When it comes to self-preservation there are several patterns that unfold contextually. What defines the context is what unfolds around it (or you). Is this a one-on-one altercation standing up, on the ground etc? Depending on where one finds oneself will define the pattern that emerges. In self-preservation the pattern of events in other words, defines the context within which a person must work to survive.

For the purpose of this article (and hopefully one of a series) I want to explore the pattern of a stand up fight, and how within that context one can improve the chances of not only surviving that encounter, but win it (and here winning doesn’t only mean physically beating the opponent, but views escaping safely as winning too).

In the simplest observation when faced with an assailant who has engaged you and is in the midst of attempting to physically assault you, victory is only possible if they can,

a) Some how find a way to physically damage you enough that you are unable to continue to fight or,
b) They are able to mentally defeat you, that you are no longer psychologically capable of carrying on.

As obvious as this sounds it is often overlooked in ‘self-defence’ training. The maxim here should be, “You cannot beat me, if you cannot beat me” and in order to do just that, you have to achieve one of the above (points a or b).
Lets start at the most obvious level. In order for someone to physically assault you, they have to get close enough to do so. If they cannot lay their hands on you, then they cannot hurt you. Distance management then is crucial to controlling the fight. Fights can be won backing up, and making distance, just as easily as moving towards a target. In fact I would argue, that often, someone who is trying to physically assault you, but finds that they cannot reach you to do so, will take larger risks to cross the chasm to get in on you — leaving them often vulnerable to a counter striking strategy.

Once someone can get close enough to hit you, they then need to be able to engage a part of your body that will, they hope, end the fight. Attacking someones head is by far the number one target in most physical altercations. The head is where the operating system resides — damage it, or switch it off — and the fight is often won. Of course, other targets are viable too, a kick to the groin, or legs, knees to the body etc — but arguably nothing ends a fight quicker than a knock out, and people know that. Regardless of the physical attack, if you have built the defensive capacity to ride the storm of these incoming attacks, or minimise their damage to the degree that you can continue to engage in the fight, the opponent can’t win. A caveat is important here. It’s an interesting phenomena that often (of course not always) that when someone gives you what they feel is their best shot or shots, and you are still standing, they begin to wain in their motivation to continuing the fight. Unadulterated physical aggression has a limited life span, and has a tendency to tapper off, especially in light of not having the desired effect. People have been able to survive assaults on them, because they were able to successfully weather the blows, only to then find their assailant walk off.

Here’s a good example of both the importance of riding the storm (who know’s maybe he learned CM), making distance, and the attacker essentially loosing interest once he was unable to achieve the desired result. I am sure things would have turned out very different, had the assailant knocked this guy down, he likely would have continued to kick him etc.

Outside of making space and keeping distance or having no choice but to defend, there is also the aspect of pulling an assailant in and controlling them. Clinching someone, even if it’s simply to slow down the onslaught is a viable way to deal with a physical threat to your safety. With this in mind a pattern emerges. When we are talking about a stand up fight, one-on-one, no weapons, it is clear three things can generally happen. Either there is distance between yourself and a potential threat. This can be distance where the potential altercation started out from, or you purposively created that distance to stay out of the assailants reach. That distance has to be closed in order for the assailant to get to you. This means they have to find a way to close that gap. This could take the form of some kind of long range striking as they move forward, for example a kick, a jab or cross, or they bum rush you to close that distance. Here they could strike while coming in, or not, or seek to close the distance enough to clinch themselves.

The bottom line, once an assailant is in a range that they can land strikes on you, and ones that could potentially hurt you, you have three main choices. You could find a way to immediately create distance again. This could be done by riding the storm of incoming attacks with your defence for a moment and then create distance by pushing them away (using what we call a T-BAR in CMD is a good option here). Secondly, you could ride that storm of incoming attacks, and fight from that position (what I often refer to as unattached hitting. Here the use of CM2 hand defence with mid-line strikes is very effective). Thirdly you could tie that opponent up and lessen their options for striking (using CM’s Straight Jacket Clinch system), and if you have the skills to stay there, strike out of the clinch itself (what I refer to as attached hitting). You could of course from the clinch take them down or simply push them off you (using a T-BAR action) to create space again.

I have written much thus far about b) the mental side, as this really needs to be a stand alone topic to do it service. But, it is often in the midst of surviving the physical blitz in a fight, that the mind may falter. I see this in sparring on the mat. Physically a person could likely go on, but once their mind gives up, so do they. Part of increasing your mental armour, is trusting your physical game. Knowing you can ride the storm of an incoming attacks acquired through training, is by far one of the easiest way to increase your mental kevlar. It’s equally about the quality of your thinking in the moments of the assault. Its very difficult to beat someone who refuses to be beaten. Tenaciousness is tied to purpose, and the purpose here is clear, survive at all costs.

Cleary the pattern that emerges as simple as it sounds revolves around a fluctuation of space, closing of space, and attachment (and then playing the three off each other).Understanding this pattern of events, defines the context within which you must work to survive (and train). When I coach my clients I take a two prong approach. Firstly, we work to develop the skills necessary to dominate those three aspects of the pattern. Then secondly, we train to avoid them. This second aspect is crucial, because if I find myself in an attached situation, where someone is far superior to me in the clinch, knowing how to disrupt that pattern, and get out of there is paramount. Even though this type of training has a deadly purpose, its can also be fun, and highlights the reality of interpersonal violence when not set up as a sport. Telling people to keep distance on purpose when someone is trying to hunt them down and hit them is an interesting experiment for both sides (if you do jits, and someone pulls guard, and you walk away refusing to play it, does the guard still exist)?. For one these kinds of drills show the person trying to get away how aware they need to be of their surroundings, and the subtle nuances of distance, while the person chasing quickly realises how frustrating it is if the other person refuses to engage (something completely different to sparring where both typically want to engage with each other). Training like this also enhances the mental tenacity to be able to survive these different patterns of engagement.