Received Wisdom

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This post is intended to be an ongoing record of some of my thoughts on Received Wisdom, and some observations of my own. I hope to continue to update them as I think of more. They are not categorized beyond “Training” and “Experience” right now. Please comment below as I hope these ideas spur discussion.  – IHW



Fighting, whether it’s competition or combative, must be trained versus an opposing will. Sparring, grappling, opposed strategies and tactics, force on force training etc. etc.  If the study you choose does not do this, at least part of the time, you are not training for fighting at all, let alone for self defense “in the street,” for combat, or “for the battlefield.” Of all elements of martial training, this is the most deluded. You can’t learn to fight without fighting.


Wrestling coaches don’t claim to teach self defense. They don’t even mention it. This is because they know their lane.


Practicing combat sports won’t “get you killed” in a violent encounter. Not knowing the difference between the two, could.

“If you can’t beat me with the rules what makes you think you can beat me without them?”

Beware of statements that sound pithy, but when followed to their logical conclusion, make no sense. Think about this – do we really think that because I can’t say, beat a local MMA fighter in a local production here in the Pacific Northwest (I could not), it means I could not beat him when there are no rules? So, if I bring ten guys, in full armor, a complement of lethal and less lethal weapons, and various tactics with which to lay siege to his house, I won’t beat him?

Yeah, I know, “that’s  not what it means!!”

Okay – how ’bout we ask Alex Gong? Do you think that the punk car thief that shot him could have beaten him under “the rules” of his chosen sport? Then there is this fantastic example – and much more germane to this discussion – of a Brazilian Jiujitsu black belt who was shot after physically attacking another during a road rage incident. I’m willing to bet that under BJJ rules, this young hothead would have dominated the other guy. But the ‘rules’ were different. Some may have even opined that because of his BJJ, because it’s trained under realistic pressure, he should have been able to simply disarm the other guy.

As he found out, it’s not that simple.

“There are no rules in the street.”

Actually, there are. They are called ‘laws.” And there are also social norms from place to place that may make those laws be applied differently based on the situation at hand. Instructors who don’t understand this, and can’t teach it, shouldn’t be teaching self defense. I rolled my eyes reading yet another one of these clowns just this morning – talking about “incapacitating the attacker,” being “fluent in violence,” etc. etc. Others talk about crushing limbs, choking people out, etc. etc.

Sometimes – rarely – such things are reasonably necessary in a defensive situation. But there are levels and layers before and beyond these things. If all you have is a hammer, everything becomes a nail, and that is not reasonable. Some lovers of violence are trying to make their fetish socially acceptable through martial or self defense training, and vicariously getting off on pantomiming doing them to you. Don’t buy it.

When I’m asked about what people should be training for personal defense or tactical purposes, the physical stuff is the easiest and most available. In general:

  • Grappling is more practical than striking.
  • When striking, palms are more practical than punches, and foot sweeps more than kicks.
  • A strong standing and top game trumps a guard-pulling grappling game – because submissions are far less important than position.

When you are training this way, add weapons. Then, as Steinbeck wrote, “the final weapon is the brain. All else is supplemental.”

Except that brain should be the first weapon, not the other way around. But “brain training” is not that available, and it isn’t easy racking up a lot of experience in order to make sure our tactical brain is working properly. This is much more critical for defensive and tactical applications. Cognitive skills, awareness, threat assessment and management, decision making, mitigating anxiety and fear, and so on.

Much training in “the community” doesn’t even address this kind of stuff, or does so in a facile or incomplete manner, or at its worse, trains them improperly so that things like anxiety, fear, doubt, and indecision are exacerbated.



Seeing something, saying something, and doing something are different …things.


First learn to manage your self. Then learn to manage a situation. Then to manage the scene.


Experience is less important than what you do with it. More than two decades of working with all sorts of “tactical” people – current and former servicemembers, combat veterans, ‘elite’ SWAT cops – has shown me that resumes don’t tell the whole story. Only what a person does day in, day out, is real. I’ve seen some ‘high achievers” – with legitimate resumes – that were either great blowhards or virtual incompetents. You can tell the difference when the pressure is on.


That Mindset will defeat capability …. Or that it can’t. Both are true. All the skill in the world is useless if you don’t have mindset when it matters, and they are not the same thing.

All the mindset in the world is useless if you don’t have the capability to “do” when it matters.




  1. Tedium in planning (attention to detail and planning for contingencies) pays off with better consistent results. Good planning/leadership should boost the morale of hard working and competent folks and helps retain talent.

    On the flip side, poor planning can be overcome by stellar and professional personnel who can adapt, overcome, and not complain about it. A bad leader will reap the benefits and take the credit, but their units will be living on borrowed time so long as the bad leader keeps taking the talent of his personnel for granted. Sometimes it’s enough time for the leader to promote before the problems become unmanageable.

    Kinda dovetails with your thoughts on not trusting titles and resumes.


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