There are two words that all of our students get very use to hearing from us at our trainings and seminars. Anytime they ask a question like "What do I do if someone does this?" Or "How should I react to someone doing that?" they generally get the same answer…That answer is…"It depends…"

Martial arts teach memorisation of techniques and a specific response to a specific attack. This is the way they have always been taught and it works well as a teaching method for martial arts. However, in a real life self defence situation, the result of training solely in this way may be disastrous, even fatal, to the martial artist.

We always say that there are two toolboxes we have available to us. There is the martial arts toolbox which includes the myriad of martial arts techniques, strategies, self defence techniques and principles, and then there is the Self Defence toolbox. The two share some common ground but are in the most part vastly different.

Both are important to the overall development of the martial artist who also requires real survival skills. Neither is "right" or "wrong", they are just different. At Protect, our sole focus in on the self defence toolbox.

In a real situation, the scenario will dictate the outcome. It is not how good your techniques are, but more so your strategy, tactical awareness and correct use of tools, coupled with the correct mental "blueprints" to prepare you for the emotional inertia created in the heat of a real life altercation.

So, why is our answer generally "It depends"? What does it depend on? It depends on the nature of the attack. It depends on your mind set in the moment, on the environment, on your situation within that environment, on the number of aggressors, on your physical wellbeing in the moment (are you sick, hurt, tired, drunk, in good condition etc). It depends on the time of day or night, on whether you are alone or not and who it is with you. It depends on whether your opponent is armed or not. It depends on whether you are armed or not. It depends on what you are wearing and what they are wearing. I could go on forever. But you get the drift I'm sure.

Each one of the above factors will require a different strategy. It is vital to be open and responsive to the scenario specifics and to have several options based on multiple possibilities. Strategic implementation is more important than any technique, as students who have attended our seminars know. There are absolutely no black and white answers to defending yourself, there are no particular techniques that work all of the time, and there is absolutely no one single strategy for every scenario. Anyone who has faced true violence will understand this.

Real violence is not about winning or losing, it is about surviving. It is vital to be able to spontaneously improvise moment to moment based on the event and the way it unfolds before you.

One of the keys to being able to survive a dangerous situation is to not fixate. Fixating solidifies your thought process and puts you in critical focus. For example here is an adaptation of an example I heard from Rich Dimitri:

Take the example of a drug crazed attacker or multiple attackers wanting to mug you for your money. So often we hear people say "give him/them your money and run". That is one possible response among many, and if that is what you are fixated upon, you are going to have a very hard day if things don't quite go the way you imagined. We need to be prepared for every possible scenario and be able to improvise in the moment. It is easy to say "give him your money and run" but what about when you take a few extra possible variables into account, such as:

1.What if you had absolutely no valuables on you?
2.What if you had a sprained ankle and couldn't run?
3.What if you were with your 4 year old child or your 70 year old grandmother when this occurred? Who else is with you?
4.What if you were tired and overworked, and maybe a little under the influence as you're on your way back from having a few drinks with some friends?
5.What's the environment like? Is it raining and slippery, snowing, light or dark, flat ground or sloping/unstable (eg staircase)? Are you standing or sitting?
6.Is your drug crazed attacker alone?
7.What kind of weapon are you being threatened with?
I could go on and on.

Each one of these factors will dictate a different strategy. Each one creates a different visual image as to what you could or would do. Never fixate on a move or technique. Never fixate on a range or style of fighting. Explore all possibilities, it is not a game, it means the difference between going home or going to hospital (or morgue).

I have heard many times that the best "move" to defend against a straight punch is to block and move to the outside. This can be a good and effective strategy against a single opponent, but throw in a friend of his standing on his outside and now this becomes a very dangerous thing to do.

Think of your mind as a filing cabinet. If you only stack one or two files in there, and then you find yourself in a violent confrontation where the files are insufficient, your mind will freeze as it has no more to look at. Stack it with multiple options and your mind will constantly search for and eventually find the best solution to the problem at hand. That is one of the things we do at our seminars, help people develop the necessary files, so if the worst happens you will have access to the files that will help you survive.

Here is an exercise to do to get you thinking about the above, grab a piece of paper and a pen…

Scenario: You're at a bar/club enjoying a good night. You go to the bar and some guy bumps into you and spills his drink all over himself and you. He gets aggressive and insulting and begins to threaten you verbally and starts to shove you…

What do you do? Before reading on, take the time to answer this question on paper.

Now let's add the following factor to the original scenario: Your drunken girlfriend/boyfriend/wife/husband is in the toilet and will be out shortly to meet you.

What do you do? (answer the question on paper)

Now let's add another element: His two friends just joined him and are just as aggressive and ready to go at it.

What do you do? (Write it down)

Yet another factor: You have had a few too many yourself and are feeling nauseous.

What do you do? (Write it down)

And one more: The bar/place where you're standing in the middle of your confrontation is jam packed with people and you barely have the room to move around in the mingling bodies.

What do you do?

Last one: The music is blaring, the strobe light is on and one of the "attackers" just gripped his beer bottle by the neck in a "clubbing" fashion and is slowly circling behind you.

What do you do?

In addition to all of the added elements, it is also important to consider where the toilet is and in which direction your girlfriend/boyfriend will be coming at you from. Also, where is the bouncer and will he be on your side or theirs? Is the floor slippery from spilled drinks (Do you have grounding?)? What are you wearing (Constricting clothing, heels, suit and tie, easily grabbed material etc?) Are you aware of others who are not involved but could easily decide to become involved?

Not so simple anymore is it?

If you've tackled each one of these scenarios on paper like I suggested you should have several different strategies as to what you would/could have done. As you will see, it doesn't matter how good you are at grappling, kicking, boxing, it doesn't matter how powerful your strikes are or how fast you think you are with your techniques…what matters is your strategy. Your tools will be used when they are called upon depending on the moment at hand.

Training in this way will prepare you for the grim realities of the street, it forms the basis of our seminars and trainings and is imperative to the overall development of the martial artist concerned about keeping themselves safe. And that is why we usually answer with "it depends".

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Author's Bio: 

Phil Thompson is co-founder of Protect Self Defence. A keynote speaker and highly regarded self-protection expert, Phil leads seminars and instructs a huge variety of students in Protect programmes all over New Zealand and Australia.

Phil has over 25 years experience in martial arts training, achieving Black Belt level or higher in multiple styles. So he knows a bit about physical self-defence techniques. But Phil's impetus with Protect goes far beyond simply memorising techniques for physical conflicts, to dealing with the causes and effects of violence in a truly holistic way.

Phil believes that beyond the physical, effective self-protection involves a variety of behavioural, emotional, psychological, ethical and legal aspects. To understand them all is to truly feel safe.

He is a member of the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association and an acknowledged expert on the pre-contact stages of violent confrontation.

He is also the sole male in New Zealand to be certified by Richard Dimitri as a Senshido instructor (2006). Senshido is a highly influential form of self-defence that uses the body's own natural rhythms and responses to create easy-to-learn instinctive techniques.

Phil has taught self protection to many thousands of people through regular seminars and training sessions.

Students include members of the general public, as well as professionals not new to violence, such as police (including special tactics units), ambulance officers, armed forces personnel and customs officials.

He also regularly teaches corporates, businesses of all sizes, schools, special needs organisations and everyday men and women concerned about their safety and the safety of their loved ones.

Phil can be contacted at