This article will point out some of the details of real violence that training rarely prepares you for.
Someone is trying to kill you. Even if the intent is not lethal, the Threat is trying to deliver as much force as he can to your body. He is not feeding you a technique. He is also not setting up a layered combination in order to create an opening. The Threat is beating you down. Unlike sparring he will not be holding back either to protect you from injury or his fists from injury or to keep his defense up. His defense is that he is doing so much damage to you so fast that you can't think beyond that. This is how an assault works.
It is not suspenseful. It is not fair. One person gets the advantage as early as possible and ruthlessly pushes that advantage until it is over.
People pretend, but you will rarely see this taught in martial arts classes. If someone swings a club at your head full power and you flub the defense in any way, one of two things happen: you get injured badly or the person manages to get control at the last second to protect you. Both are problems—severely injured students mean the school disappears. Being able to pull means that the intent and commitment wasn't there to begin with. If the intent was not there, then what the student was training against did not have the same intensity, feel or timing as the real thing. It is especially poisonous if the students and instructor honestly believe that the intent was killing and pulling was a sign of skill.
Fights are not static. Things move. People move. Bear-hugs and headlocks and all that stuff happen sometimes in a fight, but they are transitional actions. You do not get bear-hugged just to be held (except by bouncers). A Threat wraps his big arms around you from behind either to pick you up and shake you (disorienting and intended as an intimidating show of strength) or to drive you into a wall. Maybe to throw you over a balcony. If you practice technique-based defense, will they work if the Threat refuses to stand there? If he is using that headlock to slam you from wall to wall?
It takes skill and practice, but movement is not a bad thing. Movement is momentum and momentum is a gift, a gift that you can exploit.
Not everything is dangerous. This ties into discretionary time, but also the perception gap. Scary is not the same as dangerous and sometimes it takes a lot of skill to see that.
A guy grabs you by the shirt with both hands, balls up his fist in the material and starts screaming in your face . . . OH MY GOD! What do you do? What if he were screaming this:
"Alright you punk, I'm your attacker and I'm going to start by wrapping up both my hands so that I can't use either one and pulling you close so that my ears, throat, nose, knees, groin, and maybe even cervical spine are all in easy reach for you. On top of that, I'm making sure that all the witnesses around here know that I'm an ass and you didn't have any choice, since the one thing grabbing your shirt does do is keep you from leaving! Plus, the only things I can really do from here are a knee, a low kick, a head butt, or to lift you off your feet, all of which you will feel the lead-up with plenty of time! What do you have to say to that, punk?"
He's trying to be intimidating but it is not nearly as dangerous as your first instinct.
Next time you are playing "what-if games" try, "what if I do nothing?" When you are working on escapes, what happens if you don't escape? You will find several where the danger is not in the hold itself and the Threat must actually transition to something else to do injury. That transition may be the vulnerable point. Don't tire yourself out trying to get out of a safe position, even if it is uncomfortable and smells bad.
It is not a contest. You have the instincts of a puppy, especially if you have trained for a long time in something that you love. When I go to the ground with a criminal I have to fight the instinct to revert to tournament judo. I practiced for a long time, I was good at it, and I loved it, especially groundwork. It also triggers an instinct: wrestling is very much how children and puppies establish dominance and bond.
When both your instincts and your martial training are keyed for dominance, it can be very easy to forget that your primary goal is to escape or to neutralize the threat. Sifu Kevin Jackson asked me about escaping from a ground position. The threat has fallen with you in a headlock. He is down, on his side. You are in a semi-kneeling position at his back and he has your neck held tightly to his side.
Kevin went over a number of possibilities and asked what I thought. "The threat took me to the ground and has control of my neck? I'd just slam his head into the concrete. I don't want to wrestle with him."
Kevin is a good martial artist. I'll go out on a limb and say that he is an extraordinary martial artist but sometimes that bites him on the ass (and it does it to all of us) when he forgets the difference between training to win a dominance contest and training to survive. all sparring matches—weapons, duels, Mixed Martial arts, or point fighting, are dominance contests, not survival contests. But they are sure fun.
Fight to the goal. Goals differ in different situations. Generally, in self-defense you are fighting to escape. Sometimes you may need to fight to neutralize the threat if there are other helpless potential victims who would not be safe if you left. Sometimes getting enough air to yell for help is all that you can do.
What you need to do changes how you fight. Recognize this and, critical in a self-defense situation, recognize when you are reverting to your training goals. No magical ref will appear and award you a win after a three-second pin. The guy may be too unstable to surrender when you get him in your nifty armlock, and if he did surrender, how would you know it was sincere and how would you safely transition to your escape? What if he didn't surrender and you snapped the joint and he just kept fighting like nothing happened?
If the goal is to neutralize the threat, to take him out, it must be a dedicated, explosive effort. In essence, you will have to out-blitz the blitz Predator.
Fights are multi-layered. The four elements: you, the Threat(s), the environment and luck; physical and mental forces; legal and social customs; what the fight is about and what both parties think it is about.
The more broadly you can see the situation, the more options you have and the more dangers you can avoid. Being aware of the physical environment gives you tools and allows you to avoid hazards. Recognizing the legal limitations on force can both keep you out of trouble and possibly provide leverage ("Is this worth going to prison, son?").
I strongly encourage most people to keep trying to communicate during the fight. The least it will do is clue in the witnesses. This is most important legally when you are winning. Since the goal was to escape if you are winning and haven't escaped, an explanation will help clarify: "Let me go! I just want to leave! Let go of my arm so I can leave!"
Winning or losing, it can play on the Threat's social conditioning to end things, especially if it was a Status-Seeking Show or Educational Beat-Down and the audience is watching, "You win, dude, just let me go." (And this will trigger all of your monkey buttons, it will feel like surrendering or even begging and you have millennia of genetic conditioning not to do it. You will have to decide if you are more man than monkey and do the smart thing, and trade an internal shame for injury.)
Pain and damage are the natural environments of battle. In sterile training it is easy to forget what you are training for. When self-defense gets physical, it is going to hurt. People will be broken. Joints tear, blood flows. Gravel grinds into skin. In a class designed to be fun and educational, it is easy to let this simple fact be forgotten.
The above is an excerpt from Facing Violence: Preparing for the Unexpected by Rory Miller, Publication Date 2011, YMAA Publication Center, ISBN: 978-1-59439-213-9.