Friday, July 8, 2011

Mind the Gap - Part IV - What is your goal?

The Question:

Perhaps the biggest question you need to ask yourself is why you are doing what you are doing.  What is your motivation in training, or in an encounter?  What is you end goal, your desired outcome?

I had read a post on Sue’s blog which asked "What kind of martial artist are you?"  I had made a comment and she had responded that I was lucky in that I knew exactly what I wanted and needed and that I had found a place where I got just that.  She said that I was lucky on both counts.

Her comments made me give quite a bit of thought to the matter.

I am lucky.  I know what I need and how to get it.  I am unique that in a confrontation, my motivation, goal, or desired outcome is different than most.  I must continue and resolve the matter, ending in a superior position with my opponent under control, or under arrest, the danger to myself and others having been negated.

In most circumstances, there is no need for the majority of us to ‘finish’ it.  By nature of occupation, I am not always afforded the more sensible approach of extricating myself from the situation as quickly and safely as possible.


Not having a clear understanding of your motivation, or your desired outcome or goal, will likely interfere with your ability to respond to real encounters with violence. 

There is a tendency for most martial artists to feel a need to best their opponent, to beat them, or to win.  This is re-enforced by the structure of most martial arts instruction.  Tapping out, point scoring, judging, they all re-enforce the concept of winning or losing.

Redefining Success:

We need to re-define what it means to be successful, or to win.  For true self-defense purposes, winning should be defined as:

#1.  Surviving
#2   Getting away
#3.  Minimizing/avoiding injury 

That’s it. 

With that in mind, how many times is running away taught in a martial arts school?  It may be mentioned in passing, but how often do you actually practice getting away after an attack has been thrown at you?  How often do you respond and then actually run away.  Remember, you will fight how you train.

If we are truly interested in pure survival self-defense, we need to throw away our preconceived ideas on what it means to win.  This especially applies to the more testosterone filled among us.  Guys (and some girls) have trouble running away.  They see it as a sign of weakness or cowardice. 

This thinking needs to be changed.  After all, what takes more courage, running away and returning to your loved ones to be there for them, or dying over some stupid ass fight?

Imagine what your eulogy might say in both scenarios.  How would you want to be remembered, as a dependable person who cared about family and friends, or as a person that had to prove he/she could win a fight, but didn’t.  Think about it.

Why do I bother taking martial arts if I’m just going to run away?

Should you pack in your martial arts study and buy a good pair of running shoes with the money? 

No, of course you shouldn’t.

Effective martial arts are there for when you can’t get away, or when you need to get to a point where you can safely get away.  Or for when you must protect someone who cannot protect themselves.  You need to remember it won’t be pretty, the techniques won’t be as smooth or as flowing as they are in practice, and you may get hurt.  You use your martal arts training to hit, block, surprise, unbalance, lock, throw, kick, or whatever you choose as tools to open up the opportunity to get away.  Not to win, look good, brag, or punish.  Just until you can get away safely. 

If a significant amount of your training is not being spent on this type of work, with this type of mindset, you may need to ask yourself the difficult question of whether or not you are actually learning true self-defense.


As I’ve said on many occasions, there are lots of other benefits to studying martial arts.  And all that other ‘stuff’ in training can make you better at self-defense, but you still need to work on the actual self-defense part.  I look at it like this.  If you want to be an excellent basketball player, running drills help, squats and weight training help, riding a bike helps, Olympic lifts help etc.  

All those activities can serve to help you improve your game, but they won’t help you one bit if you don’t actually play basketball.  It needs to be the focus of your training.  Just like self defense needs to be the focus of your martial arts training.

In the next (and probably last) part of this particular series, I’ll touch on the concerns that many martial artists have about the law and legal issues surrounding self defense.   

Train wisely.


  1. this post is great--it hits home with me... i think the goal of pure survival is often overlooked... and yes, by one's own self as much as any sensei or teacher...

  2. Excellent series of articles.

    At the seminar I attended last weekend, several of the guest instructors made a point to remind us of our primary live.

  3. Excellent series - well done!

  4. jc,

    It can often be overlooked. I'm glad to hear it resonated with you.


    It's such a simple concept that it's often overlooked.

    Michele and Sue,

    Thanks so much for the compliments. I'm happy the posts are hitting home with a variety of readers.