Saturday, July 13, 2013

Post Violence - Surviving the Aftermath - Part III

In Post Violence - Surviving the Aftermath - Part I  and Part II, we talked about surviving the after effects of violence and some of the mental trauma you may experience as a result.

We discussed ‘losing’ an encounter and the toll it might take on your training, current or future.  Part II ended discussing how people may question or quit their style and/or teacher and how many may think that martial arts don’t work.

I also mentioned the DFL factor.  DFL – ‘dumb F’n luck’ can occur at any time during a violent encounter, do your detriment or to your advantage.  A good fighter can lose to a novice if DFL kicks in.  Know that anyone might get the better of you depending on this factor.  Training is about minimizing the chances of this from occurring.

I told the story of a young man who was mugged on the street after years and years of training in Karate.  He was unable to mount an effective response to it and ultimately quit training, under the belief that Karate (in his case) didn’t work.

I said that it could have been the young man’s training, or it could have been his Sensei or it could have been him.

Any longer term readers of this blog will know that I believe a serious mindset is required for meaningful and effective training.  You can, and should, have fun, of course.  But if your head’s not in the game and you’re just going through the motions in training without connecting the skills to the real world, you’re unlikely to ever learn anything ‘useable’.  

If you’ve never prepared yourself mentally to deal with real violence, no amount of training in the world will help you against a motivated violent attacker.  

You must train your mind to be prepared to respond to violence, and to cause damage to others if necessary, to protect yourself or those you care about.  You must be prepared to do this without hesitation if the encounter can’t be avoided.  

Martial arts are only tools to make this easier to accomplish.  Without the will to win, they are essentially useless for self-preservation.  You must know, and truly believe, that you will prevail.  That you will triumph no matter what and that you will do whatever it takes to survive.

This is the skill that can’t be taught.  It must come from within.  

There are a few methods you can use to help prepare yourself.  Awareness training is one.  Mental role-play/rehearsal is another.  Utilizing the ‘if’ ‘then’ model of thinking.  If this happens, then I’ll do this.

Not only will this decrease your reaction time (make you faster) in the event of an attack, but your mind will have somewhat prepared your body to deal with the whole the host of physiological effects brought about by a traumatic event.  You will also greatly reduce the chances of hesitating, which can lead to disaster.  

You can do this any time, by the way.  For example, if you’re on the subway or public transit, imagine what you would do if the guy/girl across from you suddenly pulled out a knife, or a gun, or even an explosive device.  While the other riders would be confused and disoriented, you could react decisively and quickly, before those around you even knew what was going on.  Practice this mental rehearsal as much as possible.  It can be done anywhere at any time.

Another often overlooked area, is steeling yourself mentally, to really hurting someone else, if needed.  We are surrounded by sexy images of movie violence.  It’s not.  It’s ugly and upsetting, even for those on the winning side (assuming you’re not a predator).  It won’t look good, it won’t feel good and it may hurt you as well, physically.  Many a hand has been broken hitting others.  Often the winner is the one that is less hurt in an encounter.  Expect to fight with pain.  For some, it will hurt then, for others, the pain won’t set in until after.  Whatever the case, prepare your mind to fight though anything, including the sight of your own blood, or broken limb etc.  It’s about survival at this point.

Don’t expect your martial arts to ‘rescue you’ or just kick in when you need them.  This is not to say that you can’t drill a skill until it becomes an instinctive response.  You may actually react instinctually to an initial grab or strike, but if you’re not mentally prepared to follow up, that may be as far as you get.

Personally, I don’t expect my martial arts to work perfectly, if at all, during a real violent encounter.  I expect that I will survive no matter what and if my martial arts training help, that’s a bonus.  If it allows me to cause less damage to myself or my attacker, or to end the encounter more quickly, then it’s been a success.  If I’ve worked on my awareness and mental rehearsal skills enough, I may be able to more closely resemble the cinematic martial arts response.  If I’ve reacted quickly enough due to my mental preparation, it may look like I saw it coming.  Interjecting early enough into an encounter may allow a successful joint lock, takedown, wrist lock, weapon disarm, or even certain strikes to be delivered, shutting your attacker down at the onset, minimizing damage to both you and your attacker.  Or just as importantly, it may prevent a situation from escalating past its initial stages altogether.

I do a great deal of this mental rehearsal due to my professional role.  It has prevented situations from escalated more times than I can count.  I’ve used Jiu Jitsu successfully on several occasions, and I’ve also had it not work.  It didn’t really matter though, as losing was not an option for me.  Nor should it be for you.

Training to survive a violent encounter is really a 3 step process.

  • Awareness
  • Mental Preparation
  • Training

The actual practicing of the physical skills is the smallest part of preparing for violence.  It’s a very important part, mind you, but it should be what you spend the least amount of time on, even if you train every day.

If I could give you the mental fortitude and the will to win, I’d be a rich guy.  But I can’t.  No one but you can do this.

Now that we’ve discussed what you need to bring to the table, you can hopefully more accurately assess what, if anything is lacking in your martial art or your teacher, or in you.  You can decide if you’re getting ‘translatable’ skills.  By this I mean skills or techniques that make sense to you, ones that you think you could actually apply, taking into account the most likely kind of attacks you might face, as well as the most likely kinds of attackers.  This will be influenced by where you live, what kind of work you do, what you do is your spare time and the hours you keep, to name just a few.

Now that you’ve made an assessment of what your training does or doesn’t need,  we can move on to touch on winning, long term effects, and the healing process.  


  1. I have to say, JM, that I am really enjoying this series of posts.

    I've been sizing up people ever since I read about the technique in "Solo Training". It is actually a fun challenge to try to come up with 5 unique (and plausible) ways I might respond if someone made a move in my real life. It is also a microscope in which I can examine my own training.

    One question: You said that the mental aspect of training, and the readiness to be hurt and hurt others is something that has to come from within. I agree with this and have tried exploring these ideas, but perhaps you can elaborate on where you started when you began this aspect of your training?

  2. Brett,

    Happy to hear it. I like the sounds of what you're doing when you're out and about.

    As for your question, I've been giving it quite a bit of thought. I certainly did not start out at the same place I am now. Not everyone can resolve the conflict it causes internally, or be capable of doing violence, no matter how just. I would like to ponder the topic and my own path a bit more and answer in a follow up post in the near future. Thanks for the comments and the question.