Many often neglect or acknowledge potential internal inhibitors within themselves or their students that prevent the ability to utilize violence when and if needed.

These, even after many many years of training, can have a dramatic effect on one’s ability to implement needed physical skillsets under duress. Most of the time these are innate or time-conditioned and need to be addressed. Too many times I’ve seen martial artists who “failed” or froze in a self-defense scenario and blame their training on this calamity instead of looking at the real cause. Even instructors are forever telling their students such bullshit as “You need to put more hours in” or “This is a matter of training harder” or regurgitating statistics on Hick’s Law and the number of times repetitions need be made to condition something to reflexive use. If these inhibitors aren’t addressed, NONE of that matters as it will be overridden and manifest itself in the worst times of duress.

Some of these inhibitors we’ll address below. Granted, this is a glossing-over  and a general overview as in-depth issues are not within the scope of a short article.

  1. Morals/value of human life (nurture-nature). Pre-disposition to violence. Exposure. View on the need for violence and its stigma. Home environment and views of both parents, siblings, extended family. Morals, ethics and values as pertaining to other areas of social constructs.
  2. Lack of experiential/3-dimensional training. It needs to replicate as close as possible to the real thing. If your training looks nothing at all like what can be seen regularly in real life, social media or statistics readily-available, there’s a gap. This also goes back to the 3-headed monster of fallible traditional training: single committed attack, static opponent post-initial contact, non-dynamic follow-up. Other elements are stamina, pressure,  broken rhythm/pace-changes, hard surface, environmental factors and a host of others.
  3. Self-control including emotional triggers, breathing & heartrate management, physiological responses to adrenal stress-response. If you have no trained response to the effects of adrenaline, you have no switch to turn on the light bulb, regardless of how innately powerful the rays of that light may be.
  4. Martial arts/ego. Branching off from #2, if your training is based on elements from a far-away culture, from a time long since dead, from a system irrevocably lost in time, to practices within these constructs that are outdated and don’t match modern research on physiology, sociology, legal and ethical entities, historical clothing and type of battle….they will not transfer to modern violence. I get the response regularly that “violence/crime hasn’t changed for thousands of years! Violence is violence!” Simply not true. The modern criminal tactics, knowledge base, mindset and strategies have evolved. Modern technology (weapons, computers, vehicles, communication) has come a long ways from 15th Century Japan. The myth of the universally-stupid criminal or single-type general criminal should be long dead. Unfortunately, they’re not.
  5. Religion/spirituality. Restrictions on using violence, pacifism, guilt, shame, social perception, place within that religion/church, post-life concerns, judgment from above. I made a personal mistake years ago with a student. I had taught him knife and other weapons for over a year before he finally admitted he’d really never be able to use these skills “for real” as he was a Christian and  it went against his belief structure. We had a to have ongoing discussions on context to overcome this for a long time, which brings me to the next point.
  6. Context. Context is king, quite simply. Without context, a universality or generalized training will run smack dab into often multiple of these inhibitors. Context gives clarity, specifics and appropriate response for given stimuli. Martial arts is filled with generalizations and, with this being statistically the most peaceful time of human existence, the need to truly find out workability is low so often one can go through one’s life without having need to delve into these. However, this element coupled with the most over-saturated time of misinformation known to humankind, and added to that lack of need for empirical proof of functionality due the period of history with which we live, we have a perfect cocktail of functional questionability. To put it succinctly? If ever needed, even 25 years of training can come crashing down in a heartbeat.
  7. Visualization and mission clarity. If you haven’t gone over what your mission is and what lengths you’re willing to go to maintain that mission, your training is vague and cryptic. Why are you training? Do you know? Do you understand what constitutes a justifiable response? What’s worth conflict and what’s not? Who will be affected long-term by your actions? Who’s present with you when making these decisions and does that factor in? If your goal is to stay safe, protect your family and live a relatively-comfortable life, does training lethal knife factor into this mission or is the mission flawed? Is it of necessity due to other intangibles – culture, location, employment? All questions that need be asked before, not during or after. Visualization is a tool that often clarifies many of these and puts them into clear perspective.
  8. Poor self-talk/will to survive. If you go through life in fear, with self-doubt, low self-esteem and a negative perception of self, it will affect your ability to achieve your mission. Self-mindfuck is the ultimate enemy, far greater than any physical threat you’re likely to run into as your ability to deal with said threat will already have been decided by you prior.

Now, these are not always so easy to discover in students, moreso in one’s self with self-reflection and an honest assessment of where your own personality factors in here. To help with this, I often use the logical levels template to uncover certain internal restrictions. If there’s resistance, either seen or sensed, it will always fall on one of these platforms. The higher the resistance, the likely the higher on the pyramid and more work needed with which to overcome it.

Image result for logical levels

*There may be other inhibitors, admittedly, but these are the most frequent I tend to come across.



  1. Indeed, many often neglect or acknowledge potential internal inhibitors that prevent the ability to use violence when needed. These also hold great power over us to my opinion. Personally, I am afraid to use violence because of my country’s forced “Victimology” syndrome where any sort of aggression against an attacker is seen as very bad. We see this even at the grade school level where boys are sent home just drawing a picture of a gun or having a nail file on their person. This is reinforced over and over in the court room where people have successfully defended themselves in a justified and legal manner but still get sent to jail. They are judged both by the public, PCness and the courts. The good guys become the bad guys. Up is down and down is up now days.

    I train in many aspects of the MA and weaponry. We integrate ASR recognition, control, breathing and multiple opponents in our training. After all, the days of single combat is gone for the most part. It is gang attacks that will occur on some unfortunate victim. If one is well trained, this is also a great inhibitor in a way. After all, if you learned how to use your weapons effectiviley with all of the rest of things your learned, you will become extremely deadly. If you go into action, you WILL KILL or HURT somebody. No doubt about it. It is a done deal. Thus, carrying deadly weapons or being well trained helps one to avoid all possible violence because you know the damage you can do. So, if you can shoot and hit anything you look at in fractions of second or slice and dice people up in seconds, you have got a problem with yourself. You will have to control yourself in all situations so as to not lose your rational thought and go lizard brain. If you do, you are lost. One must keep in mind the rules of engagement by controlling the ASR to use your combat brain (OODA Loop) to keep your actions legal. This is HARD to do even for trained people. The only way to train for this is through all kinds of training (visualization or actual) added into scenario based adrenal training as much as you can.

    Religion. This can be a big one as people confuse the Christian definition of killing vs murder. This has to be explained up front to students. I tell perspective students if they have any doubt if they can shoot somebody, my class is not for them, They should buy OC spray and go home. There is nothing I can do for them and they are wasting my time and their time. After all, I do not train for money. I do not have an obligation to train anybody.

    Yes, context is important. As you said, studying a self defense method designed for Samurais in 1600 will do us no good today. However, these ancient arts are still past down as an answer to modern self defense. The problem is that even these ancient martial arts have been passed down as a very diluted form of the original combat art. They do not resemble the original art at all. They become contact sports.

    Visualization and mission clarity. I agree. This can change over time however. If you wind up in military combat or active law enforcement, you can get jaded against your enemy. You can become cold hearted and prejudice against certain people or groups of people just out of psychological self defense. Sometimes people get that way in order to do their jobs effectively. At least, that is my personal observation. I am soft now in my old age but, 40 years ago, would have have shot any criminal on site without much thought. I wouldn’t have been bothered one second about it. Now days, I do not have that mentality but I think it could come back real quick if they pissed me off. Thus, I have to watch my temper and always try to remain calm, cool and professional. Otherwise, I wind up in jail. I have learned this fact at least after all these years of research. This is why teaching people the IMOP rules of engagement using OODA loop thinking while under the influence of the ASR in scenario training is so important for students. However, this sort of training is unheard of in most MA or self defense classes. Face it, most fights start as social violence which can lead into deadly asocial violence. It can also be an ambush attack. So visualizing these different situations in the mind can help the student prepare for scenario training or real life events. We borrowed a technique from the US NAVY SEALS. Attach a cloth bag to the end of a broom handle. Drop the bag over a defending student’s head to blind him. Have attacking students get in front of victim student or surround him with weapons or not. Then remove the bag and the aggressor students randomly attacks the victim student who defends himself accordingly. There is no time to think but just defend using the rules of engagement which has to be determined in a split second just like a police officer has to do. All unrehearsed and done on the fly. Thus, surprise attacks and decision making via OODA loop has to be done under the ASR as you have said previously.

  2. Excellent comments. Love the cloth bag idea, I know of another gent on the page who does the same with his students. When time, please explain a little further on the specifics of “IMOP rules”, would love to hear more about the details and how they apply to modern civilian training.

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