I was recently reading an article on self-defense in which the author was speaking of violence as if you could pick and choose the level of seriousness of the interaction, i.e., if he just wants to ‘kick your ass’ you kick his ass back, not *really* hurting him, but teaching him a lesson.
If he’s a little more serious, then so are you — and if he wants to kill you, well, that’s the only time you’re going to use certain techniques and targets like eyes, throat and so on.
“It’s the idea that you can choose to hit someone with, say, 60% of what you’ve got — and that you’ll only ever hit someone with 100% when your life depends on it.”
This idea illustrates a fantasy disconnect between ‘fighting’ and violence, one that deserves a fantasy name: I often refer to this idea as ‘dialing in your Spidey-power.’ (With many apologies to Stan Lee.)
It’s the idea that you can choose to hit someone with, say, 60% of what you’ve got — and that you’ll only ever hit someone with 100% when your life depends on it. It’s being able to look at an impending ‘fight’ and say ‘well, he’s not really serious, so I’ll dial my Spidey-power down to 50%’ and then sock him hard, but not TOO hard, because, after all, you don’t want to kill him, right?
Here’s the problem: holding back can get YOU killed. There are many ways to hold back:
- You can wait and see to try and suss out what his intentions are,
- You can make certain targets ‘off limits’ because wrecking them is awful (you’ll never hear me say otherwise) — like the eyes or breaking a knee, both permanent, crippling disabilities, and/or
- You can ‘go easy’ on him by not striking as hard as you can.
Any one of these leads directly to reduced effectiveness, poor results, and in the worst case, can get you killed.
The idea that you can suss out his intentions is a fantastical delusion. If you don’t have psychic powers (and my guess is… wait for it… you don’t) or can know the evil that lurks in the hearts of men like the Shadow does, then you’re screwed. You’ll know he wants to kill you because, well, he’s doing it. That is not the time to find out. In fact, it’s never a good time to find out, right?
Making targets off limits ahead of time (“I’ll never take the eyes”) will give you a hesitating hiccup if your next — and only — opportunity is that target. You will stop. And try to get restarted. If you’re lucky, it means nothing. If you’re unlucky, the opportunity is gone and you just got shot/stabbed/whatever (perhaps again) and you just better hope he got it wrong.
You always want to strike the man as hard as you can.
Always — as hard as you can. ‘Holding back’ reduces the chance of injury. Now we’re into the realm of slapping each other around, pissing people off, and delivering non-specific ‘light’ trauma that is neither a persistent injury nor spinal reflex inducing. It’s wasted motion that let’s him know it’s on.
The author did believe, however, that in a real worst-case scenario a magical transformation would occur — that even though you’d been neutering and watering-down your training by waiting, making targets off-limits and slapping at them you could suddenly rise to the occasion of your impending murder by crushing the throat or tearing out an eye with full force and effort.
That’s a neat idea, but it flies in the face of ‘you do what you train.’
So, to that point, how does the way we train serve you? It would seem, on the surface, that we ONLY train for the worst-case scenario, that to use what you know in any other situation would be like using dynamite as a can opener.
Let’s put it this way: the ‘worst-case scenario’ encompasses and includes all other possible scenarios; going in purely to cause serious injury, put the man down and then pile it on (i.e., start kicking a ‘helpless’ man on the ground) covers, handles and takes care of anything and everything he may have or have wanted to do to you.
But the real beauty is that you can stop at any time.
You’ll typically do this the moment you recognize that he’s non-functional.
Let’s say you start out by breaking his jaw at the TMJ. You get the minimum expected reaction — he turns slightly, somehow keeps his feet. You come back with a shot to the groin and get a HUGE reaction, he goes down face-first and tries to curl up in a fetal position. You break his ribs and then strike to the side of his neck, knocking him unconscious. At this point you recognize that he is non-functional (to your satisfaction) and stop.
(Notice that I didn’t mention any techniques or tools — that’s because they don’t matter. Injuries matter.)
This sequence could have been different at each node of injury — you break his jaw and he spins around three times and lays down, out cold; you stop when he goes fetal after the groin strike; you stop after breaking the ribs because as far as you’re concerned, your read on him is ‘done.’
You also know how to carry it to a more final conclusion with a stomp to the neck, a neck break, a stomp to the throat, etc. But always as an informed choice — not out of desperation, and not after having been trained that it is ‘wrong’ or morally less-than.
You also know how to start right off with throat-eyes-neck break, but again, as a conscious choice. If killing is what will see you through, you will kill him. If killing is not appropriate, you can still operate because you know where the line is.
All violence is the same
This is because you are trained in the totality of violence, understanding it for what it is — a single-use tool that does not have an intensity dial on it. You can’t make guns shoot ‘nice.’ And what a bullet does is the purest expression of everything we’re ever talking about. All violence is the same.
So what does this mean for you?
First and foremost it means you understand that violence is not a plaything — you won’t goof off with it any more than you would with a loaded firearm. This is healthy. It means you won’t get sucked into stupid shenanigans (antisocial) thinking you can use what you know without any negative repercussions. It means you’re going to be smarter about when to pull it out and use it. This is going to save you tons of wear and tear, not to mention legal troubles.
It means that when you do use it, you’re going to use it the only way you can be sure it works — with no artificial social governors restricting what you can and can’t do. You’ll strike him as hard as you can to cause injury. And you’ll take full advantage of that injury, replicating it into non-functionality.
If we view this through a social lens it is savage, brutal, dirty, unfair and very probably illegal somewhere. This was the essential thesis of the self-defense author.
But the question you have to ask yourself is are you going to bet your life the other guy is playing by the rules?
If he is, well, then you’re a jerk, aren’t you?
If he isn’t, you’re dead.
The moral of the story is: screw around with violence the same way you’d screw around with a firearm — don’t.