When a person has been assaulted, they often say about the incident, “I tried to fight”, and indeed they did try. But often they were not fighting, they were struggling. There is a great difference, and that difference is primarily mental. Sadly, it is often also the difference between victory and defeat - in a situation where victory means only survival and defeat means death, rape, or permanent injury, the stakes are very high.
To struggle is to resist. To struggle is to actively respond to the actions of the attacker - but you are only responding. We can see this most readily in class in bear hugs from behind with the arms caught. The defender bases out, wiggles fiercely, grunts, exhausts himself and wonders why the technique “doesn’t work”. His frustration mounts.
What must change is the defender’s mental attitude. He must go from “The attack is on, I must respond and defend myself” to “HOW DARE YOU TOUCH ME I WILL DESTROY YOU”. For many new students this mental switch can be a tremendous challenge.
To fight is to attack. We do not respond to the actions of the attacker, we make him respond to ours. We strike relentlessly until the threat is neutralized, which means not only that they are no longer attacking, but that they are no longer willing to and/or capable of attack. This could be something as simple as delivering a quick groin strike and running away, if there is a safe place to run to. It could also mean something more.
We can see this again in bear hug from behind with the arms caught: the fighting student bases and spaces aggressively and starts shooting elbows back and fists forward like an enraged beast, stomping and kicking back with his feet as much as maintaining his base will allow, and as soon as the arms around him have loosened, he whirls around and furiously attacks the attacker.
This is the nature of self defense: taking control of the situation and keeping that control. As I say in class, it’s not over ‘til I say its over.
How can you start to train yourself mentally to move from one who struggles to one who fights against an attacker? Try these tactics:
- Learn to set boundaries in your daily life. Practicing saying “no” and sticking to it, without excuses or apologies, will give you more confidence on the mat. Become accustomed to standing your ground in small matters, and the big ones will be conquered more easily.
2. In class, choose a partner who likes to go just a little bit harder than you do. Just a little bit. This will give you a higher standard to strive for, and give you the freedom to strike a little harder than you’re accustomed to.
3. If necessary, tell your partner that you have a hard time hitting aggressively and you’re trying to overcome that roadblock. Most people want to be helpful, and will happily encourage you and guide you.
4. If you still find yourself holding back, find someone much larger than you to hold the pad for combatives or attack you during self defense. Then hit!
5. Learn to objectively assess a situation for the level of danger it presents. This will be the subject of another blog entry, but until then I strongly recommend you read the book The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker.
Understand that being aggressive with your combatives doesn't mean you will become an aggressive or offensive person off the mat, unless you make the choice to do so. Working on expanding the limits of your capabilities in class, however, will affect the rest of your life in a very positive way. Learn when to exhibit control and when to go all out, and you will be surprised at what you can accomplish!