When it comes to self-defense, survival boils down to bare-bone skills. If you’re not prepared with the necessary skills to neutralize a threat, then it doesn’t matter if you’re armed or not. You likely won’t win the day. Being prepared for a worst-case scenario that warrants the use of a weapon to fight your way out translates to sufficient training and competence to apply appropriate use of force.
In the small arms world of ballistic weapons, requisite skills start with the fundamentals. First off do you have a firearm nearby? If you do, can you access it? If so, how quickly? Once you have the weapon in your hands what is your performance capability? Have you trained to specific accuracy and speed standards and if so, then what times, distances and target difficulty are your fallback default?
If you choose to go the hand-to-hand combat route, then how are your stand-up and ground games? On the ground are you trained in Brazilian Jiujitsu (BJJ) or something comparable? If it’s standup, are you a boxer? Sufficient training in Muay Thai? Traditional or mixed martial arts? Do you compete, roll, spar, or fight in tournaments?
If you have neither the requisite ballistic nor non-ballistic combative skills, then you’re automatically disqualified from the ‘fight game’ and are not prepared to defend yourself against a real-world violent physical threat. Of course, choosing whether or not to engage a threat is always a matter of personal choice. However, should you one day need to step into the self-defense arena, then gaining the skills to survive and eliminate a threat is strongly recommended.
Those Who Train
The world, with respect to violent physical threat engagement, is divided into only two categories – those who train and those who don’t. If you don’t train, well, then not much of this will really matter to you. However, if you’ve already read down this far, then there’s a strong likelihood that you are a person who trains.
Regardless of what you may be trained in it’s a fair bet that you have achieved a measurable level of fundamental skills.
The consummate hard skills professionals such as those employed by the military, law enforcement, and protective services, (aka “the pros”) usually receive in-service training from their sponsoring agency and may include an annual qualification to ensure compliance. The further motivated of the pros also train on their own.
It is said that less than 5% of the pros train on their own time and on their own dime. Nonetheless, if you come from that type of professional background then you have been institutionally trained and, if still on the job, possibly receive sustainment training. Those of us who got out, or were never in, have only one option – if you want to keep those self-defense skills, and that is up to you to train on your own.
Training on your own without any agency requirements or standards means that you need to set your own criteria, standards, or minimum
qualification performance. Whatever that may be at least you have built in ongoing skills development or sustainment as part of your training regimen. Adherence to such a regimen takes discipline and commitment – the watchwords of those who train.
If you’re a shooter, then some days you hit everything you point your muzzle at (good days), whereas other days you couldn’t hit the broad side of a
barn (bad days). It’s not any different in the combative or defensive tactics (DT) world. Whether stand-up or ground fighting and referencing
performance, you have good days, and you have bad days.
Regardless of if you receive training from your agency or train on your own, you are working to either further develop or sustain clearly defined skillsets.
Although the good day—bad day thing happens to be a fact of life, there are a few tricks from the hard skills masters that can help tilt the scales in your favor – even on a bad day.
The Master Says
One of my masters from way back in the day, Guro Dan Inosanto (training partner of Bruce Lee for more than 13 years and conservator of the Filipino Weapon Arts), always used to say (circa 1990s) “Your baseline skills should serve even if you’re sick with the flu and can barely stand up.” What he meant by that was that it is critical to establish a solid foundation of “go-to” skills that you can perform regardless of circumstance.
An example of this recommendation is tying your shoelaces. If you had the flu or were barely awake or were having a terribly bad day, there’s a very high likelihood that you could reach down and tie your shoes. The reason why is because that fundamental skill is wired in so deeply that you not only don’t have to think about it, but you can perform it under any conditions.
The same applies to your self-defense skills. If you expect to engage in personal combat at some point, either armed or unarmed, the onus is on you to sustain a fundamental skillset that you can call upon to serve you regardless of the conditions you may be experiencing at the time, including personal injury, and performing under duress.
Tricks of the Trade
What are some tricks of the hard skills trade to layer in this bedrock of fundamental skills? The answer is of course repetitions. No big surprise
there, but the secret is not only in reps but the quality of the repetitions.
It is said that practice makes perfect, when in fact the truth is practice makes permanent. Perfect repetitions practiced over time are precisely
what develops personal performance at the core level.
Going further down the rabbit hole of skills performance, the secret ingredient is that each repetition be executed mindfully. The masters use
the term “being mindful.”
What does the master mean by being mindful? It’s simply engaging your mind. How many times have you looked at your watch, but didn’t see what time it was? How many times did you drive away from home after closing the door and miles away think ‘Did I close the door?’ The reason why is that you looked at your watch and closed that door giving it little or no conscious thought – in other words, your mind was not engaged. Your body may have performed the task autonomously, but you had already checked out mentally.
Next time you looked at your watch you engaged your mind and were able to mentally process that visual information to find what time it was. The next time you closed the door you made a mental note so that you wouldn’t need to think about it later. The secret sauce is nothing more complex than engaging your mind.
The same applies to learning and practicing techniques. Once you have a basic understanding of what it is (knowing how to do it right), then it’s on you to be there consciously, to make your physical movements deliberate by engaging your mind.
The irony of training to a practical performance level is that following many deliberate repetitions, the skill – like tying your shoes – becomes
embedded in your subconscious so deeply that you eventually never need to think about it!
Training to a functional level of proficiency is a full-circle experience. You start off learning what is ‘right’ (it works) and what is ‘wrong’ (it doesn’t work) in technical terms.
The next step is to apply that technique purposefully, carefully, deliberately, and mindfully so that it gets wired in. Next is to train with others in a contest such as sparring or rolling (non-ballistic) or holding yourself to a time-accuracy standard (ballistic) or qualification to place yourself and your technique in a more realistic and pressurized performance environment.
Success breeds both competence and confidence. There is no substitute for performance successes experienced under duress. It is the ultimate proving ground where your skills can and do hold up under pressure. It is what ensures your fundamental skill will serve you subconsciously and unconditionally on good days and bad days.