The Secret to Effective Self-Defense Training

What story do you tell yourself when you imagine being attacked?

We live by stories. All day long we tell stories to each other and to ourselves. When it comes to self-defense, most of us imagine or replay little movies – the stories – about specific events. Whether we’re visualizing a situation, replaying something we saw in a video, or recalling an event, there’s a story happening.

So imagine this: You walk out of a store with a bag full of groceries and head to your car. As you’re setting bags in the back seat, some dude comes up and threatens you with a knife if you don’t give him your keys.

What do you do?

A World of Pure Imagination

In any self-defense situation there’s a ton of variables that go into the mix. The context, number of people involved, intentions, weapons, experience and ability, location, terrain, distance…far too many to list.

So when we consider different situations – even the most likely scenarios we might face as everyday people – there are stories we’re telling ourselves about how those situations play out. Usually we give ourselves a pretty good outcome in the end, maybe after changing the story a bit. I mean, not many people sit around visualizing how to die a bunch of different ways, right?

No, more likely when you imagine yourself in a self-defense situation – the infinite world of “what if” – you imagine how to win. Or, at least, how you think you can win. How to beat the odds and survive, escape, or otherwise deal with whatever threat you’re facing.

But in doing this we skip the most important question. We ask things like, “What if two guys try to carjack me?” or, “What if I’m assaulted at the gas pump,” or, “What if someone pulls a knife on me?”

And we have answers, don’t we? We imagine what we could, would or should do. “If a guy pulls a knife on me, I’ll kick it out of his hand!” “If I’m being followed by a bear, I’ll take a cub hostage!”

You might think I’m being unrealistic with these examples, but the fact is every answer you come up with in your imaginary story is no more realistic than this, because it is, in fact, imaginary! That’s the definition of unrealistic! And even if you hold your imaginary story to the strictest “realism,” you are still not asking the most important question: “How do I know?”

True Stories

How do I know what my options even are? How do I know which option is best in this situation? How do I know if I will even do the thing I’ve decided to do?

Years ago a philosophy professor told a class that there is one question you should always be asking if you’re really interested in finding the truth: “why should I believe that?” And that’s the corollary to “how do I know?” Any time you tell yourself a story, you should be asking these questions.

Look, I’ve watched and run dozens of simple scenarios for self defense, and the one thing I can always count on is that no one responds the way they thought they would. It’s as true for me as it is for you, and even the most high-speed Tactical Timmy’s on the range.

The truth is, the variables in self-defense are far too many for anyone to be 100% sure how they should respond. So the challenge isn’t to try to imagine every single possible “what if.” Its not even to train hard at self-defense skills and shove as many “tools into the toolbox” as we can. In fact, that’s counter-productive!

The Secret

No, the challenge is this – and here’s the secret: the best strategy for self-defense training is not to accumulate “tools,” but to become a tool maker.

How do you do that? Well you have to f%*# around! A blacksmith doesn’t just start creating masterpieces right away. You first begin by making simple tools you need to make other tools. You fail a lot. You try things out, and you do it all repeatedly.

Now, down the road a ways, when you are suddenly faced with a situation you’ve never imagined and don’t have a tool for, you just try to make it on the fly. It’ll probably be a crude, sloppy-ass MacGyver soup-sandwich, but it’s more likely to serve you than anything else you might have in the so-called toolbox.

So how would you deal with the guy holding you at knifepoint? And more importantly, how do you know you can make that thing work? And why should you believe any of this?

You don’t, and you shouldn’t. You need to f%*# around to find out.

Light the forge.