The myth of self-‘defense’

Posted on Posted in On Combatives

The myth of self-defense
By Matt Powell, Founder (
August 2011

I’m going to go out on a limb here and saying something that will surprise a few:

There is no self-‘defense’. There is only counter attack.

You may think this is a matter of semantics, but in actuality, we are talking about the psychology of fighting itself.  I am not talking about the legal terms regarding self-defense, as these are important to as we call it, recognize, memorize, internalize. But, I am talking about self-protection and self-preservation in terms of strategy, tactics, and methods.

When people think of defending something, most think of John Wayne or the Alamo, gallantly holding down the fort as the wild Sioux or Apache or the Mexican army crashes against the walls. It has a certain romantic nostalgia to it – to ‘defend’ something, to ‘protect.’

But, I think of something else – I think of the countless I’ve seen ‘defend’ others by getting stabbed, ‘protecting’ their house or their wallet and getting shot. They cover their wives, they cover their children, they defend and protect them – to what end?

To me, there is no defense – there is attack(ed) and counter-attack(ed). An attack does not start as someone randomly jumping from the roof on to your head – attacks begin psychologically and transition to physical.  When someone attacks you, they generally assault your psychology first, engaging your fears and your emotional intelligence before they transition to physical violence. According to Avery Mitchell, a Pramek contributor and leading celebrity executive protection authority, after his studies and experiences in street violence, ‘The psychological assault is the favorite initial assault by rapists on women – verbally commanding them, accessing their fears and emotions to transition to physical violence – draw a mental association between what they are told and what they fear is the key to submission to a rapist.’

The attack continues with physical violence – the man asking for your money, intimidating you when you won’t give it to him – then attacking when you show weakness in your refusal. The physical assault comes only after the psychological assault has been successful. There is a reason criminals hide in dark alleys, dark corners, areas the law abiding can’t see – because dark alleys psychologically scare people who don’t live in them. With that damage done, the heightened sense of paranoia, the attack comes from an unexpected place.

What defense is there against this?

This is why I do not believe in defense – I believe that an attack occurs first without physical violence, so we must counter-attack with proper situational awareness, confidence, not making ourselves appear to be victims. As Aaron Cowan, Pramek contributor and law enforcement officer states, ‘If you look like food, you will be eaten.’ When the environment attacks us, we must use our trained situational awareness, confidence, and intelligence to fight back against this psychological assault. People using circumstances and the environment wish to take ground from us – and we must fight constantly to hold it or regain it.

There is no defense – there is only counter attack.

It is the psychology of how we fight in Pramek.
Simple, we refuse to lock ourselves in the bathroom, hold our knives or pistols, and call 9-1-1.

We live in an age of government austerity, where police budgets are the first thing to be cut. The news is rampant with reports of police budget cut backs. Where I live in Atlanta, the average response time to a 9-1-1 call is over 11 minutes. I have experienced this first hand. In some areas of the country, non-violent crimes do not even warrant a police response – and how often can such non-violent crimes turn violent? Chris Costa from Magpul often speaks about a calculated offense as opposed to defense because he will not stand by when someone comes into his house to attack his family – he won’t defend, he will go on the offensive.

What we teach in Pramek is similar – we refuse to let another person control the tempo of the fight and limit our options for counter-attack or escape. When we cede the tempo, surprise, and the initiative – we limit our ability to ‘defend’ ourselves.  We must begin to look at self-defense as something on Oprah, but counter-attack is how we will address any physical assault on our body or that of an innocent.

In Pramek, we view the physical assault as an attack that must be counter attacked – an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. We counter-attack quickly and effectively to damage the enemy and remove their ability to fight, or if need be, their will. We do not push people and hope they fall down, we do not wrestle around with pistols and knives – we do not put joint locks on people who we have taken down. We attack them.  It’s a difference in training mindset.

From the moment the attack begins, we are counter-attacking efficiently to create effectiveness. Anyone who has trained with me when I ‘climb joints and nerves’ will quickly tell you that Pramek is about causing the most pain in the shortest amount of time to get to equilibrium and our mechanical efficiency. Combat is fast paced, quick, dirty, and brutal. It is not the UFC or MMA. An enemy that is standing for too long has that much time to bring a knife or pistol into play, or summon a friend. An enemy that can stand back up is a threat – so we train address these situations.

We injure them, remove their equilibrium and stability, and then attack them hard and fast, finding efficiency in our processes, not in our muscle memory. Efficient work will begat effectiveness. We train for efficient movement, learn machines that govern human physical interaction, and then combine these two into the most efficient and effective means to bring an enemy down so that we can achieve our goal.

Making the transition

1) Make the decision – you will not defend, you will only counter-attack. This means you may have to put away from of your martial arts repertoire you’ve gathered for 20 years and go take a class on how to shoot a pistol. You have to make the decision that you’d rather determine the tempo of a knife fight than site back and be cut like steak.

2) Proper training environment – Put all of your katanas, breaking boards, and blind folds away. Invest in some protective gear for the head, eyes, chest and groin.

3) Proper mind-set – You have to change your mindset about your willingness to be violent toward an attacker. Often times we train to defend against an attacker, then once he is down we simply let him back up. You have to begin seeing anyone that can get back up in the next 15 – 20 seconds as a threat to you and your family, squad, partner. You are the control group, the enemy is the variable. You know how fast your children can run, or how quickly you can pull your partner – you don’t know how fast your opponent will move once he is up. Your first lesson: make it to where he can’t get up for at least 30 seconds without extreme pain…

4) Proper training – I often tell people ‘If you are in martial art to learn massage, new breathing tricks, or how to dance – you are in the wrong room if you are in with me.’ There is room for that – but your wife or partner or squad mate will do much better with you teaching them effective methods of fighting an enemy than how to massage someone or how to breathe through their nose. If you are concentrating on breathing, and you can’t fight full speed – you need your priorities straightened out quickly. Go take an NRA firearms course, a knife fighting course, a basic first aid course. You are more likely to need CPR and first aid than you are to need to learn how to back flip kick.

Once you’ve committed yourself to these 4 basic rules for transitioning, you’ll begin to get more out of your class – your confidence will rise, and your mindset will open up. When you look at this as survival and not a dance class with punches, you’ll be willing to go to other places to gain knowledge, opening you up as a student and a teacher, both of which are conduits.

The world is made up of two types of people when it comes to violence – wolves and sheep. I’m not asking you to be a crazed wolf, but I am asking you to start looking at your role as a sheep dog and not the house dog.

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