Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The WILL versus the SKILL

I'll start off with a bold statement which I believe to be true.

"All the martial arts training in the world ain't worth a lick if you're not prepared to fight" - me

I'm referring to mental preparation, of course.  I've made reference to this in past posts but it keeps coming up the longer I 'dabble' in the arts.

Why has this pushed it's way into the forefront of my mind again?  Two reasons.

1.  I've been tasked with developing and delivering a course in defensive tactics to police recruits.  I have a very limited amount to time to prepare newbies to deal with the violence in our society.

2.  I am developing a course for survival training/self defense for non- police/military/security.  I have a very limited amount of time to prepare the 'average' or 'normal' law abiding person to deal with the violence in our society.

While developing the training for two such disparate groups, the following became apparent early on: 

For group one:

The focus is on mental preparation with several (relatively) simple techniques thrown in.  It is essential to instill a 'never give up', and an 'always keep fighting' mindset.  These officers have to win.  Every...single...  time.  It's about survival.

For group two:

The focus had to be on mental preparation with several simple techniques thrown in.  It is essential to instill a 'never give up' and an 'always keep fighting' mindset. These people have to prevail and get to safety.  Every...single...time.  It's about survival.

The only real distinction was that the first group didn't get the luxury of running away.  I shouldn't say run away as it may have a negative connotation to some. It's the luxury of exiting a situation to get to a place of safety.  The end result for group one is a position of control and/or handcuffing.  The end result for group two is escaping injury, getting to safety and calling, well, group number one.  There were a few other differences, but by far the similarities outweighed the differences.

I also watched several, somewhat disturbing, videos of the average Joe getting attacked.  Often, the experience was so out of the sphere of normal experience for them, that they did nothing more than covering up, if that, or cringing from the attack as it continued.  It was so far out of the realm of normal experience that they simply couldn't formulate a response.  They just took it.

It was the combination of this and my work that caused me to come to the conclusion of the above mentioned statement.  

If you can't bring yourself, mentally and emotionally, to doing harm to another person, to fight back, you will likely never triumph in a real life violent attack. You may be successful without causing serious injury, but you must be prepared to, if necessary. 

In fact, if there was a surefire way just to teach someone to fight back and never give up, you'd probably do far, far better than trying to teach someone to do any actual self defense techniques.  I'd go so far as to say if you could teach awareness, avoidance and a survivor mindset, the majority of people would never need to learn a single technique or step on a mat to be successful.

I've said it before but it bears mentioning again.  I would always rather go up against a 5th degree black-belt than an untrained parent who felt they needed to protect their child.  The will to fight and prevail will always cancel out the skill of drilling punches, kicks, throws and kata.  

Visualization, mental rehearsal and a serious mindset are all essential components of learning real survival skills.  

The key elements of true self defense and survival skills are:

1.  Awareness
2.  Mental readiness
3.  Physical skills

Number one and number two far outweigh number three.

Having said that, any person who has number one and number two covered becomes truly impressive once they've added number three.

The point is, that if your goal is true survival and self defense, the lion's share of work has to be done in your head, not the dojo.  A good teacher can certainly help and guide you with this, but if you're not prepared to use the skills you're taught, they're pretty much useless.

Are you prepared to put your knowledge to use if you had to?  

That's a question we all should all ask ourselves.

Are you ready?


  1. Great post. Though I have to disagree with your statement about parents and 5th degree black belts. If that was just hyperbole to express a point then I get it, and I agree. But if you meant it literally I'm not so sure... I mean, they're pretty unfit.

    Still, your larger point was about "the will to win" and that's what is most important.

    When you are finished with the LEO training what do you plan to do with the lessons you've compiled? Any chance they'll make it on the blog? Or as YouTube videos?

  2. The example is on the extreme end of things, but I do stand by it. A parent protecting a child is a more fearsome opponent to me than a less-than-fully committed black belt. My point was about the will to win, of being fully committed. That's about as close to the Samurai concept of accepting death. A parent is not thinking of their own self. Anyone who is that committed, who is not concerned with their own physical well being, is a fearsome force indeed.

    I'll give you that my example was a bit over the top, but as I mentioned, all the technical skill in the world won't help you if you're not able or willing to use it when you have to.

    I will have to tread carefully with the lessons. It will be unlikely that I'll be able to post videos due to security related issues, but I'm sure I'll be able to post some observations, successes, setbacks, that sort of thing.

    Thanks for reading and commenting. Much appreciated.

  3. This is a great post and I agree with you whole heartedly. I think you can tell which people in a dojo have the 'will to win or survive' by the way they train, though no doubt some people will surprise themselves if it ever came to a real confrontation (either positively or negatively).

  4. Hi Sue,

    One of the things I've learned is that it's tough to tell how you'll react when you need to. Often people don't know they are capable of the things that they are. Having said that, people who are casual about their training rarely raise to the occasion. You may doubt yourself, and that's fine, but that means at least you've thought about what it would take. If you haven't had that internal dialogue with yourself, it's unlikely you'll be prepared. Thanks for the comment.

  5. Hey Journeyman. I've been following this blog since starting my own jui jitsu journey a few months back. Always insightful, always and entertaining read. Thanks

    If you fancy a change of topic, check out my blog:

  6. I would love to help in your endeavours. My work, I believe, has so much to offer in this regard. The first thing to understand is nature's survival methods. The evolved survival mechanism that we all have. The next step is to understand what the 'interventions' that survival activities develop are designed to change in the survival process that nature endowered us with. This is no mere academic exercsie as research has demonstrated. This academic knowledge, in and of itself, prepares a person to survive a violent encounter.

  7. Effective Eating,

    I just checked out your blog. I plan on going back some more. Got too hungry and had to leave... I'd love to hear more about your journey as it progresses. Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment.


    Nice to hear from you. It's interesting. We are complex, yet survival skills need not be. We are somewhat hardwired for certain things, as your research is delving in to. For most, there is no need to try to overcome our natural instincts. It is possible to use them to our advantage. I think we, in martial arts, that is, often overcomplicate some of the self defense work that we do. Simple is often most effective and realistic. I'll keep ya posted.

    1. Enhanced Safety (smoother, more polished skills mean less awkward movements & fewer mistakes likely to get you hurt)

  8. Kingstonmma,

    Very true, that’s why we keep training. Match the body to the mind.