Could You Fight Back When It Matters Most?

If you really had to take another human beings life to save yours, could you?
The question is a tough one even for individuals who train for real combat. They condition and desensitize themselves through realistic training to achieve this but it can still be extremely hard to do. So what about you? Do you view yourself as a ruthless killing machine like the Terminator or Dirty Harry? Have you got what it takes?
There are many factors to consider from a moral and ethical background as well as a lawful and legal one.
But what if you were going to die if you didn’t do something? What if your children were going to be left without a mother or father? What if a mother and father were going to be robbed of a son or daughter? Have you got it in you to hurt, maim or kill another person?
As a martial artist we all practice with the idea we can call our techniques into play when we face danger of an attack. But we are not discussing some tip tap sparring or hugging each other in half guard looking for a tap out. We are talking about worst case scenario do or die situations for real combat.
Imagine the following scenarios and what you would do...
Robbers break into your home and want to rape your wife, beat your children and torture you?
You are surrounded on the way home by a bunch of thrill seeking sociopaths armed with knives baying for blood...YOURS!
You are caught up and embroiled in a terrorist motivated attack and are chosen to be made an example of. He is holding a gun to your head...
A huge steroid crazed monster is confronting you.  He is ready to rip your head off and p*ss down your neck. He is bearing down on you right now!
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Well what are you going to do? Running isn’t an option and help is not available. So you have been training for years. You have been in and out of dojos and gyms as long as you can remember. You have your black belt and a mantelpiece full of silverware. You have the title of Grandmaster and you have Dan grades in 42 different martial arts. F**k you are the b*****ks! So what techniques are you going to use? Have you got the fitness? Have you got the mind set? Have you got the minerals to take this fucker’s live if need be? You do? Are you sure? Is that back fist, flying arm bar or hip throw really going to cut it?
Let’s have a look at a few things before you answer honestly. We are no longer in the realms of recreational martial arts training. The twice a week get together on the mats won’t help you here. THIS IS NIGHTMARE REAL!!
After World War 2 the military unearthed some startling discoveries on this topic. Evidence suggested that only 15% the infantry in battle fired their weapons and only 2% aimed to kill.
How could this be? These were top men. The elite.  The toughest of the tough. So why did they fail?
Evidence suggests that the bottom line was they just didn’t want to kill another human being and couldn’t bring themselves to do it. Even in the heat of a fire fight they wouldn’t or couldn’t fire their weapon.
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But if we go back even further than the first and second world wars this evidence is still applicable. In the battle of Gettysburg in the United States, 10,000’s stuffed load after load into their rifles without ever firing it. Some rifles were found with 23 loads stuffed down the barrel. This meant a soldier in line was just imitating firing and loading instead of actually doing it. To a fellow soldier next to them it would look for the entire world as if they were firing away.
So what was happening internally to the soldiers? The answer may lie deep within our mid-brain. Within this part of the brain is a threat detecting organ named the amygdala. This organ is the source of the fight or flight mechanism. When it detects real fear or danger it will send out messages to the body and a lot of things begin to happen. The chemical adrenalin amongst others is released into the blood stream. It will speed through the body like an express train. It will bring enhanced awareness, increased strength, endurance and power, plus it will increase your pain threshold. These things are all positive. On the negative side you will experience rapid breathing, an increase in heart rate and blood pressure. Tunnel vision, auditory deafness, limb shaking, sweats, bowel loosening and many other things. Also a quarter of these men pissed or shit themselves before combat. A story goes one young soldier shouted to his sergeant in the trenches in World War 1. ’I have shit myself serge’. The sergeant turned around and replied. ‘Welcome to the war son’.
If we can’t control the fear factor we have feelings of impending doom and sheer panic. This will make us either run away or freeze and do nothing. This is what most likely happened to a great many of these soldiers in battle. So if 98% didn’t fire their weapons or shot to kill what about the 2%?
Well 1% was diagnosed as sociopaths. This meant they could kill with no emotion, guilt or conscience.
So does this mean these highly decorated men were mad?
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No. Remember there is still another 1%.They were the Alpha males. They were not prepared to be sheep but also they were not sociopaths. They were the sheep dogs. They had in them that elusive ability to switch off and do what their training required them to do.
So if we translate this to self defence skills you have got to really question the fact that if it was required for you to gouge out a eye, bite out a throat, break a neck or collapse a windpipe, could you?
Playing around at fighting techniques in a dojo or training hall is a world apart from having to severely disable or kill an attacker.
If we return to the military by the time we reach the Vietnam War, then the Falkland’s and Gulf war the percentages for killing went up to 90%.What an incredible raise. Why was this?
Firstly most of the fighting was done from long range in aircraft. So the enemy remained faceless. It proves the fact that looking a man in the eye and killing him is still an extremely hard thing to do that only a limited few can execute, no matter what Hollywood would have you believe. Unless you were a sociopath there will be an aftermath or post trauma stress. You will not wonder off into the sunset and sleep like a baby. Many combat veterans had to live with this for the rest of their lives and were supposed to just slot back into an ordinary society after experiencing the horrors and atrocities of war.
Killing a man close up with a bayonet, knife, entrenching tool or your bare hands is just not the same as dropping a plane load of bombs on a specified location. You will not see the damage inflicted close up.
So it this the only reason for the increased success rate for getting soldiers to kill?
No .It is believed that the soldiers in World wars 1 and 2 trained to shoot static bulls eye targets and this just didn’t simulate shooting a real person. As training methods advanced by the time of the Korean War and beyond soldiers were aiming at targets like human beings, moving targets and eventually mock battles and operations. Working in special kill houses and simulated urban, jungle or desert scenarios. Basically the training was as real as it could possible get. The soldiers were conditioned to operate under these extremely stressful situations thus training their mind to override and de sensitise the amygala. They understood and controlled the fear factor and the survival stress response and carried on. They became the perfect killing machine.
The military had been searching for years for the perfect soldier. They even experimented with drugs.LSD was tested but the ‘genuine pigs’ became spaced out and couldn’t function properly. It took away any aggression in them which was totally the opposite of what was needed. Then PCP was used. The soldiers were found to have unlimited energy, lack of fear, which initially was promising but the down side was lack of fear meant total recklessness also they were exhibiting traits of a sociopath with no guilt or remorse for killings. Basically they were becoming uncontrollable. So the use of drugs creased.
Hypnosis was also experimented with but again there was no significant evidence this worked. Even when subjected to watching extreme acts of violence subjects (this was coined the ‘clockwork orange’ experiments, after the film of the same name) still didn’t want to willingly kill.
Finally operant conditioning was used. A theory worked on by B.F Skinner. This theory worked on reinforced behaviour. As mentioned previously as soon military were shooting at moving lifelike targets and simulating battlefield conditions on a daily basis this changed their outlook to firing their weapons with intent.
So where does this all fit in with the world of self protection? The principles fit the same. If you are not training on a daily basis, realistic techniques against realistic attacks under realistic scenarios you will have little or no chance of using them in a live situation. No matter how much you think you will, mentally you just won’t be prepared.
If you train to fight in the ring, cage or contest mat then this is where mentally you are conditioned to fight. If you have to pull on a pair of gloves or a Gi to get into fighting mode then this is your mental stimulus. This is where you will operate best. Outside of those conditions there are no guarantees, even if you are an awesome fighter. Real world violence is unpredictable and chaotic. It can happen in a blink of an eye with no build up.
If your chosen fighting system doesn’t deal with the psychology side of violence, awareness training, threat assessment, perception, tactical positioning, line ups, fences/shields, verbal dialogue, distancing, anti weapon techniques, pre emptive and defensive tactics and techniques, it will fail on the streets.
Mental toughness is sometimes the thing that will separate the sheep from the sheep dog.
Take the horrific events of 9/11 when planes were hi jacked. I spoke with many people at that time that said that they wouldn’t have just sat there waiting to die they would have got up and tackled the knife wielding terrorists. Admirable sentiments no doubt but i have found when it really comes to the moment of truth most people fall short. It is ok to say you would have done something when you are sat in the comfort of your home or down the pub or at the gym or dojo but really picture the last time you were on a plane with your family in a happy frame of mind looking forward to a holiday in the sun.
Suddenly a guy gets up waving a knife or a gun around threatening to kill everyone. Would you be up in a moment like a Chuck Norris or a Steven Seagal character, supremely confident that if you had to take this guy down and out you could and would? Could you choke him to death, rip his windpipe out or bite his face off if needed? Could you batter and stomp him into oblivion if your life depended on it? Could you take the knife and gut him like a fish? Tapping somebody out on the mats or walking through a kata is a far cry from this scenario. Even wearing cameo trousers and army boots when you train in some of today’s ‘Reality military based systems’, doesn’t guarantee a fuck.
The uniforms change over the years from Karate gi’s to Thai shorts to ninja hoods to colourful and vastly overpriced bjj gi’s to cameo gear. We boys do like an image. But that all means fuck when the ugly face of violence rears its head when you are sharing an ice cream with your grand child or coming out of a restaurant or movie with your loved one chilled and happy. You won’t be warmed up, stretched out or in the zone then. Yes you will also feel like pissing yourself no matter how many Dan grades you have. You will probably feel more like desperate Dan. Producing your martial arts license or latest gold medal won’t matter a toss to the street predator. He is a sociopath with no remorse and no guilt. He will take you down and out by any means then stroll off to buy a kebab and then go home and sleep like a baby. Your stylised rules of engagement, martial arts dogma and sportsmanship do not exist in this animal’s world. It is all bollocks to them
We are all would be tigers in our comfort zones. Big fish in little ponds. Only an elite few really test themselves and forge a steely resolve in the fire of adversity. Most play around on the periphery hiding behind belts, titles and trophies.
As martial artists we need a reality check and really have to be honest with ourselves and what we train in.
I f we train for sport or tradition and we are happy with that then that is fine. But if you think your martial arts skills will serve to save your life in a dire emergency you really have to think about how you are training.
When it comes down to it though physical techniques is not enough, it is mental conditioning and also a battle with your morals and ethics.
Just like the soldiers who went into battle in World War 1 and 2, they thought they were trained and prepared but can up woefully short, will you?
Over the 40 plus years i have immersed myself in the combat arts i know my strengths and weaknesses and i also know my limitations. I learnt these through swallowing a lot of bitter pills, and enduring much pain and fear. I have trained, worked and associated with some of the best combat veterans, fighters and martial artists in the world. Many of the elite have never been seen in a martial arts magazine or on you tube. I would like to think a little of all of them rubbed off on me in some shape or form. But i also have to be honest with myself and not living in a mythical fantasy land of fighting. Superman and Captain America only live in the pages of comics books and the silver screen not in our heads. No one is invincible. As my old friend and Martial arts brother Jamie O’Keefe was fond of saying. ’Everybody can always find a way of doing somebody else’. Ego can be a terrible thing.
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There is nothing pleasant about violence and nobody ever wins a fight. It is hard to fight and even harder to be good at it. That is why i still train everyday perfecting my skills. I don’t personally know all the answers to the questions I have posed but I do know I have laid my ass on the line enough times in all arenas of combat to have a pretty good idea and understanding. Over the decades I have got rid of a lot of martial arts baggage and have only kept what has been tried and tested and works for me and other’s I have had the pleasure of training with who have had sheds loads of experience in the real arena. I have a big degree of confidence in what i have learnt and i can tell you there is not a ‘no touch’ knockout in sight or it’s like! So if self protection and reality combat is your so called area of expertise you better be properly trained and ready when the ‘boogie man’ comes knocking on your door. You might not get a second chance.
About the Author:
Kevin O'Hagan has been training and teaching Martial Arts for 37 years at present. He holds the rank of 7th Dan Full Master’s level in Combat Ju Jutsu. He also holds black belt ranks in Japanese Jujutsu and Karate Jutsu.  

He is a senior self protection instructor with the British Combat Association and was recently inducted into Martial arts illustrated magazine ‘Hall of fame’.

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If you are interesting in exploring the world of ‘extreme combatives’, you may want to check out Kevin’s ‘Horror show’ dvd package at
Not for the faint of heart!These discs are crammed full of the most nefarious techniques of unarmed combat.

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