Safety in Structure – Defending head-on attacks

BJJ and MMA instructor John Will shows how three simple physical structures can be used to much better effect than a ‘block’ when the chips are down and fists start flying.

BJJ and MMA instructor John Will shows how three simple physical structures can be used to much better effect than a ‘block’ when the chips are down and fists start flying.

BJJ and MMA instructor John Will shows how three simple physical structures can
be used to much better effect than a ‘block’ when the chips are down and fists start flying.

The human body is a structure, to be sure, but also a fluid and mobile organism. Our form is set, but only to a point; and as such we have the physical ability to restructure ourselves to suit a whole variety of different tasks, be it a spear-like shape to easily enter water, a ball to forward-roll out of a fall, or a wedge made with extended arms to cover our head as we crash in on an attacker.

The use of ‘structures’ to provide protection is no new idea. Castles, forts, walls, bunkers, tanks and the like have all been used to good effect for a long time, some for tens of thousands of years. Historically, protection through the use of structure often meant a trade- off in mobility: by building a wall between ourselves and our enemy, we gained protection but were often condemned to hold position and forfeit our ability to retreat or advance. Likewise, the more heavily armoured the tank, often the slower or less manoeuvrable it was.

Other smaller types of structures, such as the shield, gave us both mobility and protection, albeit limited in the latter — and again, the larger and thicker the shield, usually the more cumbersome and restrictive to the warrior. Similarly, armour for the head and body was another great innovation, and many different incarnations of each have been used by warrior cultures worldwide for thousands of years, from the steel exoskeletons that encased the Medieval knights to the relatively lightweight Kevlar vests and helmets worn by our soldiers today.

So, the concept of using structure of some kind to provide protection from the onslaught of an enemy is certainly no new idea.

Even though we need not wear battle armour in the street (speaking to those who work outside of front-line law enforcement, of course), in hand-to-hand combat it is somewhat instinctive for all of us to respond by creating a structure to provide protection, even if no external implements are at hand. Think of a situation wherein an untrained person finds themselves on the receiving end of a barrage of punches — and ask yourself, where are their hands?

Usually, in such a situation, the hands are held up (in some loose structure) around the head in an effort to ‘hide’ from the strikes. So, in one way, we are all innately hardwired to seek and create protection in structure when things have gone beyond our control.

The benefit of building and utilising structure to provide defence is that it is a skill that can be developed relatively quickly with very little training. It offers a very big return on investment in time, especially when compared to the development of skill-based defensive strategies like ducking, weaving, slipping, parrying, footwork, smashing attacks with solid blocks (as used in karate, for example) that require heavy conditioning, and so on.

There are various different kinds of bodily structures that we can use to meet an attack at close-quarters, each offering its own strengths and weaknesses. Here we will take a look at several that I have found to be very effective and easy to use.

The Foxhole

I was originally introduced to this structure in my early silat training in Indonesia during the late 1970s. I coined the name ‘foxhole’ myself because it reminded me of hiding inside a mobile foxhole.The way I learned it back then is still pretty much the way I teach it today. 

The way I learned it back then is still pretty much the way I teach it today. The idea is to create the structure by locking your lead hand onto the top of your head with your elbow pointing directly at the opponent; at the same time, your other hand locks onto the middle of your leading forearm in such a way that your vision is not hampered.

The basic idea is to then run at the opponent as hard as you can and ‘spike’ him with your elbow — and then follow up with either striking techniques (as we did in Indonesia) or grappling/clinching techniques (as I often teach today), or a combination of both. Hence, I often refer to the utilisation of this structure and entry as the ‘foxhole and spike’.

The Diver

The ‘diving’ frame is a concept I first learned in my early Brazilian jiu-jitsu training. My epiphany around this concept came when I learned headlock escapes on the ground, as the idea of creating a strong frame between ourselves and our opponent was very central to the most basic headlock-escape techniques. Taking this frame from its horizontal application on the floor to a vertical application on our feet was also something I learned in BJJ, albeit as a defensive measure, as demonstrated in this article.

It is interesting to note that it can also be used as a way of taking the initiative and ‘blasting’ into an opponent again to set up either clinching or striking combinations. It is also very easily formed from the standard passive negotiation stance commonly known as the ‘fence’, whereby our palms are out as we use both hands to subtly control the distance between us and our opponent. From this (mobile) position, the arms are halfway to forming the diver frame already.

The Visor

The visor, again, is a very useful structure for crashing in on an opponent. I put this together myself after being asked to develop a training package for some security staff many years ago.

The big benefit of this particular structure is that it can be ‘pre-fabricated’, if you like, during the negotiation stage of a potentially violent altercation; meaning, we can stand with our arms folded (that is our basic structure) and as soon as we need to, we can then lift the whole structure up to protect our head, and charge forward. As we crash into our opponent with the visor, we will nearly always be able to find our opponent’s head with our lead/top arm, thereby setting ourselves up for some strong knee and elbow attacks.

Structural Decisions

Each of the aforementioned structures has its advantages. The foxhole-and-spike is great for crashing in hard and ramming the elbow into our opponent before following up with takedowns, clinching or more striking. The frame is a great defensive strategy — we use it to create a strong wedge between our opponent’s striking arm and neck, and it is also very useful for establishing some initial control against an armed attack. The visor’s strength is in that while being easily disguised as a casual and inoffensive negotiating position, it is very good for crashing in on an aggressor safely and setting up an outside collar-tie grip for either grappling or knee techniques.None of these structures are designed for ‘sparring’; they are all about moving forward explosively, either to surprise the opponent

None of these structures are designed for ‘sparring’; they are all about moving forward explosively, either to surprise the opponent with a pre-emptive move or to turn the tables on them immediately as they launch their first attack. With a little practice, the foxhole, frame and visor can provide excellent protection from head strikes, which are far and away the most common way people are injured or knocked out in street altercations. I very often use structure-based defence when running or designing specialised law enforcement and military-specific defensive tactics courses, largely because they are not only highly effective but require comparatively little training to acquire efficacy.

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Read more expert opinions here. 

Source: Blitz Magazine

Improve Your Muay Thai Now: How Master Toddy Trains Champions, Part 2

Read Part 1 here.


The muay Thai trainer known as Master Toddy likes to have his students cut their teeth on a specially designed striking pad that’s positioned near the ropes that surround one of his boxing rings.

“You can stand in front and hit it to get your distance with uppercuts and other punches until you feel comfortable,” Master Toddy says. “Then you learn how to punch and kick while bouncing off the ropes to get their energy. You really need that energy in round four and round five.”


“In round one, watch your opponent,” he advises. “Notice how he stands, how he moves, how he blinks. You have to feel him out and think about what he wants to do to you.” That’s the best way to beat him, Master Toddy says.


“Fighting is 50-percent mental,” the muay Thai master says. “Conditioning is only so important. I know one guy who runs marathons, but the conditioning doesn’t do him much good in the ring. He never wins; he never believed in himself.

“I would say, ‘Kick him with your right leg.’ He would ask, ‘What happens if he kicks me at the same time?’ I told him I couldn’t be his muay Thai teacher because we couldn’t connect. Letting him stay would have wasted his time.

“You have to be determined to win. If you’re not, you’re wasting your time.”

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It’s very common for good teachers to connect with their fighters — even if they don’t call it “connecting,” Master Toddy says. “I might do more than other people because I come from the background of a monk. My family believed in the same things I do. My fighters do, too.

“Like Lisa King — we connect every time she fights, and she wins. She has the spirit. Of course, everybody has bad days. If your spirit is strong, though, it won’t matter. You can still be strong and win.”


Master Toddy says people often ask him if the person with the better technique will win a fight. “No,” he says. “The person with the heart of the lion wins. It can help you beat someone who’s technically better than you.”

The best test of skill in muay Thai is competing in Thailand — with no family and friends around you, he adds. “You can’t call yourself the world champion of muay Thai without having beat the Thais.”


After one incident in Thailand, Master Toddy began cautioning all his fighters about unexpected mental conditioning. “I had one fighter who went there to train,” he recalls. “She was watching a fight, and a boy she knew got knocked out right in front of her. She felt that knockout and heard his head hit the floor. She said, ‘I hope that doesn’t happen to me!’

“Then everything started going wrong. I tried to get rid of her negative thoughts, but she got knocked out in the first round of her next fight.

“Whenever someone gets knocked out, you shouldn’t look at the person getting carried out. You should look at the winner — and celebrate! Feel his victory!”


Thais start training in kickboxing at age 4 or 5, making it extremely difficult for an American fighter who doesn’t begin until he’s 25 to catch up. But Master Toddy has a solution.

“I have them train certain things and fight smart,”  he says. “For example, in Thailand, they don’t score much on punches because they don’t want muay Thai to become boxing. So training smart might include developing a big punch or a sneaky elbow. The Thais are so far ahead that a foreigner doesn’t have to win to be victorious there. If he goes five rounds with a Thai champion, he’s a winner to me. If he loses a split decision, I jump up and down!”

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“Prepare everything before a fight,” Master Toddy says. “Your clothes, gloves, even your toothpaste and toothbrush — everything you need to make your day. Then you don’t have to worry about the little things. You can focus on fighting and winning.”


“I don’t believe in telling my fighters every move to make,” Master Toddy says. “Many fighters ‘die’ because their cornerman tells them what to do. You have to let the fighters make their own decisions.

“I try to keep my instructions short: ‘What a beautiful day! You look good. I like your moves.’ Then, after everything positive has been said and the fight starts, I might say: ‘Breathe until you feel better. I believe in your right hand. Remember when you knocked out your last opponent with it? You can do it again.’

“With some people, though, you have to yell. It depends on the connection.”


“Some instructors train their fighters to be angry,” he says. “I don’t like my fighters to get angry before a match. When you get angry, you drain your energy very quickly, and you can run out of gas.

“My style is to tell them to relax, that when the time comes, they’ll do the right thing. It’s a Buddhist attitude.”

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Much of the payoff of training in muay Thai isn’t about learning how to kick and punch, Master Toddy says. “It’s about the spirit, as well as discipline and mental training. That’s why we have the pra jiad, or armband.

“We used to cut the clothes of our mother and father to make it. Then we would wrap them together with a small Buddha. If I hit your arm, it was weak. But if you wrapped the band around your arm first, you wouldn’t get hurt. It’s all psychology. That’s one reason we have to honor tradition. Muay Thai is not too much about religion; it’s more spiritual.”


“Thailand is one of the hottest countries in the world,” he says. “How do I train my people to compete there? I turn the heater on in the gym here. I put them in hot water before they go so they get used to the ‘pressure’ of the heat and humidity.”


“I always try to encourage my students, but I punish them, too,” Toddy says. “I have a baseball bat, and sometimes I hit them until they do things right.” (laughs)

Read Part 1 here.

Robert W. Young is the editor-in-chief of Black Belt.

Source: Black Belt Magazine

Improve Your Muay Thai Now: How Master Toddy Trains Champions, Part 1

In a universe populated by hardened ex-champs who have about as much personality as a worn-out boxing glove, muay Thai authority Master Toddy stands out. A jovial fellow, he’s as entertaining a host as one could hope for in the martial arts. But put him on a mat with his students or in the corner with one of his Thai boxers, and he transforms into a fighting fiend.

That’s where Master Toddy shines as a maker of champions — including American men and women who’ve actually traveled to Thailand and beat the Thais at their own game. His success speaks volumes about the validity of his unorthodox methods and beliefs. In this article, Toddy shares some of the kickboxing secrets that have propelled him to the top of the muay Thai world.

— Editor


During the 16 years he spent in Manchester, England, and the 15-plus years he spent in the United States, Master Toddy has learned that you don’t have to be a big bruiser to be a good martial artist.

“When I was in England, there was nothing — they weren’t even allowed to teach muay Thai because they thought it was too violent,” he says. “I had to teach them everything — discipline, how to slow down, how to fight smart. I had to show them muay Thai isn’t about street fighting.

“Most people who do martial arts are shy. They’re nice people who’ve been pushed around, and they want to protect themselves. They’ll fight if they have to, but they don’t want to do it. That’s why martial arts competition has rules and why shy people can become great martial artists. That was the lesson I brought to England.”


Master Toddy was a hit in the United Kingdom, and he soon noticed that American champs were just as interested in what he had to offer. “They wanted to learn how to do muay Thai and defend against the leg kick because [25] years ago in America, they didn’t have muay Thai,” he says. “They had kickboxing, but it’s very different. When they faced a muay Thai stylist, they’d get hit with leg kicks or elbows.

“I decided to come to America to expand muay Thai, to show that it can be done properly and that it’s not a violent sport. The first thing I did was work with the Nevada Athletic Commission to get permission to include elbows and knees. We did the first show in 1995, and it went very well. It started growing. I was successful because I’m a very positive person. Every day I tell my people how important it is to be positive.”

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Master Toddy has trained plenty of well-known fighters over the years, including Maurice Smith, Tito Ortiz, Bob Sapp, Gary Goodridge and a host of K-1 regulars. “Most of them were already champions,” Toddy says. “After they had a hard fight, they would come to me because of my coaching record.

“For example, Bob Sapp came to see me. I trained him in one punch. He went out into the ring and got a first-round knockout with that punch. Then Gary Goodridge came and trained for one of the biggest fights in his career, against a K-1 champion. Gary knocked him out in the first round.

“Once they believe in it, they win. It’s mental programming. It’s not about the kicking and punching; it’s about connecting.”

Master Toddy


“It takes me 20 to 30 minutes to evaluate a fighter,” Master Toddy says. “I talk to him until we click. I find out if he has long arms and long legs and how he moves.

“For example, I might see that he’s got a lot of potential in his right hand. So we train, and I develop his right hand. I don’t train every punch and kick; I train him to use his other techniques to set up his right hand. After every kick, I want him to say to himself, ‘My right hand is ready.’ I want him to have confidence in it.

“In training, he throws a roundhouse kick, and his right hand is ready. He throws a left hand, and his right hand is ready. Then, when I say, ‘Now!’ he does it. At that moment, he and I have to be connected. I have to believe in his right hand. If he feels it, I can feel it. That’s how he can win.”


“When I was a monk in Thailand, my chief monk taught me about connecting,” he says. “He lived on top of a mountain without a car or anything. Someone suggested that I should meet him on the mountain. It took days to find him.

“While I was climbing up there, the monk ‘saw’ me. He could see everything in his mind. That’s why I believe the mind is so powerful. It’s like when parents have a connection with their kids or when the phone is ringing and you know it’s your wife calling.”

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Once the connection is established, Master Toddy says, he doesn’t have to be present at a bout to help his fighters win. “Before the fight, they have to think about our training. Some of my fighters call me or text me.

“I do this because I have 100 or 200 fighters, and I can’t go to every single fight. If I go to some but not others, they might lose. So before one of them fights, they call me. I go into a room and meditate. I can feel it as they win the fight.”


Master Toddy likes to have his fighters, both male and female, wear a unique piece of head protection that features different types of foam to absorb shock.

“That way, when you get hit, you don’t get a headache because you don’t feel vibrations through the foam,” he says. “If you don’t get a headache after training, it makes you want to train longer and harder.”


“We designed our heavy bag so that when you kick it, you dent it,” Master Toddy says. “That makes you want to land all your other kicks in the same pocket, which makes you more accurate.”

Fringe benefit: “It teaches you that if your opponent has a weak point — on his leg, for example — you should keep hitting the same spot. It’s all about psychology.”

(To be continued.)

Photos by Robert W. Young

Source: Black Belt Magazine

In Honor of David Carradine, Kwai Chang Caine From the TV Series Kung Fu

December 8, 1936 – June 3, 2009

Today marks the eighth year since David Carradine, the actor who left his imprint on martial arts history when he starred in ABC’s Kung Fu television series, passed away.

Countless senior practitioners in dojo across the country received their first exposure to the martial arts because of Carradine, who portrayed wandering Shaolin priest Kwai Chang Caine from 1972 to 1975, and many of us were inspired to take up training because of the character’s weekly exploits in the American West.

David Carradine and Keye Luke in Kung Fu. (Photo Courtesy of ABC)

Probably just as many middle-aged practitioners got their first look at David Carradine when he appeared in Chuck Norris’ hit movie Lone Wolf McQuade (1983). After that came the TNT series Kung Fu: The Legend Continues, which brought Carradine back to television to play the grandson of Kwai Chang Caine from 1993 to 1997.

The younger generation — my grandkids included — received their first glimpse of David Carradine when he landed the role of Bill in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003) and Kill Bill: Vol. 2 (2004).

Chuck Norris and David Carradine in Lone Wolf McQuade. (Photo Courtesy of Topkick Productions)

Over the years, David Carradine became a good practitioner of the Chinese martial arts and did whatever he could to spread goodwill for all styles. Case in point: In 2005 he was invited to the Black Belt Festival of Martial Arts in Los Angeles, and for several hours, he walked the convention floor, providing numerous fans with once-in-a-lifetime photo ops.

During my first interview with him, David Carradine said, “As a seeker of kung fu, your influence must reach farther than the tips of your fingers.” He certainly lived up to those words.

Floyd Burk congratulates David Carradine on his Black Belt Hall of Fame induction.

In the months before he passed, David Carradine and I were collaborating on a Black Belt feature article intended to share the lessons he learned while pursuing martial arts mastery. When his death was announced, I, like everyone else, was stunned. I shelved the project out of respect and mourned the man’s passing.

It’s my hope that the martial arts world will pay its respects to David Carradine on this somber day and take a moment to appreciate all that he gave us during the 35 years he practiced kung fu and the 50 years he devoted to acting. Rest in peace, sir.

Floyd Burk is one of Black Belt’s contributing editors.

Studio Photos by Rick Hustead

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Source: Black Belt Magazine

Friday night lights out

Sensei Howard Quick on the reality check he was given when working as a bouncer. 

As a young bouncer, Sensei Howard Quick and his fellow security staff became the target of four brawlers’ Friday night fun — but the expectation of back-up was the biggest problem. 

Quick’s Shinkendo sensei Obata Kaiso demonstrates one of many standing arm-locks in the jujutsu arsenal.

I was working as part of a regular security team inside a nightclub venue when we were called by the girl at the desk: “There’s trouble in the tavern; Glenn’s been attacked.” Glenn was a crowd controller who generally stayed within the tavern/gaming lounge area of the facility, occasionally helping us out in the nightclub. Glenn looked like a blonde Brendan Fraser; he always had a smile on his face and was a really easy-going, polite, friendly guy — but he seemed to be a magnet for troublemakers.

We ran into the tavern to find Glenn had been headbutted and appeared to have a broken nose. The attackers — four of them, from memory — were just on their way out the door. There were two plain-clothes police detectives in the gaming lounge at the time of the incident who said, “We’ve called a car…do whatever you have to do to stop those guys.”

We took off out into the car park and confronted Glenn’s attackers, immediately

sparking an altercation. One of the guys launched a couple of punches at me, which I deflected before sweeping out his leg. I then rolled him straight onto his stomach and went into what we call a ‘step-over shoulder lock’.

This is a particularly good jujutsu hold for this situation as you can keep standing and maintain the lock with just your legs and weight transfer, leaving both of your hands free. While I was standing with the guy locked up on the ground at my feet, one of the other assailants tried to ‘bulldog’ me (charge at me), so I leaned to the side and deflected him. This resulted in the lock being intensified, so his mate on the ground let out a squeal. I remember saying to the guy in the lock, “You can thank your mate for that.”

The guy who charged at me was then met with a right hook from one of our other guys, and he went down with a nasty cut on his forehead. He just crawled over to the kerb and sat there, defeated, covered in his own blood (head cuts bleed an incredible amount).

So…l was still standing there with the one guy locked up, face down on the ground, and the bloodied older guy, probably 40-ish (I was about 25 at the time), was just sitting on the kerb looking dejected. I saw another guy being held by one of our team, and one other, the smallest, youngest looking of Glenn’s attackers was also being held but was yelling, ‘We’ll come back and get you arseholes’ or something to that effect.

The next thing that happened surprised me — the older, bald-headed guy, still sitting on the curb bleeding, said “No, we came here to take these guys on…and they were better than us…we’re done. They beat us fair and square.” I just looked at him thinking ‘What?’ It seems we were their Friday night entertainment. I had a bit of respect for the guy for his honesty, but it was extremely unusual to hear something like that.

On this occasion it was over quickly but the police took their time. When they finally arrived, I was not impressed. They were from a different station to the Werribee detectives who called them, and we had a very good relationship with the Werribee police — they knew we weren’t ‘thugs’. (On a different occasion one of them actually said to me, “We usually take our time getting here when you guys call us, because we know you will have it all sorted by the time we get there, and we won’t have to do anything”.)

But these four or five officers immediately went into a huddle, occasionally looking across at us like they were trying to figure out what to do. As I’d been holding this guy at my feet for about 20 minutes by then, I started to get a bit annoyed. I asked a couple of times, “Can you PLEASE come over here and cuff this guy?”

Eventually one of the officers came over, but after watching her fumble with the handcuffs for a couple of minutes, I grabbed the cuffs off her and did it myself. After taking all of our details — and never once asking us to explain what had happened — the ‘senior’ officer proceeded to tell us how we would “most likely be charged with assault” (We found out later the two detectives had explained to the officers what had taken place).

We were all disappointed at the way the police went about handling the situation. At no stage was a report done and we were never given the opportunity to explain what had led to them being called. So I assume the offenders were never charged as they should have been. In my experience this was commonplace within the crowd control industry — the attitude was like, ‘You’re a bouncer, being assaulted is just part of your job.’ It wasn’t really considered assault to hit a bouncer — but maybe things have changed in the last 20 years?

Looking back on that particular event, I believe we handled the situation very well. The guys I worked with at the time were all decent people who always acted in a completely professional manner — there were no thugs or egomaniacs looking to prove how tough they were. They were tough men and didn’t need to prove it, but I always knew that someone had my back.

Before any of these incidents I always felt a little apprehensive, but I was there to do a job and there were others relying on me to back them up, too, so it became ‘business as usual’. Once it starts, everything just happens so quickly that you have to rely on your training as well as a bit of gut instinct.

I don’t ever remember really thinking in such situations (at the time), but afterwards I could usually picture the whole event like it was a scene from a movie or a short video clip. I never seemed to feel the adrenaline dump either; perhaps because you go in with the attitude that it’s why you’re there to begin with — ‘This is the job I’ve chosen to do…so I just do it’.

My martial arts training affected everything I did when I was working as a crowd controller, from awareness of a situation and my surroundings to the no-nonsense response when violence occurred, and on to effecting a satisfactory result (in the aforementioned case, locking the guy up face-down on the ground).

One of the main things I stress to my jujutsu students is awareness; be aware of your surroundings and be aware of the people around you. Try not to put yourself in a situation where you have to resort to using your physical skills; that should always be a last resort — especially as you never know how the law may treat it.

Read more on self-defence here.

Source: Blitz Magazine

The enigma of courage

Fight, flight and the psychology of choosing

Budo is the way of the warrior. And essential for the warrior is courage — without it, he has lost his way, and his skills become worthless in a violent encounter. Researcher and long-time jujutsuka John Coles takes a look at what courage really means to a soldier, a samurai and a modern-day martial artist seeking to develop the mindset needed for self-defence.

Recent Australian Victoria Cross recipients CPL Mark Donaldson (left) and CPL Ben Roberts-Smith of the SAS, with Keith Payne VC

“Fighting in war creates an environment where fear is prevalent, and unless courage prevails, all is lost.” So wrote General Sir Peter de la Billiere in the preface to the 2007 edition of The Anatomy of Courage by World War 1 veteran Lord Charles Moran (first published in 1945). He added that, consequently, “the most important personal requirement for those who go to war is to understand the enigma of courage and its critical importance in overcoming fear”.

Fair enough. But what is courage, exactly? It is often defined in terms of acting despite fear. As Mark Twain explained, “Courage is not the absence of fear. It is acting in spite of it.” The late anti-apartheid warrior Nelson Mandela was of the same thinking: “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it,” he said.

The notion that courage is acting in spite of fear means that without fear, there can be no courage. As legendary American WWI fighter pilot Edward Vernon Rickenbacker put it, “Courage is doing what you’re afraid to do. There can be no courage unless you’re scared.”

A more contemporary expression of this relationship between fear and courage can be found in the book Game of Thrones: ‘Bran thought about it. “Can a man still be brave if he’s afraid?” “That is the only time a man can be brave,” his father told him.’

Not only can there be no courage without fear, but as General de la Billiere reasoned, “without fear there is no need for courage” (emphasis added).

De la Billiere described courage as being “an individual’s exercise of mind over fear through self-discipline”. And Lord Moran put that idea even more succinctly: “Courage is willpower.”

Willpower means to deliberately exert control in order to do something or to restrain our own impulses — so, in some circumstances, then, willpower can certainly take the form of courage. If courage means using our minds to resist the instinctive impulses generated by fear and instead take different actions — like running toward an attacking enemy, as a soldier is expected to do, rather than away from them — it is, indeed, willpower at work. This attribute is reflected in Aristotle’s explanation of courage, which he said requires “deliberate choice and purpose”.

So, the generally accepted notion of courage, it seems, is that it requires us to first feel fear, then to exercise our willpower/deliberate choice in order to act in spite of that fear. Or, put simply…

This story is titled ‘The Enigma of Courage’, and ‘enigma’ means a thing that is mysterious and difficult to understand — yet there doesn’t seem to be anything too mysterious or difficult to understand about courage based on the above definition. But having said that, there are a couple of anomalies associated with this simple view of what defines courage.

Corporal Ben Roberts-Smith was awarded Australia’s highest military honour, the Victoria Cross (VC), “for the most conspicuous gallantry [courage] in action in circumstances of extreme peril”. Was Roberts-Smith courageous when he performed his perilous act? We can only answer that question if we know whether or not Roberts-Smith was scared at the time. If he was scared at the time of his perilous act then the next question becomes, how scared was he? Does mildly nervous while performing a perilous act qualify as being courageous, or does it need to be approaching terrified to qualify?

When discussing fearlessness, William Ian Miller (The Mystery of Courage, 2002) suggests that “it is striking how many of those uses of the word ‘fearless’ do not pretend to describe the inner state of the actor. They are meant rather to register the awe of the observer”.

The same may be said of the use of the word ‘courage.’ Was Roberts-Smith awarded the VC for his courage, acting in spite of fear, or because of our awe of his actions with no regard to his inner state? (Reflect on that question the next time you watch an AFL match on TV where the commentator describes a player’s action as ‘courageous’.)

Can courage be taught? De la Billiere and many others believe that courage can be taught through ‘realistic training’, which refers to training that increasingly approximates the operational environment. It is the third stage in stress training (sometimes called ‘stress inoculation’ or ‘stress exposure’ training), which is increasingly being used by the military and law enforcement to better prepare their personnel for operational deployment.

This type of training is designed to reduce anxiety/fear and uncertainty regarding the environment, and enhance the trainee’s sense of individual control, thus increasing their confidence to perform in that setting. Realistic training is not so much about training courage as it is about reducing fear — which, paradoxically, reduces the need for courage.

One of the training methods used by the military to counter the effects of stress (fear) is ‘overlearning’. Overlearning leads to automaticity, which enables the soldier to perform required tasks with limited attention. In an interview that Roberts-Smith gave to The Australian after receiving his VC, he explained how “in the middle of intense fighting there wasn’t time to think and a soldier’s training kicked in”.

Was Roberts-Smith describing trained automaticity that enabled him and others to overcome their fear without the use of willpower or deliberate choice, and if so, could that disqualify the performed perilous act from being classified as courageous?

Perhaps. Even so, it could be argued that courage, in his and every soldier’s case, was required to get him to the battlefield in the first place — when making a series of deliberate choices to join the military, complete the training, board the Hercules for the assigned tour of duty, leave the base to patrol in enemy territory, etc. — all while cognitive of the dangers that would be faced and continuing despite experiencing degrees of trepidation and fear throughout.

Plato explored the enigma of courage nearly 2500 years ago in Laches. In it he provided a military-centric explanation of courage as being a soldier standing his post and defending himself rather than running away. This gets to the very heart of the matter when it comes to a military perspective on courage: a practical perspective — fight rather than flight.

Many people talk about the fight-or-flight concept to explain our natural responses to a threat. They explain that fear motivates instinctive fight or flight behaviours, which the body enacts via an automatic physiological response — however, this is an overly simplistic and flawed understanding of the concept [see John Coles’ article ‘Fight or Flight: Have we got it all wrong?’ in Blitz Vol. 27 No. 10].

Walter Cannon developed the fight-or-flight concept in the early 1900s to describe our inherited survival mechanisms. But he proposed that these two instinctive behaviours were not motivated by the same emotion: he associated flight with fear but fight with anger.

This small but important detail is often overlooked or not understood by those referring to fight-or-flight to describe our natural responses to a threat. It is important because if our instinctive fight behaviour was associated with fear, then there would be no need to summon courage to overcome fear in order to fight.

Nature’s strategy in the face of a perceived threat is to turn fear into anger in order to change flight into fight. That strategy has been used by man since time immemorial in order to achieve the same objective. For instance, Sun Tzu stated in The Art of War that “killing the enemy is a matter of arousing anger in men”.

In their article ‘Countering Fear in War: The Strategic Use of Emotion’ (Journal of Military Ethics, 2006), Roger Petersen and Evangelos Liaris include the creation of anger as one of several strategies to counter fear in war. Even the US Marine Corps’ Small Wars Manual FMFRP 12-15 (1990) directly links turning fear into anger with courage: “In major warfare, hatred of an enemy is developed among troops to arouse courage.”

Turning fear into anger in order to promote fight behaviour does not equal courage if using the generally accepted understanding of it — but it is if using Plato’s ‘fight not flight’ definition.

As well as the strategy of arousing anger in order to counter fear in a war, Petersen and Liaris talk about changing terror back into courage through rational discourse (basically distraction), the threat of shame (i.e. dishonour), the creation of spite, and instilling hope. These strategies either replace fear or overcome it in order to turn flight into fight. Is the use of these strategies courage? Again, not according to the generally accepted understanding of courage, but it is according to Plato’s ‘fight not flight’ definition.

Were the Japanese samurai courageous? The Japanese martial arts teach the concept of  mushin no shin, or ‘mind of no mind’, which refers to a state of mind free from thoughts, anger, fear or any emotions. If courage is acting in spite of fear, then the Japanese samurai were not courageous. If courage is the use of willpower to overcome fear, the Japanese samurai were not courageous.

However, if courage is defined in terms of fight not flight, no matter what means are used to achieve it, as per Plato, then the Japanese samurai were courageous.

Is the most important personal requirement for those who go to war — and for those who prepare them to go to war — to unravel the enigma of courage and understand its critical importance in overcoming fear? Or is it more important for both parties to understand fear itself, and the ways and means that have been used since time immemorial to turn flight into fight?

From a practical perspective, in terms of getting us ready to fight, there is no enigma or mystery of courage — there is only the distraction of courage. And then there are the practical mental tools that can help us turn flight into fight when necessary.

Read more on self-defence here.

Source: Blitz Magazine

Close quarters with Paul Cale

A Good Kill.

The power of the mind — and the effect our training has on its development —
may only become clear when tested under extreme circumstances. 

Extreme situations are ultimately a test of mindset.

Late one night I walk into a room of a building where I worked at in the mid-’90s to be confronted by a stranger, a man who had arrived before me only moments earlier. He was clearly intoxicated and had anger in his eyes. He reached to his waistline with his right hand and pulled out what was a hidden weapon, a knife that had been modified and shaped to allow for easy concealment.

We stood looking at each other over a distance of no more than one-and-a-half metres. He held the knife low by his side and just stared at me, saying nothing, preferring the situation to speak for itself — and in hindsight, the situation was not ideal for me in any way.

I was working in a small country town sober-up centre as part of an Indigenous program in conjunction with the Victoria Police. I had many friends within the police force, as my wife at the time was a senior constable, and I also had many good Aboriginal friends who were training with me in BJJ and knockdown karate.

I had been involved in several programs prior to the sober-up centre, mostly to do with education of young people, and I used martial arts as a tool to help me connect with youth with great success. From the positive outcomes of the first project I was involved with, I was asked to be involved with more things over time and I was happy to help, as the local Aboriginal community and I built friendships that are still strong to this day.

I was on call when the phone rang late in the night and I made the short drive to the sober-up centre. The police had already arrived and had a man with them, who I didn’t know by name but had seen once or twice during my time living in town. One constable escorted the man to the sign-in room while his partner relayed to me the background behind the pick-up from the street. As far as the police were concerned, all seemed to go smoothly with getting the man off the street and to the centre, so they departed and I went into the sign-in room.

Now, as I faced the man and his knife alone in the centre, I assumed that may have been the reason why the weapon had been missed during the earlier body search.

At that stage of my life I had been in the army for close to 10 years, but had transferred to the Army Reserve some years prior. I had a Blue-belt in BJJ and Black-belts in karate, taekwondo and aikido — less than half of the martial arts experience and qualifications I hold now, and even less when it comes to the military.

I had not, at that stage, re-enlisted back into the regular army and I had not been to war or had any combat experience whatsoever. But the crises in life do not tend to wait for us to be ready to experience them, so there I was, ready or not. But as it all played out in front of me, I did feel ready; I felt the confidence that I feel to this day.

We stared at each other for what seemed like a long time, but would have only been a few seconds at most. In that moment, no thoughts went through my head; I felt no fear (as foolish as it may seem in hindsight), just an overwhelming sense that I was going to have to kill this man. With that realisation, my mind began racing through the reasons for what I was about to do, to ensure that it would be a ‘good kill’ — a term used in war to confirm that a killing was justified and legal.

I have no idea of what my would-be attacker saw in my eyes that night, but can only assume that he was looking for fear and didn’t get what he needed. His confidence was not given the fuel it required for him to continue. Without either of us moving or saying a word, he dropped the knife and began to sob. As he apologised over and over again, I snapped right back into social worker mode and said, “No problem, mate, let’s get you cleaned up and into a bed for the night.”

I learned something about the power of mindset that night.

Read more expert opinions here.

Source: Blitz Magazine