Friday, July 15, 2005


Self-defense is not combat. Combat is not fitness training. Fitness training is not dueling. Dueling is not sparring. Sparring is not personal growth. Personal growth is not assault training.

Many martial artists in the comfort of the training hall can look at their martial art and believe that it is all of these things. Violence is conflict with risk of injury, right? So war and boxing and an intruder in your bedroom are all violence, right? So they're all the same thing, right? No.

I have to be clear in my own mind. I've been a martial artist for nearly twenty five years, and that's one thing. I spend most of my working days in close proximity with criminals, some violent, some mentally ill and that's a different thing. I also lead the tactical team for the corrections system and a tactical op is not the same at all. I have to be clear, because sometimes I am teaching a very old piece of another country's culture, much of the time I have to be prepared to survive an ambush and sometimes I have to take down the criminal quickly and with absolute control. These are very different things.

Friday is private lessons with a fascinating woman. She has studied martial arts for many years and now she has asked me to teach her about violence. About surviving violence. About controlling it. The class is mental more than physical. Predation dynamics, awareness, presence and body language. Even the physical stuff is mental- explosive action, stealing initiative, contact-response, overwhelming the threat physically and mentally.

It dawned on me today when I pulled a knife during warm-ups that she was still fighting bodies and not minds. Through martial arts, she saw violence as a physical skill instead of a personal one. She was dealing with a problem (the knife) rather than a person (the threat).

So today was about the mind. About the mindset that I use when force is inevitable, becoming an implacable predator, a force of nature. I remembered being hit while in that mind and being offended that the prey had the temerity to fight... before rolling over him like he wasn't there, despite a weight difference of over a hundred pounds in his favor.

About the mindset of a soldier who must be a member of a team before he is an individual or he risks everything, including his teammates and the mission.

About the mindset necessary to recover in an ambush when you feel something break over the side of you head and don't know who or how many attacked you or why... and if you focus on the 'why' if you get stuck in the mindset where things need to make sense, you will freeze.

We all have a little niggling voice in the back of our heads that tries to tear us down. I told my student today what mine has said over the last 15 years and 300+ "Hazardous Incidents". That no matter how much skill or experience there will always be a little voice whispering that so far it's all been luck, just luck.



Stephen Irwin said...


Excellent article! I found your blog on Iain Abernethy's forum

Detak detik said...

Nice post! Thank you!