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Self-Defense Tip #40 — A nightmare — Or why you ought to think like a commander

Quite a while ago, one of the Stadion Forum members wrote about his experience with night burglars that had him questioning his martial arts training (he practices Wu Shu). So, first I give you the essential facts of his story and then my comments….

He returned home from overseas. With him in the house were his mother and sister. At about 3 a.m. noise woke him up. He saw two burglars right in front of him—one with a drawn knife, the other with a flashlight. He did not let them know he was awake. The burglar with the knife stayed close to him—in case he woke up, but in the darkness the burglar could not see that our guy had opened his eyes. Since the other burglar was busy stealing, with his back turned to our guy, and the knife-holder’s groin was within easy reach, our guy decided to attack. Before he made a move a third burglar walked into the room. So our guy kept still. At one time the burglars went to the bedroom of his mother and sister (it is not clear from the post whether the knife-holding burglar stayed with him or not). Our guy decided to stay still because he didn’t think he could overpower three enemies and didn’t want to risk the lives of his family. In any case, there was nothing suitable for disabling the burglars in the room, so he had to wait until they left with the loot.

Now my comments:

1. It doesn’t matter what martial art or combat sport you train in—whatever style of boxing, whatever style of wrestling, kung fu, fencing, and so on—if you are not taught and TRAINED to deal with multiple armed opponents, then all these one-on-one sports leave you poorly prepared for dealing with more than one competent opponent. In such situations, exponents are left having to rely on improvisation and luck.

Teaching tactics and mental skills needed for dealing with multiple opponents and practicing such scenarios is of no use in competition-oriented martial arts and sports—it doesn’t win any medals.

2. This story reminds me of another one, related in an article (I don’t remember which magazine it was printed in) to make a point on the proper mind-set for self-defense. Here is the story from the article as I remember it:

Late in the evening a couple were sitting in their living room when a burglar burst in. They struggled with him until one of them got a handgun and either scared him off or even shot him. The burglar got in through an open back door or window.

The lesson from the story: It is nice and good that the homeowners had a gun ready, but it should be the last resort. They could have prevented the whole thing, or at least avoided being surprised, had they locked all doors and windows at night.

So, the first thing you should do in a house (or an apartment or a business) is to secure all points of entry that may be approached unnoticed. Before retiring, check all rooms and secure all entries to minimize vulnerability, then get your weapons ready—just in case. This takes thinking like a commander.

Thinking like a commander, even when facing a single adversary, makes you look at the situation coolly, with a detached attitude, rather than taking it personally and letting your ego trap you or push you into a bad situation (instilled social habits can do this to you too). This is why, with the next few self-defense tips, you will learn how skillful commanders think and hopefully acquire their mind-sets.


The modern sport of Wu Shu is more concerned with show than with substance of fighting, so enrolling in Wu Shu and expecting to learn solid self-defense skills is a mistake. Not that there aren’t any Wu Shu exponents who can fight for real—many can, not so much because of their Wu Shu training, but rather thanks to training some serious, no-nonsense style of kung fu.

Self-defense tip from Thomas Kurz, co-author of Basic Instincts of Self-Defense and author of Science of Sports Training, Stretching Scientifically, and Flexibility Express.

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Self-Defense Moves

Basic Instincts of Self-Defense - Defenses Against Unarmed Attacks DVD

For your defense moves to work under stress they must be based on your natural, instinctive reactions, require little strength and limited range of motion, and be proven in fighting experience.

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Defend Against Weapons

Self-Defense: Tools of Attack DVD

To defend against weapons you have to know how they are used. Also—every stick has two ends … the weapon of attack may become a weapon of defense in your hand …

To learn how the typical street weapons (club, knife, razor) are used by an experienced streetfighter and how to practice with them, see the video Self-Defense: Tools of attack—Club, Hatchet, Blackjack, Knife, Straight Razor.

Mental Toughness

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Staying cool under pressure is more important for self-defense than being physically fit and technically skilled. If you can’t control your mind what can you control?

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