When you look at this picture, which guy needs self defense? If you found yourself in the above situation, what would you do?
Your response will show your self defense expectations and where you see yourself in violence. It’s an inkblot test, or one of those optical illusions where you can see either a vase or two faces—people immediately see one or the other, some see both and can flip it back and forth in their heads, others can never see the inverse of their initial impression.
It’s interesting to note the very different responses you get from two distinct populations: The sane/socialized and the sociopathic/or otherwise experienced in the use of violence.
Sane & Social Self Defense
- See themselves as the man on the ground, reacting to thwart the standing man (parsing attacker-defender, classic self defense)
- Are intensely interested in the story leading up to the image (who’s the good guy/bad buy, who’s in the right and who’s in the wrong)
Sociopathic or Otherwise Experienced in Violence
- See themselves as the standing man (parsing winner-loser)
- Are uninterested in the story or social roles (pure mechanics of winning)
As a teaching tool, the goal here is not to shame those who reflexively see the image through the social lens, nor to reward those who know the “right” answer and parrot it because they think that’s what we’re looking for. The goal is to show you what’s inside of your head, your most basic assumptions about violence and the role you expect to play in it.
Before I knew anything about violence I would have seen myself as the guy on the ground, and been intensely interested in learning what to do next in self defense. In training, I would’ve wanted to start from that position and work to stop or counter what the other man was doing.
Like the vase/two-faces image, it can take someone else pointing out the inverse before you can see it. And even then, it takes effort to see it again.
This is the role training plays: You need to put in the time and effort to change your reflexive assumption and role-choice.
This isn’t as simple as exclaiming, “Hell yeah, I’m the guy gettin’ it done!” You need to actually train to be that guy. You need to practice putting work into people on the mats, rather than practicing trying to stop others from putting work into you.
This is about a very frank and honest assessment of where you are, truly and at your core, with this self defense stuff.
If you wondered at the story behind the picture, the individual motivations of the people there and who was right and wrong, you need to understand that none of those things have any bearing on the mechanical facts of violence. Being right or wrong grants, nor takes away, any power. Injury occurs with no regard for moral superiority.
If you saw yourself as the downed man and saw it as a puzzle to be solved to “save” yourself (i.e., “How do I defend myself in that situation?”), understand that you are behind the power curve of violence, a reactionary rather than active participant. You empathize with the victim, as all good, sane and socialized people should; but such empathy will make you the victim in life-or-death violence.
If you said you were the standing man because you “knew the answer” from previous contact with us, you need to really think on that—are you just saying it, or is it really what you feel? If you’re just saying it, understand that “knowing the answer” isn’t the same as doing. If that’s what you want for yourself you need to train to make it a reality.
If you looked at the picture and felt the sensation of cranking your foot back and delivering another good, solid boot to the head…
…well, either something’s broken inside you or you’ve done it enough to reflexively choose to be the winner. Or you’ve trained assiduously to overcome your natural empathy when necessary and know what the next bit feels like because you’ve walked your body through the motions over and over again on the mats in self defense training so when you find yourself there, it won’t be the first time, but the 301st time you’ve stomped a downed man.
Again, all of this is not presented as a yanked-rug, “gotcha!” but as a learning tool that cuts through all bluff, bluster and badassery. Say what you will, but you cannot hide your own reaction to the picture from yourself.
Take that honest gut reaction—regardless of where it puts you on the violence continuum—as a useful assessment of how much work you need to do to be the one in the driver’s seat.