Without the right mindset, even a skilled martial artist may not be able to prevail in a street fight. This article by Black Belt Hall of Famer Kelly McCann will teach you how to prepare now.

Fitness is one of two essential prerequisites for self-defense performance. The other is mindset. What a shame it would be to develop your fitness and master the techniques necessary to prevail in a violent street attack only to fail because you were mentally unprepared!


It’s important to become intimately familiar with the conditions present in a street fight so you’re not surprised when you experience them firsthand. Too often, people form opinions about what constitutes a violent attack based on anecdotal information or cinematic representations. That’s a dangerous, ill-informed way to develop a self-defense foundation.

There’s no shortage of attack videos online. Repugnant as it may be, sort through the contrived footage and — believe it or not — the recreational street-fight videos, and you’ll discover actual surveillance-camera clips of attacks, as well as fight footage captured by eyewitnesses.

Evaluate a representative sampling to fully understand the speed with which attacks occur, the setups used to initiate assaults (which reveal pre-incident indicators), common striking techniques thugs rely on, patterns of vulnerability you can exploit, and lastly, the raw viciousness and ruthlessness of these animals.

You’ll find yourself growing increasingly pissed off as you watch kids get bullied, innocent people get beaten, and senseless violence, humiliation and injury being unleashed. Even worse, you’ll hear morons laughing at the victims or urging the attackers on.

Now visualize yourself, your spouse, your children or anyone you care for being victimized this way. It just may be that the most important element of a combative mindset is indignation — after all, you should be indignant and angry that these scumbags subject innocent people to serious physical and emotional trauma. It’s these visceral feelings that provide the foundation for your mindset. The emotions enable you to tap into your dark side on demand when you have to fight back against an unprovoked attack.

The rest of the requirement for viciously, yet lawfully, unloading on an attacker is that you characteristically seek to avoid confrontations, don’t smart-mouth (even when you think you’re justified) and routinely let the small stuff roll off.

Maintaining a demeanor that enables you to virtually disappear into the backdrop of societal “white noise” is an art. This mindset is so passive that it’s actually aggressive. When you’re facing an imminent attack, it will be immediately and exceptionally clear. You’ll be unencumbered by doubt or uncertainty and can resolutely rely on violence of action to defend yourself.

Developing the “switch” that allows you to go from zero to 100 mph is simply a matter of accepting the fact you could be attacked, internalizing the consequences of that and resolving to prevail if it happens. No victim of terrible violence ever wakes up thinking it could happen to him or her, but it can and does — frequently.

Once you’ve embraced this, an inevitable sense of resentment follows. That’s a useful sentiment, one that can make you exponentially more dangerous when you fight an attacker. Being situationally aware for pre-incident indicators reduces your chance of being surprised and rendered unable to flip your switch quickly. But even if you’re caught flat-footed, having spent some time visualizing yourself being attacked and successfully responding prepares you more completely than if the thought never occurred to you.

Couple this mental preparedness with your underlying rage and indignation — aimed squarely at anyone who commits these heinous crimes — and you’ll find you can instantly tap into ferocity, resulting in explosive and effective responses.

You shouldn’t get paranoid and walk around ready to “go off” at any moment or be twitchy. That would make you just plain uncomfortable to be around. There aren’t potential bad guys around every corner. Just live your life guided by rational caution, be situationally aware and take action early to prevent having to deal with trouble. Well, actually you are dealing with it — appropriately.

By the way, don’t ever question what you feel. In other words, don’t talk yourself out of your own attack. Don’t think out loud, expressing your uneasiness over what you feel is happening. It’s likely someone will try to assuage your concerns — don’t let that happen.

If you suddenly find yourself in that sickening “oh shit” moment, blow through the surreal feeling and the denial, and act immediately. The only way to take control of a situation that’s ambiguously threatening (or outright threatening) is to act. Left unchecked, threats evolve into attacks. You have to break the chain of events before the attack fully manifests.

That doesn’t necessarily mean using force. It may mean crossing the street to remove yourself from immediate danger. It may mean verbally warning off a potential attacker. If you’re unable to escape, it could mean assuming a harmless-appearing index position that prepares you to pre-emptively strike. It all depends on what you see during your moment.

Bottom line:

You want to achieve an empowering mindset that supports taking action based on a reasonable assessment of the threat and your right of self-defense. Maximize your ferocity by channeling your outrage right back to the attacker. Rage is powerful, so remember to “rage with reason.” Don’t go too far and belly-flop into the gratuitous-violence quagmire. Use only the force necessary to stop the threat; any additional use of force is malicious and criminal. Don’t act tenuously. To the contrary, if you’re attacked, go off like a hand grenade and ruthlessly turn predator into prey.

Honestly, it sucks having to even discuss this stuff, but feeling that way doesn’t diminish the need to be able to protect yourself. Every day, law-abiding people are attacked. Maintaining the physical and mental fitness to deal with that is simply the responsible thing to do.

(Photos by Robert Reiff)

About the author: A former officer in the U.S. Marine Corps and a member of the Black Belt Hall of Fame, Kelly McCann has studied and taught combatives for more than 30 years. 

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Do you want to maximize your self defense skills? Learn the game of combat chess and most importantly the queen of all moves.

Allow me to intercept those who would object to the title of this article. I'm not claiming that there's a secret move, shortcut or hack that will give you the edge in any fight. Even if there was an ultimate weapon or strategy, you likely would avoid it because you
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Looking at Dumbbell, Kettlebells or Weighted bar? How about an all in one that won't just save you some good amount of money but also space? Look no further, we bring you the GRIPBELL!

Let's face it, when we do want to work on some strength building, we don't want to go around shopping for 20 different weight equipment things. That would just not want us to even do any sort of strength training. But what if we only needed a few, a few that can do the things we want without having 20 things lay around? That's where the GRIPBELL comes in. Let me clarify with you first, these are not some heavy duty, muscle exploding weights, they are for building the level of strength we as martial artists want without going crazy and insane in bulk sizing!

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Many different types of "blocks" are taught in most martial arts school. We are taught high blocks, low blocks, middle blocks, knife hand blocks, etc. Some schools will also teach how to use the legs to block an attack, as well.

The purpose of this writing is to possibly open some minds to the possibilities of going outside the box and considering alternatives to the basics.

Blocking is taught as a way of protecting oneself from harm. Truly, we don't "block" anything, as a non-martial artist would think of it. What we call "blocking" is more of a redirection of an opponent's attack, or even a counterstrike against the opponent's attacking limb.

To block something would mean to put something, like your arm, leg or other body part directly in front of the attack. That would certainly hurt and possibly cause some damage. The goal should be to move the attack out of the way in order to prevent injury and provide a way to fight back. For example, many schools teach blocks as a limb moving toward the strike such as a circular high block.

The movement required for a block might have other uses, if you keep an open mind. The blocking techniques can also be used as attack techniques. For example, your "low block" may be used as a striking technique against the outer thigh of the attacker. Your high block might be used as a strike to the jaw. The set up for a block can be used as a deflection, as well as the actual block.

Doing a block or a series of blocks will most likely not end an attack. A block needs to be followed by a counterattack. While the block is usually taught as a separate technique in order to learn it correctly, it should also be used in combination with a counter.

The more you know, the more you realize how much you don't know. Intensive books can and have be written about basic techniques. With this writing, I am hoping to create interest in exploring the additional possibilities for what we have been taught and what we teach others.

About Grand Master Stevens

GM Stevens has been training in taekwondo for 47 years under the tutelage of the late legendary Grand Master Richard Chun. He holds an 8th degree black belt and is certified in the USA and in Korea. Grand Master Stevens is a member of the Board of Directors of the prestigious Richard Chun TaeKwonDo World Headquarters organization. He has been very active in his community and has been a volunteer with the Glen Rock Volunteer Ambulance Corps for over 11 years. He is a certified member of C.E.R.T. (Community Emergency Response Team).

Gary Stevens Taekwondo is located at 175 Rock Road in Glen Rock, New Jersey.

For more information: call (201) 670-7263, email: StevensTKD@aol.com or go to www.StevensTaeKwonDo.com

Having partners at or above your skill level is important for improving in your martial arts training. At some point, however, you will probably find yourself with a shortage of skilled partners, especially if you are an instructor.

This can happen for any number of reasons: students can move away, change their work schedules, start a family, etc., and just like that, you find that you're the highest-ranked student, or sole instructor, in your gym or dojo. This doesn't have to be a bad thing. In fact, if you take advantage of it, even working exclusively with lower-ranking classmates or students can improve your skills.

I used to host a twice-a-week training session at my dojo where I invited mostly black belts from other schools (as well as a few of my advanced students) to come and run drills. It was a blast. These were tough two- to three-hour sessions where I got to work with fighters of all different sizes, speeds, and technique preferences. My sparring improved dramatically over the next few months, and I don't think I've ever been in better shape. But unfortunately, it doesn't always work out that way. And as the old saying goes, "You gotta work with what ya got." So, make it hard on yourself.

I like to set handicaps when fighting my students. Specifically, I focus on forcing myself to work on improving my weak areas. Is you right leg weaker than the left? Then only kick with the right leg when sparring your students. Not much of an inside fighter? Don't kick at all. Training with partners of lesser skill not only helps you improve your weak points but gives them an opportunity to improve as well by working on strategy. It's also great for building their confidence. It can also be a low-cost opportunity to test new techniques and combinations, which benefits you as well.

In grappling, just like sparring, there is little benefit to wrapping lower ranking classmates into pretzels over and over, for them or you. Instead, let your partner put you in a bad situation. Let them get the mount; help them sink in that choke or armbar. If you start standing, such as in judo, allow your partner to get the superior grip before attempting a throw. This way you will get comfortable working out of a weaker position and your less-experienced partner can perfect their technique (and get experience using multiple techniques, if you get out of their first one).

You might think that giving advantages like these to students who may be far beneath your skill level is much of a challenge. Trust me, you'll reconsider that sentiment when you wind up sparring a 6'5" novice with zero control over his strength after deciding to only use your weak leg, or have a 250-pound green belt lying across your diaphragm trying to get an armlock after you let them get the pin. Remember, this is exactly what you signed up for: a challenge.

If you find yourself at the top of the heap without partners who are sufficiently challenging, there is no need to despair. Use it as a low-stress opportunity to improve your weaknesses and develop avenues to help your less experienced classmates and students to grow. You may even be surprised. One day they might present more of a challenge than you ever imagined!
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