Tools and Mindset

I’m going to say some things in this week’s blog that will be unorthodox. Much of it will be foreign even to those that have worked with me for years. Much of what I will be sharing with you will be based on mistakes that we have made ourselves. Mistakes are teachers, just like the teachers we had in school. You either learn from them, or you do not. The sad reality of that relationship was made manifest in the grade you received based on your actions or inactions. If you learned and worked hard, the grade you earned could be a point of pride. If not, then… well, you failed. 

I’m going to throw out some terms here, and what I would ask you to do is to identify the one common theme among them:

  • Gun fight
  • Knife fight
  • Fist fight
  • Pillow fight

Have you found it? If not, the one common denominator linking all of these actions together is that they are all to some degree considered a contest centered on fighting. It is the action based on the intent that I am focused on, not the tool used in the action. 

For years, martial arts and self-defense schools have taught techniques designed to disarm opponents that are wielding knives, guns, sticks, and literally countless objects that can inflict pain and misery on another human being. The thought process behind this is simplistic: remove the tool and by default the threat has been removed. Simple concept, right?

Hit the pause button on that logic if you will. 

Today, our country is locked into a proverbial cage match surrounding the role of guns in our society. Many argue that they have a fundamental right to be armed, and as long as they do not harm their fellow citizens, that right is absolute. They are correct. Others will passionately argue that firearms have the ability to inflict grave wounds on large numbers of people in a grotesquely efficient manner. They are also correct. Thus, a philosophical impasse is at hand that is causing social, political, and moral rife that I am not sure can be assuaged through reasonable dialogue. 

The problem in this argument isn’t the tool. The problem is the mindset and the emotion behind the use of the tool. Before any of you that may be repulsed by firearms as a whole make attempts to have me placed on a watch list, I’d ask that you pump the brakes for a minute or two and keep reading. 

It is difficult, if not impossible, to walk through a bookstore and not find a novel in which the antagonist is a serial killer. It would be a tall order to browse the libraries of Netflix or Hulu and not find a feature film in which a serial killer is ravaging the peaceful streets of a quaint suburban neighborhood. These enigmatic members of our society have reigned in terror over the years, largely based on a misunderstanding of how they come to be who they are based on what they do. But a cursory glance at their methods is necessary to understand why the tool in a fight is simply a means to an end, and not the end itself. 

By and large, victims of serial murders die in a manner in which they are in intimate proximity to their assailant. In many cases, knives are used. In other cases, the victim is strangled, giving the monster the ability to feel the life escaping from his victim with his bare hands. Other perpetrators have used implements to bind their victims while their overarching goals are carried out. Firearms have been used during many serial murders, but it seems they are the exception. 

In these cases, fatal violence is an intimate act. This intimacy is not based on love. It is based on a variable of proximity in which the close connection to the victim can be felt, seen and heard. Strangulation as an act of execution is horrific. The expression on the face of the victim is beyond the scope of comprehension. The sounds of bones breaking coupled with the victim simply trying to breathe would make even the most hardened in terms of violence a bit squeamish. 

In a knife encounter, the same variable of proximity is present. To achieve the same end of a fatality, the aggressor must get close to the victim. In many cases, there are numerous stab wounds producing copious amounts of blood. That point must be emphasized: there will be an enormous amount of blood in cases in which stab wounds produce mortal wounds. It is a sight not to behold. 

By contrast, firearm violence is impersonal. Statistics abound, but generally speaking a trigger pull weight ranges from five to eight pounds, depending upon the weapon and any modifications. Here, there is very little effort required in terms of brute strength or ferocity required to kill or maim another human being. The firearm itself can be used simply as a tool of intimidation, as in an armed robbery. The fatal wound can be inflicted at close range, or it can be inflicted from a distance of several hundred yards. The aggressor may or may not see the horrid effects the actions taken can have on the victim. 

What we have missed in the self-defense and martial arts community is the opportunity to teach our clients that the tool is merely an avenue to a destination. That destination is the deprivation of the well-being of the target of the violent act. By focusing on the intent and the actor, we can develop more comprehensive strategies to teach people to survive and overcome the worst moments of their lives. 

By understanding that weapons are tools, pragmatic teaching methods would determine that causing the aggressor damage would deteriorate the effectiveness of the tool. We have established that in many cases, violence is intimate, in that it is inflicted at very close ranges. To defeat the problem, we must first understand the problem. That problem is a person that has ill intent and the willingness to do us harm. 

Disarming techniques admittedly look impressive. But they take the focus of off the problem, which is the person standing in front of you that does not have your best interest at heart. Is the person armed with more than one implement? Do they have compatriots at their side? By focusing on disarming the person of a tool instead of disarming the person of their ability and intent to harm you, a fatal tunnel vision has been entrenched in our teaching methods. 

So, what do we do? We develop methodologies based on sound technique to address the issue of the weapon in a violent encounter, but we must keep at the forefront the idea that the weapon is the perpetrator. Teaching a student to disarm a person that has pulled a knife on them while not knowing the assailant has another knife in their pocket is only prolonging a disaster. Focus on the person in the fight, not the tool. 

My clients have heard me say millions of times that Movement is Life. That is the first step in this process. Move. Don’t be still.

Interested in learning more? 

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6 thoughts on “Tools and Mindset”

  1. Nice read, I just passed this onto a friend who was doing a little research on that. And he actually bought me lunch since I found it for him smile So let me rephrase that: Thanks for lunch!

  2. Hi, i feel that i saw you visited my site so i came to “return the choose”.I’m trying to to find issues to improve my web site!I guess its adequate to use some of your ideas!!

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