Learning fighting (whether in the guise of self-defense or martial arts or combatives)* isn’t that hard. It’s natural. It is something your ancestors have done, largely without any training, since before there were people or even fish.
Often training is not about how to do things or learning more techniques. It is about finding the conditioning, the subtle little leashes that keep us from doing what needs to be done. We all have years of being told how to be good people and how to get along, and that training has conditioned deep. The fact that you can say the words, “When the time comes…” doesn’t appear to correlate at all with your ability to actually act.
So I say, frequently, “You’ve spent your whole life being a good person. Don’t forget that you are also a perfectly good animal.” Here’s some of what that means:
Use sight less and touch more. Sight, especially focused sight, appears to be wired to higher brain functions. It almost cried for analysis and decisions at a cognitive level. And there is rarely time for that in a really bad situation. So use your eyes less. I’m aware this feeds into my bias as an instructor. My preferred fighting range is too close to see clearly… but still. Touch is faster reaction time than sight. When you learn to read precursor movements (shifts in center of gravity and base) you can read what the threat is about to do, a fraction of a second of precognition. Touch is harder to fool or misread than sight. And, possibly most important, life is a contact sport. Eyes are non-contact, distance sensors. You can think you know things by sight that you can only truly understand by feel.
Smell. Related, but smell goes to the deepest part of the brain. It seems (at least for me) to trigger an animalistic and predatory process when I consciously smell a threat. And I’m sure being sniffed in a brawl is a little freaky from the other end. Lastly, if you can smell, you are breathing.
Forget your training. Memory and cognition are possible the worst places to be in your head in a close-up brutal fight. Merely trust that your training has become a natural part of the way you move. A feel, not a thought. Let go. Your training should inform your movement, not dictate it.
Love moving. Grappling or dance or trail running… do something that makes you move in random, unpredictable ways and do it because it feels so nice. Not because you are supposed to. Not to please someone else or to stick to a workout plan. Because it is fun. Remember that your body is your second best toy.
Trust your instincts. Quit trying to explain them away.
Be a different species. As a rule, we hunt or butcher animals and we fight people. Slaughtering a 1200 pound steer is fast and simple, it’s just a chore. Fighting a 1200 pound steer is unlikely to end well. When you can apply that mindset to humans, you can move and act with ruthless efficiency, solving the real problem (he needs to be cuffed) and ignoring the imaginary/bullshit/social problem (he isn’t acknowledging my authority). It’s not easy. Our deepest conditioning and much of society is set up specifically to prevent people from doing this. But it is incredibly effective when you can reach this point.
Sense weakness. This is something all predators can do. You’re a predator. It is more advanced in us. Any animal can find the smallest, the weakest, the most dependent and helpless. Almost any animal can read the dangers inherent in certain terrains. Any human with a little training can know most of the vulnerable places in a human body and how to reach them. With a little practice, you can read the vulnerabilities in stance, balance and momentum with a touch. Where it gets interesting and very human is when you can learn to find the social and emotional vulnerabilities. It is the same skill.
Meet your lizard. Most people in our society have never been pushed, not to the levels of hunger or fear or desperation or rage that can completely change a personality. The lines are there. You can all imagine being hungry enough to steal food from a stranger. But there is a combination of hunger and fear and desperation where you will steal food from your mother or your children who are just as hungry. You can choose to deny it if you want and I hope that you always live in a world where you can deny it… but that line is there. It’s a deep part of who you are. Not dark or evil, just focused only on survival. It’s hard to truly meet this part. As far as I’ve gone, there is still much, much more. Many things I don’t know.
Don’t deny your lizard. Don’t deny any part of you.
Humility. Everything is meat. Part of being an animal is never forgetting that. There is always something out there that can and will eat you. This is another big truth that civilization seems designed to deny.
Enjoy. Being an animal is a very rich and intense way to live.
* But not sport. Any sport is a contest designed to test like against like and to measure the things we value as a species. So sport measures strength and speed and endurance (just like any animals trying to win a herd of females) and certain elements of thought. It does not measure and specifically forbids finding out who can go murderous quickest, who has least social conditioning, who can cheat first and hardest… All things incredibly valuable in every other type of physical conflict.