“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” -Ecclesiastes 4:9-12
“Self-defense” is a bit of a misnomer when it comes to combat training. For those of us who believe in loving our neighbor as ourself, the self ultimately comes second to the people around us, be they familial or non-blood neighbors. It is understandable why we use this term though. Aside from the fact that the radical individualism of America and the modern world is innately self-ish, the term “self-defense” is alot more excusable in judicial settings than works of heroism. Although we cherish heroes where we have determined them to be such, there is a fine line one must be careful to not cross, lest we fall from grace and be labeled merely as yet another assailant.
Unfortunately, sometimes it is not a matter of actually crossing the line, but of whether the public views one’s actions as “crossing the line”. When a child has been attacked by a bully in school, if a boy rushes to their aid, fighting off the assailant, the modern public school system will view the defender in this situation as “another boy who joined the fight”, and he will get suspended along with anyone else who threw a single punch. If you work defensive techniques that involve, say, your loved one hiding around the corner as a stalker pursues you, only to jump out and strike down the stalker from an ambush position, there are lawyers who will use courts to try and describe you as the aggressor, and the stalker as the innocent. What if you get out of your car, only to see four grown men kicking the snot out of a man rolling our on the ground, puking? Your first thought will be that the man on the ground is innocent, and you may respond accordingly. But what if the man on the ground had actually initiated this encounter by producing a firearm, in an attempt to rob a woman pushing her baby in a stroller down the sidewalk? The four men kicking the robber are heroes, but to you, they look like a gang of thugs.
Conversely, it appears easier to discern the scenario when things are mano y mano. When two people square off in the street, this appears to our sensibilities as a “fair fight”. But when was it ever fair for a murderer to attack you in a dark alley, whether you knew it was coming or not? And if we see this occurring, should we simply leave-off, saying to our friends “well, its a fair fight”?
So if fights are never fair, and there is a chance that other people might assist you in your battle, why are people training mere “self” defense? We ought rather to train simple “defense”. Unfortunately, today in modern combative classes we see people learning alot of dueling methods for fighting like John Wayne at high noon. At best we might see them learn how to fight “multiple opponents”, but never will multiple allies. But when a gunman enters an elementary school and starts shooting up children, you need to use any other brave people around you to augment your chances, because at the onset the cards are stacked deeply against you. And when a mugger attacks you while your kids are getting in the car, your wife needs to know how she can assist you in defending the kids, and not wait while you engage in some “self” defense. What will your “self” defense do for you if someone tries to abduct your child, without engaging with you at all?
There are alot of circumstances where the fight to survive involves not only multiple attackers, but multiple defendants. As such, you have to practice techniques and strategies that can take these scenarios into account. The “spray and pray” method of gunfighting may not be very useful if your child is anywhere near an attacker. Your MMA brazilian jiu-jitsu guard may fatigue the man your tangling with, but why are you playing a game of time, when time only gives him opportunity to find something to stab you with while you’re trying to choke him out? What if you held him down, and directed a nearby citizen to club him over the back of the head? Why are you trying to be the Lone Ranger? Stop trying to be Superman, and start thinking more of the Avengers and the Justice League…
Again, there are two things that need to be added/augmented in one’s training when considering allies in a defensive situation. One is your technique, and the other is your strategy/tactics.
Regarding technique, we need to think about things like what works when you fight shoulder-to-shoulder. There are multiple reasons why spear-fighting was popular prior to guns, and one of them was that it was linear, and didn’t involve swinging a sword that may as easily travel into my comrade as into my enemy if I’m not careful. How about today? How helpful is that spinning roundhouse kick when teamwork is involved? Do my techniques detract from a team scenario, do they aid a team scenario, or do they neither aid nor detract?
The second issue concerning tactics and strategy is ignored even in alot of “self” defense classes. There are alot of technicians out there who know nothing of how to contextualize their technique which consequently means they cannot effectively deploy their techniques even if the techniques are potent. When and Why to throw that roundhouse kick is every bit as important as being able to throw that roundhouse kick.
Now there is alot of confusion about the difference between “strategy” and “tactics”. One hears the two terms used interchangeably often, though they actually highlight two different things. Put simply: your “strategy” is concerned with your ultimate aims, while your “tactics” are about the methods you will apply to achieve those aims, followed by your “techniques” which are the tools which your methods will utilize. Hitler’s “Blitzkrieg” was a strategy of rushing his adversaries in order to take them off-guard. This required tactics such as sending fast-moving bombers out in heavy force ahead of his ground troops from multiple angles of attack. These tactics relied upon the Luftwaffe’s superior aircraft and their technical abilities. Strategy sets the objective, while tactics seek a means to carry out the objective using techniques. Martial artists who only have techniques are unable to determine the right objectives in a fight, and therefore have no idea how to carry out the use of their techniques in a tactical manner.
Alot of martial artists are not team players. Many of them are attracted to martial arts because of their prideful gladiatorial desires. They wish to win a competition for themselves. They wish to shine before the spectators as the ultimate fighter. They wish to feel that they can rely on themselves if they are in a bar and get attacked. This radical individualism is not only a character flaw, it is a functional weakness in combat scenarios. Watch “We Were Soldiers” and ask yourself why Mel Gibson’s battalion wasn’t immediately massacred when they landed in field with little situational intelligence, against an enemy that had been training and waiting for just that moment. It wasn’t because of all the stand-alone heroes. Watch “Gladiator” as ask yourself how Maximus finally got a chance to duel with the evil Emperor. It wasn’t simply because he was such an amazing stand-alone fighter, which is what many of us want to believe. What would his chances have been like without his prior military training of group combat?
Martial artists would do well to participate in team sports. Everyone knows that there is virtue formation at work on the sports field. It’s tough working as a team. You have ball hogs, and lazy teammates, and hot-heads, and all sorts of types who brings their personal dynamics into the team. Although they all need technical skill on the field/court/etc, they can’t win the championship this way. They have to come together as a team so they can employ an overall strategy in a tactical manner… How many movies highlight this struggle? “Hoosiers” is a great example of this. “Friday Night Lights” is a great example of this. Hell, even “Sandlot” exemplifies this obstacle in team sports. Probably most sports films. If somebody asks you to predict who will win the Superbowl, do you make your choice simply based off of quarterbacks, or based off of entire teams?… A quarterback is very important, but he can’t win the Superbowl by himself. And you might be a great individual fighter, but during the Boston riots, you’d be eaten alive without people covering your back… Why do you think the Navy Seals are referred to as “the Teams”, and why do you think that on the battlefield men must learn to fight for “the man on their left and on their right”? Fights are rarely won by technicians. You must know how to strategically and tactically employ teamwork. Do you train for this? What “teams” are in your life? Your family? Your friends? How much teamwork is available to you?
This leads us to a final consideration with regards to teamwork in defense. The need to employ teamwork is best accomplished via training with one’s team. This is how sports teams do it, and how the military and police do it. But situations don’t always allow for training as a team. The people you might team up with may have zero-interest in training with you. It is unlikely that you’re going to get your computer programming office to do some “team-building” exercises where you work through active-shooter scenarios. Yet should there be an active-shooter, these are the very people you’ll have to rely on to survive, and it will be foolish and possibly even cowardly if your whole plan of defense is “self” defense. There are alot of scenarios where your team will require instant-assembly, and in such circumstances the strategies and tactics at your disposal change.
Returning again to “Gladiator”, think back to Maximus’ initial entry into the Roman Colosseum. Just before entering the ring- surprise! He discovers that this fight is being rigged for entertainment. This won’t be a “may the best man win” scenario. What will his “team” of untrained fighters do? First, Maximus relies upon his character and reputation to command the attention of those who will listen. He huddles up to discuss what needs to happen. “Has anyone here served in the army?” he asks. One man says “yes”. “Good,” says Maximus, “you can help me”. Why can this man help him? Because he’s about to lay out the strategy and tactics which his team will need to commit themselves to in order to survive. If the men doubt Maximus, or believe in themselves too much, they won’t participate in the team-effort, and everything will fall apart. The awesome strategic and tactical power of a team is in its teammates. If nobody commits to the team, there is no power… As the story goes, Maximus and his team of gladiators are the upset delight of the day, using strategy and tactics in defeating their much-favored opponents, who’s techniques and tools had been massively augmented to their favor. Maximus did not have the time to come up with a brilliant plan. He didn’t have the military intelligence to know what he should plan for. He didn’t have the ability to train the men to work as a group. In reality, his plan had to come from a simple but effective template, commanded by someone who could effectively convince other men to follow him courageously. This is the most likely kind of scenario martial artists need to train for. We aren’t Navy Seals, and we aren’t Hoosiers. We will need to employ strategy and tactics like Maximus did in that initial fight in the Colosseum.
Recently I was attending an event that belaboured this point. I train in Filipino martial arts, and my school has an event called “the Balikan”, where our various training groups across America come together for a weekend of intensive instruction and comradery. There is food and fighting and fun. At one point, our head instructor started dividing us into groups and pitting teams against one another with foam bats in what we call “mass-attack scenarios”. Sometimes you had 2 other people on your team, sometimes you had 6. Sometimes your team was the same as last time, sometimes it was different. Sometimes you had few minutes to talk through strategy, sometimes you didn’t. We worked through all sorts of group scenarios, and what I took away from the experience most profoundly was how important it was to work cohesively as a team, and how few people actually understand this. Everyone lines up, and they’re thinking of their own personal agenda for the fight, because in their classes they are most frequently “sparring” in a dueling-scenario. They train to fight alone, so even as a team, they attempt to fight alone, neglecting the awesome power that is at their disposal. Even once people started to catch on that they needed to work cohesively, with a plan, there were several people who would inadvertently sabotage the team’s efforts because they thought that their idea was better, and sought to employ their idea despite the team’s decision. Rather than look like the organized men in “We Were Soldiers”, we looked more like a riot.
In our school of Kali, we talk alot about the importance of being part of a “tribe”. This is a complex concept, which in part is meant to emphasize the fact that defense needs to account for the group, not just the individual. During the mass-attacks at the Balikan, this was really pressed home to me. I took away primarily that I need to 1) Recognize that I’m not the Lone Ranger, and train accordingly. 2) I need to develop templates and protocols that will fulfill the basic structural needs of strategy and tactics in a defensive scenario, assuming that my “team” has not had ability to train together before, 3) Seek to identify the potential “teams” in various scenarios in my personal life where I might have to act defensively, and pre-train with those teams if this is possible, (e.g. in my personal family).
Go participate in a walk-on game of paintball and you’ll see what I’m talking about. You have a bunch of people who don’t know each other divide up arbitrarily into two teams and go at it. Immediately everyone starts looking to see which team appears to have the best gear, and the most athletic and physically mature looking team members. Through these observations they attempt to weigh the odds of who will win. Yet the team that wins has little to do with this. On the battlefield you will observe groups of friends who will fight together, and those groups who have a leader will be far more effective in the fight than those groups that emphasize an egalitarian formation. Friend groups with leaders always win the walk-on paintball games.
So, does your black belt represent mere technical achievement, or can you channel those skills through strategy and tactical maneuvers? Do you train to use “weapons of opportunity”? When you do so, do you consider allies as weapons to work with, or just pens and pencils and books etc? Is this something you theoretically believe in, or do you actually seek out practical opportunities to understand these things visceraly? Finally, if this is making sense, extend the battlfield into a more metaphorical range, and ask yourself what kinds of battles in life you may be fighing alone, when God gave you membership into the Body, the Church, with brothers and sisters who’s gifts were meant to serve?…