Received Wisdom

Screen Shot 2019-02-12 at 9.11.44 AM

This is intended to be an ongoing record of  “The Received Wisdom,” and some observations on it. I hope to continue to update them. 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, force on force training etc. etc.  If the study you choose does not do this, at least some of the time, you are not training for fighting at all, let alone for self defense “in the street,” or combat, or “for the battlefield.”

Of all elements of martial training, this is the one in which most are most deluded. You can’t learn to fight without fighting.

People mistakenly try to “test” an art – even one never intended for sparring – in “live sparring” and grappling practice.

Know the difference. While sparring is “live,” going live and “sparring” are not necessarily always the same.

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 actually 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 and seem to make sense, but when followed to their logical conclusion end up being nonsensical.

Think about it  – do we really think that because I can’t beat a local MMA fighter in a fight production here in the Pacific Northwest (I could not), that it means I could not beat him when there are no rules? Really?

So, say 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, and I won’t beat him?

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

That’s the point. How ’bout we ask Alex Gong? Do we think that the punk thief that shot him could have beaten him under “the rules” of his chosen sport?

Then there is this fantastic example – one much more germane to the 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 this young hothead would have dominated the other guy – under BJJ rules. But here 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.” There are also social norms from place to place that may mean those laws will be applied differently based on the situation at hand.

Instructors who don’t understand this, and don’t teach it, shouldn’t be taken seriously. I rolled my eyes reading yet another description from someone blathering about being “fluent in violence,” etc. etc. Others talk about “submissions crushing limbs,” choking people out, etc. etc.

Rarely are such things reasonably necessary in defensive situations. There are levels and layers 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 with it socially acceptable through martial or self defense training programs, and vicariously getting off on pantomiming doing it to you. Don’t buy it. Don’t be a passive receptacle for someone else’s fantasy.

Sounds icky when put that way, don’t it. That is exactly what is happening.

When I’m asked about what people should train 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 moreso than kicks.
  • A strong standing and top game trumps a guard-pulling grappling game – because submissions are far less important than position in the real world.

Once you are training this way, add weapons. Remember, as Steinbeck wrote:

“The final weapon is the brain. All else is supplemental.”

Except that the 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 your 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.



An instructor should be able to give a cogent, practical answer to relevant questions regarding self defense. I just read something from a respected, sexy blogger – sexy in the way combative knife porn is “sexy;” And it was utterly useless.

If you ask a legitimate question – such as ” when is it okay for me to use lethal force to defend myself?” the answer should not be some melodramatic maxim smacking of warrioship and religiosity. It’s simply:

“When you can articulate (explain) that you were in reasonable fear that you faced death or serious bodily injury if you did not so act.”

Melodrama is for Tactagram Models.


Don’t go to the ground in a real fight. This is true.

Be able to fight on the ground when you end up there, because very often you will when trying not to go to the ground.



First learn to manage your self. Then learn to manage a situation. Then to manage a 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 often don’t tell the whole story. Only what a person does day in, day out, does. 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.

All the mindset in the world is useless if you don’t have the capability to “do” what needs to be done.




  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.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s