The Myth of ‘Reality’ Based Self-Defense
Through Neuroscientific research we know now that the human brain is a prediction and pattern detecting machine. The brain from this perspective desires stability, clarity, and consistency. These are characteristics that the brain views as essential to its survival. In contrast unpredictability, instability and uncertainty are seen as a threat to its survival. This answers an important question that has confounded me for some time.
Why are so many reality based systems so popular, in light of the fact that so many of these systems, fail to teach unpredictability, instability and uncertainty?
Anyone with real ‘fight’ experience knows that knowing how to deal with unpredictability, instability and uncertainty (UIU) are the essential ingredients to surviving a ‘fight’. Not only are these essential ingredients to survive that fight, these are the ingredients of all fights to begin with. In other words, no matter how much a person would like to avoid UIU, there is no way too.
If you took some time out now and went through what is passed off as ‘self-defense’ training on YouTube – what you will find is many X military based systems. Systems such as these, based on their military heritage should be well acquainted with what is required in interpersonal aggression. Yet watch carefully, and what you will see is one person attacking, who then stops attacking, stops fighting back, once the defender fires off his cool series of counter fight moves.
What’s missing here?
The realities of the fight dictate that the person you are defending yourself against will fight back. If it happens to be in a life and death situation, you can bet a million Dollars that he is going do what ever he needs to in order to survive. Training cool techniques then against an opponent who does not fight back, is not only dangerous, it is a ‘self-defense lie’.
The peddlers of these military style systems of hand to hand self-defense training are smart. Deep down inside they know that the human brain is designed to avoid unpredictability, instability and uncertainty. So they know when potential students look for self-defense training, that they will look for training that is seen to be stable, clear, and consistent. And this is exactly what these reality based self-defense instructors give them. They teach a neatly packaged curriculum of various sequences of attacks, for example a gun attack from the front or defending a knife that is held to your throat etc. All of which is neatly packaged into a curriculum that is systematized to offer the participant stability, clarity, and consistency, which in turn the human brain just loves.
The irony is, that by teaching students neatly packaged scenarios that offer the participants prediction and pattern, or said another way, that give them an illusion of a high sense of achievement certainty, is the direct opposite of the reality of the fight. The reality of interpersonal violence dictates that you will immediately lose stability, clarity, and consistency when deploying your technique against an opponent who actually fights back. And contrary to popular reality based self defense propaganda, once you have disarmed your opponent, or you remove the threat of the knife to your throat, he wont just drop down and play dead. It is a guarantee that he will fight back. Why anyone thinks that someone who has the balls to attack you in the first place is then going to be a complete walk over, and won’t be very skilled at the fight game is beyond me.
Reality based self defense instructors know this too. But here is the uneasy truth, they quickly learn that students don’t really want it. It is not profitable to teach real self-defense training. The paradox of self-defense training is that people want to learn how to defend themselves, but they don’t want their training to be unpredictable, unstable and uncertain — because this means not only hard physical work, making errors and looking like a fool when techniques don’t work — but it also likely means facing ones real fears and psychological breakdowns.
I believe this is one of the major reasons so many reality based, I “will just stick my fingers in his eyes” groups play down combat sports like mixed martial arts. The argument is that what mixed martial artists do is sport, but they on the other hand train for the street. For the ‘street’ guys to admit that mixed martial arts is the other part of the game they are sorely missing, would be to acknowledge that you just cannot train for the realities of the fight in self-defense from a purely stable, clear, and consistent position. The fact is mixed martial artists, BJJ, boxing practitioners etc al., all train for unpredictability, instability and uncertainty. Yes, the exact other part of the fight game needed to successfully defend oneself.
In my opinion to be truly ‘self-defense’ ready then, requires both stability, clarity, and consistency through working possible scenarios that one may encounter in a self-preservation situation (such as having to deal with a firearm etc), but it must be taken further (and balanced with) incorporating unpredictability, instability and uncertainty (UIU) — which is the playing ground of real fights.
Taking the above into account, I developed what I term the Combat Intelligent Athlete (CIA) program (this is the civilian version of my Combat Intelligent Soldier/Combat Intelligent Officer programs).
CIA comprises of three key training ingredients,
Combat: Here I teach students through various self-preservation scenarios, that allow them to place themselves in situations they would hopefully not typically be in. Then to embody how it feels to be in that situation, and then how to effectively respond to that situation. This is where I coach students stability, clarity, and consistency (SCC). This is important as the first stage of training to develop confidence in their technique, strategies and tactics. This is also where most reality based systems begin and end. But the truth is, it is only the beginning.
Intelligent: Expanding the ‘combat’ aspect further, Intelligence speaks to bringing the worlds of Combat (street) and Athlete (sport) together, through a training process that not only makes sense, but enhances a students ability to engage in UIU for self-preservation encounters. Further intelligence speaks to developing psychological skills to ‘survive’ a self-preservation incident.
Athlete: Here I teach students to not avoid unpredictability, instability and uncertainty (UIU), but to embrace it. This is the one thing that puts a lot of people off when it comes to REAL self-preservation training. It is far easier to pretend to be a Navy SEAL, wearing camouflage to training etc, but a whole different animal to actually put your skills to test. Here combat athletes (or what the realities guys like to call the ‘sport guys’) clearly have an upper hand on those who hide behind the deadly groin kick. They understand chaos. As such, while we may be training for self-preservation, we still want to be training with a combat athletic mindset. As such, here I coach students how to A.C.T:
Achievement Uncertainty: While drills and scenarios are fine for the beginning stages of training, they will never truly encompass the UIU of the fight. What is required is an increasing method of introducing students to UIU of interpersonal violence, where they themselves have to troubleshoot, adapt, and respond according to the changing landscape they find themselves in. We therefore train progressively to achieve this, by not constantly telling a person how and when they will be attacked. Imagine sparring, but for self-preservation, and you have the CIA approach.
Conservation of Energy: Here I teach students techniques, both physical and mental, that minimize their physical and mental energy costs in a survival performance environment. In addition understanding that a minimal outlay of physical or mental energy, allows for skills been taught and used to be applicable in most environments. In other words, complexity kills, quit literally in a self-preservation environment. What is taught should always be stripped to its absolute essentials.
Time Expediency: All training that I offer is taught with the concept of minimizing the time used. Reaction and response time or simplicity in application of technique is imperative. In addition, time kills. The longer you are in a fight for your life, the more can go wrong. As such the quicker a person can get the ‘fight’ over with, and exit to safety is the key to successfully surviving an interpersonal attack. *Of course I acknowledge that some survival situations may not be overcome quickly, as such we return to our combat athletic based prepared to ride the storm if need be.