From the dawn of man, we have had to learn how to defend ourselves, and those we love. If it wasn’t from roaming predators on the Savannah, it was likely surviving rival bands of hunter gatherers. You see, when one looks at it from this perspective, fighting to survive in one shape or form, along with procreation — have been our main two preoccupations for most of our time on this planet. We could argue, that through all the glorious achievements of mankind, survival always came first. Without it, life ends. Our inner warrior nature, and by default self defence then is as old as man itself. The need to protect one self, and others, is an evolutionary prime directive that secured the continued existence of our species on this planet. Throughout the existence of man, it has severed us very well.
At the heart of this survival sits our fight and flight response. In my experience the flight response supersedes our desire to fight. Fighting, has the potential for collateral damage. While to fight may mean victory over an aggressive opponent, it may also mean that you get injured yourself. 10,000 years ago going to the emergency wasn’t and option, so one could have quit easily have died from the injuries sustained (in spite of ones victory). What has this got to do with self-preservation today? While the world has dramatically changed from our time on the Savannah (at least for us living a Western lifestyle) the fact remains we are still hardwired in the very same way our ancestors were. The same fears, the same fight and flight response remains. In the end, what our ancestors had to overcome, both internally and externally has remained pretty much the same, even if the weapons and environment have continued to change.
Run To Fight Another Day
One of these constants is that when it comes to survival, fleeing is always a human beings preferred choice. For almost every person one encounters, unless they are trained otherwise, moving away from violence is their first instinct. From an evolutionary perspective this makes sense. Take a 100,000 humans, program them to run when faced with predators, instead of fight, and whilst you may lose a percentage of those people, enough would have run away and survived to continue procreation. This isn’t helpful of course, if its you and you want to live. Our need to live, to survive, is one of the reasons martial arts is even an industry, a service that people will pay for. They would prefer not to be one of the people dispensed by evolution to be devoured, so that the human species can continue to live.
If my thesis is correct, and experience suggests it to be, then at the heart of actually surviving a violent encounter, where running is simply not an option, one then requires a system of training that will teach a person to deal with standing his ground and doing what must be done (even though all they want to do is turn and run). The way this is often dealt with in most ‘self-defence’ approaches is to fight back. The focus on striking, kicking, biting etc takes center stage. Little or no time is spent on defence, and when it is, it’s cursory at best. I think this approach not only sets the grounds for survival failure, it does nothing to re-map ones evolutionary imperative to run instead of fight. For example, even in sparring (often considered sport by reality based proponents) when someone is put under immense pressure, and is unable to respond with their own offense, taking up a cover position, or at worse turning ones back is common place. If you do that in a quote unquote sport environment, imagine when you life is actually on the line?
Psychological Armour Through Defense
In my approach when coaching new clients, I position defence as primary (not attack). It is not an after thought, it takes center stage. Working through progressive stress inoculation drills, I train my clients to be able to ‘ride the storm’ of incoming attacks. In my experience this does two important things,
- When you can deal with incoming strikes without being seriously injured yourself, you are then far more likely to respond with a counter offence.
- When you are able to ride the storm of incoming strikes it builds your psychological armor.
Coming back to my earlier thesis, we are designed by evolution to move away from violence preferably, often only resorting to violence ourselves when no other choice is available. The desire to move or run from violence is unconscious, encoded in our primitive brain, which recognises that statistically fleeing often presents a higher degree of survival than staying and hoping one can deal with the violence one encounters. Obviously this isn’t good if you are a soldier, in law enforcement, or find yourself in a place that running simply is not an option. What will enable you to override that evolutionary desire to remove oneself from harm, is a new psychological map imprinted on the brain, that says you can indeed handle it. This is what I mean by psychological armour.
Though progressive drills, I can get anyone to handle even the hardest strikes thrown at them. Their ability to handle these strikes are two fold, one is having good defensive technique, but secondly how the use of that technique creates an embodied confidence in the ability to deal with what is been thrown at a person. In other words, psychologically you know you can handle it, and in a real fight, that matters.
There is an underlying misconception in the world of ‘self-defence’ and nowhere is this more evident than on YouTube. So many of the people demonstrating how to defend oneself do so completely out of reality (which is odd, because the word ‘reality’ often precedes the use of self defence). It is not uncommon to see an attacker, attack once. It is not uncommon for the defender to defend that single attack, and then return a barrage of counter striking, while the attacker, simply folds under the pressure. When on rare occasion reality is thrown into the mix, and things look more chaotic (often with head protectors on), it’s two guys clashing like wild boars, smashing each other in the face, without the slightest concern about personal defence.
There are several glaring problems with all of the above. Firstly never assume the person attacking you doesn’t know how to fight. No one who attacks you, will do it once, and no one will stop hitting you once you hit them back. People fight back, their survival is on the line too. Never assume you can simply get the better of an attacker, even if you do something like a pre-emptive strike. I have often seen people come back from a fight they seemed to be losing only to turn the table and win. Making a drill real is great, but just going off at each other isn’t real either. What if you face someone in self defence who cannot only take a punch but hits like a Gorilla? (yes that guy who can actually fight). You can strike all you like, but once that person’s strikes land on you (and they will) you will quickly shift from being in attack mode, to “oh shit” and begin looking for the nearest exit. What happens if there isn’t one?
Defense is Primary
It is far more prudent in my view, to first teach people defence. Not just any kind of defence, but defence that will hold up under fire. While the defence I teach called ‘Crazy Monkey’ Defence is focused almost primary on head, neck and mid body defence – the fact is, 99% of people on the street are head hunters (the only time people would strike your knees first, is with a baseball bat because you owe them money.lol). Jokes aside, most people know that the head is the operating system, and the easiest way for them to win is to switch it off. Going for the head by an attacker in ‘almost’ all fights is primary. So it makes sense to protect that first. Of course you should have a robust defensive process for all parts of the body too.
The reality is, once you successfully defend an aggressive attack, you are far more likely to be willing to engage the threat because you survived it. Even if for some reason you felt compelled to strike first, if things turn back on you, your ability to defend what is coming at you next, will bolster your confidence to continue the fight. This way you beat evolution at its own game!