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Psychological training in personal defense

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img_7344 Psychological training in personal defenseIn personal defense the technique can be useless without psychological training because the emotional state of an aggression or threat that comes at any time of your day can despite your preparation lead to block you or not put the right level of aggression or underestimation of danger.

Today, if you search the web, message boards and ads on the internet, it is full of personal defense courses that promise you in a short time to learn defense techniques in case of aggression but it is not only a matter of techniques personal defense.

Have you ever learned something extremely complex and with virtually infinite variables in a short time?.

Here, they’re promising you that! And you know the worst thing?

Without knowing you.

If you want to believe it, you’re free to do it, but do you know why they do that?.

Because fortunately the chances of you being attacked are very low and maybe even if you have this bad luck it will be a long time, you have not trained and so you forgot what you learned not thinking that maybe it is not your fault, but that absurd and useless training method based on a mix of techniques taken here and there, decontextualized and without a direct “contact” with reality.

Learning self-defense techniques is essentially useless if it is not supported by adequate psychological training.

It is not enough to train in a personal defense course to be able to face an attacker on the street.

The Rocky Mountain Combat Application Training experiment

The Martial Experiment of The Colorado-based Rocky Mountain Combat Application Training (RMCAT),despite the limitation of the test, was one of the first scientific approaches to support this thesis.

Now I want to make absolutely a premise, it does not mean that this experiment provides an absolute truth, it is not so but it still offers useful insights that are important in a conflict against an attacker and although it presents many criticalities it is still a job that I recommend to practice even in gyms with the proper protections to understand exactly what it means and not write stupid comments without having tried such tests.

Now to get back on the experiment, the dynamic of the test was to recreate some situations in which some experienced volunteers of different martial arts are taken in front of a “street beater”.

The latter wore a mask not to be recognized and his job was to proceed with insults and threats and the martialists could not do anything until the fool had attempted to attack them.

Now already from this you can understand that you start from a condition of disadvantage because you can not anticipate the aggressor, but .. it’s not quite the way they tell it because you have to do “your job”.

The results of the test were disconcerting: most volunteers could not manage the psychological tension caused by the anger, first verbal and then physical, of the masked subject.

Almost all have been overwhelmed by the street beater, failing at all to apply the principles and techniques of their martial art.

As if that weren’t enough, the volunteers weren’t novice pivellies: they were black belts, instructors and masters.

The conclusion of Rocky Mountain Combat Application Training (RMCAT):

Martial arts are not effective in personal defense.

Now consider that behind this test there is also a lot of marketing but also many points of inspiration and reflection.

The conclusion is exaggerated in the sense that it is not martial art itself but the non-habit of operating in a certain context and on different dynamics and therefore you if you practice martial arts you should test a “critical” situation.

The “masked beater of the experiment”, in addition to the mask, was barged with protections all over the body because the martialists had to be left free to be as effective as possible without limiting themselves.

So the test guys knew what they were going to face but they all had a big limit, they didn’t know when they would be attacked during the verbal argument and they couldn’t attack until the attacker left.

womensselfdefenseboston-about3-2 Psychological training in personal defense

This disadvantage is no small one,but if you do not adopt a correct defensive position it becomes difficult to withstand a furious and aggressive onslaught because you are suffering it since you can not start first.

Other criticisms of the experiment such as the weight of the aggressor, his abilities, etc. do not make sense because they are variables that you have to take into account in the street, he is a stranger who may be a jerk like an expert,but nevertheless the experiment consisted of this and if it is a self-defense experiment albeit with limitations the rules are zero.

Ps. In my training and in my method there are periodic qualification protocols where you do very provant simulations such as on punches and kicks because they serve both for you and you suffer it so as not to scare you and know how to react that when you do the aggressor to carry an attack mercilessly (attention helmet and full protections).

  • Test01 – Verbal discussion against one but you have to wait for it to attack
  • Test02 – Verbal discussion against one but you can leave whenever you want
  • Test03 – Verbal discussion against two but you have to wait for it to attack
  • Test04 – Verbal discussion against two but you can leave whenever you want
  • Test05 – 30Kg difference
  • Test06 – 3 v 1
  • Test07 – Stick against bare hand
  • Test08 – Knife or bottle against bare hand
  • Test09 – Gun threat
  • Test10 – Variable context (place, light, climate, clothing, etc.)

Ps. These are just a few aspects of testing that are needed to begin to understand some mechanisms. At first you will be wrong but every mistake is an important lesson is in a controlled environment you can make mistakes and learn from these mistakes.

Some things are inducting from this experiment:

  1. Whoever starts first has a big advantage.
  2. The psychological variable where martial arts are not ready to handle the real and aggressive insults and threats of a “man in the street” that distracts them from the real danger.
  3. Although martial arts peddle certain actions as simple, for example it is not easy to use “incorrect” blows to the genitals, eyes and throat, to be effective require important precision.

It is not enough to turn armed, learn martial art, have attended a self-defense course in order to say “I can defend myself“.

Those who say so simply have never really got into trouble and are cultivating dangerous and false security.

It’s not enough to train hard, maybe for years, to throw punches and kicks at a sack, or to do sparring with teammates in the gym.

It is not enough even to equip yourself with various weapons (legal or not) to be able to defend yourself.

Because when you face reality, maybe represented by a real street beater or an armed bandit, the scenario for which we believed we were prepared, changes totally.

The problem is not your technical skills but your psychological skills!

And so we read the cases of martial arts instructors, or at least advanced practitioners, such as black belts or the like, who in the moment of truth, perhaps in the underpass of the station, have experienced a humiliating inability to react effectively and suffer aggression.

Repeat! The problem was not their technical knowledge but their psychological preparation.


In attack historians, the performance of some armed security workers or victims of attacks with defense tools was useless:

  • Someone managed to shoot himself on the foot in the convulsive attempt to pull out the weapon.
  • Some knife bearers, or blinding spray, could not even pull the device out of their pockets, disoriented and in shock as they were.
  • Some under the effect of panic, have even forgotten to have him with him, except to remember things that have been finished…

So what happened?, why did people technically prepared to defend themselves (at least on paper) give such disappointing evidence?.

The answer is complex and lies in both the “cognitive” and the psychophysical and character aspect of the victim.

An example from a few weeks ago, during a muay thai match, one of the two fighters hit his opponent from behind in a lawful but anti-sporting way.

A spectator went up and attacked the fighter who had a decomposed reaction, surprised, afraid yet it was a fighter still full of adrenaline and who knows how to fight, yet his reaction was of surprise, submissive.

He suffered the aggressor and only the intervention of the corner and security stopped the action of the spectator.

Yet he was a prepared fighter, but he has no sudden, unsy usual and unregulated context.

Surely if it were to relapse now it would be different, but.. will not recap or very difficult.

As for the cognitive problem, most often there was no knowledge of the street fighter’s attack rituals and the surprise factor played against the victim.

In the gym, these topics are hardly addressed where before a fight we greet each other, sometimes we give each other a hand, then begins a fair duel, complete with rules and a referee that guarantees on their respect.

That is not the case on the street.

The first rule is that there are no rules and then the ritual that leads to confrontation most of the time ishidden , sneaky, sudden, quick.

michael-myers-halloween-ii-mask_side_80_1_1 Psychological training in personal defense

If you don’t know this ritual, you find yourself wondering if that’s really going to attack you, and while you’re asking, you’re getting punched in the face.

In gyms, as well as in self-defense courses, too often people train themselves to react to the “physical” aspect of aggression.

The instructor will say, “Here, he grabs you like this, you turn around and you hit with your elbow… etc.”, to give an example.

Technically it is information that you need and that must be trained, although in my training methods I do not use pre-packaged packages because what you need are skills that have to adapt to the situation and that is why there is no single technique of responding to a certain type of aggression, it can not be so because even here you have to learn to adapt to the context.

The problem is to act before you have to react and this is only possible by playing in advance, understanding on the fly what kind of opponent you are facing and how it will act.

When you’re in an attack, maybe it’s already too late, and I’ll explain why.

Unfortunately, no thug will attack you trying to give you the advantage of time to react or understand what is going to happen.

His attack will always be devious, masked, cowardly, just to surprise you.

To do this will resort to surprise and to have the surprise on his side, he will resort to deception.

For this reason a very important role is given by the reading and interpretation of the body language,the only one able to give us reliable clues about the true intentions of the other.

The inability to recognize the warning signs of an attack will cause the victim, perhaps returning from months of training in the gym, to find himself KO even before realizing that the aggression is ongoing.

Another key aspect is the substantial unpreparedness of most people in dealing with fear-related psychophysical reactions.

Living in the shelter of civil society, or at least in the presumption that it is so, has in fact reduced your habit of dealing with this primary emotion.

The result is that when we come across dangerous situations, we no longer have adequate schemes to deal with them.

Then it is normal to experience paralysis and indecision that can be disastrous when, instead, immediate and decisive reactions would be required, with an incredible level of violence or an immediate escape if possible, as animals do.

varie Psychological training in personal defense

People who fall victim to events, easily remain disoriented and blocked due to the physiological symptoms that accompany intense fear:

  • Dyspnea
  • Tremors
  • Tachycardia
  • dryness of mucous,
  • limitations of the visual garment (the so-called “tunnel effect”),
  • rigidity of movements,
  • until paralysis,
  • Etc.

Training a person to fight fear is something complicated because each of us reacts differently to different situations of danger and because each of us has a different threshold of endurance than stressful events.

There are people who panic in the face of moderate stresses, such as speaking in public, or asking a girl for the number and then seeming to react coldly to extreme risk situations.

Whether it’s recklessness or underestimating danger what matters is the correct answer that saves your life.

The biggest complication is that to learn to overcome fear the only really valid means is… feel fear over and over again, so as to decrease your sensitivity to this primary emotion.

A kind of “vaccination”, therefore, that passes through the awareness of our reactions in the face of danger.

It goes without saying that it is practically impossible to reproduce in a course of self-defense the situation of emotional stress that is generated during an assault, without causing the student to take serious risks.
Training to overcome fear is therefore one of the most difficult challenges for those involved in training people in self-defense.

Another important aspect is that related to the character and educational aspects of the person.

In this sense, the street fighter has very specific characteristics and not own them represents an unbridgeable disadvantage, when you have to fight for life.

It is useless to possess a weapon, to have the best technical training, to know how to control fear if then, at the moment of truth, you will hesitate because you do not want to hurt or repulse it and hurt it severely, to see blood splashing from your opponent’s nose, makes you regret the idea of sticking a finger in his eye to get away with it or break his arm.

Unfortunately, an effective self-defense protocol, especially when there is a large gap of forces as in women’s self-defense, provides almost exclusively for “dirty” techniques that require the use of violence, to do things that go beyond the conception of most people.

Knowing how to cultivate in the student a fierce and inhibitive aggression, the so-called ”
killer instinct”,
is the most difficult and delicate task of an instructor because it is not something physical and technical but a psychological modification and adaptation to the context that must take place in an instant once the red signal is “heard”.

Usually this type of training is given to groups and military departments.

Now it is not a question of turning mythical and sociable people into burnt murderers, but it is a question of ensuring that the student knows how to unleash his violence in a finalized way, or in a context in which his survival is at risk..

It’s about reprogramming your reaction when stimulated by certain external inputs.

varie Psychological training in personal defense

As you can guess it is a task that requires a lot of responsibility, not for everyone, always hovering between the risk of providing too bland, superficial training and that of transcending, going further with the risk of creating new and dangerous social and psychological misfits.

Now very few self-defense courses are able to provide convincing solutions to learn how to do all this, because they require common skills.

Some instructors claim to train and not train.

The difference is obvious:

  • those who train think about muscles and reflexes,
  • those who train think about situations and circumstances.

We need a mix but more unbalanced towards the second since we talk about self-defense and not sports combat.

In one case or another, almost no one thinks of the individual and his very personal way of responding to fear, his ability to make the best use of his resources or his being banned and not being able to react.

For this reason the role of the instructor becomes fundamental because he has to recognize the individual and not a class of students, because each of them has his own psychology and reaction in the face of fear, nastiness, violence, etc. and on each one it is necessary to build a personalized path.

Instructors who continue to believe they teach their techniques to:

  • hollowing out eyes,
  • castrate to treads rapists out of the shadows,
  • disarm the hands of an attacker armed with a knife (help!!!)
  • or gun disarms (help!!!),
  • Etc.

perhaps trying and saying to make their training “realistic” (or “training” according to the most convinced) flooding their students with pure adrenaline, obtained with a bloody rhythm or blows fired at full force, shouting in his face as if running the risk of staying with oxygen debt in the gym was the same as a threat of a stranger’s knife in front of the face inside the subway , or a beating in the street of two junkies, or a “real” rape…

No, it’s not the same thing and it never will be.

Panic is a serious matter, and you will never get it in a “friend” context, where everyone is ready to help you and ready to rescue you in case you succumb to “realistic” training (or training).

No one is able to reproduce in a “legal” way a context that is remotely realistic in a gym: it would take closed exit routes, no protection, a sadistic instructor who does not intervene, and one who really is on the balls who wants to make you pay or who wants your phone, basically a motivated one to hurt you if you do not do as he wants and in addition this must happen when you do not expect it in any day and anywhere (gym, bathroom, parking, etc.).

Then maybe yes, if you come out alive, all in one piece and not definitively traumatized, you can say that you have more or less understood what happens, but this is something that you can not do and means to get hurt.

Ideally, a professional instructor must be a kind of trainer who can also reinforce and train the emotional and psychological states related to combat and aggressions that are under the muscles of the student.

This is also part of self-defense training.

There are people who have a more pronounced stress reaction than others and therefore have more difficulty managing states of fear.

Some people have always lived in an overprotective environment and have not developed an adequate spirit of initiative.

It’s natural for people like that to get in trouble when the situation becomes critical, the ability to improvise and the mentality of getting away from the outside can make a difference.

Finally, especially if it is women’s self-defense or people who have chronic insecurity, who feel physically poor, there is an aspect of fragility and insecurity that makes it more difficult for certain people to assert their right to exist and to establish themselves in relationships with others.

A “realistic” workout should be oriented to these less “muscular” but no less essential aspects, if the goal is to train you to survive.


If you’re doing a self-defense course where there’s no such kind of training you risk wasting your time and money without really learning what you need.

If your goal is to increase your chances of learning to defend yourself in the event of a road rage that I repeat is not gym sparring with your friends and training partners, important psychological training is essential.

Self defence is not a groan!

Street Fight Mentality & Fight Sport


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Written by Andrea

Instructor and enthusiast of Martial Arts and Fight Sport.

- Boxing / Muay Thai / Brazilian Jiu Jitsu / Grappling / CSW / MMA.
- Self Defence / FMA / Dirty Boxing / Silat / Jeet Kune Do & Kali / Fencing Knife / Stick Fighting / Weapons / Firearms.

Street Fight Mentality & Fight Sport! State Of Love And Trust!

Other: Engineer / Professional Blogger / Bass Player / Knifemaker

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