Self-defense, ingraining techniques and having a mission

Just the other day, I received an email frrm a client of mine I hadn’t seen in a while. He reacted to my “8 self-defense tips for men” article and after receiving his permission, I wanted to share his story with you.  I removed the names to respect everybody’s privacy but here’s what he wrote:


Hi Wim,

I just read your latest post “8 self-defense tips for men” and I really felt the need to make two comments about this post:

1. Keep up the good work

2. If, at one point, you have some time for this, I really think that you should delve even deeper into your last point. It’s an incredibly important one.

As I told you some months ago, the fact that I am still breathing is a kind of miracle. After a car crash on highway E411, each and every person who saw what was left of the car requested confirmation that this was indeed the car I was driving on E411.

The truth is: because I was hit on the right side of the car by a 13 tons truck, rebounded on the concrete wall dividing the highway towards the rear of the same truck and rebounded again in a spin which eventually sent me in the concrete wall for good (sounds like a bad action movie but all true) I had “time to think” (you know what I mean!).

My actual thinking was divided in two distinct parts:

I first felt a kind of relief. As you know, I was at the lowest point in my life. I just thought, for a second, “what the fuck, let’s end this shitty life of mine!”

But, as you also know, at that time I was fighting like hell in order to get equal custody of my son. The most beautiful human being I have met in my life (a fight I won, by the way). And, suddenly, “IT” exploded into my mind: a burst of anger beyond anything I could imagine when I realized that I would leave him behind all alone.

I use the word “exploded” because it’s exactly that. My conscious mind vanished and was replaced by … something. A something which tapped into my (small) “self-defense databank” and selected that left hand guard that my boxing trainer “slapped” into my brain/nerves/body and your “basic” self-defense stance (high pointing left elbow and open right palm at chin level) that I was practicing 500 times a week in the preceding months.

When I woke up in the ambulance, one of the first thing they asked was about my martial arts “background” because of the position I was found in when they arrived at the scene of the accident. That question made sense: without my boxing trainer and you, I would probably have been unable to come up with a life saving move. Still, and it shows how incredibly important your last point is, what saved my life that day was more than everything else (except luck) my sticking to my mission/obsession: being there for my son.

By stressing that point you’re offering people a treasure. My experience and the part you played in that experience give me absolute legitimacy to tell you this: your teachings on the “mission” approach are a gold mine. Keep digging! :-)

Warmest regards


I’m always humbled and grateful when I receive mails and phone calls like this. It is one of the things that keeps me motivated to train people and write: the chance to make a fundamental difference in somebody’s life.

There are a couple of things I’d like to point out about this case here:

  • First I want to congratulate him on getting out of that accident in one piece. I know that highway well and it wouldn’t be the first time somebody loses his life there. So I’m extremely glad that he survived that horrible crash. It could have ended a lot differently.
  • If I can take credit for teaching him the technical part of that basic self-defense stance, I cannot take credit for the reason it worked for him during the crash: he did the work to ingrain it. Now granted, we did lots of explicit and implicit drills to ingrain this into his mind but the critical part is that he took my advice: when I suggested he practice every day, he did so for months on end. So very few people do that, yet I believe it is absolutely necessary to make it work in a real-life scenario where you only have a fraction of a second to act.
  • I also can’t take credit for the “have a mission” part. I’d already been teaching something similar for a long time when a friend of mine who is an operator in a very specific environment said it best “Know what your mission is. Train for the mission and not something else. And don’t abandon the mission.” In his job, if he abandons the mission, lots of people die so understanding the need to stick to it has a very specific meaning for him. All I did was translate that into a self-defense context. What is your personal mission? As a civilian, probably something like mine: “Every day when I walk out the door, my mission is to return home to my loved ones, safe and sound, and enjoy my life.” That’s it. Anything I do that goes against that goal is counter-productive to my mission. So I don’t do it, no matter how much I want to. This takes practice, yes. But it’s worth it.
  • The most powerful personal mission statements you can have involve others. In this case, it was a raging desire to survive the crash to be there for his son that saved my client. This isn’t uncommon. People often refuse to die because it would hurt somebody else, even if they don’t believe that their own life is worth saving. That’s why I believe it is important to include your loved ones in your mission, so you fight to survive not only for yourself but for them too. It’s a powerful motivator.
  • I believe it is a mistake to only view your mission as relevant when you are in a life-and-death situation. Of course it applies there but it also applies to everything else. By viewing it in the larger context of your life, you can avoid ending up in such a situation to begin with. Like not getting completely wasted in a bar where you don’t know anybody but instead doing so at home or with friends you can trust. Or giving somebody who bumps into you a piece of your mind but instead apologizing and walking on, even if it wasn’t your fault. And so on. Like I said before, violence is unpredictable and chaotic. It doesn’t take much to get in over your head. The best way to stop a rockslide is to not set that first little pebble in motion.

I hope you can also find something worthwhile for your own life out of this experience my client shared with me.

Be safe.

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  1. Wonderful story and the benefits of training which extend beyond confrontations between people! :-)

  2. Thanks for sharing Wim!

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