Practical Non-Martial Arts Training and Learning How to Survive, by OMK

All too often those of us who have been in the martial arts leave behind the non trained person in our conversations and training advise. I would like to highlight a few areas for those that have no formal training and how they might approach a fist to fist conflict.

This is not intended to be all inclusive for no article can cover every aspect of a fight; what I do want to cover is a few make are break concepts for those that have never trained or are just beginning to train.

The motivation to write this article comes from conversations I have had with many people over the past few years. They have been everything from Ministers, Mothers, to Business owners and have never been in a physical fight. What they do have is a desire to learn something but not necessarily spend years in the dojo or the boxing ring.

Hopefully I can assist in their learning and motivation.


If you want to win then you had better have the proper attitude/mindset. Corporate America is full of cliché lines like “Just Do It”, Play to Win”, and “Winners Never Quit and Quitters Never Win”. These speak to our human nature and attempt to remove our inner doubts. We all have them and they are trained deep into our psyche from childhood.

“Play Nice”, Don’t Cheat”, Don’t Throw Rocks” represent deprogramming responses that we learned as children to be able to coexist within a polite society.

The difficulty is how do you reacquire that primal survival and animalistic kill or be killed attitude. Most of us never will. We have lived in polite society for so long and our mothers did a wonderful job reprogramming us. But there is hope.

The military can do a great job instilling the combative survival mindset but it is interesting to note that so many of the older service people are some of the calmest individuals I have ever met. Does this mean they have lost the attitude to win a physical altercation, not in the least, they have simply moved to a level of quit confidence.

This confidence I am referring to is built upon being tested in many ways. For some it was boot camp for others it was a bad home environment, and for some it was simply learning at an early age they had to keep part of their inner beast close to the surface in order to survive.

In building this confidence to actually do real harm to someone we are going to look at a few examples that help build the inner confidence and then come back to the attitude.

How to Take a Hit

If you are going to be involved in a physical conflict you must accept the fact that you are going to be injured. You can try to do everything in your powers to not be struck or injured but in reality you will be injured. The naysayers will respond that I have this great technique or can draw my weapons so fast.

That may be, you could be the fastest shot and the biggest hombre on the block but in the real world if you can’t accept the fact that fighting someone leads to self injury you’re kidding yourself.

So where do you begin? We as children liked to wrestle. Some were better than others but most of us did it at some point with our friends. In these play matches we learned that you were going to get rug burns, popped in the nose, and catch the occasional knee to the groin. Did this stop us; not a chance.

We need to look at this fun activity as an adult and realize we learned many things about ourselves from this child’s game. The first thing we learned is that losing stinks and being on your back with someone on top trying to pin our arms was humiliating. We wanted to cry, we wanted to bite, and we just wanted to win. But we had already learned that there were rules to this game and if we did not follow the rules your opponent was going to use those same dirty tactics on you the next time.

A real life encounter has the same problem. We default back to our level of training and this training was to play nice. We all remember the bully down the street, he was mean! No one liked him and he scared us. The reason he scared us was he did not play by the rules and would actually hurt you.

So let’s take this situation and add some real life training to the equation. At some point we must learn to be hit, take the hit, and keep fighting. How to get over this fear of breaking social norms and accepting damage can be accomplished in a couple of ways:

One: Be a sociopath. This is not necessarily desirable but it can work. Unfortunately we don’t realize we are the sociopath and it takes society to recognize this pitfall in personality and give us a social reeducation. I don’t promote this but it is an interesting exercise in one’s self reflection.


Two: Go get hit. Join a boxing gym, full contact martial arts school, or just get a group of friends together and have a round robin king of the mountain match. You can have rules to keep from getting overly injured but you need to realize that getting smacked in the face hurts and if it happens once you will learn two things very quickly; keep your guard up and hit first.

If you do the round robin realize that you have to keep a level of civility to the exercise. These are your friends and you might not want to go to work the next day with a black eye and chipped teeth. Boxing gloves do wonders to stop the heavy injuries but they still let you feel the smack. In my school we call this getting “Thumped” everyone gets thumped from time to time. Some by design and others by surprise; it does wonders for making your mind work under stress.

The point to remember is the confidence we discussed earlier is built in many layers. Learning to be hit is just one of those layers.

How to hit something

Many people think they are the king of the mountain when it comes to laying down the hurt on someone else. That may be, but in truth we are not. Take a group of ten and place yourself in the group. Odds are five will be better than you and five will be worse. You have no guarantee that you are the biggest dog on the street. And if you think you are then you might need to reread option one in the above section.

Countless hours are spent in martial arts schools learning how to do a correct punch, hit with an elbow just right, or snap your foot out for a precise kick. This is all sound knowledge to have but in reality the person that hits first and hits hardest will tend to win. Remember this is not sparring class and the only point awarded is that the winner gets to go home and have dinner with their wife and kids. The loser just says on the ground.

To hit something, simply close your hand and punch/push straight out hard and fast, you may break your hand but that is probably a fair trade for winning. Or pound down with your fist like a hammer. If you can kick then do so and do it hard and hit their legs. Forget about kicking to the head or ribs unless you have lots of training. Remember if the legs go the opponent falls down.

As you get closer hit with your elbows instead and hit until you’re completely worn out. You have the ability to hit through their blocks if you keep swinging and if you damage their arm or hands in the process all the better. You are in this to win. Only soccer matches are won with one goal. A fight should score like a basketball game; lots of baskets and as fast as you can make them.

Your knees are wonderful tools. They automatically rise to the level of the groin. Use them! If you fall to the ground get up fast and keep swinging. If you both fall to the ground get up and keep swinging. Yes some will say I will just jump on top of them and pound them into the ground. Maybe you can, but the opponent certainly will do everything in their power to not let it happen. Don’t wrestle, hit; don’t try to pin them, hit.

Biting is good. Your mother told you no biting and she may have been right. But in the realm of a street fight biting is good. So is sticking your finger in their eye. J hooking their lip and tearing is brutal but works. Head butts work! You need to keep a sane attitude about how you would use the technique but when you are close and their guard is down, slam their nose with your forehead.

There are two rules to winning the fight. Rule one is to hit hard and fast and rule two is to hit again. Remember this is about winning a physical altercation in which you or your loved ones lives are in danger. So hit and hit again.

How to Think

If you lose control of your brain odds are you will lose the fight. I have seen many people say “I just saw red” and went berserk. Their going berserk breaks the social and norm and can work to your favor but if you lose too much control you won’t see the guy behind you or the knife slip out of the opponents pocket just before they move in.

This too is a learned skill. Boxers take a beating but can still keep their brains in a fight. They learned how to take a hit and accept that fact. You must learn to not lose your brain. This is where getting over the stress of being hit helps.

How to Fall down

Adults hate to fall down. I actually classify it as one of the three hardest things to teach new students in the martial arts.  

You need to learn to fall down and not get hurt or lose your bearing. It is not difficult to master in theory. The problem comes from our adult minds. Children fall down, adults don’t fall they look silly.

I will argue that point; Sports people fall all the time and we expect them to. Downhill skiers do it at 60 mph and just shake it off. Why in the world would an adult not be willing to learn to fall down with some level of skill or proficiency?

Falling down is just like sitting down. The lower you can sit to the ground the less distance you have to actually fall from a height. Extremely simple in its practical explanation but how many adults would be willing to walk out into the middle of a parking lot and fall down? Not many, but those with training would do it without a second thought. Will it ruin your clothes and scuff your shoes? Good chance, but if your life depended on it who cares about your pants.

It does not matter if you are being thrown to your side or pushed straight back; the foundation of the action is the same. Sit down on your heels and then let your body roll to the side or rear. Will it hurt? Maybe, but a bruised ego, some road rash, and sore muscles are a lot better than a split skull because you fell down like a timbering tree.


Weapons exist everywhere and I don’t mean the knife or slug thrower in your pocket. Your baseball cap is great for disorienting the opponent, throw it in their face as you close in to hit. Throw a handful of pocket change at their eyes. Scream a blood chilling yell as you come to blows.

The voice is a great weapon and can buy you that split second of delay for you to hit first. Pick up anything that is available and throw it. It does not matter if you make hard contact just remember a weapon can distract as well as do damage.

If the opponent has a weapon seriously consider running away or at least keep backing up. Pick up something to help keep a solid object between you and the weapon. Your shoe works, a rolled magazine, purse; the options can be endless if you keep your brain.

If you do get stuck with a knife don’t stop fighting. Do everything you can to lock down the knife but don’t stop hitting. The odds of then finishing you off with one poke from a knife is extremely limited, it is when you lose your brain and stop fighting that the knife will most assuredly keep coming in. Again, if you are faced with a knife seriously consider running away!

How to block

You must have some basic understanding of how to block a punch or simple kick coming at you. First off remember you are not trying to be some 95th level black belt or a MMA star. You are just trying to not get your head knocked off by the person or persons in front of you.

Here are three simple rules:

One, make a fist and keep both fists in front of your face about one foot in front of your nose with your elbows down. As a punch comes towards your face slightly shift your forearm in or out to help deflect the blow. This is not perfect but is better than keeping your hands down at your side with your face sticking out like a big balloon.

Two, don’t reach out to try and block the punch. The further you move your fist away from your body the less strength your block will have. Let the punch come in and use the strength of your forearm and upper arm for the block.

Three, if you see the punch or kick coming at you try to move off to the side. You are much better off letting the strike miss you completely than letting the opponent keep hitting your arms.

Know When to Run Away

If you can’t win or know the outcome is not going to benefit from your fighting then leave. Only get in the fight if you absolutely have to. If they start pounding on your car don’t get out and bring the fight to them. Drive off, call the police, or try and wait them out. You have car insurance for a reason. The macho response is to go out and beat them up, the rational response is to use your brain and only engage in the fight if absolutely necessary.

If you are protecting your family have a prearrange command word or phrase that tells them to run to a predefined safe location(s) and what to do when they get there. Remember, you are in this to win and winning might be as simple as delaying the conflict for the family to leave the area so you can follow after them. If the spouse and children would just stand around and gawk then you have deeper problems to start addressing.

Do I need to practice?

Yes, no, maybe. Some people have that self preservation instinct very close to the surface and some can train for years and never find it. Do you want to spend years in the dojo working to master a martial art style or are you just looking to get in touch with your inner beast and how to take care of yourself?

These are questions that only you can answer. But I will throw out a bit of hard earned wisdom. Learning to be involved in a martial sport, martial art, or any hands-on smacking type martial activity will change you. You will learn things about yourself you wish you never knew as well as be surprised by some of the great things you took for granted.

Training in a marital style may not be necessary but in the long run learning some basics and being able to develop a different attitude about physical conflict realities would benefit anyone.

My Children are with me

When you change the equation and add family to the encounter scenario the conflict takes on a completely different reality. You may be able to handle yourself and escape without much injury but what do you do if you must win or survive long enough for mother to get a couple of young children into the car and secure.

This situation gets a whole lot more difficult if you are faced with two or more assailants. Do you fight to win or do you fight to delay and give time for the wife to exit the scene?

This holds true for women. Can you really survive an attack by a 250 pound man or will your mind shut down with the first confrontation? How about when you are struck the first time in the face?

These questions are presented for thought and lead into the poem “No Man is an Island” by John Donne.
What ever you do you have to realize it must take into account everyone else around you.

Winning does not mean physically beating the opponent

You do not have to beat the opponent into the ground to win. You may have to but the goal may simply be to survive and escape. This statement will greatly offend many, so if it does then you might need to reread option one above again. We are not talking about a macho encounter where there has to be a top dog. We are taking about survival.

This is where we learn from our childhood again. In the school yard we learned very quickly how to disengage from the bully. The same thought process and motivation needs to be kept in this type of encounter. Don’t stand and fight unless absolutely necessary.

Back to Attitude and Mindset

I cannot give you the attitude or mindset to survive a hand to hand encounter; nor can anyone else. But many good trainers do exist that can help you find and develop some basic skills that will allow you to get beyond the polite society rules of the school yard. This confidence is what will allow you to find your survival attitude.

In moving beyond this trained response for being nice to everyone you will find that you will become more nice; that is until it is time to stop being nice and save your hide. – OldManKarate