The realization that changed my self-defense training forever

A long time ago, I had a paradigm shift that changed my martial arts and self-defense training forever. To explain this correctly, I need to give you a little bit of background information:

Many years ago, I started reading the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett. Though these books take place in a fantasy world, the stories are deeply rooted in our own. If you haven’t read them, go ahead and give them a try. They’re tons of fun. Here’s the reason why I bring this up:

Mr. Pratchett wrote a series of accompanying books called “Science of the Discworld“. These books alternate a story set in the Discworld universe with chapters explaining how science works. In one of these books, he mentions “emergent dynamic systems” and “complex systems”. These concepts are complicated and hard to explain quickly, but I’ll post some resources at the end if you want more in-depth information.

For a layman’s explanation, you can view it like this:

Complex systems examine how the multiple components of a system interact with each other and cause the system to behave a certain way, but also how the system interacts and forms relationships with its environment.

The “emergent” part means that complex systems and patterns are formed out of relatively simple interactions.

When you combine these two, it means you can look at a system and create laws and theories of what you see happening and these may be true.

However, you cannot recreate an outcome from these laws and theories alone.

The specific elements involved and their interactions can give rise to radically new dynamics and behavior, completely unpredictable from previous occurrences. Or put differently, new patterns (and therefor laws and rules) become apparent as the system keeps going, instead of sticking to the previously established rules.

My paradigm shift was viewing fighting and violence as an emergent dynamic system. Here’s why:

We all form a theoretical model of violence when we train for it and after experiencing it. The problems start when we believe our model is the only possible reality. As human beings, that is exactly what we are wired to do, because violence affects us on such a deep level, it creates its own truth. We can easily convince ourselves that our model is universally true, like for instance gravity: we know it’s real, we experience it 24/7 and know that if we drop something, it will fall.  We accept the laws of physics as a given.

The issue is that the laws of physics alone aren’t enough to map out violence, let alone predict it or give your model the right structure to handle it. This brings us to emergent dynamic systems.

More on models later, but first, let’s look at how this works?

How does this work in Combat Sports?

Picture an MMA or boxing match:

  • You know the rules and allowed techniques upfront.
  • You know the strengths and weaknesses of both fighters
  • You know their past performances.
  • You can even do a statistical analysis of all these factors.

Yet despite all that, you can never predict with 100% accuracy who will win.

Because differences in seemingly insignificant elements or unexpected developments can alter the outcome completely: [Read more…]

Podcast Episode 56: Martial arts and self-defense training for the older and elderly

A new year, a new podcast episode. I give a few updates in this one and then answer Brian’s question on martial arts and self-defense training for the older and elderly. We all get old, but that doesn’t mean you have to go gently into that good night. So I’ll give you my thoughts on how to train when you’re no longer filled with the strength of youth. Enjoy!

The information mentioned in this episode:

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Training to take a life

This article was originally published in my Patreon Newsletter a long time ago. The topic of training to take a life came up recently in my Facebook group and it made me think of what I learned from one of my informal teachers. One of the most important lessons he ever taught me was this:

“One needs embrace neither hatred nor anger to identify and kill an enemy.”

Slugg

Adhering to this concept has many implications. It changes how you train and act, but also how you view the world. I won’t cover everything, but some things stand out right away. In the Facebook group, we talked about the importance of including mercy in your training as well. Not every fight is to the death and training as if it is has a cost attached to it should you ever use your training to take a life. That’s what I will talk about below.

Here goes:

 

Training to take a life? You serve them.

I posted this quote on my Patreon page about a year ago.  A friend of mine wrote it in an email to me. He passed away last year, and I still miss him dearly.

In that post, I wrote “Hatred and anger do not serve you, you serve them” and I stand by those words. It dawned on me that I never really explained them, so here goes.

First, some more about his background. He was one of the smartest people I have ever known, a true Renaissance man. He led an incredible and varied life, some of it you wouldn’t believe me if I told you. I am not gullible and obviously verified some of what he told me; it checks out. I have no reason to believe he ever lied to me, on the contrary. My point is that his knowledge and wisdom came from surviving extremely violent situations not once, but on a routine basis. That kind of thing gives you a very different perspective on life than most people have.

He spent several decades in the military and fought in three wars. He was involved in black ops and was on the ground during certain conflicts you learn about in the history books. Though you couldn’t see it in his demeanor, he was a fierce man. To give you an idea: when he came out of his SERE training, the first thing he said was “This was great. Let’s do it again.” and went back for a second time.

He saw combat and knew what it was to take a life. He also knew the consequences of doing so. That was one of the things he taught me; what it truly means to take somebody’s life by force. I don’t often write about this because too many keyboard warriors talk tough about this subject already. I don’t want to get dragged into discussions with those guys if I can help it so usually, I reserve certain topics for in-person conversations.

Training to take a life

I stayed at his house over ten years ago and wanted a picture of us and the dogs altogether, just for me. He agreed and said the picture needed something more. So he went away and when he came back, he handed me the two guns with a smile on his face. This picture was taken right after. I have blurred his face out of respect for his wife and family so they can remain anonymous too.

 

Death is final, living with taking a life too.

As to the quote, it is one of the key lessons Slugg taught me and this for a variety of reasons:

First, because it is the hallmark of the professional, which is what my friend was most of all. For the professional, killing is a tool in the toolbox. It is not to be celebrated or enjoyed, nor avoided at all cost. Sometimes, it is what needs to be done and then you do so with efficiency. Hate and anger have no place in that mindset. They only get in the way.

Dehumanization training is often a part of the preparation for military (and other violent) conflicts. More insights about that here. Though stripping the enemy of his humanity works, it is not the end-stage in the development of the professional. There is a mindset beyond it, which I described above: taking the enemy’s life is a “mechanical” act, for lack of a better term. It doesn’t require emotional investment. We could argue whether cultivating this ability is a good or a bad thing for the individual soldier, but that’s beyond the scope of this article. The point stands:

There is more than one way to train somebody to take a life.

Second, though hate and anger can certainly drive a person to take another’s life, they also cloud your judgment. This impairs the decision-making process and limits tactical thinking. Neither is a good thing when it comes to surviving violent situations where lethal force is on the table. If you need to use emotions to whip yourself into a state where you can kill, the person dying might just be you. Because you can be sure that your opponent will do all he can to exploit any mistake you make as you get carried away by them…

Finally, all the reasons why you decide to take a life need to make sense when you are no longer in danger. Because from that point on, you have a lifetime to relive your actions and second-guess your motivations and decisions.

Was it really the only option to kill that man? Really? Was there nothing else you could have done?

What about the events that led up to it? Did you drop the ball there? Was there something you messed up or neglected to do that put you on the path of leaving you no other option but to kill?

The questions you’ll have to face are endless and they can haunt you to the point of breaking your spirit.

Granted, not everybody suffers these doubts to the same degree and some don’t suffer them at all. But a whole lot of people do. The problem is: you’ll only know in which category you fall once it’s too late to change anything about it. You better be damned sure of how justified you are before you pull that trigger. Because that justification needs to stand the test of time and anger or hate very often don’t cut it in the long run. Also bear in mind: I haven’t even touched on the legal consequences of your actions…

 

Training to take a life? Think it through before you need your training.

All this is one of the many reasons why I advocate avoidance and de-escalation when it comes to conflict in general and in particular for situations leading to lethal use of force.

Training to take life changes you.

Doing it changes you even more.

Either way, you might not like what you become.

Or be able to live with it.

Podcast episode 22: Interview with paramedic Doug Wittrock on handling injuries suffered in training or street fights

Whatever martial art or self-defense system you train in, eventually you are faced with injuries. Either you suffer one or you have to help somebody else. In a street-fight or a self-defense situation, you or a friend or loved one can get seriously injured too. What do you do then? What should you do before the ambulance arrives or before you can get to a hospital?

In this episode, paramedic Doug Wittrock covers the most common injuries that result from physical violence and explains the best practices on how to handle them.

Enjoy!

Podcast episode 22 - Interview with paramedic Doug Wittrock on handling injuries suffered in training or street fights

Doug Wittrock

Show notes:

1. Intro:

2. Training injuries:

3. Self-defense and street fight injuries:

4.  Doug’s photography site:

  • www.bokehimages.com Use promocode PODCAST50 and get 50% off on anything you buy, including merchandise.

 

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