A Journey from Physical to Philosophical

A Journey from Physical to Philosophical.

 When I was a young man I trained in various martial arts. I did this because in training with one art, I would “spar” with someone from another art or system and they would beat me with a various skill or technique. This would frustrate me and cause me to research and train in their art. This went from striking arts like Tae Kwon Do, Karate and Kickboxing to systems of grappling like BJJ and Judo. Eventually even on to stick and knife systems. Heck, then we added sticks, knives and guns to the ground fighting. I was constantly seeking the “best” system or technique. I trained in such a way that I felt someday I would be fast enough, skilled enough or strong enough to defeat any opponent.


After spending my whole adult life training physically to win a fight, my research and personal training led me to a philosophical revelation. One I am sure you have heard somewhere before. However, like many before me, no matter how many times I heard it over the years, no matter how many quotes about it I have read…it wasn’t until my personal training revealed it to me. The real and personal revelation of the proverbial- there is always someone bigger/stronger/faster/better than you.

So let my beat up body share what I have found through all of these years of research:

  • On the street, in self-defense, human conflict is dynamic. There are too many variables (size/strength/location/training/numbers/armed/fatigue/sex) to be able to answer every problem. This is why there are old sayings about how the greatest warrior can win a battle without ever delivering a blow.
  • There is no tool, tactic or technique that is 100% successful all of the time. Many times people become weapon oriented. They tend to solely rely on a tool/technique that has proven successful for them in the past. Be it pepper spray, knife, baton, Taser or firearm, the person wielding the tool is actually the weapon. The defender needs to train for transition for if/when a tool fails (malfunction) or is not accessible.
  • Space equals time. Reaction is slower than action. Having or creating space gives us precious “moments in time” to process the incoming attack and respond “reasonably”. Under stress when grabbed, an untrained defender will instinctively “grab-back”. This creates a whole new set of problems in which to solve. Kip_tommy
  • The only person I can truly “control” in a self-defense situation is me. Think of it like this -If there were a technique so effective it works all the time, why do police officers have so many tools on their belt for when empty hand fails or is/was not the appropriate choice?
  • The bad guy didn’t come to class to learn how he was supposed to attack you. So all the cool and fancy things that worked in a matted floor, temperature controlled class, with a cooperative partner, may not work as well with the drunk or drugged attacker who feels no pain and can be turned into a pretzel and still want to fight.
  • The moment “contact” (no matter how slight) is made everything changes. So avoidance or escape is truly key when preparing for the attack on the street. This can be either someone touching YOU or you touching them…regardless of the reason.
  • Mental Preparation for the violent encounter is as important as any physical skill you may possess. We “freeze” because we are somewhere we have never been before. Everyone has a startle response. Research it yourself. In medicine we talk about the Sympathetic Nervous System and refer to it as fight or flight. Just don’t forget the third “F” as freeze. Mental preparation is about imagining “what would I do if….” scenarios. But that is a whole subject in itself.
  • Train in a system of “movement” not a system of moves. Too much “technique” in your self-defense “toolbox” slows reaction time. This is because your brain has to process and decide on “which technique (tool) to use when it is reasonable to do so”. Some psychologists have referred to this as Paradox of Choice. Whatever you call it, or how you research it for yourself- be aware that too many tools slow reaction time.
  • The media may not be on your side when you use force and claim self-defense. Many times people have used a reasonable amount of force to defend themselves only to be judged by the court of public opinion. So again, winning one battle (the battle of the street) does not always help you win the others (media, mental, courtroom).

The internet is filled with people talking about how to “win”  in a self-defense situation. Some have brilliant advice, others not so much. Think about this scenario and ask yourself… is this a “win”?

An older guy in his mid 40’s stops goes to a new gym after about a year off due to a surgery. In this gym, the focus is submission grappling. Like most grappling gyms, at the end of class, students free-roll. (a semi-competitive form of the submission grappling training). For this particular student, he always previously trained for protecting his neck. His fear was being “choked-out” on the street, so he practiced for what he feared. As luck would have it, he draws a younger, faster, much more skilled grappler to go with. Immediately after the start of the match, the young guy takes the back of the older student. The older guy starts to panic, but composes himself and defends the choke. This actually happens twice more during the 5-minute grappling match. Both times the old grappler was able to defend the choke. The young guy wins the match but cannot submit the old guy. Is this a win? That would depend on why you train and what your definition of a win is.

Winning in a fight means you beat your opponent. Winning in self-defense means you refuse to be beat.


To sum this all up, when you train just to win a fight, you are relying mostly on your ability to be physically better than your attacker. When you spend enough of your time training to be able to beat up everyone, you may just realize you are now too old to do so. When you truly research for yourself and understand self-defense, you will transcend to a whole different level, you will become philosophical about it. You will use tactics to avoid the conflict and have techniques to escape if needed.


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