Lesson 3 – Self-defense: mental preparation

Nobody explains how to train the mind

One of the least treated (and probably among the most fundamental) aspects of self-defense is mental preparation.

The first time, you simply do not know how you will react:

  • Realizing that you are truly close to a fight
  • Undergoing an unexpected aggression

Especially for those who are not familiar with physical confrontation (but not necessary only them), the stress level involved can be incredibly high.

Note – This article has been asked by one of our Core Course practitioners on Patreon (see how to attend our home study classes here Learn Kung Fu online: a beginner-to-expert course).

It does not matter whether it is a situation that can be resolved by a flee, physical struggle or negotiation: if you are not psychologically ready to concentrate and accept the scenario you are involved in (read for example Self-defense: aggression in front of a supermarket), you will never be able to put your knowledge on the subject (read Lesson 7.1).

As we have already mentioned, in normal personal-defense courses (at best) it is simply repeated over and over again that the psychological level is not to be underestimated but very few explain how to prepare the mind to face that obstacle.

This guide, without any pretension of completeness or of providing miraculous recipes, tries to give answers to this scandalously widespread lack.

A note by Master Kongling – Why this happen? Because 90% of the so-called “instructors” of self-defense are “improvised” and almost no one has even thought to deepen the collateral aspects involved (too boring, no testosterone, too hard to understand, not commercial, etc.).

What we need (mentally)

Reconnecting with what was said in the previous lesson (read Lesson 2), in a self-defense situation we need:

  • To accept the situation (discipline) – Eliminate doubts and act with courage, determination and consistency (guiding the instinct through reason, read Concentration: reason and instinct)
  • The right patterns in our mind (preparation) – Thinking of sketching an effective strategy (from scratch) in the exact moment in which we risk to suffer an aggression means to drastically reduce our possibilities
  • Lucidity to adapt the schemes to the scenario (concentration) – Knowing the best defensive patterns is useless if we do not possess the lucidity to carry out a quick and consistent reasoning

A note by Master Kongling – As you can see, in every teaching related to 6 Dragons Kung Fu, we always return to this triple key of reading: discipline, preparation and concentration.


If on one hand (almost) all serious martial arts practitioners understand that:

Only a few can accept the effort of having to study and train even for what concerns the mental aspects.

The problem is that, in a civil context, most of the self-defense instructors (not necessarily for their fault) have not been trained in this kind of approach and themselves if / when called to face critical situations often react in the wrong way:

  • With too sharp tools (eg. finger in the eyes screaming the name of their martial art)
  • With too mild methods (eg. deluding themselves of applying didactical controlling techniques)
  • More simply (and commonly) going into a total panic (read Always be ready to fight: the mind)

A note by Master Kongling – I’ve been there too. All this should not surprise you: as it is normal that those who are not trained to kick will lose the balance in doing it (read Kick without losing balance: another trick) is similarly normal that those who have no psychological education, react with their personal instinctive nature. I remember for example a boy with a statuesque body and a huge force (forged in hours and hours of Crossfit training) immobilized in front of a snatch (against a close relative) and perpetrated by an old unarmed lame man; those present urged him to do something but nothing… he could have chased him for hours without losing even a drop of sweat, he could have grabbed him by the arm and nothing would have freed him. Nothing.

Without physical confrontation

From a strictly psychological point of view:

  • If one side is true that the typical gym’s martial training, allows you to better deal with daily life situations (work, sociality, etc.)
  • On the other, it does not teach you at all how to manage the most (emotionally) extreme conditions

Only those who have already had practical experience of violence know what it means:

  • People grew up in contexts where it is the order of the day
  • Suburban areas characterized by social degradation
  • Isolated areas where the law does not arrive
  • Eternal war zones
  • Underworld environments

How to prepare the mind for personal defense

A note by Master Kongling – Who trains in martial arts day by day, seriously and with humility knows how difficult it is to achieve satisfactory results on the physical plane and for what concerns the mental plane, it is the same thing: you need a lot of quality practice.

Let’s see how to train and educate your mind to the psychological stress of self-defense:

  • Understanding that you gradually have to learn to control your mind – The maximum aspiration of a Shaolin monk was and is to empty his mind (read Become the absolute zero); the ability to choose your emotions and feelings is the maximum mental ability of both a fighter and a negotiator
  • Using the anchors – Recalling emotions from the past and bringing them back to mind to identify you with the right frame of mind for the present scenario; this is certainly a winning technique but it must be done properly (read Fighting and mind control: the anchors); the emotions have incredible power and you can use them each time you need (read How to use emotions in workout and combat)
  • Preparing a plan – In a critical context, complex plans and decisions about what to do, what not and how are (as we said) out of our reach; those thoughts must be ponderated in moments of tranquillity and never in circumstances of danger, tension and / or prejudice s(read The 6DKF’s diagram about the use of violence); this also includes the fact that you have to take your time to choose what is really important for you (life, friends, etc.) and what can be easily replaced / lost / ignored / recovered (money, pride, etc.)
  • Accepting pain – Pain is only a sensation; the philosopher Epicurus said that if it is too strong it lasts a little, if not you can bear it; we could discuss aloud these statements but what interests us is his point of view, the concept that suffering, being scared or focused on pain is simply useless / counterproductive; for those who are not used to it, the first real problem is the fear of pain and not so much its effective neural signal; if it is true that everyone has a different sensitivity to pain, it is equally true that you can raise your threshold of tolerance (both physically, both and especially mentally, read Acceptance and prevention of pain)
  • Understanding what fear is – We are all afraid (victims and aggressors), it is an automatic mechanism for the preservation of most living beings; you do not have to learn to reject it but to accept it as a “neutral signal”; in itself, fear is devoid of positive or negative meaning, it must not alter your perception / interaction with the scenario; to learn how to manage this emotion, you must gradually face all that scares you, day by day, starting from the smallest and insignificant things (eg. small superstitions), up to the most incisive ones (eg. big traumas, more about this later); do not skip this step, whether you think you can not do it or that you do not need it, in both cases you’re lying to yourself (read Having discipline: do not contradict ourselves); you must learn to leave your comfort zone, this is the effort of mental training
  • Performing (useful) simulations – A good way to get used to deal with critical situations is to refine your skills in simulative contexts (gradually less predictable, less balanced, less schematic and especially less collaborative, read How to simulate realistic self-defense scenarios); the simulations of operational scenarios (outdoors or indoors, with or without sparring) are very useful but only if those who train with you do not behave in a didactic, lazy and consenting way; after a certain level, the simulation makes sense only if (given rules and safety limits to be respected) you come to a point that you entirely do not know what kind of aggression you will suffer (with weapons, multiple, for robbery, etc.)

A note by Master Kongling – Regarding the simulations, it is important to stress that they must not forcibly have a happy ending (only defeat teaches something, read Measure ourselves with errors). I remember a wonderful initiative that was attended by a friend of mine (a Ninjutsu practitioner) where an assault and a defense from a night siege was simulated through a building near a bush (with 2 teams of about 15 people). Naturally, this kind of activities must be adequately prepared (people, places, training, safety, etc.) but to make simpler simulations, any training area is sufficient (read The most suitable places to train).

In-depth articles

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Author: Master Kongling

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