Mindset and Internal Coherence

This rant originated (like most of them) from a conversation with a friend. The subject of the conversation was mindset, coherence, and the importance of keeping your training and thought process moving along the same lines and towards the same goals. This can sometimes be tough in general, but especially in the self-defense world. It seems like I constantly come back to the fact that self-defense is one of those fields where the skills are very tough to test. Again, this factor creates the potential for all sorts of problems, one of them being incoherence between your goals, the actual product of your training, and your expectations of performance. When you don’t get regular practice with the full suite of your skills in the actual environment you’ll use them in, it can be very easy to digress in what you train and study. It’s very important to have clear goals and context. This is a central point to self-defense training, and is often the missing piece of a lot of physical self-defense training. Many systems teach physical defense skills very well, but fail to contextualize the training and make it applicable for the environment in which it will be used. I think this is where reality-based self-defense (or whatever you want to call it) instructors come into play. I think one of our primary jobs is to maintain clear vision of how the thread of self-defense weaves through all the different forms of combative or martial training. So many styles just need to have context and environment clearly defined in order for them to become truly effective.

So to move on to the point of coherence, defining the goals of your training is very important regarding both technique and mindset. It’s important to have a very firm grasp on what your overall goal/mission is with your training. If it is personal safety, then knowledge of your beliefs, ethics, and emotional limits is necessary in order to understand how to approach technical training. Self-defense and the application of violence is mostly an emotional skill set. If those internal elements aren’t addressed and factored into training, then there are some very big gaps that can come back to bite you at very inopportune times. Defining your overall end-result also requires being specific. Personal safety can be the mission, but what does personal safety actually mean, and what does it look like? What are the priorities of your mission? If going home to your family and continuing your life unabated is the desired end-result, then there are many actions like intervening in an active shooter that might be off the table. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t help people in need if you possess the capability to do so, I’m just saying that defining your mission priorities is key. In addition, you have to run out the potential circumstances under which your mission might be compromised or willfully adjusted. Such compromises might have to be included and allowed to modify your mission goals/parameters. These internal aspects are critical to having realistic expectations of what you will actually do in a given situation versus what you think you will do. Once you have these basics worked out you can move on to ironing out the type of technical training you want to do, and how that training provides you the tools for accomplishing your mission. You want to make sure that the techniques you are building into your responses and protocols fit your goals. A personal example for me was with pistol-draw drills. Early in my training I used to drill the crap out of drawing and firing as quick as I could. I got down to some respectable draw and fire times. But one day I realized that I was spending a lot of time conditioning myself to always fire as soon as I was on target. Granted, I know in general that you don’t want to present your firearm unless there is a deadly threat present, but at the same time there are various situations in which I would present my firearm to a threat and not shoot immediately. Once this fully dawned on me I adjusted my training to include drawing, assessing, and then executing a given action. I still got out of the holster and onto the target as fast as possible, but allowed for the incorporation of information as all of this was happening. Granted this probably seems an obvious thing to take into account, but it still was something that I had overlooked to a certain extent as far as the amount of training I was doing for one particular skill. Once I contextualized what I was training for, I realized that I had to make some adjustments. That was a while back, but still something I think about as I study new skills.

I am currently reading Varg Freeborn’s book “Violence of Mind”, and it has some great perspective on the importance of mindset. I would venture to say that the focus of the book is primarily on mindset and contextualizing your skills. There is a lot of great information on a variety of aspects of self-defense, and the bonus is that the author has a unique point-of-view concerning these elements. Consequently he understands the importance of keeping your training and mindset in line with your goals and the nature of their end-use. This is an idea that has been getting more and more accepted as reality-based self-defense, which includes concealed-carry training or anything else intended for real-world use, becomes more and more prevalent. You can see it in the “carry world”, as more students and instructors are embracing the necessity of transitional skills to facilitate accessing your weapon, and the realities of fighting at contact distance with a firearm. The fact that this was a neglected aspect of popular training for so long shows that contextualization is slow to catch on in a world where the skills practiced don’t get tested very often. It’s good to see that people are taking a more comprehensive approach to their training, and I hope the trend continues. No doubt that it will, evolution tends to move towards efficiency.

Some thoughts on the difference between training for application and training as a “practice”:
There are any number of activities or technical skills in the world that serve as both practical functions and “personal practices”. Self-defense and martial systems are certainly in this category. I think either way, training will enrich your life and it’s worth doing. The important thing though is to distinguish between the nature of the two types of training with regards to context and mindset. I think in the martial or self-defense training worlds there are still a lot of practitioners and instructors who don’t understand the importance of making the distinction, and don’t fully identify or articulate the goals of their practice. This is understandable, but it is dangerous if your goal is to provide functional skills. Now there are plenty of systems and self-defense courses out there that do provide functional skills, albeit in a narrow context. The problem arises when they don’t fully take into account the environment in which these skills will be employed, and the dynamics involved.

So to sort of wrap up, keeping your training, mindset, internal makeup, expectations, and actual performance all in sync can be difficult. It really can’t be done without doing the necessary internal exploration, and being willing to do it with no ego. This exploration allows you to truly dissect what your real goals and desires are regarding training. If it ends up that your desire to train is that you enjoy it as a practice, then that is great and you should continue to do it. But know that there is a difference. If your desire to train is to have applicable skills for a given situation, then have a clear understanding of your goals and parameters for that situation, and then conduct your training accordingly. If your desire to train involves both applicable skills, and the enjoyment of the practice, then it can be even trickier in some sense to maneuver and prioritize your training. The desire to enjoy the training can sometimes color your perception of what is going to be most appropriate for the situation. Again, being ruthlessly honest with yourself is the place to start and can help keep you on track.