I want to remind you first of my over-arching disclaimer to all of my discussions about self-defence. The goal of self-defence is to make yourself and those around you safe. If you can accomplish that without physical intervention, then this is always the better option. I do not recommend fighting unless there is no other option, due to the inherent risks.
For those of you who have read some of my previous articles, you will know that I persist in trying to cut through the pervasive BS that one encounters quite often in the self-defence industry. One of the most pervasive and dangerous perspectives shared by some so-called self-defence experts is that self-defence is easy (as long as you buy their 5-step DVD program, of course. Only $500 and you’ll be right, mate).

As I hope you have gathered from my previous articles, insinuating that a self-defence scenario is easy to overcome is nothing but a pile of baloney. To insinuate this is nothing short of a personal confession of gross ignorance in regards to the reality of self-defence. I would give this type of self-defence ‘expert’ a wide berth. The reality of a self-defence situation is that it cannot be accurately predicted, and the scale of the threat directed at you may vary from the threat of mild discomfort all the way up to the threat of almost certain death. It may involve defending yourself from verbal abuse in a carpark or it might involve surviving a concerted attack by a group of armed thugs with military training in the jungles of Bolivia.

Not Just Physical.

One of the over-simplifications that often comes along with the $500 5-step DVD program, is that self-defence is purely physical. “You just need ta know dis simple technique. Block ‘im ‘ere. Block ‘im dere. And hook ‘im in da nose and you’ll be ‘right, mate.”

A physical fight against another person or against a group of people is absolutely never purely physical because we are all social animals. This means that there are many levels to the fight and we cannot just rely on physical techniques. We need to understand the other levels involved and engage effectively on all levels in order to maximise our chances of survival. In a self-defence scenario there will almost always be a social component, a mental component, a psychological component and the baseline physical component. The physical component is obvious. The mental component should also be fairly obvious. If I am fighting against the odds (such as against numbers or weapon-wielders), I have to apply my mental skills and cunning to ensure that I gain a tactical and strategic advantage over my opponents in order to increase my odds of survival. Fight stupid: die stupid.

Fighting against the odds is a bit like a high-stress, adrenalin-soaked game of chess. One bad move and it’s check-mate. Or check in at the hospital if you’re lucky. In fact, therein lies a secret to superior fighting skill. Playing tactical fighting games. Today, we have various computer games, board-games and table-top role-playing games which can help to develop tactical use of resources and environment. Most ‘tough-guys’ look down on the role-playing nerds of today, when in actuality the role-playing nerds share a common feature with many warlike cultures of the past such as the Vikings: A penchant for playing games of tactical combat and strategic resource management.

The psychological and social aspects of a self-defence situation are closely linked but defined enough to discuss separately. Because of the close link between mind and body, a physical attack or injury will usually have some kind of psychological impact on the person involved. There is a reason that the first person to land a blow will generally win the fight. It’s because that first blow demoralises their opponent and sets the tone for the remainder of the fight.

One can see this dynamic occur during acts of terrorism, where terrorists make use of the psychological impact of their acts to intimidate and demoralise their victims. The reality of a terror attack is that the terrorists are almost always guaranteed to be outnumbered by their victims. If each and every one of the victims involved simultaneously decided to fight back in concert against their attackers, the terrorists wouldn’t stand a chance. The terrorists know this but use acts of terror to convince their victims that they are powerless.

Of course the threat of individual death or injury outweighs the need to act as a group to overpower the terrorists. We are too precious about ourselves these days. In the past, the needs of the tribe outweighed the needs of the individual. These days, the needs of the individual outweigh the needs of the tribe. And this has weakened us as a species. Imagine an ancient group of tribal hunters who are about to embark on a mammoth hunt to bring back food to feed the tribe for weeks except that each hunter was terrified of their own individual death or injury. Not too much hunting is likely to occur.

So what is the antidote for fear and terror in the face of an aggressor that you cannot escape and who is intent on doing you harm?

You won’t like my answer because it’s not politically correct. It’s true, though, so you’re going to get it anyway.

It’s anger.

Simple. Pure and unadulterated anger. Not just any anger, either.
Righteous Indignation. It can fill you with the will to intervene against the odds.

Note that I’m not talking about loss of control here. I’m not talking about losing your temper. “Losing temper” when applied to angry loss of control is an apt metaphor taken from blacksmithing. When steel is tempered, it is heat treated after hardening to make it tougher. Less brittle. If a steel sword is not tempered after hardening, it can be brittle enough to shatter on impact. When a steel sword loses its temper, it loses its toughness, becoming soft. Tempering is thus a process of controlled application of heat to bring out the most beneficial characteristics of the metal for use as a tool or a weapon. Losing our temper in a self-defence situation is likely to backfire on us because we lose control of our minds and can no longer apply tactics and strategy to the situation. Our minds become soft. Once again, fight stupid: die stupid.

Harness it.

We should also bear in mind that we can use similar psychological tactics that are used by our opponents to intimidate and demoralise them. By harnessing our adrenalin dump and our righteous indignation, we can become a psychological power-house. A terrifying opponent to tangle with. If we combine that with tactics and strategy, such as a shock and awe attack against particular elements of a group of attackers, we can overcome significant threats.

Not many people consider a self-defence situation to be social, but it is indeed. Consider that there are typically several levels of communication that occur before an actual physical attack. Body language, posturing and verbal interaction are often used before an attack (depending on the type of criminal activity, of course). This kind of communication is the basis for all social interaction, it is just probably not the polite kind of social intercourse that we are all familiar with. Part of my attacker’s response is often a social attack, whether it is simply cursing at me or calling me names, insinuating that I am stupid or perhaps disparaging my cultural and/or ethnic background in order to demoralise me socially. If I become socially demoralised or accept their belittlement of me, it will have a closely-tied psychological effect which will undermine my physical response. Once again, we can employ righteous indignation here to overcome the pressure of social victimisation.

There is a close link between the positive internal psycho-social pressure of righteous indignation and the rising pressure differential within the bodies of internal martial artists often call ‘Chi’ or ‘Ki’. They are very closely linked and actually reinforce each other. One fills the mind with positive pressure to overcome an external psychological or social attack. The other fills the body with positive internal pressure to overcome an external physical attack. (See my article presenting a hypothesis on the physiology of chi here)

Written by SiFu Lester Walters, head of the Chinese Martial Arts and Health Centre Australia