You are here:

Self Defense/Winning a battle/surviving a combat is (mostly) the result of ...???


QUESTION: 'National character, historical tradition, and, above all things, different degrees of civilization, create as many diversities, and give to each army its peculiar points of excellence and weakness. The Frenchman and the Hungarian, the Englishman and the Italian, the Russian and the German, under certain circumstances, may be equally good and efficient soldiers; but, in spite of a uniform system of drill, which appears to level all distinctions, every one will be good in his own way, by virtue of qualities different from those possessed by his rivals.

This brings us to a question but too often mooted between the military patriots of different nationalities: Which are the best soldiers? [...] The German Landsknechte of the later middle ages, the Swiss soldiers of the sixteenth century, were for a period as invincible as the splendid Spanish soldiers, who succeeded them to the rank of "the first infantry of the world;" the French of Louis the Fourteenth, and the Austrians of Eugene disputed, for a while, with each other this post of honor, until the Prussians of Frederick the Great settled the question by defeating both of them; these, again, were hurled down into utter disrepute by a single blow at Jena, and once more the French were universally acknowledged the first soldiers of Europe; at the same time, however, they could not prevent the English, in Spain, from proving themselves their superiors under certain circumstances and in certain moments of a battle. No doubt, the legions which Napoleon led, in 1805, from the camp of Boulogne to Austerlitz, were the finest troops of their time; no doubt Wellington knew what he said, when he called his soldiers at the conclusion of the Peninsular war "an army with which he could go any where, and do any thing;" and yet the flower of this Peninsular British army was defeated at New Orleans, by mere militia men and volunteers, without either drill or organization.'

[Frederick Engels, The Armies of Europe, First Article, Putnam's Monthly, No. XXXII, August 1855]

My questions have nothing to do with self-defense per se, but since you've been answering questions about 'How do you pick up women in a nightclub?', 'Who will win in a fight: a Japanese samurai with his katana or an European knight with his plate armor?', 'Was Bruce Lee a demi-god?', etc., I figure you can answer mine. :p

What are the 'skills' that allowed you to survive and be successful in your past career as a streetfighter? Quick reflexes? Physical (and mental) toughness? Sheer agressivity? Adroitness in handling weapons and in performing complex moves? Tactical intelligence? Resourcefulness?

Now my questions related to the excerpt coming from the writings of Frederick Engels, Karl Marx's 'comrade':

Surviving a streetfight is not the same thing as winning a battle but, according to you, during all the wars humans waged against one another since the existence of mankind, what are the 'attributes' the 'warriors' of a given nation/people/tribe/etc. must possess over their rivals to gain victory over them in the battlefield? The ones I mentioned above?

And, in your own opinion, are these attributes/skills innate? Something you have when you're born? You're either a 'warrior' or you're not? Or can they be acquired? The same way a child learns how to walk, can you 'learn' to 'become a successful warrior'? If so, how? Through harsh and intensive training or through real-life experience?

If you have received more pertinent questions about the topic of self-defense, I won't mind if you answer mine in a month. I just hope you answer them. Thanks in advance for your time.

ANSWER: I started this out as a 'reject the question,' but it's turning into an answer.

Understand that I'm a history buff. My points of interest regarding wars are first, not necessarily in the wars or battles themselves. From a historical standpoint I'm WAY more interested in what was going on that lead up to the war and what happened socially/economically after the war. (As Clauswitz so often said, "War is politics carried out through other means." For example, I don't really care about the battles of WWII, I'm much more interested in how Hitler rose to power and the conditions in pre-WWII Japan that allowed rogue elements of the army to invade China and the military to start a war.

From a warfare standpoint what I am far less interested in who won the battle than "What was it that allowed one side to win?"

"What was it that allowed one side to win?" That's a simple question, but it's a giant can of worms. The answer is a fascinating blend of technology, resources, tactics and most of all coordination/cooperation.

We prize the individual warrior ethos, but it's soldiers operating in tandem that win battles.

The HBO series "Rome" starts out with a tactic that I've only read about. They're in a battle with the Gauls and the Romans are in their square (triple line) formation and a wave of Gaulish warriors slams into them. As the Roman shields were designed to link together, it's like the Gaul's charge ran into a chain. After the initial rush, the Romans unlink their shields and start fighting. But as the fighting goes on, the Centurion blows a whistle. The front line takes one step to the right and the man behind him steps forward to fight. The previous soldier falls back to the end of the line (to rest). This allows a constant, coordinated turn over of fresh, unwounded soldiers to face the unorganized mob of Gallic warriors.

Given the technology of the time, those tactics allowed Rome to conqueror most of the known world. However, with the invention of the heavy stirrup, the mounted knight became supreme on the battlefield. Then with the invention of cannons and firearms, the advantage went back to the infantry. With the invention of mechanized armor and airplanes, the power shifted again.

Now, that's a very Western-centric summation, but you'll find the same basic pattern around the world. The individual warrior actually means very little. It's the coordinated actions of trained soldiers and them having the resources and supplies that prove out again and again. Hell Rommel had better tanks, better tactics and more experienced soldiers...but he lost North Africa because of the predation of Allied submarines in the Mediterranean and the commando raids on his supply lines and ports. Soldiers can't fight without food, bullets or other supplies. (A tank with a broken fuel pump is a glorified planter if you can't get another one.)

Now scale that down to the streets. Again the myth is the lone warrior, but in fact, survival and success is predicated on numbers. It's you being part of a crew/gang/family, not the individual. Yeah, an individual may be the group's heavy hitter, badass but he lives or dies by his involvement. This especially when it comes to going against another group.

So here's the weird thing. From personal experience I've seen that people from less organized/civilized societies are individually tougher. But people from more organized/civilized societies are much better at cooperating with each others to win.

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

QUESTION: Okay, you introduced the notion of the 'badass/lone warrior' vs the notion of 'group cooperation/coordination'... Let me reformulate my questions by first presenting you this history lesson: in 18th century Europe, there was the Seven Years War which pitted different kingdoms against one another. By ruthlessly drilling his countrymen, the king of Prussia (at the time, a tiny kingdom that is now located in northern Germany and in Poland), Frederick the Great, made his soldiers capable of loading and firing their muskets/deploying in formation/marching faster than the soldiers of his enemies. He won many victories in pitched battles against the Austrians. However, after seeing their regular troops being defeated in pitched battles opposing their formations against the Prussian formations, the Austrians decided to deploy 'Pandurs', skirmishers recruited among Croatian mountaineers, irregulars capable of using their own judgement and acting on their own initiative instead of simply robotically obeying the orders/performing the commands of their drillmaster. When Pandurs taking cover on their own accord behind an obstacle like a tree/rock, engaged the Prussian soldiers deployed in line on open terrain in firefights, the Prussians experienced the same problems the British redcoats experienced when they were ambushed by the American colonists during the American War of Independence...

Brutal training, harsh discipline, ability to operate in group and to follow orders without question, etc., all these factors that made the Prussian soldiers (and the British redcoats) so efficient in winning pitched battles were now useless when they were caught in skirmishes and ambushes with foes who were never subjected to any regular training but who were still capable of besting them by acting independently on their own accord...

Decades later, at the beginning of the 19th century, Napoleon triggered a new series of wars in Europe. The Prussians thought they can defeat him without problem. In the double battle of Jena-Auerstadt, the Prussian soldiers toiled to deploy in formation and to perform all kind of complex maneuvers under the command of their superiors while the French voltigeurs, troops acting and operating in a manner similar to the Croatian Pandurs and the American skirmishers, had no problem taking potshots at them, behind the cover of a rock/tree, causing confusion and disorder among the Prussian ranks, allowing Napoleon to score a double victory that forced the Prussians to surrender and sue for peace.

After this crushing defeat, the Prussians are forced to reorganize their army. The harsh corporal punishment of Frederick's era (flogging, running the gauntlet, etc.) to instill discipline amongst the troops was abolished and soldiers were now encouraged (how? I don't know...) to use their own judgement and to act on their own initiative instead of simply following the orders of their superiors.

Why did I bore you with this 'history lesson'? I am interested in figuring out the mental makeup of people in a combat situation... I know that in a war and ― if I understand what you wrote correctly ― in a streetfight between gangs, teamwork is more important than the myth of the 'lone warrior, badass heavyhitter'... However, in my 'history lesson', untrained irregulars defeated trained soldiers in an ambush/skirmish, a situation where the ability 'to act independently' primes over the capacity of 'simply following orders'... Do you have an idea about how these guys developed this ability without any formal training?

The Green Berets, Airborne Rangers, LRRPs, etc., who trained you... Were they 'ambushers/skirmishers'? Were their 'skills' innate or acquired? Were they 'born warriors'? Or is this something that was inculcated in them through 'harsh and intensive training'? Or did they develop them through real-life experience in the field of battle?

You're now talking about the difference between asymmetrical an symmetrical  warfare.

Different mindset, different skill set.

Interestingly enough historically asymmetrical forces have been up to 35% female (e.g., French and Spanish Resistance and in South America).

But again it often comes down to technology and training. The Russian Spetznaz are some of the toughest motherfuckers I have ever met in my life. But that's through natural selection... in the old days, you didn't volunteer, you were volunteered. If you survived the training, great. If not, someone else was volunteered.

They're still not as good, well equipped, coordinated or supported as US Special Forces. Here's an example of what I am talking about. You can be the toughest son-of-a-bitch on the planet and you won't hear the BRRRRRRRRT that will kill you. (That sound is 10s of 1000s armor piercing rounds 'eating' everything on the ground.)

The pilot doesn't have to be tougher than you. The guy who called in the strike on your position doesn't have to be tougher than you. The people who designed, built, armed and maintained the plane don't have to be tougher than you. All they need to do is have the technology and work together.

A fresh from Officer training Lieutenant or a SEAL team member can call in the close air support strike. Hell, given the right position a guy in a wheelchair can order the invasion of a Continent. His name was Franklin Roosevelt.

As for born a warrior... that's not as simple of a question as you might think.

There are certain traits that in combination can be refined with training to make someone really, really good at it. But some people will never be as good as others at it. On the flip side of that coin, those 'warriors' will never be as good at what those other people are good at. Thing is, those traits are best developed through better training.

Still someone can have some of the traits and lack others that would make them a reliable soldier... much less a warrior. This often results in someone who more aggressive than others, but less stable. In fact, without proper training and focus someone with all the attributes can become a loose cannon on deck. More of a danger to his own group than to other groups.

So again, it's not as simple as being born a warrior.

Self Defense

All Answers

Answers by Expert:

Ask Experts


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

See CV

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.

Awards and Honors
See CV

Past/Present Clients
See CV

©2016 All rights reserved.