What can animals teach us about self defense?

Kangaroos Fighting

That’s actually not a terrible study of a palm strike …

In this post you’ll learn how I test some ideas, hypotheses, and models of violence without danger, thanks to the folks at Nat Geo.  Then you’ll learn how to avoid “freezing” and instead ensure you can actually Fight out of an ambush.

Commence Mini-Rant:

A lot of styles go the wrong direction with animal fights and think we should emulate animals all the way down to using techniques like they do.  I’m looking at you Tiger Style Kung Fu.  This is evidently news to them but: we don’t have claws.

That doesn’t mean animal fights are worthless though.  You can notice things in common with the animals–like a typical hold used during wrestling–grab the wrist with one hand and the elbow with your other hand.  Happened to see that same hold used by a jaguar cub trying to kill a wild dog.  Not because the wrestlers emulate the jaguar, but because THATS WHAT WORKS.  No other reason.

The most useful aspect for self defense is to pull out models of combat and violence.  We can easily see group fights where the defender is entirely outnumbered.  More than anything else, we can see how deadly effective surprise is. Navy SEALs teach us that we need Speed, Surprise, and Aggression to win (although they call aggression “controlled violence of action”).  Naturally they have a very good model of violence.  Check out this video (it’s 1min 20s).

Now think of the Speed Surprise and Aggression the Jaguar used.  The caiman had no chance.  For the most part, in most of our lives, we don’t have to worry about this.  But if you’ve ever been mugged, then you know what it is like to be the caiman.  An experienced criminal will set an ambush for you.  It’ll be a fight on his terms, where he chooses, and you’ll be just like the caiman.

A second note on pressure points too, just due to sheer experience (it’s not like he can study anatomy) that Jaguar knows exactly where to bite to sever the spinal cord.  We just saw a perfect kill.


Now, right here, a great weakness in most martial arts systems is revealed… very few self defense approaches teach you how to deal with surprise.  But this is exactly where they should spend a majority of their time because dealing with surprise is the hardest thing to do during real combat.  

We have several preset reactions to fear and stress.  Yes there is Fight or Flight, for some reason I just don’t understand, NO ONE seems to talk about Freezing.

This doesn’t fit for everyone, but for a majority of people (and by definition, probably you and, I know for a fact, me) freeze is the response to a real encounter with violence.  In fact, this response happens about the first 2-3 times unless you have the right training.  And then what is fun is a slight deviation from your training that may cause yet another freeze!(also happened to me…)  As the above and any number of mugging videos show, freezing isn’t a choice.  Hell even Flight from a good ambush isn’t a real choice, like we see with the Caiman.  But fighting is damn difficult, even with a good training program.

Look into adrenal response to see what happens.  It ain’t fun.

How to control your heart rate

If you’re into gunfighting at all, you know about Jeff Cooper’s color code system to figure out where your head’s at during a combat scenario.  Naturally, this also helps quell the Freeze response (emergency response psychology tells us that if we have a label for what is happening, and an idea of what will happen, we handle it much better than if things that we don’t understand are happening).  Later on down the road, combat researchers like Lt. Col. Dave Grossman and Bruce K Siddle added their own bits to it and we end up with a complete color model that takes into account your heart rate and behaviors and spits out your combat effectiveness.

The simple idea is to avoid Combat failure (freeze would be a combat failure outcome, in case you were wondering).  If you’re keen to learn more about the color model, check out this link for a lengthy, but amazingly useful primer on combat response:Managing Stress Arousal for Optimal Performance: A Guide to the Warrior Color Code

Anyway, a business mentor of mine used to say “breathe.  As you go through your life you’ll come into conflicts and disagreements with colleagues, just remember to take a breathe every time.”  While I don’t think he was trying to prepare me to handle violence, the advice fits beautifully.

Breath.  It’s the best thing you can do, during a fight, during an argument, during a debate….  If you’re familiar with it, meditation breathing is what I’m talking about.  This allows you to control your heart rate and stay in the optimal performance stage during combat.  

If you don’t know meditation breathing than the stress arousal link above calls it “tactical breathing” and it’s about midway down the page.

Animal fights give us a lot.  But the best thing is a place to safely test our theories, our models, and to draw new insights from places we could never go ourselves (because in a life or death fight–someone isn’t going home).  The animal kingdom and all the documentarians out there have much to teach us, if you know how to look.

Thanks for reading.

Enaon Ni Wo (stay alive)

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