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Self Defense/The Truth Behind the Lie of Martial Arts and Self Defense



I hear other my fellow corrections officers in DT training talk with an underlying desire of "competence" or "mastery" in the sense of being very capable of protecting themselves and those we are sworn to protect.

I hear inmates talking about "respect" as "street warriors/thugs/gang members," some who seem really to be seeking the same thing the officers are seeking.

I hear those in dojos expressing the same desire.

They all seem to believe a lie, or at best a deception, about what DT/Self-Defense/"Street Warriorness"/Martial Arts offers:  

That some how these will give a kind of invincibility.

The truth behind the lie seems to me to be a certain level of "competence and confidence" in protecting self and others.

Take a lion, for example.  Lion's are definitely competent and confident in defending themselves and their pride.  But they are by no means invincible, AND EVEN THE KING OF THE JUNGLE SEEMS TO UNDERSTAND THIS, at least the "alphas" do in the sense that they don't go looking for "fights," attacking only when necessary, but then very ferociously--competently and confidently.  By competent and confident, I mean the lion knows what he can do and can do it when it is necessary, yet without invincibility.

The officer, inmate, thug, and martial arts student seem to want the basic competence and confidence that lions seem born with, though lions do "train" in a sense, but with them it's life or death, eating or not eating.

So what is the truth behind the lie, and how do these groups achieve and experience it?

ANSWER: Ordinarily when people ask me questions about this subject, it's like someone asking "How do I have a happy marriage?" Which it should tell you something that I've learned to ask back "Are you married?" Way too often not only is the answer no, but they aren't even dating someone.

It's a big ass question as it is, but to understand an answer you need to have somethings under your belt.

You can look around you and see what I'm about to say in action.

The following is an except from my new book "In the Name of Self-Defense" (It'll be out in a few months)

Humans are social primates.

We are designed to function in groups. Our individual survival depends on the group (or society, if you will). For millions of years an individual with no group was dead. Dead from starvation, exposure, accident or predation. The last from either animals or other groups. So got it? Alone = Dead.   

So from an individual perspective, 'Yay belonging to a group!' In a group = I'm alive.

Knowing this, let's step away from the individual 'needs' and look at what a group needs to survive. In order for groups to function (especially over the long term) certain issues must be addressed. Numbered among a larger list are things like hierarchy, division of resources and labor, roles, rules about behavior, ways of doing things and maintaining 'tribal identity.'  Most conflicts (and by extension  violence) are over these -- social -- issues.

But, before we go there, it's important to look at when these group dynamics do work for the individuals. Because that's most of the time. Things work and people get along; basically they accept the group's/society's standards and go about getting through the day with as little fuss as possible.  This especially as you get older and have responsibilities.

But more than that, these systems and standards dictate huge chunks of our behaviors. To the point of it's arguable that we're wired -- as individuals -- to try to 'win,' to strive to achieve within group dynamics. As in a lot of seemingly 'selfish' behaviors actually benefits and perpetuates the group  What's not in question is within this bigger 'group context' that an individual moves around. And that includes conflict.

Because the most common sources of conflict are when someone tries to dictate these dynamics, overreaches, breaks the rules and/or messes with the status quo. Most of all though, social conflict/violence is what occurs between members within a group.

It's us 'fighting' among ourselves over 'how things are going to be.'

I give you that as background so my next statements make sense.  First off, I'm actually embarrassed that I introduced the idea of Alpha behavior to the SD world. Embarrassed because too many people have run off to their own private Idaho and are thumping their chests about "I'm an alpha! Grrrrr! Growl! Aren't I cool?"

Get a cup of coffee and go here. (Come to think of it, brew a pot.)

Having that under your belt, my next statement will make more sense

Caesar Millian, The Dog Whisperer, has a term I picked up 'insecure alpha' That's when a dog that lacks the attributes for being an alpha, ends up in charge of the pack. This causes that dog to stress out and it becomes really aggressive and neurotic. This stress is passed onto the pack. Now in the wilds, the 'betas' would just split and join another pack (basically abandoning the insecure alpha).  But being in a backyard, they are trapped. (Gee, sound like a cell block?)  

I tell you this because you have two main problems. (again, this will make more sense after you've chased those links)

One is betas trying to ape what they THINK is alpha behaviors. Problem is all they're seeing (and aping) is the respect and 'not being fucked with' that the alphas get, without understanding those are by products of bigger issues.

Two is most violence and aggression happens between betas who are trying to work their way up Often these people lack what is needed to be an alpha  -- primarily the ability to lead and be reliable.  They think that being an alpha is just being tough and everyone leaves them alone no matter how big of an asshole, douchebag they are and treating people like shit.

When these guys are strutting, they think they're showing what bad asses they are so nobody will fuck with them. That's a beta move and everyone but them knows it.

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: So you're saying my question is more about group dynamics and roles within the group being known, understood, and respected, and that when these roles are either unknown, misunderstood, or disrespected, we have the "alpha aping/beta fighting?"

If you're saying this #in a nutshell#, then I'll try to answer my own question back to you, and you can tell me if I'm on track or not.

The truth behind the "lie" of martial arts/self-defense/defensive tactics, in relation to "competent confidence in defense," is this:

True "alphas" have this competence and confidence because they aren't focused on themselves, or this magical martial state.  They are focused on respecting the trust their group has given them, and they have resources necessary to inspire trust. One of those resources is physical self defense, but this is by no means the most important resource an alpha considers himself to have.  His most important resources are his ability to fulfill his duty and take responsibility.  Because he has a cause bigger than himself, and because of his love for those in his group, he will do whatever it takes to fulfill his duty, spiritually, emotionally, and finally physically.  This is "true toughness," not the billy-bad-assery of beta fighting.

I'm I with you?

Yes, you got the basic idea.

And now, let me add two things. But first a foundational concept for them to make more sense: You have two groups in forced proximity.

One, I wish I could find the word again (I've even called anthro depts at universities and while they immediately know the idea, they don't know the word either). Years ago my cultural anthropology teacher told me a word for two groups that have been antagonistic for so long that it's become part of their culture and identifiers. (cops vs robbers, Israelis vs. Palestinians, cowboys vs. Indians, we hates them, my precious).  

This creates a rather strange set of dynamics. You got criminals and corrections who are opposite sides, but sharing the same space. So you have internal dynamics (status)within a group itself and having to interface with the other group.  Often what gains you status within your group, doesn't fly well with the other group. Other times, you get a screwed up hybrid. It's wrong for one of your guards to try and present the 'don't fuck with me' signs that the inmates use. It's a pain in the ass when an inmate tries to build his status among his group, by going off on guards

Two, betas don't know understand what you said about leadership/ alpha and taking care of the group -- as such they fuck it up all the time.

Think about it as two warrior tribes that must co-exist in the same space. Not only exist, but must interface with one another, while maintaining their group identity. You don't want your guards trying to ape the criminal behavior. At the same time, their safety and level of respect boils down to how calm, cool and professional they present themselves as. They don't do that by trying to ape the criminals 'tough guy' behavior

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Marc MacYoung


Street self-defense, crime avoidance and personal safety


I grew up in the streets of Los Angeles in 'situational poverty.' I have dealt with criminals and violent people all my life -- both personally and professionally. I have written 15 books and 6 videos on surviving street violence. I was originally published under the name Marc Animal MacYoung. (Animal was my street name). I've taught police and military both internationally and within the US. I've lectured at universities, academies and done countless TV, radio, newspaper and magazine interviews. I'm a professional speaker on crime avoidance and personal safety. And I am an expert witness recognized by the US court system. My bio is at My abridged CV (Curriculum Vitae) is at

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Too numerous to list here. My CV (for my expert witness work in court) is at

Read "In the Name of Self-Defense" the streets don't give a Ph.D in scuffle.

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