Martial intent, what it really looks like

I’ve written about martial intent and martial intent the wrong way before. But here, I’d like to show you some other aspects of it.

However, this is a difficult topic to talk about as so many people have their own ideas about what martial intent actually is, these can then get in the way of looking at it differently. But also, I probably have a different take on it for a variety of reasons I won’t go into just now. What I will say is this:

When I was a young man, I read something about KGB agents in training having to go to the zoo and stare big predators in the eyes to learn what a true killer is like. Now I have no clue if the Russians actually did this or not but I did find it an interesting concept and tried it out. There could be a long blog post about those experiences  alone but again, not today. The key is this: I learned a lot about intent, fighting and myself by staring down tigers and panthers and them being totally unimpressed. But when they did pick me up on their radar, things got interesting… It sounds too woo-woo even to me and I was there so I’ll save that for another time as well (there’s a theme here…)

Anyway, I highly recommend you try it out when you have some time. If you’re lucky, you’ll experience some amazing things and gain important insights. If you can’t, here’s the next best thing, a couple videos of animals in action.

The thing about animals is this: animals are as close to “no mind” as it comes when fighting and violence is concerned, so you can take a cue or two from them. You don’t see them second-guessing themselves when they attack. Nor do they delude themselves that deadly violence isn’t happening. That’s what we humans do.


Warning: It is possible to get lost in this type of training and do some serious damage to your mind and if you believe in it, your soul. I consider some of this training part of the “dark side”, for lack of a better word. Those of you who have experience with this know what I’m talking about. Those who think I’m full of it, I wish you well.

That said, here are the videos:Make sure you play this in full HD on an HD screen. Then, look straight into the owl’s eyes, especially the last 5 seconds. You get the best results at night, with nobody there, no sound and in a dark room.


Watch especially the last jump and imagine that’s you in the water. Focus on the helplessness you feel, how nothing you can do will save you…


We can talk about “charging the threat” or “attacking the ambush” as much as we like but it’s not like we invented anything (I’m only half joking here.)  This lion gets shot and pops right back up again. He looks for the attacker and then charges in, and not to just say “Hi!” either…


Here the mindset is not “I’ll take you with me, even if I die in the process.” but it is “Even after I’m dead, I’m taking you with me! Diedieidieeeeeeee!!!” Snakes have a nervous system that lets them keep going after they die. If I recall correctly, they can still bite you hours after they’re dead.


This one is slightly different. You can watch the lion but that’s not really as important here. Watch the reporter as it suddenly dawns on him things are getting out of hand and he might actually die. Look at his face and how he’s unable to speak, let alone do much but try not to fall over and become the lion’s lunch. Try to imagine what he’s feeling.

There’s a lot to say about this topic but I’ve always found it an incredibly difficult one to handle correctly. But martial intent is also a key issue in your training so you do have to look at it sooner or later. If you’re lucky, your teacher/style covers this (in)directly from the get go and things become clearer as you progress and get more skilled. If you’re not lucky, your training turns you into a bullying asshole at best and a sociopath at worst. Which is why I prefer to stay a bit cryptic when discussing it here.


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  1. I’ve always thought that people who get into cages with predators big and tough enough to kill and eat them are missing a few screws in their brain pans. No, thank you.

  2. In my actual and in my previous school, they work with the eyes.

    In my actual school, they say “first hit is with the eyes”. I’m nowhere in this skill but I once sparred with a guys who has it, it’s quite freezing. No big red eyes, just looking at me as I was an interresting little animal wich could become a meal. Brrrrr… :)

    • I agree Anto, but that’s just the first step IMO. When you can hit the same way without “hitting wit hthe eyes first” than when you do just that, I think your comprehension of “yi” is a lot more in depth.

      • Mmmm I don’t really get your point or maybe you don’t really get mine :) They don’t hit with the eyes and then hit you (Would be stupid to tel the bad guy when you will hit) They just have a certain quality in the eyes wich hit you every times you look in it. Don’t know if I’m clear, know it’s sounds a bit wired, it has to be seen :)

        • I know exactly what you mean, Anto. But IMO, that’s just the first step. Why do you think I’m always smiling when we play? :-)

  3. Many emotions reading your post!
    I felt so sorry for the lion shooted by hunters…but at the same time I’ve felt angry cause the lion didn’t killed the damn hunter!
    I love animals and I know for shure we all have to learn from them!They kill to survive…humans (like those cowards in this vid) kill for pleasure! What a warrior soul the lion demonstrates to have! I respect his soul!R.I.P.
    Even the idiot inside the cage, he entered there thinking to be fearless will save his sorry ass…but he misunderstand a fearless behavior with an aggressive behavior standing in front of the lion in that superior pose…he really has to thanks the trainer inside the cage…he saved him for shure! Another lesson learned:if there’s a cage its for a reason! Some people still don’t understand that “fear” is a natural feeling that can save your life!

    • Daniele, the stupidity of the hunters or journalist isn’t really an issue here. Don’t let that get in the way of looking at what’s going on.

  4. Funny, of all the predators at the zoo, the one whose gaze was the most riveting to me was that of a timber wolf. Yeah, the big cats and bears could swat me dead with one paw, but the wolf’s eyes seemed to be a window to a brighter intelligence.

    The tiger, the brown bear, they looked lazy and as if they could care. The wolf looked like he had something in mind and was just trying to figure out the way to do it.

  5. recently i went to a zoo. cant say it was the larger predators that impressed me (they were all asleep!) but what did impress me were the coyotes. they gave me fleeting glimpses as they passed me, glimpses that were, IMO, full of, how can i say it – intelligence and uncanny observation – like the animal was looking through me rather than at me – was slightly unnerving. I did falconry years ago with a range of predatory birds. One of the most awesome things i found out about them was there ability to switch from relaxed to full on aggression in an instant. Raw, flailing, raking, super-quick violence in a heartbeat – whenever a perceived threat or prey was present. Never, never, underestimate wild animals! Sorry for digressing.

    • It’s exactly that ability to go from 0 to 100Mph that is one of the key things you can learn from observing animals. They just go for it.

  6. W. Russell says

    I know this is an older blog entry, but it’s fascinating. I *think* I have an inkling at what you’re talking about. I’ve looked into the eyes of predatory animals, and seen the eyes of some genuinely dangerous and/or scary people. There’s a look that says, “You are not special. You are not a higher life form. You ARE a part of the food chain. You mean NOTHING to me except as a resource. You are meat. And I eat meat…”. It’s very…grounding for me when I see and acknowledge that in an animal’s eyes. Sort of gives me some perspective on my place in the universe. Seeing that in the eyes of another human can be terrifying because you realize that they could kill you and have no more feeling about it than one would while cutting a piece of steak. I can’t say I am completely familiar with that headspace, but I’ve dipped into it before. Seems to me that it can free your mind to allow you to do what needs to be done in bad situations, but I can easily see how it could hollow you out, erode your humanity if you went there too often. Just my opinions/observations. I may be way off what you were talking about.

    • Nope, you’re not off at all. In fact, what you wrote is one way of interpreting the old Nietzsche quote of “if you stare into the abyss, the abyss stares back at you.” It’s a much longer conversation, but looking at it that way is an interesting way to start thinking about “intent.”

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