Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Warrior Mindset

Brett over at kyokushin blog left the following comment on one of my posts on Post Violence - Surviving the Aftermath, Part I,  23 and 4.

He wrote "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?"

So how does one prepare themselves mentally to be hurt, or to hurt others, when confronted with unavoidable violence?

This is not an easy question to answer.  It is different for everyone.  It is a form of mental gymnastics in many ways.  

First – How do you prepare yourself to be hurt?

The first thing you need to recognize is that you will likely be hurt or injured to some degree during a violent encounter.  It is possible you’ll come out unscathed, but if you don’t prep yourself for the likelihood of being hurt, the situation could be disastrous for you.

Here’s one of the strategies I recommend:

  • Train with contact.  

Safety is paramount in training, but pain and contact are important parts of effective preparation.  It will be challenging to deal with pain and injury if you’ve never been hit.  

There is a natural degree of shock that most people experience when they get hit/hurt.  Training to fight through this, or not to freeze when it happens, is extremely important.  I am by no means recommending that you beat each other up during training, but simply playing tag or no contact training (depending on your art) is largely ineffective for preparing for pain/injury. 

I think it was Mike Tyson that said “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth”.  Perhaps not the most eloquent saying, but he makes a good point.  

You can further enhance training with contact with physical conditioning.  Breath control, keeping your core tight and resistance training can help greatly. 

My own Sensei also assists me with the Shinai stick…anyone who’s met one of these little babies will know what I’m talking about…

For those who don’t know what this is, it’s a training stick, or sword, often used in Kendo training.  In our dojo, it is often used to test our stances, focus and balance.  How?  When doing stance work or movement drills requiring total body alignment/muscle tightening, Sensei will strike us with the shinai stick, usually in the stomach, legs, or rump.  It's not meant to injure, but if you’re not paying attention, it really smarts.  It’s not a solid stick, by the way, but still quite effective.  I’ve included a picture of a shinai for your reference. 

My Sensei often half jokes that if you get hit harder in training then you would in the street, you’ll think “Is that it?” if a real attack occurs.  

* Please note that building up to this level should occur slowly over time.  I do not recommend going full out on a new student, or ones that do not have a great deal of confidence at their level of training.  

Getting used to pain, even to a lesser degree than you might receive on the street, will allow you to continue fighting, or to react faster if an attack occurs.  Your brain won’t have to take the time to figure out what this new sensation is.  As covered in previous articles, your brain will search for a time you have experienced the same, or a similar situation, before you will physically react to it.  The faster it finds something, the faster you react/respond. 

In other words, the faster your brain says “Been there, done that”, the faster, and better, you’ll respond.

Beyond just contact, using pain as a training tool is also important.  The reason I mention pain separately (since getting hit hurts too) is mainly focused on martial arts that utilize joint locks, chokes, controls, breaks etc.  It is very important to take a technique to a point where your training partner needs to tap or submit to avoid injury.  This benefits both parties.  For the person applying the technique – they learn where the break/injury will occur (preparing to commit violence).  It allows the person receiving the technique to experience pain (preparing to receive violence), and to be able to differentiate between something that just hurts and something that will cause injury.  

If you know your arm is about to break in a real encounter, you can either steel yourself to it (minimizing shock temporarily) or you can adjust/increase the severity of your response accordingly.

That’s on the physical training side of things.  In the next part, I’ll discuss the mental training and some strategies you may wish to use for this.
Train safely,



  1. Nice article, JM. You know, this article reminds me of one I read on a men's issues website in which the author describes how he "trained in martial arts for years" but that his training never prepared him for being punched in the ring.

    Perhaps his training was decades ago, but he also goes to state that in his style, they never sparred at more than half speed.

    Sorry, but half speed isn't good enough if you want to handle really being hit!

  2. Thanks Brett.

    Sparring is an interesting topic in itself. While it can be a valuable addition to training for many reasons, it can also be overused if you 'cement in' rules-based thinking during training. Sparring is great for timing, coordination and fitness, but it is not real fighting and does not resemble the dynamics of real street violence. So it's another tool to use, but only one of many. Part II is coming shortly.