Marcos Avellan, along with his brother David, founded South Florida's Freestyle Fighting Academy (FFA) in 2001, and has trained fighters for the UFC, WEC, Bodogfight, EliteXC, Strikeforce, and dozens of other promotions. He is a writer for the website BlackBeltPsychology.com and is a leading expert in combat mental training.
When partner drilling in the gym, the most important factor is that you must strike to hit. You must shoot to kill. What do I mean by this? 97% of martial artists around the world never shoot to kill. When they drill, they throw punches either off to the side of their partner’s face, or a few inches short of their face. This is a natural phenomenon that occurs all across the world, and not just in drilling, but in actual combat to the death.
Most people are familiar with the “fight or flight ” response, which says that when confronted with a potentially life threatening situation, people will either fight or flee (flight), but Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, in his book On Killing examines this initial reaction more closely and expands on the concept of “fight or flight”. He states that when dealing with intraspecies conflict, there are two more reactions, which are “posturing” and “submission” (surrender). He states that when an animal is physically threatened by another animal of the same species, the first two options an animal faces are flight or posturing. Posturing is when an animal flares up, barks, shows its teeth, etc. to look fearsome. Posturing is designed to intimidate and scare off an opponent, avoiding the conflict. Think about it: When you see two dogs fight, they rarely walk by each other and immediately begin to try and tear each other’s throat out; there is always barking, tail raising, ears perking up, and other posturing actions designed to intimidate and avoid the conflict.
Lt. Col. Grossman further explains intraspecies conflict: “When the posturer has failed to dissuade an intraspecies opponent, the options then become fight, flight, or submission. When the fight option is utilized, it is almost never to the death.” Think about how this directly applies to street fights and sport fighting.
It is not natural for a man to kill another man. This instinct of not killing one of the same species can be seen by even the most aggressive animals in the animal kingdom. For example, the piranha is one of the most aggressive types of fish in the world. A school of piranhas can shred a bull to the bone in a matter of minutes; their sharp teeth and aggressive attack style make them feared by all animals that enter the water. Have you seen how piranhas fight each other? It is far from gruesome – they actually whip each other with their tails. They never bite each other, but simply circle around in circles whipping each other with their tails. If you don’t believe me, simply search for videos on the internet – it is quite weird to see. Similar to the piranha, man is not initially equipped with the instinct to kill a fellow man.
How often do men commit fatalities during a street fight? It happens, but it is rare and most often by accident. Most of the time, men will knock each other out, taunt the other man, and walk away – establishing their dominance. However, if the intention really was to murder, it is quite easy to murder another man. Simply holding a chokehold on your opponent for a minute would do the trick, or stomping on his neck a few times while he’s unconscious would kill him. How about gouging both of your opponent’s eyes out? How often have you heard about a high school street fight that ended with a kid losing both of his eyes? These are all very easy ways to permanently injure or kill an opponent, but they almost never happen. This is the human version of the piranha “tail whip fight”.
In the book On Killing, Lt. Col. Grossman refers back to many factual references to soldiers avoiding killing in the middle of actual combat. There are stories of this “problem” being detailed throughout history, with records detailing these issues going as far back as during the times of the Roman Empire. During the American Civil War, it was common to pick up weapons from the dead and find that they were loaded twice, because after they loaded their weapons and the order “FIRE!” was given, they didn’t pull the trigger, but they would follow through with their training and reload. During World War II, it was estimated that only 15% to 20% of fresh soldiers shot to kill – the rest subconsciously aimed high or didn’t fire at all. It was because of this natural phenomenon that during World War I, British Lieutenant George Roupell would draw his sword and walk down the trench, “beating the men on their backside and, as I got their attention, telling them to fire low.” In Vietnam, it was estimated that it took an average of more than 50,000 bullets for every enemy killed. Medics during Vietnam would comment about how amazing it was to see so many bullets being fired and nobody get hurt. All of these missed shots were actually nothing but posturing. The human version of “barking” in warfare is firing their guns high – nobody is getting hurt but it sounds and looks fearsome. Keep in mind that posturing during combat is most often done subconsciously and instinctually.
Since World War II, The United States has drastically improved all of these killing statistics. You want to know how? By making their practices feel more real and utilizing visualization exercises and drills. For example, in the past, the targets on the shooting range were round bull's-eyes. Nowadays, the targets are shaped like people. First-person shooter video games which desensitize youth to murder also take some of the credit to improved kill statistics, which is the reason there are video games sponsored by the military. Our military has drastically reduced the “posturing” reflex from our soldiers’ list of intraspecies conflict options. How does this apply to martial arts?
When most people spar, they find their strikes landing short of their target; usually their strikes are hitting the gloves of their opponent. This is because of the protective instinct of posturing. The “attacker” is subconsciously posturing because in a street situation, this may scare away their opponent. This behavior is further reinforced during drilling, when they are not really striking at their partner’s face – they are usually punching out over their partner’s shoulder, stopping a few inches short of their partner’s face, or punching for the partner’s gloves. This behavior not only trains bad habits for the attacker, but it also prevents the defender from developing a proper defense.
When drilling techniques, such as the jab, cross, hook, all the strikes need to be shot to kill; they need to be aiming for actual targets on the head. If the defender fails to defend – he should be hit! For kickboxing drilling, you can use a formula similar to the one we described earlier: You can start with one person throwing the jab, cross, hook, with the other man defending and then shooting the same combo back. Then build it up the following round by adding counter strikes, elbows, kicks, knees, etc. to build up a huge combo that has the feel of a real striking exchange.
I can keep on going on this topic but we’ll stop here for now. Come back to this site and stay tuned for my next article! If you would like to learn more, you can visit my site at www.BlackBeltPsychology.com