How A Simple Shift In Mindset Can Dramatically Improve Your Combatives/Self Defence Training

You’re probably sick of hearing about the whole combative mindset concept. It’s become something of a cliché in Combatives/SD circles these days. Yet despite the fact that the phrase is kicked about like an old football, few if anyone bothers to explain exactly what a combative mindset is, nor how to get it.

combat mindset self defense combatives

We all know that in basic terms, a combative mindset is one that is supposed to help us out in a physical altercation. It allows us to take action and do what has to be done to the other guy so we can hopefully prevail in whatever situation we’re in. It’s a forward drive mentality, backed up with aggression and the will to prevail no matter what the odds.

That’s all fine in theory, but how does this concept translate into practical terms?  In training and in practice, how does one get this mindset, what does it feel like and exactly how does it affect our performance?

The Inner Animal

Tapping into the inner animal is most people’s idea of taking on a combative mindset, though I am here to tell you that this may not be the best part of yourself to tap into when it comes to dealing with physical violence.

Tapping into that part of yourself may have its benefits in certain situations. The state that it brings about is made up of raw emotion and boundless aggression. Coupled with a real sense of ferocious resolve, you can create an energy that is very powerful and difficult to stand up against, which is why it is normally the go-to state for most people who train in self defence. It’s an energy that can make you feel like a juggernaut powering into your opponent.

When you are in a tight spot and your back is against the wall so to speak, this kind of mindset and ferocious energy can prove very useful, even lifesaving depending on the circumstances. If you need to give it all you’ve got, then tapping into the inner animal will certainly help you do that.

The main problem with this approach however, is that the inner animal can prove to be very hard to control. Once you unleash the beast from the cage it tends to stick to its nature and proceed to go ape shit. Whatever is in front of it is going to get eaten, no matter the consequences.

The thing is though, most of the situations that you will likely encounter will not require this kind of overkill mentality. In most situations, you can likely afford to be a little more controlled about things.

Once that animal has been released from the cage it tends to do what it wants, which means the danger exists that you will go overboard with your response. You may not even stop after you put the other guy down. You may even kill somebody.

Quite a few times I’ve seen people fly into uncontrolled rages that they can’t bring themselves down from. We’ve all seen the guy that has to be pulled off the other guy before he kills him. You may have even been that guy in the past.

When powerful emotions are in the driving seat you are just along for the ride. 

I don’t know about you, but I’d like to have a bit more control than that, especially when it comes to inflicting violence, where one wrong move can have disastrous consequences.

The other downside to using such strong emotions to fuel your actions is that they can drain you of energy very quickly. Your actions also become quite frantic in nature, almost like an act of desperation on your part and this will inevitably lead to a pronounced degradation in your technique. Stress compression will kick in and your movements will drastically shorten, making them less effective. I also have found that mentally speaking, your stress levels will go up quite a bit as well.

So if you are on the battlefield or if you’re in a real tight spot, unleashing the inner-animal is the way to go if you want to survive. For most other situations, the common ones that most of us will likely face, we need a different approach, and one which allows for more control.

The Professional Mindset

A much more beneficial mindset to cultivate in training is one that I like to call the professional mindset. The professional mindset is not based on emotion, but on measured and deliberate action. Aggression and violent intent are still very much present, but the difference is they are not in the driving seat, you are. To do this, you need to be able to detach yourself from the situation and allow a cold mechanical efficiency to take over. The inner-animal will stay locked in the cage. The cold, hard professional will take over instead.

I’m aware that this all sounds very Jason Bourne, this idea of being a cold and clinical fighting machine, but let me assure you that fantasy has nothing to do with this. What I’m talking about here is completely practical and can easily be demonstrated in training, as the video below will show.

To get this professional mindset you need to learn to switch off your emotions, not completely, but enough that they don’t have any control over you. The idea is to keep those emotions below the surface where they belong, fuelling the engines rather than operating the machine.

In practice this means cultivating self control. Training should be all about control anyway. The point of putting in so many hours of practice is that you try to gain control over yourself and your actions. If that wasn’t your goal in training there wouldn’t be much point to it. You don’t really need training in order to unleash the beast, you just need an emotional trigger (and what is a fight if not an emotional trigger?).

So the professional mindset starts with self control. It requires detachment and deliberate action. With the inner-animal in control, your actions are not very deliberate and they verge on desperate and frantic. Amateurish in other words.

For the professional mindset to kick in you first need to detach yourself from the drama and emotion of the situation. This is the first step.

When I was bouncing, one of the things that I quickly learned how to do was detach myself from whatever situations I encountered on the job. Once I realised that I had a job to do, this enabled me to stay detached and professional (most of the time–we are only human after all!) and to keep personal feelings and emotions out of the situation. Once I started to do that I found this shift in mindset made a significant difference in the way that I handled things. I felt calmer for a start because my emotions where kept fairly in check. And as a result of feeling calmer and less desperate just to end things my actions became a lot more deliberate, which in turn made them more effective. The extreme discomfort and unpleasantness still remained. That never really goes away, but it is easier to deal with when you are bit calmer about things.

Bottom line, I had a job to do and that was that. Any professional doing their job will experience the same thing. Look at doctors, paramedics, military operatives and others who work in high stress professions, even criminals. They all learn to cultivate the same calm and professional mindset that allows them to just get on with their job.

If you want the same professional mindset, you have to start thinking in those terms, like fighting is just your job. Fighting obviously isn’t your job, but if you approach it like that anyway you will find it much easier to remain detached and in control of yourself.

Your inner dialogue will go from, Shit, this is a nightmare, I don’t want to do this, to Shit, this is a nightmare, but I’m going to handle it because I have too.

Training The Professional Mindset

Actually training this mindset is fairly simple. It just requires you to be a bit more focused and a bit more deliberate in your actions.

When doing pad drills, for instance, don’t just unthinkingly lash out at the pad with full aggression, almost tripping over yourself to get the next shot in. Be a bit more deliberate about what you are doing. Try to choose your shots carefully and force yourself to take your time.

I find with a lot of people when they are doing pad drills, they often rush things too much, to the point where they shorten their movements too much and also end up clipping or missing the target a lot. Footwork also suffers and they stumble rather than move precisely forward.

Remember that the goal in training is to practice your techniques in a way that will allow you to do them with full effectiveness and efficiency, both of which tend to suffer when you allow unthinking emotion and the tendency to rush things to take over.

You have more time than you think! The consensus in self defence circles seems to be to attack as fast as possible at all times. Speed obviously matters, but not to the detriment of power and technique. What’s the point of rushing forward, throwing all these strikes, if none of them are having much effect?

To combat this urge to rush things you have to slow down a little and focus more on your target and on what you are doing. This will feel counter-intuitive at first because you will feel like you are giving your opponent the chance to recover, but we are only talking about a nano-second here, just enough to allow you to be more deliberate in your actions, but not so much that your opponent can exploit the time gap.

The effect of being more deliberate in your actions is that your technique will improve. Your movements will become more expansive and thus your techniques more powerful and much more accurate. Internally speaking, you should feel a lot calmer as well, less stressed.

So when you’re practicing your strikes, be a lot more deliberate in your actions and try to focus and remain mentally detached. Cultivate an inner calm. The more you do this, the better you will get at it.

The same applies when it comes to doing live drills against resisting opponents. These kinds of drills are always a lot more frantic and pressurised than normal pad drills, mainly because the stress levels are higher and you are often up against others who are trying to hit you back. It can be difficult to maintain a level head and inner-calm in these circumstances, but you must try. It is in these kinds of situations that you need the professional mindset the most. All it really takes is again, being a bit more deliberate about what you are doing and consciously trying to remain calm and in control of yourself. You will of course fail often at this, but eventually you will get better at it.

Should you find yourself in an altercation on the street, a cool head is not only important during the altercation, but also afterwards as well. You never know what you have to do afterwards. You may be required to deal with the law, help someone who is injured or even prevent another altercation from starting. You can’t really do any of these things if you are running around like an enraged animal, unable to come down from the strong emotions you are feeling.

This is something that also needs to be practiced in training. After every live drill and pressure drill you need to immediately check your state and consciously bring yourself down to a calmer state where you can think clearly again.

Deep Practice

All this requires not just practice, but deep, deliberate practice.

Stay mindful in training. What you do in training, you will do outside of training.

Now take a look at the video for a more detailed explanation of how to execute all this in practice.

Written by Neal Martin

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