The Simple Secrets of Self-Defense – Part 3 of 3

By Jim Harrison, Bushidokan-Ryu Founder & Head Instructor
© 2018 – Bushidokan™ Yudanshakai, Inc.  All Rights Reserved.

Keep It Similar

Like most martial artists, I also once suffered from the versatility syndrome.  Whereas, every attack must have a separate and distinct counter attack.  One of the reasons we do this is to show off our diverse repertoire of techniques.  Plus, if you make your living teaching a martial art, you normally give a lot of demonstrations.  Consequently, you need to show your various “waza” (techniques and tactics).  An audience needs to be entertained, as well as educated, and if the instructor kept doing the S.O.S. (Same Old Stuff), potential customers probably would not respond as receptively as they would to many different techniques and tactics.  Therefore, the need to be versatile instigates the desire to attempt more flamboyant and spectacular feats.  However,  when your life (or even your health) is on the line, Simple and Similar will prove out over flashy, flamboyant, and versatile…time after time!

If a certain technique / tactic is the best (or one of the best) to use against a specific attack, then it (or a similar technique / tactic) is very likely to be the best one to use in most other similar situations. This is true for several reasons:

One: PRACTICE…Say you have five Weapon Threat Defensive Tactics that utilize a very similar tactical series.  Therefore, every time you practice any one of those five defense tactics, you are essentially practicing the other four.  Consequently, you are building five times the response, reflex, and pattern programs than you would if you used five dissimilar tactical responses in the five separate similar situations.

Two: STRESS…In a stressful situation, particularly a dangerous or life threatening situation, your brain does not operate quickly (or even very well).  For the most part, your brain will only respond to conditioned reflexes.  The more conditioned the reflex and pattern mode is, the faster and more effectively your brain will respond to using it.  You will simply have a five hundred percent better chance of responding and executing a “Five for Five” pattern programmed into your conscious / subconscious than you would with a “One out of Five” possible pattern.  Therefore, plain common sense should dictate to you to play the odds.  The less you have to recall under stress, the better your chances are of surviving and even prevailing over an assailant.

Three: REPETITION…Repetitive practice of similar tactics not only hones your tactical recognition, reflex, and response factors, but each technique used in that tactical series becomes fine-tuned for speed, power, and accuracy.  Practical Practice Equals Practical Application – That equates to a longer, healthier, and happier life.


In Summary:

Don’t allow yourself to get surprised.  Use the Element of SURPRISE yourself!  Remember, the Element of Surprise has won (and will win) more fights, battles, and wars, from the first monkey with a stick, to the last nuclear war, than all other factors combined.

Keep it SIMPLE, Simon…Leave the flash to the movie stars.  They get to choreograph and practice each sequence as many times as necessary…You’ll only get one shot (no pun) in the mean street.

Keep It SIMILAR…Save the versatility for the demos, just don’t con yourself into using or teaching too many diverse tactics for real-life situations.  Let me give a further example…Most martial artists (especially karate-ka) often have hundreds of various techniques that they can perform, while boxers only have five major techniques.  Yet boxers do five to ten times better in street fights than do most martial artists (especially karate-ka).  Plus, the average boxer will knock the crap out of ninety-five percent of the black belts in the world, regardless of the discipline or art.  Then again, I’d hate like hell to attempt to “Out-Box” a dude with a knife, a club, or a broken bottle.  Actually, as a martial artist, we have many superior techniques (too many for a lot of us).  So, let’s fine tune our best techniques and use them sparingly, practically, and efficiently!



The Simple Secrets of Self-Defense – Part 2 of 3

By Jim Harrison, Bushidokan-Ryu Founder & Head Instructor
© 2018 – Bushidokan™ Yudanshakai, Inc.  All Rights Reserved.

Keep It Simple

Simple self-defense means simple techniques and simple tactics.  Why use a jump-spin kick when a simple front kick would be more practical?  Most martial artists prefer “show” to “go”.  They like to look good, flashy, flamboyant, spectacular, etc.  They love to perform…they love to impress.  I remember looking at the old Kick Magazine series that was called “Self-Defense Techniques of the Masters” (or something like that)…where four or five so-called “Masters” would demonstrate their defense methods against a left jab, right cross, front kick, knife stab, full nelson, rear choke, etc.  Now, I never saw more than a dozen or so episodes of that particular comic strip, but with the exceptions of Joe Lewis’ and Benny Urquidez’s simple, practical, and obviously effective versions, I found virtually all the others amusing to ridiculous (mostly ridiculous).  It appeared that each “Master” attempted to out-do the others by demonstrating a more complicated or “artistic” (absurd) sequence, while Ole Joe and Ole Ben just demo’ed some simple stuff that was pregnant with common sense and practical application.  It was obvious that most of the other “Masters” hadn’t been in a real fight since kindergarten…So much for my unsolicited candor.

Meanwhile, back in the alley…The three biggest mistakes most martial artists (especially instructors) make when concocting their defense repertoires is that: One; they assume that they will always know in advance exactly what the adversary will do.  I guess I must be kind of dumb and sort of slow because I always had a helluva time figuring out if the other dude was going to throw a left or a right first.  I was even worse at guessing if a punch, kick, jab, cross, hook, slash, thrust, stab or whatever else was coming first (or next)?  Two; apparently most martial artists are under the false impression that an assailant will make the first move and then instantly “freeze” – holding that pose until the martial artist finishes him off with several dashing and devastating moves.  I must have been born under a bad sign…I was never lucky enough to get one of those dudes who turned to stone after they missed (very fortunate) their first move.  Three; they all seem to believe that mean, pissed-off, drunk, hopped-up, and half-crazy bullies, thugs, rapists, and all other assailants are so easy to hurt.  They must have been dealing with a higher class clientele with lower pain tolerances than I ever did in most of my encounters.  I’ve run into some dudes that have taken one of my best shots with a grin and then just licked their chops for more…Well, enough sarcasm…Even if it is true!

Let’s re-address those accusations.

Number One: With proper training and practice, especially utilizing contact sparring, both bare-handed (meaning no weapon, not, no gloves) and against weapons, you can soon learn to read an opponent’s actions and body language, and then begin to anticipate his probable attack.  The less skilled he is, the more he will telegraph his intentions…and the more experienced you become, the better you will get at reading a more skillful opponent.  But, don’t attempt to guess too specifically.  To guess wrong, especially against a weapon, is worse than not guessing at all.  For example, should I read in an assailant’s body language that he is going to attack with a hand strike or punch, I do not attempt to guess if it’s going to be a jab, cross, hook, or even if it’s going to be a right or left.  I will simply try to drill him with a back fist and / or a front kick, depending on if his hands are up (ready mode) or down (belligerent mode), the second he steps into contact range (or the “Dumb Distance”).

Number Two: I never rely on dropping him with just one shot…nor do I (especially) rely on an opponent holding his pose for me.  I do expect the back fist or front kick to at least distract his attention and possibly get his hands up to his face or down to his bells momentarily.  However, whether I get much of a reaction from the back fist and front kick or not, I step down and deliver a cross, hook, and uppercut as quickly and accurately as possible.  If my front kick doesn’t make him pray, I had better have some heavy artillery outgoing, post-haste.  That’s just one example of how I’d handle a probable hand attack.

Number Three: I try to cross his eyes and buckle his knees…and even follow that up if necessary.  I try never to under-estimate any assailant or his ability to receive punishment…nor do I over-estimate my own power and ability.  Instead, I kick, hit, and follow through – hard, fast and furious!  I’m from that old school that still believes in breaking boards and bricks, even if they don’t hit back.  Therefore, I believe in conditioning my favorite weapons: hands, feet, elbows and shins.  Plus, I teach my students Maki-wara and Tamise-wara (toughening and breaking).  When they learn to break, they soon find out that some boards, bricks, and cement blocks are tougher than others.  Some will take several strikes and / or harder strikes before they break or crumble.  The first time a student appears to become somewhat aware of that phenomena, I take that opportunity to explain that men are like boards and bricks…some are much tougher than others.  Therefore, if you can…Hit’em Back First, and Hit’em Hard, Fast, and Furious!  Don’t worry too much about over-kill.  If you ever kill a man empty-handed, or with a foot, you can bet it will be by accident, not by intention.  People are hard to kill intentionally, especially mean bullies, thugs, and assailant types.

Review: Keep It Simple, Simon (KISS) – Don’t get Fancy, Flashy, or Flamboyant.  Use simple techniques.  Stick to good old-fashioned basic kicks and strikes.  Keep the tactics simple as well – don’t get complicated or too inventive.  Put plenty of speed and power into each technique, but don’t run them together so fast that you sacrifice power and accuracy.  Continue until you’re satisfied your adversary has had all the fun he can stand…and possibly enough to last him until he contracts “Old-Timers” disease and forgets who you are…or at least that he prays each night that you have forgotten him.


The Simple Secrets of Self-Defense – Part 1 of 3

By Jim Harrison, Bushidokan-Ryu Founder & Head Instructor
© 2018 – Bushidokan™ Yudanshakai, Inc.  All Rights Reserved.

The three most valuable secrets of self-defense are: S.S.S. – Surprise, Simplicity, and Similarity.  Let’s address those elements in that order.  Surprise…One may ask how can you utilize surprise when defending yourself?  Most often you’ve been assaulted or attacked by surprise yourself.  Well, first of all, most assaults or attacks should not be a surprise.  Because normally, verbal, or at least hostile body language precipitates most assaults or even attacks.  However, most of us are not of such an aggressive personality that we like to instigate or even initiate the first action.  That, often, is a very wrong decision.

By the time I was eighteen I must have been sucker-punched, kicked, slugged, or hit with a weapon first, some twenty times or more before I learned to recognize that a fight was actually going to start.  I never liked to hit anyone first.  However, I seemed to be in the vast minority of my associates.  Finally, I learned to recognize when a hostile situation was escalating toward a fight.  Consequently, I also learned that if a fight was obviously going to start…To Start The Fight!  I learned too, that it was infinitely easier to win a fight as the puncher rather than as the punchee.  With one exception, against a National Golden Gloves Champion, I had always, somehow, come back from “The Hole” and won.  However, it was often difficult to tell much difference between me and my opponent, because I usually had the hell beaten out of me between their sucker-punch and the time I got my stuff back together and got going.

“Starting” the fight myself was sooo much more fun.  I said “starting” the fight – not “instigating” the fight.  When it was apparent that I had to fight, eventually I learned to start the fight.

I also found that I didn’t have to do as much damage to an opponent if I made the first move.  One, I learned to Cross Eyes and Buckle Knees fast…which usually required much less follow-up – most guys didn’t want to continue a losing battle.  Second, follow-up, if necessary, was normally fairly easy on a surprised and stunned adversary.  Third, not being hurt and nearly exhausted prior to my counter-attack was physically much easier and emotionally less traumatic.  And finally, by not being hurt and humiliated, I didn’t have the emotional need to retaliate so thoroughly.  Therefore, less bloodshed for both of us!

Eventually, I learned how to utilize the Element Of Surprise – and here’s how you can too.  First of all, Don’t Get Surprised!  To avoid being surprised, learn to read hostile surroundings and situations and to especially read hostile body language.  Be more alert when in any probable or even possible hostile environment.  Observe any arguments, fights, assaults, or attacks, then analyze and critique how they began, especially the body language of the aggressor prior to the incident.  Try to recall any hostile or violent situation you were ever involved in and analyze it.  That way, you can learn to become more aware and tuned-in to probable and even possible hostile situations.

Most assaults can be anticipated by simple awareness.  In the last thirty years (and numerous incidents), I’ve only allowed myself to get “suckered” once – and that was done by some very good acting, so that I failed to see any apparent hostility (although there had been plenty warning signs previously).  Out of compassion I let pity over-ride my self-taught instincts and allowed myself to be sucked in.  After getting a bottle broken across my face, once again, I had to fight from “The Hole”, and take out three young, strong, and very hostile guys.

Once you’ve sensed hostility, Stay Alert.  Don’t let something else distract your original instinct.  Your instincts are like your first thoughts or answers when taking an exam, the first ones are usually right.  Or, like a Marine Re-con Sergeant I once knew who had a lot of combat experience used to teach his recruits, “Your first twitch is usually right”.  Therefore, don’t let any distraction confuse you or change your mind.  Keep aware and alert until you’ve exited the danger zone – and become re-alerted when approached by the same person(s) or situation at any later time.

How Not To Get Sucker Punched
The Dumb Distance

Physically, never allow an apparently hostile person to enter into the danger zone (if possible).  The danger zone is what I call the “Dumb Distance”.  That’s the distance that a possible assailant could reach out and nail you with a hand, foot, club, knife or weapon (whether apparent or possibly concealed) without them having to initiate at least one step toward you before being in contact range.  This is not always easy to do, especially if you are of a passive personality.  A good method is to initially evade, if you can, by retreating back a step or two, or to one side.  Then, if an apparent hostile adversary re-enters into contact range with you, he obviously isn’t there for your autograph…so Hit ’em Back First!  Or, retreat…If you can?

The Stupid Stance

Never, never argue or stand “square” to anyone, much less against an apparent or possible hostile person(s).  Standing square is very definitely a “Stupid Stance”.  Square, you have all of your frontal and lateral vital targets exposed and available to any assailant.  Plus, you have no “lead” hand for protection, distraction, or to attack with.  Nor do you have any rear hand or rear foot for power in a counter-attack (rarely attack with a rear hand or rear foot technique).  Remember, your front hand or foot is used for Speed and Distraction and your rear hand or foot is for Power and Destruction.

Being right handed, I much prefer a right lead myself, especially against a “left lead” adversary (most right handers will lead left foot first and most left handers will lead right foot forward).  Also, I’m in the opposite stance and angle that he is likely accustomed to.  I am also farther from his right power and / or weapon hand.  My front right hand is normally faster and stronger than his front left hand.  Therefore, his nose and philtrum is wide open to my right back-fist…or a knife-hand to his trachea if I detect or suspect a weapon.  Don’t let full contact fighters or kickboxers tell you a back-fist is ineffective.  It’s not very effective with a boxing glove on, but bare-handed a good back-fist is devastating.  I’ve stopped more fights with a back-fist and / or a front kick before they got started than most people have seen.  His left front knee is close and very exposed to my right side kick…While my left, rear (power) leg front kick is lined -up and sighted-in at the best (90 degree) angle to his bells.  If I can’t take out a baby gorilla when I Hit ‘em Back First with all those factors stacked in my favor, I deserve a tail-kicking.

Normally, don’t assume a “fighting” stance before your adversary does, or possibly even after he does, and Absolutely Not if he shows a weapon.  Forget your karate or kung-fu stances, most are useless, if not ridiculous.  Not only are most martial art stances useless but they instantly alert your assailant to your intended retaliation (virtually death against a weapon – regardless of how good you think you are) and will certainly alert him to the fact that you’re probably going to kick.  Such a stance may also entice or excite him into pulling a weapon beforehand.  A martial art stance will totally destroy your element of surprise and also considerably limit your fighting ability.  Martial art stances are only designed for show, not for go!  Stand in a casual three-point, right lead, boxers stance.  Hands down at the safe distance against a bare-handed adversary and hands up and open in a “talking hands” mode, or hands (fist) possibly in a boxer’s mode if he is already in a boxer’s stance and mode himself.  The best way I know to kick a dude in the bells is to make him think you’re going to punch him in the mouth.  And remember, your hands are definitely open and very apparently protective (defensive) if a weapon is apparent or suspected.

[Note: The “strike first” concept, from a legal perspective, comes into play because you felt that you were in “imminent danger” of physical harm.]


Samurai Bushidokan™ Newspaper Article – 1979

“Martial Artist Does His Thing”
January 14, 1979
Missoulian Newspaper
(Republished with Permission)

Article By Kathleen Johnson
Photos By Howard Skaggs

They meet in silence in the middle of a mat – the timid student and her instructor in the art of sell defense.

Gingerly, she reaches for his white gi (martial arts apparel).  In a spilt-second, he flings her off the mat, whirls her through the air and slaps her onto the floor.  She gets up, rearranges her hair and smiles.

Jim Harrison is doing his thing.  The three-time All American Karate Grand Champion is demonstrating falling techniques to his women’s self-defense class in his Samurai Martial Arts Training Center, 1290 South 3rd St. West.

[. . .]

As two young men practice kicking in the background, Harrison demonstrates how to flip an assailant, how to rake his eyes or mouth, how to devastate the attacker with one swift move.

The students’ attitude toward Harrison is reflected in the atmosphere of the class – subdued but friendly – because Harrison does not believe in strict formality as do many Shi-hans.

The students sit cross-legged against huge punching bags at the edge or the mat, each bag sporting a white, yellow, orange, green, brown or black belt.  The belts are symbolic of the martial arts rating system, white being the lowest and black being the highest achievement attainable [. . .]

Harrison began teaching karate, judo and jujitsu 15 years ago in Kansas City, Mo.  He called his business “Bushidokan” Japanese for “Warrior’s Way.”

Harrison said he chose the word to symbolize his theory of martial arts – that they were primarily a means of self-defense and secondly, a sport.

When his students began applying for promotions with the United States Karate Association, one of the half-dozen karate governing organizations in the U.S., the association sent back their applications with the word Bushidokan listed as the type of karate taught.

Since Harrison had developed his own style of karate, a conglomeration of other more traditional styles, he adopted Bushidokan as name of the new discipline.

[. . .]

Back on the mat, the women watch Harrison grab a student by the neck, sneak up from behind or pin her arms at her side.  Each time, the martial arts novice escapes his grasp.

The students are learning well.

They laugh as one spirited student flips Harrison, makes a defiant fist and parades back to the line.

“Did you eat raw hamburger before you came to class today?” he calls after her.

He jumps up, surveys the group and says, “Okay, then, I’ll find one more my size.”

With that, a 14-year old girl approaches Harrison.  He turns her around, grabs her from behind as to choke her.  She takes a deep breath, squats and hoists her instructor over her shoulder, slamming him against the cold, hard mat.

But Harrison doesn’t stay down long. He has spent about all of his 41 years kicking, flailing his arms, falling down and getting back up – all in split-seconds.

[. . .]

In Kansas City, Harrison owned four Bushidokan martial arts schools.

When the martial artist moved to the Garden City [Missoula], he changed the name of his school to Samurai Martial Arts Training Center to avoid confusion between the name of the school (Bushidokan) and the style of martial arts (Bushidokan).

A samurai, the black belt explained, is a member of the ancient ruling and warring class in feudal Japan.

Harrison knows a great deal about the Orient, having studied and competed there in the sixties.  He speaks “technical” Japanese and can ramble on for hours about the history and development of the martial arts.

His expertise and beliefs are reflected in the day-to-day operations of the school.  The Samurai Martial Arts Training Center is a family owned business.  Harrison and his 20-year old son, Shawn, are the chief instructors.  Shawn is a first degree black belt in judo and karate who is vying for the 1980 Olympics.  (Shawn won first place in the young men’s division of the U.S. Judo Association competition in St. Louis recently.)

[. . .]

“A lot of people are hung up on the ego thing.  My students aren’t.  The people in this school aren’t trouble makers – they want to avoid trouble. They learn confidence, not arrogance.  They don’t have anything to prove,” he said.

Harrison estimated that 90 percent of his students enroll to learn sell defense, although only about 40 percent admit it.  After they learn the basic or self defense, the students become more interested in the martial arts as a sport, Harrison said.

Students can choose from a fare of basic, intermediate or advanced judo or karate, basic or advanced women’s self defense, kobu-jitsu (small weaponry), a form of kick-boxing and full-contact karate.

[. . .]

The martial artist said enrollment in his new school exceeds his expectations, with some 90 students attending the center on a regular basis.

When asked why he has spent his life learning to fight, Harrison responded without hesitation.

“The martial arts look superior to getting out there and hitting each other in the head.”

Harrison, who was a policeman in St. Louis for several years, said he always had astrong desire to learn karate but was unable to find a teacher until the age of 17 when he had his first karate lesson.

It was love at first karate chop.

Harrison began to study under the few martial arts instructors in the U.S. at the time, gaining ability and strength with each class.

Since those early days, Harrison has attained enough achievements to fill a brochure.

He holds a three-time AAU Regional Championship title in judo, has trained three Grand National Champion Karate Teams and his Junior Judo Team hasn’t been defeated in regional competition in 11 years.

In 1974, Harrison was selected to coach the U.S. National Karate Team, which was undefeated in 57 matches. He coached the team again in 1975 and 1976 when they toured the Orient and Europe.

Harrison has appeared on ABC’s “Wide World or Sports” as the chief referee for the U.S. and World Championships.

In the 18 years he has been teaching, Harrison has seen 10,000 students on his mat, 78 of whom won first place in national martial arts competitions in their devisions.

He also has written articles for “Professional Karate” and other martial arts publications.

And the list goes on.

[. . .]

During the 12 hours he spends in his spacious school, Harrison frequently challenges his sons to a karate, judo or jujitsu match.

Or, to add a bit of spice to life, he challenges Shawn to a duel with a bo (a five-foot long stick).  Harrison gives his son a run for his money.

The Shi-han also works with some of his favorite martial arts weapons – nun-cha-kas, which are two sticks held together with rope; sais, which look like pitch forks; tui-fas, which are Japanese well-wheel handles, and ko-bos, small, short sticks.

The visitors in the peanut gallery who watch Harrison whirl the weapons around wonder if the weapons are “dirty”.

Harrison maintains they are not.

“There’s no such thing as the dirty fight.  There’s no such thing a a clean fight.  If a guydraws a .38 and is going to drill you, is that clean?  You crack him across the head, is that dirty?”

With that, Harrison turned to to his women’s self-defense class and said, “The only weapon worse than karate is a loaded purse.”

He chuckled, bowed to his class and strolled off the mat.


Jim Shannon – Chicago Tribune – September 22, 1964

Bushidokan Yudanshakai™ History: Jim Shannon was one of Sensei Jim Harrison’s Ju-Jitsu & Judo practice partners in the early 1960’s. According to Sensei Harrison, Shannon was an extremely strong Judo player and a really tough street fighter. The following newspaper article from 1964 confirms that assessment!

Chicago Tribune
Tuesday, September 22, 1964

Judo Expert Flips Robber
Parachutists Jump on His Accomplice

An armed robber and his accomplice got the worst of it yesterday when they encountered a judo expert and a group of parachute jumpers in a Calumet City tavern.

“It looked as if the sky divers were practicing parachute jumnps on them,” Police Chief Casimir E. Linkiewicz said after the two robbers were treated in St. Margaret’s Hospital, Hammond.

The story began when Paul R. Chamnik, 27, of 10430 Avenue L, armed with a .38 caliber automatic, and Ray W. Soto, 31, of 10245 Avenue N, announced a holdup at the Palace Club, 263 Torrence Ave.

Take Patrons’ Wallets

Soto stood by the door as Chamnik went along the row of patrons at the bar, ordering them back one by one and taking their wallets and money from the bar.

When Chamnik reached James Shannon, 31, of 14421 S. Kimbark Ave., Dolton, he jammed the gun in Shannon’s ribs and ordered him to move quicker.

He shouldn’t have. Shannon is a former sergeant with the 187th regimental combat team who made two parachute jumps in Korea and holds a second degree black belt in judo.

Chamnik suddenly found himself on the floor. Shannon had grabbed his gun hand and had flipped him. The gun went off, the bullet passing between Shannon’s legs and thudding into the floor.

Others Jump Accomplice

This was the signal for 14 other patrons – fellow members with Shannon in the Midwest-East Skydiving Club – to rush and overpower Soto.

Shannon, who weighs 158 lbs. to Chamnik’s 210, had to be pulled off Chamnik by police, who arrived a few minutes later.

Chamnik was charged with attempted robbery of the Palace and with the robbery a few hours earlier of another Calumet City tavern. Wallets taken in the earlier holdup were found in his car. Soto was charged with attempted robbery. Preliminary hearings were scheduled for Nov. 2 in Calumet City branch of Circuit court.”


Fear and the Flight or Fight Reflex – Part 6 of 6

By Jim Harrison (Originally Published By MA Success Magazine)

Obviously, I can’t go out looking for street fights to prove my martial arts skills are effective. That would be contrary to the self-defensive nature and philosophy of peace practiced throughout the martial arts. So how will I know if my skills will work in real life?

Today, we are rarely allowed to even protect ourselves physically because of decisions made by people who control our rules, laws and courts. We must “turn the other cheek” even if it kills us. Further, because of the senseless violence, misuse of weapons and the cowardly “gang mentality” prevalent in today’s society, it’s extremely dangerous to defend yourself.

I strongly recommend avoiding most confrontations. There are simply too many inherent dangers – physical, legal and civil – to justify fighting nowadays. If, however, you are attacked, you are not only justified to fight back but are forced to. If you wish to live and / or avoid injury, you have no choice.

When that happens, you can rely only on your martial arts training and ring experience to carry you through and help you survive an attack. If that training has been tough, practical and realistic, you will, more often than not, prevail. Remember, however, your attitude is more important than your skill.

President Theodore Roosevelt once stated – so poignantly – “It’s not the size of the boy in the fight. It’s the size of the fight in the boy.” Truer words were never spoken.

Here, I speak strictly for myself, and not for anyone else reading this. If I’m personally confronted with a serious threat, I invariably take appropriate and aggressive measures to protect myself – regardless of whatever potential legal or other consequences may result. I can worry about any of that later because, if I don’t win that encounter, I may not have to worry about anything since I could be crippled or dead!

Suppose I’ve trained in the martial arts mainly for fitness and health. Does that mean my skills might never work in a real self-defense situation – because I might or might not freeze out of fear? How can I know?

You can’t! Like the student skydiver who climbs into the airplane, like the rookie fighter pilot who takes off on his first sortie, or the beginner boxer climbing into the ring for the first time – they never knew if they could perform effectively, if at all, that first time. However, most do; and few completely freeze.

For one thing, you won’t have any choice in a street confrontation. If you cringe and cower when attacked, you may very well be killed. Therefore, your only chance will be to go for it!

Secondly, understand that you will not normally perform in a real fight as well as you did in practice. Fear does cause us to be uptight emotionally and, consequently, hinders or restricts our ability to think quickly and accurately. Fear also tightens us up physically and makes our moves – in this case, punches and kicks – stiffer and slower than normal.

However, there are a rare few, natural fighters who actually “turn on” in real and serious fights or in battle. But even these rare types also draw on their previous practice and experience.

Fear-driven stiffness is totally unavoidable. Only experience will allow you to loosen up. Often, however, as a real fight progresses, you’ll find that you will loosen up, too. Further, the sum total of your training sessions and ring experience will promote self-confidence, which leads to a more relaxed attitude in combat. The less you think about what can happen to you, the more you can focus on what you have to do to defend yourself.

And finally, when another person picks the fight with you or assaults you, he’s the one in the wrong. You are right! And being right, especially feeling right, empowers us immensely. So, in any attack situation, give yourself a big dose of “righteous indignation” and go for it. Don’t lose your temper. Keep cool, calm and collected. And explode into action.


Fear and the Flight or Fight Reflex – Part 5 of 6

By Jim Harrison (Originally Published By MA Success Magazine)

What is the third and final stage in this training process of overcoming fear?

Stage Three involves the street or combat zone. Tournaments and ring fights are always planned in advance. You know the date and even the approximate time that you will fight. Consequently, you normally have plenty of time to think, and to worry, about the possibility of losing.

Street fights, however, are normally spontaneous eruptions and, consequently, you have little, if any time to anticipate them and little time for the flight adrenalin to activate. In most self-defense situations, you know only that there is impending danger. As a Law-enforcement officer, you realize that a combat situation might develop but not always. In military combat, and certainly with a SAD (Search And Destroy) Team, you know that combat is definitely impending, it’s just a matter of when?

In police situations and military combat, you also know that there’s a very likely chance you will be wounded, crippled or killed. In the sport ring, of course, the chance of injury, and especially death, is much more remote.

Therefore, there are two different types of fear involved in these two different environments. The fear of humiliation and possible injury in the sport context, as opposed to the fear of serious injury and possible death in the others.

In competition, ring fights to the knockout are more decisive, but still conducted with restricting rules and a referee who can stop the fight. In combat, it’s a fight for life or death, with no rules and no referee – only your brains, skill, experience, conditioning, determination and luck. Without rules, the man with the best ability to improvise, and who will take the greater risk, is usually the winner – providing that plain luck doesn’t interfere.

Where is the turning point in overcoming fear?

Whatever game we play that involves risk, it is essential that we prepare ourselves, both mentally and physically. However, to enter the game we must normally push ourselves to enter it, and that is the critical turning point. We must actually – and perhaps often – force ourselves to step on the mat or into the ring, to climb out on the wing of a plane, or paddle into the rapids, and so on. Basically, to take that step from which we simply cannot retreat.

The rest is easy. Because there you are: In the match, in the air, in the canyon, or in the fight. Then you simply do your best to not only survive, but to excel and to win. It just takes that first difficult step, jump or leap.

More often than not, once you take that crucial step you will find the experience exhilarating! So go for it. Even when you lose or fail, you will feel better for having tried. Then you say to yourself, ‘I’ll do better next time.” And with that attitude, “next time” will surely come.

Overcoming fear is a matter of courage. Not being afraid is stupid. To stand and advance into the jaws of fear is simply to conquer, first, yourself, then your opponent. And conquering your opponent may be easier.

How can I develop your kind of attitude, one of unadulterated confidence in the ring or in combat?

I don’t know that everyone can. I can only relate my experience of how I did it, and how many of my students and the fighters I’ve coached have. But I do know that, unless you try, we will never know if you are one of those people who can or not.

One, you begin by initiating the steps I set forth earlier. By working out in a tough training hall, including a tough instructor / coach and tough teammates / sparring partners. By competing in sport contests, formal bouts and matches. And finally – if this is your desire – by testing your skills, conditioning, attitude and fortitude on the street in self-defense and / or in combat.

Like I said, to learn to swim you’re going to have to get wet.


Fear and the Flight or Fight Reflex – Part 4 of 6

By Jim Harrison (Originally Published By MA Success Magazine)

Where do you start the process of learning to overcome fear?

Stage One starts in the dojo or gym. There, the training should be rugged and demanding, sometimes even brutal and intimidating. And it often is, especially so in the case of boxing gyms, judo dojo and wrestling and sambo halls. In fact, if the training isn’t tough and hard, you might as well forget about becoming a real fighter.

Instead, you will simply be, and remain, a wannabe, with only dreams and wishes. Because, in any lesser or weaker atmosphere like that found in the run-of-the-mill or the average karate, aikido, kung-fu and taekwondo school – you will develop a considerably lesser amount of actual fighting ability and warrior-like attitude. Worse, you may develop false confidence. False confidence will always betray you when you need the real warrior’s attitude gained only from true confidence.

It’s very simple. If you want to swim, you have to – at the very least – get wet. And to be a champion swimmer, you’re also going to get tired, cold, and half-drowned – regularly. And if you are forced to swim with sharks, you better train for it as if your very life depends on it. Because, usually, it does!

What would be required of me in that kind of tough training environment?

In the tough dojo or gym, you must attend classes, practice sessions and workouts regularly and consistently. Don’t permit yourself excuses for missing practice, unless your reasons – like injury, illness, etc. – are honest and legitimate.

You must train daily, preferably, or at least every other day. You must work hard and train hard. You must work through fatigue and discomfort, through all obstacles except potentially disabling injuries and mental stress. Further, you don’t ever slack off. You must be willing to shed sweat, blood and even tears.

You should organize a schedule and curriculum that is more demanding than you think you can endure, and stick to it. And then increase it. You must train yourself to be tough before you can be tough. The tougher and rougher you train, the rougher and tougher you will become.

Training tough and consistent is the first step in overcoming fear. Learn to overcome the fear of work, regimentation, discomfort, pain and frustration. Take any setbacks in stride and overcome them as quickly as possible.

To put it in brutally frank terms, strive to reach the point where you simply cannot, will not, and do not accept failure!

You cited three stages in this process of overcoming fear. Wouldn’t Stage One – rugged training – accomplish this alone?

No! Now you must put your training skills to the test. Robin Webb, a former British Isles heavyweight boxing champion and a former sparring partner of Muhammad Ali’s, once said: “No coward steps into the ring twice.” To successfully build courage, you will have to step into the ring for perhaps the first time in your life, and no matter what happens, then step into it again and again.

Stage Two involves competition on the mat, in the ring, and in the arena. Having the determination to prepare as well as possible, and the fortitude to show up and do the job as well as you can, is the mindset needed to overcome your natural, inherited and genetic adrenal dispersal – no matter how it is proportioned. It is a matter of mind over fear! Courage!

So, after you have prepared (Stage One), you must systematically test yourself somewhere, sometime, against a worthy opponent in a competitive environment. That takes courage. Then you must continue to select or challenge more and more worthy opponents. And each time you choose a worthy opponent, it will require of you more courage.

But be careful. There’s an old saying, “Don’t bite off more than you can chew, but don’t spit it out if you do!”


Fear and the Flight or Fight Reflex – Part 3 of 6

By Jim Harrison (Originally Published By MA Success Magazine)

What can an individual do about his or her personal degree of flight and fight adrenalin?

Absolutely nothing! Each human being has inherited a specific amount of flight and fight adrenalin. Consequently, we must accept our normal reactions to fear, regardless of how desirable or undesirable, how acceptable or unacceptable, it may be to us.

So many people, especially fighters – and even would be fighters – berate themselves because of their personal “fear factor.” By this, I mean those feelings of fear that they encounter prior to – or at the initial outset of – a confrontation, a match or a real fight. Although it is normal to feel irritation or disappointment in ourselves because of our fear, it is absurd to blame ourselves for something we had absolutely no control over- something we were born with or without.

We have inherited all of our physical characteristics, our mental faculties, and our emotional responses. Certainly, every parent would give his or her child every desirable asset and attribute they could possibly think of- beauty, brawn, brains and bravery – if they possibly could. They can’t, and we can’t.

Are we, then, helpless to change our inherited condition? Can we, despite our inherited degree of fear, develop more courage than we were born with?

What we do to change, control or counter any undesirable or unacceptable characteristics we were born with is greatly, if not entirely, up to us – although parents, teachers and mentors can help guide us considerably. Nevertheless, we as individuals are the only ones who can deliver the goods – through desire, discipline and determination.

If you lack intelligence, for example, you can improve your knowledge through education and determination. If you are physically weak, you can improve your physical structure and strength through hard work and determination. If you lack emotional discipline and fortitude, you can, again, improve your attitude, discipline and self-control through sheer desire, will power and determination.

Determination is based on desire – the desire to strengthen any inherent weakness you might have, whether internal or external. And the degree of passion behind your desire will largely determine your outcome. How badly do you want to improve? And how willing are you to do what it takes to succeed at self-improvement.

Only you can answer those questions.

So, does that mean I can learn to control my fear?

Absolutely! Human beings can learn to improve and/or control virtually any characteristic or handicap they have. That is, if they sufficiently desire to, and have – or will develop – the will and the determination to do so.

As a martial artist or a fighter, how can I learn to control my natural, or genetic, fear?

First, by understanding what you are up against. That, again, is why the preceding technical information was used to initiate this chapter. It’s essential for you to understand the problem before you can affect a remedy.

Second, you need to find a solution to the problem. There is a solution, and it must be worked at in stages. So, third, you must learn those stages that a fighter will normally need to improve his level of bravery, and you must then, systematically, follow them.

There are three stages to the process of overcoming your natural fear and increasing your courage. But I must point out that every stage of this solution will be a very difficult challenge for anyone who has not traveled this path before. But then, what goal in this world is not difficult if it is worthwhile?


Fear and the Flight or Fight Reflex – Part 2 of 6

By Jim Harrison (Originally Published By MA Success Magazine)

What is “flight adrenaline” and what does it do to us?

Flight adrenaline (norepinephrine) is a hormone that’s secreted by the adrenal gland when a human being – or, virtually any animal, but specifically, mammals – anticipates danger. Flight adrenaline greatly increases our awareness and alertness.

In addition to making us considerably more alert and sensitive to our immediate surroundings, it also increases our peripheral awareness. To put it simply, it opens up our senses to detect danger. It allows – or actually forces us to tune in to danger and/or the possibility of danger.

Flight adrenaline fine-tunes our receptive and responsive abilities. It especially increases our desire and our ability to avoid danger, because there is normally less risk in avoiding danger than in confronting it.

There’s an old Zen parable that best illustrates the distinction between these two reflexes:

A Zen master out for a walk with one of his students pointed out a fox chasing a rabbit.

“According to an ancient fable,” the master said, “the rabbit will get away from the fox.”

“Not so,” replied the student. “The fox is faster.”

“But the rabbit will elude him,” insisted the master.

“Why are you so certain?” asked the student.

“Because” answered the master, “the fox is running for his dinner and the rabbit is running for his life.”

What responses does flight adrenaline cause in humans?

Flight adrenaline (norepinephrine) signals us to be ready to run. It also enables us to run earlier and much faster than normal. That’s because, again, we are much better off to avoid danger than to confront it. In other words, it’s better to flee than to fight. Whether you believe it or not, we can actually run much faster when afraid.

What is “fight adrenaline” and how does it affect us?

Fight adrenalin (epinephrine) is an adjacent hormone also secreted by the medulla section of the adrenal gland. Epinephrine, however, works in many ways almost entirely opposite of flight adrenalin. It decreases our peripheral senses and actually focuses, or tunnels, our perceptions and responses.

Fight adrenalin not only triggers our emergency senses, but also our emergency reflexes, to aid us whenever we cannot, do not, or will not avoid danger. It makes us quicker and stronger, assets that we sorely need to confront and meet danger.

In addition, fight adrenalin greatly increases our pain threshold anywhere from mild to superhuman, just as it can our strength. It also increases our dysfunctional override capacity- the ability to resist and even aggress after incurring physical damage. It can allow us to function despite a dislocated joint, broken bones, etc.; or after the breath has been knocked out of us, or even when we have been knocked almost unconscious!

How can you best describe the differences between flight and fight adrenalin?

Here’s the best analogy. Flight adrenalin is what rabbits have 99.99% of the time. Fight adrenalin is what grizzly bears are imbued with 99.99% of the time.

Only the rarest of rabbits, in the rarest of instances, will fight. Even in the most extreme cases – when cornered and being eaten alive – rabbits will simply acquiesce into shock,or continue their attempt to escape.

The grizzly very rarely thinks of avoiding danger, much less running from it. Grizzlies have been ftlmed attacking automobiles! They normally only run to catch, and/or attack, a meal, and very rarely to escape – and then only from conditioned reflexes such as to run from men with dogs and rifles. But quite often, not even then.

Each human being also has a certain proportional amount of rabbit and grizzly reflexes, obviously in vastly different degrees per individual. The proportion depends completely upon a person’s inherited genetic DNA dispersal.