Respect the Threat

Respect the Threat

When I teach, I often say, "Embrace the fear". I want the students to feel the fear, to understand the real danger.

We train in a nice friendly environment. Most martial arts schools are commercial businesses and we want the training to be fun. We want people to have a great time, feel good about themselves, and come back for more lessons. Terrorizing people and scaring the living daylights out of them will quickly turn off most customers.

So we train in a nice friendly way; you attack me, I do a really cool knife defense, I get my new belt and we are all happy. But we miss the point of our training.

Learning to appreciate the importance of the threat came rather late to me in my training. All the emphasis is put on the technique itself but this is a huge mistake. Your self defense must begin long before the actual technique.

This concept of appreciating the danger and respecting the threat applies to all dangerous situations; fires, car accidents, plane crashes and other unpleasant things. Studies show that the greatest problem is that most people freeze. Valuable time is wasted while we are caught in the headlights in a state of inaction. These are the most crucial seconds in terms of our survival. So what can we do?

We must learn to respect the threat.

Often people will ask me, 'so, can you beat up so and so?' My answer is always the same. I don't know. I never underestimate any threat. The person or the situation may not look like much, but one never knows. Respecting the threat is the first step to survival.

A small person may be mean and deadly, he might be an expert knife fighter, never underestimate him. A small fire may quickly grow to be a large one, never underestimate it. A storm may cause you severe damage, never underestimate it.

Many people simply fail to recognize the danger involved. If you are in a dangerous neighborhood, a certain kind of behavior is called for. If you are on a plane, driving a car, on a boat; each situation has it's threats. Being aware of, and respecting these threats, are you best guarantee of survival.

Part of the problem stems from our lack of direct experience; a child who touches a candle learns first hand that fire hurts. He will be very unlikely to touch it again. However, we see candles all the time, we make first and have barbecues and we see fire as a non danger, a non threat. We do not learn to respect the power of fire. We do not realize that a small, 'harmless' fire can become a deadly inferno in a matter of seconds. Failing to respect the power of fire makes us unprepared. Should a fire break out we may not react with the appropriate level of fear/respect.

The same is true of water. We see and use water everyday and we are in control of it. We turn on and off the tap at will. We determine its' power. We fail to realize that water has great power and a small leak can turn into a power we had not anticipated, a power that can destroy and kill.

There is a story of an old Bedouin Arab. The story takes place in the early days of the modern settlement in the Middle East. The man sees a train coming; he has never seen one before and does not understand what it is. He does not get out of the way and gets hit hard. Every bone in his body is broken.

Back home, recovering, one of his grandsons brings him a gift, a modern tea kettle. The old man has never seen one before and looks at the odd metal contraption. As the tea kettle begins to whistle he takes his cane and smashes it until there is nothing left of it. His horrified children ask, "Grandfather, what is the meaning of this strange behavior?" He responds, "I have seen these things before, they are small now but it grows up to be a very dangerous device. One very such device ran me over. I know it's power."

The old man learned from experience, so to speak.

Often martial arts black belts feel they are safe against a knife. Those who carry a handgun sometimes feel the same way. Is there a problem? Yes, again, they are not respecting the threat. I have seen photos and videos of what a knife can do, and how quickly it can do it. I hope never to be in such a situation, but I will tell you this; in any street situation I will keep in mind the possibility that the aggressor may have a knife and, if he pulls one out, I will have great respect for the damage the knife can do.

Respect the threat. This is your early warning system. Learn to react to the threat. Train your mind to perceive the true nature of the danger in any situation. This may be your best self defense yet.