor’s hands and suddenly your well-practiced perfect technique is rendered useless-your proverbial screwdriver does not get the screw out of the wall! Now you have to improvise and quickly do so if you do not want to get chocked out. Time to go for your pliers i.e. your next technique, which should flow naturally without having to overthink it. Crap! That did not work either! Time to get the good old hammer. You have to be able to look at the menu in a split second. You have to look at what is on the menu before you and you have to be able to select the correct tool in a split second as your life may depend on it… I am sure those of you who have been in a physical confrontation sat after the confrontation or lied in your bed at night thinking I should have, I could have, why have I not? Next time I will… etc.
The best way to become proficient with adapting your techniques under stress is through realistic scenario training. Scenario training prepares your brain to deal with multiple situations under stress. It prepares you to adapt. If it is done correctly it prepares you to a great extent for a real-life situation. And no, it does not mean you have to learn how to do SWAT style house penetration techniques, be able to do 100 pushups, roll around in the dirt, get your arms bleeding, practice gun defenses with real guns, work out with tractor tyres and wearing tactical pants, unless you want to become a Soldier or SWAT Officer of course. It means following a structured training program designed to enable you to do problem solving under stressful situations, to multitask under stressful situations and to analyze and and adapt under stressful situations. It may be as simple as to learn how to use your cellphone to call for help while you are breathing heavily with your hands all sweaty. It may mean having the clarity of mind under duress and confusion to remember a code word to scream to your family to get them to a safe room after you spotted intruders entering your yard, not running out Rambo style and confronting your attacker(s) with your “perfect technique” and house penetration techniques.
The beauty of properly conducted scenario training is that over time, your brain becomes used to things like facing a knife or a gun or some crazy person trying to choke you and it becomes more natural to apply and adapt various strategies and techniques under stressful situations. When you go down a roller coaster at an amusement park, there is normally cameras at the end or at the scariest parts of the ride taking pictures of you as you pass. When you go on a ride for the first time it is often very amusing to see your pictures, your eyes are wide open or closed, your mouth is captured in a scream, you look terrified! The next time you go on the same ride you know where the cameras are and you put up a smiley face and hold both thumbs up. You have been there before. It is suddenly not as scary. You can now do things like smile and hold your thumbs up which you could previously not do. That is the same effect that you get with proper scenario training.
Realistic self-defense is about the ability to do what you have to do given what is in front of you to stop the threat. It does not have to conform to anything except being effective to stop the threat. It does not have to be beautiful and executed with perfect form. The attacker does not care whether you rotated your fist all the way from your hip or that you lifted your knee perfectly when executing a front kick. The only thing he cares about is whether he can continue to attack or not.
The late Martial Arts Actor Bruce Lee said it well: “Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless — like water. Now you put water in a cup, it becomes the cup; You put water into a bottle it becomes the bottle; You put it in a teapot it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow or it can crash.”
When selecting a self-defense course, do not look at what the instructor can do or says he/she can do or how great he/she says his/her system is or how tough he/she looks or how many sports medals and military bravery medals he/she personally acquired. Look how well the weakest student in class, the young lady in a wheel chair, the autistic student, the 75-year-old granny in class, the small insecure boy hiding at the back in class understand the reality of the various types of attacks and attackers and how easily they adapt and manage a conflict situation under stress. They are the easy opportunities criminals look for. They have to be able to defend themselves more so than the athletic MMA Fighter for whom fighting comes natural.
Never let any instructor tell you that a certain technique will work under all circumstances or that his technique is the best or the only one that will work under real life conditions. If they say this, they are either deliberately misleading you for personal/monetary gain or they simply have never been involved in a real-life attack. They do not know what they do not know.
Learn from instructors/schools who have hands-on real-life experience dealing with the entire spectrum of anti-social and criminal attackers ranging from bullies, spousal abusers, street fighters, robbers, rapists, abductors, carjackers, cyber bullies, active shooters, muggers, house robbers, verbal abusers, drug addicts, gang violence etc. Ask them to show you their written curriculum manuals and how the theory and techniques they teach were battle tested against a variety of real-life criminals in a variety of real-life situations by average people like yourself. Ask them how they stay current with the latest research on violence and conflict management. Ask them where their curriculum comes from. Is it something they thought out based on their own experience and opinions or does it come from a reliable source where it was tested under a variety of real-life situations against a variety of attackers by a variety of persons over a long period of time?
Be Safe. Be Smart. Be Empowered.