"Keep Fighting! You're Only Injured!"

Knife Defense

That's what I yell out to my students who feel like giving up just after they got stabbed with a rubber training knife or shot with a 6mm Airsoft projectile.

Even after a scenario, when the "injuries" would be catastrophic, I tell my students, "You're not dead until a paramedic or doctor declares you dead, or you feel yourself leaving your body and you are heading to a bright light at the end of the tunnel. Until then, keep fighting! You are only injured, and not dead."

I've seen many martial arts instructors over the years say to their students after a "critical injury" in a training scenario, "You're dead!" Yes, the well-meaning instructor is trying to convey a message to their students that they must improve their skills to avoid being killed in a real fight, but unfortunately injuries are sometimes the result of physical conflict. Who's to say that a wound is fatal or not? I let my students know from the start that in a fight they may get hurt, but they must mentally prepare for that eventuality and overcome it.

The problem with telling a student, "You're dead!" in a training scenario is that the mind is very powerful, and if they do get stabbed or shot in a real conflict one day, even if the injuries may not be life threatening, the mind has been reinforced by the bad instructor's messaging. They've been told that they are dead, and so they just very well may be. They have associated getting shot or stabbed in training with death. It's no wonder they may give up hope in a real situation. After all, everybody falls back on their training in critical situations.

Shank Defense

The corrections officer on the left just got "shanked" (stabbed with an improvised prison knife) by a prisoner (in the red safety gear) during a Cell Extraction (taking a prisoner out of his cell who refuses to cooperate). I yelled out a Jump Start Command to my student, "Keep fighting! You're only injured!" because I did not want him to give up or think that his partner was going to save him.

On the other hand, reinforcing students with the words, "Keep Going! Keep going! You're only wounded! You can keep fighting!" is a Jump Start Command, a command given while the training is in progress, for the student to do the right thing, that will stay in their mind for a lifetime, and it will be what drives them on in a real conflict even if they are seriously injured. Continuing to fight, even if injured, does not always mean staying with the bad guy and enduring more punishment, but it also could mean continuing the fight by escaping. Continuing the fight means that the student has fled to a Warm Zone, a safer area away from the conflict, and tend to their injuries and get on the phone to get the police and ambulance rolling their way. He that fights and runs away, may turn and fight another day; But he that is in battle slain, will never rise to fight again. Tacitus (56-120 AD)

Likewise, I always correct my students who blurt out, "I'm dead!" after they have been stabbed or shot in a scenario. I am quick to respond, "No, you're not dead! You are only wounded. Yes, you need to stop the bleeding now with direct pressure, and then go get patched up in a hospital, but you're not dead." When I say this, you can see in their eyes the shift from defeat to the hope of survival.

Words are powerful, and instructors must always keep this in mind when teaching their students realistic self-defense.

Realistic Knife DefenseWhen I have my students do realistic knife attacks at full speed and full contact, the way criminals do them, in confine spaces where immediate retreat is impossible, with plastic training knives and stage blood, there is almost always "injuries," even to the best of the best: black belts, law enforcement officers, and military personnel. For most students, who get discouraged at getting "stabbed and cut" within moments of the start of the attack, I am constantly yelling at them to stay in the fight until they either escape or neutralize the attacker.

Now, could a self-defense practitioner be fatally wounded in a real fight and die? Of course, they can. That is always a possibility, but an instructor should not contribute to a possible future defeat, but instead instill in their students the will to survive.

So, what about those who don't have an instructor? Perhaps it's just you and your training partner. Well, guess what? You're your own coach. If you get stabbed or shot during your training scenario you must tell yourself, "No problem! I can take 100 stab wounds, or 100 bullets!" That's the number I've come up with, and I make myself believe it when I am doing realistic self-defense scenarios. Therefore, if I only get stabbed three times, let's say, I say to myself, "I can take 97 more."

Obviously, I'm not out of touch with reality. I'm fully aware that a single stab from a knife or one bullet from a firearm can finish me if it hits a critical spot. On the other hand, as a former police officer I have come to the aid of victims who have had multiple stab wounds or multiple gunshot wounds, and they survived. If they can survive, so can I – so can you.

SWAT trainingEven if you do get seriously injured, and you're down, like this Bulgarian S.W.A.T. officer during some realistic training I did in Sofia, Bulgaria, you must still tell yourself, "It's nothing. I can take it. I will survive." The chances are that you will. When I was a police officer tending to a wounded person, no matter how bad the injuries, I'd always tell them, "It's a minor injury. You'll be okay. Hang in there." That was truly on-the-spot training to people I didn't even know.

A defining moment in my life, when it came to survival mentality, was when I was a police officer and I responded to the apartment of a man who called the police after a "friend" had stabbed him nine times in the chest and abdomen. When I arrived, he was lying in a large pool of blood in his living room. I just assumed that he been stabbed only a minute or two before my arrival, because I had been just down the street when the call came out. When I didn't find the suspect after searching the two-bedroom apartment, the victim told me that he had been lying there for 30 minutes. When I asked him what took him so long to call the police he said, "I didn't think it was serious."

This man, who was bleeding to death for 30 minutes, didn't think his injuries were "serious!" Then I thought to myself, If this idiot can survive nine stab wounds, then so can I, but more." And, again, so can you. It all starts in training.


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