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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