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Combat Mindset: What's Needed to Win Real Fights by Dr. William Wong ND, PhD


Joining O Sensi Jack “Papasan” Stern for breakfast the Saturday of the World Multi Martial Arts Hall of Fame banquet this year (06), he and his student and likely successor GM Allah Freeman were laughing at an inside joke O’ Sensi had just pulled. Seems that seated at the table before I arrived had been a new member of the hall a very nice and respectful marital artist O Sensi had asked a question or two of. It was the answer and reaction to the questions that had the remaining crew at the table laughing and talking when I got there. Seems O Sensi had inquired as to the young masters fighting experience. “Have you ever hit anybody for real”? Seemed to have been the question. With the quick follow up... “ Have you ever had to kill anybody”? To which the visibly flustered young master excused himself smiling and left the table quickly. Since I came on the story somewhat second hand I apologize if I’ve gotten any of it wrong but it does serve to illustrate the point of this piece... Before technique, before execution, before anything we learn or teach will work on the street or battlefield we MUST have a Combat Mindset!


Now don’t go thinking that a Combat Mindset is just the joy some of us have in beating aggressive human beings into disjointed piles of quivering flesh (sounds good to me) but, Combat Mindset is much more than that. If that is all that is needed to win fights then the Germanic Tribes of old would have soundly beaten the smaller less muscular, less visibly aggressive soldiers of the Legions of Rome. But we know who won those fights. (If you don’t see the first 20 minutes of the movie Gladiator and you’ll get my drift). Combat Mindset is not being a “hitter” as we used to say on the Brooklyn streets I grew up in. Combat Mindset is not entirely being aggressive in your fighting although aggressiveness is a component of Combat Mindset.


The first point of a Combat Mindset is that we have to accept that we may have to actually use the martial art we practice to really and truly hurt people. I know that to some of us raised in the less well thought of parts of our cities, just to make that statement seems like a stupid idea. “Of course I’m ready to use the art, why the hell else would I be studying it for”! But to many folks brought up in easier to live in neighborhoods and states, the martial arts are a sport or pastime, like golf or masturbation. When asked why they are learning the arts the answer is somewhat vague from wanting more fitness, to coordination I’ve even heard this answer: “well I’m learning it so that I never have to use it”. To which my incredulous look held back what I really to say.


Second point of Combat Mindset; always be ready to fight and as Bruce Lee taught always be ready to die. It is true that the coward dies a thousand deaths. In the French Foreign Legion the soldiers are taught early on that they are already dead. The reality of actual combat can be such on the streets as it is very much so on the battlefield. This second point calls for being constantly observant and having your senses and more importantly your intuition feeling for any person, persons or situation on the horizon that may be a danger to you and yours. Intuition... yes if you are meditating and practicing the yin side of your art, your intuition should be developing along as well as your techniques. Though I have to say that the longer I remain in the martial arts the less and less I see classes start and finish with meditation, and the less teachers I hear who actually know their ass from their elbow about matters spiritual or the spiritual roots to their arts! Your intuition is your advanced radar telling you that it’s not the biker at the bar who’s going to try to kill you but the little old lady sitting there who’s Prozac is causing side effects and about to drive her into mania (violent uncontrolled behavior).


Next we have controlled aggression. If we fly off the handle, lose our cool and go into a rage, how long will that energy last? Will that type of energy keep us aware of our surroundings and dangers? When a commander directs an attacking force, he is directing aggression; keeping aggression high but controlled and directed. In this way changes in the combat situation (i.e. new dangers coming from new directions) can be easily picked up on and countered all in the natural flow of the action. Blind rage is exactly that: blind and unaware of the total situation.


Now we come to one point that I know very few people teach. Always aim for doing one level of damage higher than you actually want to do. If you want to hurt go to cripple, if you want to cripple go to kill, if you know you need to kill then have that solidly in your mind as you go into combat or you’ll do what many a GI did on Korea and point your rifle towards the ground and not hit anybody. (Seems their mothers had told them that their daddies and big brothers had fought WW2 to end war and so sonny was supposed to be safe and never have do an aggressive act. What a shock it must have been for these kids to be at war 5 years after the “second war to end wars”)! It is an old adage in asian thought that the human mind has circuit breakers that will blow before too aggressive an act is done. In war, Germany and Japan both took measures to overcome this hesitation to do great harm. Both German and Japanese troops then were injected regularly with testosterone. Japanese troops in the second world war were sadistically treated by their superiors and over and above that, injected with a combination of uppers and testosterone to increase their aggressiveness and willingness to do harm. Shit rolls downhill, they were treated sadistically and so they acted against their adversaries sadistically. The killing of nearly every living thing in the Chinese city of Nanking is evidence to the success of those techniques.


Being civilized people those of us from the nicer areas of the country, are not used to having to really “put a hurt” on someone and when called on to do so generally fail miserably. How many stories have we heard through the years of tournament champions getting their heads and asses handed to them by some “untrained” street fighter. There are too many of those stories to count.


Lastly we have a principle from Physical Education that has become part of military training doctrine especially with the SEALS. In PE parlance the principle is: “To be effective and specific, all skills training must done be under game conditions.” In Navy Seal lingo: “train hard fight easy”! Yes you can have your slow phased training to develop the movements needed in a particular skill but after it’s learned, the practice must simulate real combat as best as is possible.


In my art of Wing Chun we have a training technique called Chi Sao or sticking hands. In these sessions, contact is maintained with an opponents arms at all times, techniques are able to be sensed as or before the opponent does them and the counter (a combination parry and counter strike(s)) is instantaneous and it is in turned parried and countered one after the other back and forth. The sessions can become very intense, and somewhat painful if one doesn't develop the feel for when and how to parry.


In the mid 70’s after getting just ok at my Chi Sao, I happened to take up a job as a weekend bouncer at a big sleazily bar in Brooklyn’s Sheepshead Bay. I was fresh out of the service, 158 pounds soaking wet, wearing love beads and a pony tail instead of my green utility uniform and Heinz pickle jar shaped soft cover. So I did not look like a typical bouncer. That being the case, when ever some drunk or hot head wanted to show off to his gal he would choose me to pick on out of all the bouncers since I was by far the smallest. (The rest of the bouncers were football linemen). We also had a good number of full bar room brawls (all of which we put down in less than 2 and 1/2 minutes)! I got lots of practical experience with people trying to seriously hurt me in hand to hand fighting and what I had discovered was that after every fight and brawl I had a let down feeling of disappointment because none of the encounters were as hard or as tough as doing Chi Sao with my Gung Fu brothers! Train hard, fight easy.


Every martial artist must instill a Combat Mindset into his overall outlook of the arts. I’ve only scratched the surface on the Combat MIndset. The real master in teaching the Combat Mindset is the late Col. Jeff Copper. For those of you not into combat shooting Col. Cooper was the “O Sensi” of what is known as “The Modern Technique Of The Pistol”. Combat shooting is its own modern marital art. His must read work is a book published by Paladin Press titled: “Principles of Personal Defense”. Other must read books on Combat Mindset are Hanshi Stephen Kauffman’s translations of the Book of Five Rings and the Art of War, (published by Tuttle). Avoid all other modern translations of these books as they have been watered down to business speak and psycho babble for the Corporate Business crowd. But, of those 3 books start with Cooper as he provides the most solid and well thought out principles to make every technique you throw really work. (www.paladin-press.com). For you technique hounds, there is not a single physical technique in any of these books. But if you learn and understand the principles taught in them you will have made all of your existing techniques thousands of times more effective.

 Be well and God bless.