Self Defense Myths
By Bill Kipp

Every month, in my travels and correspondence I come across various myths and beliefs concerning every facet of real world self defense. These range from ordinary common sense questions to way out and even bizarre ideas about what happens in real life encounters. With so many varying and often contradictory opinions I have chosen to devote a monthly column to the subject. Addressing these ideas, whether correct or incorrect is paramount in teaching self-defense. They often dictate taking action that may or may not be effective. Worse case scenario…these ideas get people killed.

As I sit here writing, a recent issue of Black Belt rests on my desk. Known and respected for objectively covering the world of Martial Arts, Black Belt diligently reports on a wide range of styles and subjects. One of the articles is on a two day Real-Life Self-Defense “Battle School.” I have no doubt as to the reputation or skill of the gentleman teaching this program, nor in its ability to adequately train effective self defense for the street.

But one line in particular catches my eye; “The average street fight lasts an average of three minutes, so students must develop their cardio respiratory and muscular endurance.” This is a great subject to launch my Myths column. In truth, physical conditioning, although helpful, is not at all a major factor in people’s ability to defend themselves.

I also have to question the statement that a real fight actually does last three minutes. In my dozens of personal fights, and the many dozens more I have witnessed, only one lasted as long as three minutes. That was a gang attack where a fellow Recon Marine and me were set upon by a group of five to six “fellow” marines. It took place at a small outdoor restaurant in the middle of a large field.

We were eating a sandwich and having a beer when I was cold cocked from behind. The ensuing fight lasted probably a few minutes (though it seemed more like hours!) and believe it or not no one was hurt very badly. In my experience this altercation lasted ridiculously long. Virtually all of my other fights were over after the first few blows were thrown.

Real situations simply do not go on for very long before one person is hurt or loses heart and gives up. Long fights typically are the realm of movies or the ring. NOT in the real world.

I have had somewhere around 30,000 fights in the Bullet-man suit. The suit allows me to cheat like crazy and take multiple shots that are harder than ones I have successfully used in real fights, and yet I kept on fighting. We want our students to go into oxygen debt so they can experience how adrenaline keeps you going when the mind is screaming to quit.

A brutally long fight where we fight back hard and sustain up to a dozen solid knockout blows can last as long as 45 seconds. By the end, the student and Bullet-man collapse in absolute exhaustion (although we make our students get up and move to safety).

Physical conditioning helps. But I have seen many a pencil pushing out of shape office worker use adrenaline to crank up and knock down silly, bigger stronger opponents. I have seen short timid women go Mama Bear on guys twice her weight and size. I have seen the proverbial “sand kicked in his face” skinny weakling go medieval on a big macho good ole boy and knock him out cold. The ability to use the emotional and bio chemical effects of stress and fear as power far override physical strength or lack there of.

So why did my gang attack go on for so long? First off I don’t really know how long the fight lasted. The adrenal fear rush distorts accurate sense of time. It could have been 1 ½ minutes or could have been as long as 3. Truth is I really don’t know. And neither do most people who get into fights.

The part of the brain that continues to function under duress is not capable of reading time. Therefore I would submit that many fighters and victims think their fights went much longer than they actually did. We show our students the video of their fights against the Bullet-men. Without fail, they say that the fight seemed much longer than it actually was on the video.

Another factor in a fight going long is simply that the combatants don’t know how to fight. The marines that attacked my buddy and me had enough time to kill us if they had any fighting sense. Though we were both trained Martial Artists and Special Forces Marines, we had never taken any adrenal stress response training. We did the most common thing, freeze and flail.

At one point I did break through the paralysis but that will be the subject of a future column. My point here is that if a fight goes on for very long it is because the people in it are not connecting good solid blows.

Real fights are wild and crazy and people get hurt. Typically one or two good shots is going to at least take the fight out of someone. And typically it’s the person who gets the first good strike in that prevails.

Adrenal Stress response Training is really very simple. We teach folks how to break the freezing effects of adrenaline and fear by focusing all that power into simple strikes to vulnerable areas on an attacker. Just as a person can be quickly conditioned to freeze for many years by an unsuccessful defense, we can train a person to use the adrenal fear state as their greatest ally in just four and a half hours of training.

If you kick a guy in the groin, he’ll gain superhuman strength and kill you. It feels silly to even write about this, yet this myth is still perpetuated by various sources. I can see a basis for this line of thought, inaccurate, as I believe it to be. Looking to understand the thinking that leads people to make these statements and theories, I find there is usually (though not always) some logical thought process behind this, Personally I have used snap kicks to the groins of attackers in real fights with remarkable success. I have also been on the receiving end of more than one groin kick and have found it to be quite an effective target, sometimes much to my chagrin.

One personal source of this misinformation is a Police Officer friend who trains Swat Teams Self Defense by hard sparring in the conventional martial arts manner. Since sparring is done as a mutually agreed upon training exercise (symmetrical vs. asymmetrical), the participants should and do learn how to protect the groin area. Whether the groin is deemed an acceptable target or not, male students tend to naturally protect their groin in this type of training. When discussing the groin as a target my friend was emphatic about his inability to deliver a strike to the groin in his training sessions. His officers were able to protect their groin very effectively while sparring. I know I certainly did in my days of sparring.

However, sparring is quite different from real fighting. Even heavy sparring employs a degree of conscious thought process and physical dexterity that is simply not available in the full adrenal rush. I have seen many a skilled technical fighter stand flat on their feet and throw ineffective haymaker punches in real street encounters. Many of these incidents end up in a clinch with both fighters standing squared off trying to get leverage over the other. To the aware fighter it is often a simple task to throw a front kick or a knee into the groin of their opponent. It sure has worked for me; sometimes to my amazement as my foe dropped like a sack of potatoes from a relatively light force strike. The groin can be a very effective target. Hardcore no-holds barred fighting contests do not allow full contact strikes to the groin for this very reason.

Another source of this misinformation is a female owner of a local Boulder Colorado Martial Arts school who skillfully uses her self-defense courses to feed students into her traditional MA program. For the record I am completely supportive of women run/owned Martial Arts schools. But not coincidentally this woman has run a long-term misinformation campaign against FAST Defense to promote her own in house self-defense program. Although there is plenty of business for all of us, she sees FAST as a real threat. This woman emphatically tells her students to never kick a man in the groin. She sites examples where women have been severely beaten after attempting ineffectual strikes to the groin. This is akin to saying never fight back, which law enforcement agents used to say and have now totally reversed their stance. I would imagine some poorly trained women and men in the past have had this negative experience. But the overwhelming evidence is that the groin is an excellent target.

My third source is from a friend who grew up in New York City. It seems he feels the stigma of growing up in “The City” is that he’s supposed to be rough and tough. The stories of his exploits are elaborate and in my book unrealistic reports of flying spin kicks and other highly technical techniques that he’s supposedly used in real fights. Always taking his accounts with a grain of salt, the clincher came when we were sharing experiences over a cold beer. He was visibly offended when I mentioned having used groin kicks in real fights. This was apparently outside his code of ethical fighting, and he said as much. I remember being amazed by this coming from someone who supposedly was such a fighter. Inner-city survival would be pretty rough under such a code.

My sense is that he learned much more about street fighting from watching movies and hearing the many embellished stories that we guys can spread when feeling bored or insecure, than actual fighting on the streets. In other words, my good buddy is “full of it”, at least in relation to this topic.

My stance is that there is no such thing as a “bad” target if the defender strikes with conviction and power. There may be better targets than others. But when it comes to the male groin, no manner of conditioning or weight training can make this area impervious to strikes while under duress. Some guys have tried to attain this, but none that I know of have ever succeeded. But that’s a topic for another column.

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