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Wednesday, July 1, 2009


Psychology. an unconscious defense mechanism used to reduce anxiety by denying thoughts, feelings, or facts that are consciously intolerable.

In the last couple of months, I've had a couple of teaching moments that revolved around denial. It's one of those curious emotions that seems to pop up everywhere, both in self-defense discussions and combat sports. The latter often surprises me more than the former, mostly because I tend to think of combat athletes as being relatively accepting of the idea that things don't always go their way. Apparently, I was a bit mistaken.

On it's most basic level, denial tends to manifest in the form of thoughts like "it won't happen to me". It's a particularly common mindset when it comes to people's thoughts on self-defense training. Honestly, it's understandable, at least on an emotional level. Self-defense is scary; as my friend and fellow PDR coach Rondel Benjamin observed “Talking about being raped, stabbed or kill is fundamentally not fun”. It's pretty tough to argue with that. But fun or not, denial is not a healthy mindset, and it will often hurt you in the long run. Saying "it won't happen to me" will not keep "it" from happening to you, nor will that mindset empower you if something does happen.

There are other forms of denial too, and these are the ones I've most recently encountered. They all boil down to the same premise, but in some ways are more insidious. Interestingly, they were both variations on the same thing, which is "well, I wouldn't let someone put me in that position". Which is just as ridiculous as saying "it won't happen to me."

From a personal protection perspective: any time I hear statements like "well, I would never let someone get that close to me" or "well, if you got that close to me, I'd already be killing you", my alarm bells start ringing. Especially the second one. Successful predators are, by definition, good at sneaking up on their targets. They may do it by literally sneaking up behind you, or they may do it by engaging you in conversation, but one way or the other, they will find a way to get close to you without you being aware. You can work on your awareness skills (and should), but if those skills fail you, then they will FAIL, and you may not realize it until it's too late. The psychological shock of realizing that you never prepared for someone being good enough and smart enough to get close to you without you knowing may prove more paralyzing that the actual attack itself. Not a fun place to be.

Denial can happen in combat sport too, however, and there, it's even odder to me. Especially since it sounds EXACTLY like the self-defense denial. "I'd never let someone get me into that position, I'd just [insert favorite tactic here]".

Which again, assumes that you, the combat athlete, are the one in control of the fight. Which is a nice idea, but let's face it--that is not always the case. Some times you don't get to choose where the fight happens. At which point, you have a choice; you can either decide that you suck at a particular skill set, and just give up as soon as anyone forces the fight there, OR you can realize that you need to work on a particular skill set, and develop it so that you can fight from any range, in any situation, at least well enough to get back into the fight.

In either personal protection or combat sport, the choice is ultimately up to you.

1 comment:

Val Grimm said...

The denial I'm known to engage in is when you're discussing the difference between probably difference between male on female violence vs male on male or female on female violence.
I can imagine bad things happening to me, but I cannot allow myself to imagine someone pinning me down other than to take my wallet or punch me in the head. Perhaps this is a useful defense mechanism to avoid paralyzing fear, perhaps not.