Delusions of self-defence

“How long d’you reckon you’d last?”

I didn’t even pause. “I could last a round or two.”

He raised his eyebrows. “Ya reckon?”

“Yeah, easy.”

“The last person who fought him trained for it, and he lasted thirty seconds.”

We live in the sweet embrace of many delusions. But one of the deepest and most pervasive concerns our capacity to defend ourselves against a physical aggressor. We all think—men especially—that if someone comes at us swingin’, we could hold ‘em off, get in a few blows, perhaps even neutralise the threat they pose. The reality is alarmingly different. Athleticism and fear-birthed aggression only go so far. Against aggressors with even a modicum of training, most of us would be helpless.

I’ve been practicing Brazilian jiu-jitsu for several years now. When I roll with complete beginners, it’s near-bizarre how easy it is to deflect their efforts and turn their own energy and physique against themselves (and for more competent practitioners to do the same to me). I suspect those trained in unarmed combat—formally, by the military or law enforcement, or informally in countless scraps on the playground, in the street and in bars—have the same experience when faced with someone with no such reservoir of experience.

Another example. As a part of BJJ classes we sometimes do stand-up grip fighting as a warm up. The aim is to establish a dominant grip on your partner—a wrist, a sleeve, a collar, an underhook—and stop them getting one on you. Sounds simple. It ain’t. I was paired up with a young guy who has also practised judo at a high level. I’m young too, and I thought I had quick hands and fast reactions. Nope. Multiple times in a row, this guy’s hands went from utterly still, to weaving in between my hands, to having an iron grip on my collar. It happened again and again, so fast that I could hardly see it occurring, yet alone anticipate and stop it. In those moments, I thought to myself how easy it would be for that grasping palm to become a fist and for it to be hammering into my jaw.

Like most delusions, belief in our ability to defend ourselves only shatters because of contact with reality. When it’s too late to course-correct our beliefs. When we’re already reaping—and in the worst cases, bleeding from—the consequences.