Is it better to train aggression or cold calculation in Self-Defense?

Is it better to train aggression or cold calculation in Self-Defense?

This an interesting subject that comes up in various forms when discussing learning how to defend yourself. Do you simply learn how to pile in and aggressively attack your assailant or do you develop cold,calculating skills that help you clearly work your way out of trouble?

The reason this comes up often is because you can have different schools or styles that argue for both cases. On the one hand it is argued that once the adrenalin rush hits you, you shouldn’t fight that, but use it to drive an aggressive counter attack until you are safe. The other argument would be for staying as cool as possible so that you are aware of all the options available and you then act accordingly.

Different schools of thought

For instance, this quote from How to Drive a Tank goes for the GLF theory ( go like fuck )of winning a violent confrontation. Basically meaning that as soon as trouble arrives you hammer your opponent until he is no longer a threat.

“Real fighting is like the blitzkrieg (lightning war) tactics used in the Second World War or the ‘shock and awe’ tactics of today. As Mick says, ‘Pound the living fuck out of them with everything you can rather than have that standoff stalemate, pointing guns at each other for years.’

Frank Coles

This of course has it’s advantages but could be flawed if it doesn’t work. If you tire quickly and your assailant has some “friends” that you weren’t aware of, you could be in serious trouble. You could also be in trouble if you weren’t aware that he was carrying a weapon as you went in Gung-Ho! It could also be a problem if your attacker preserves energy and you blow out. Then what?

On the other end of the scale is the argument that by staying on top of the situation, you can work a crucial advantage. Self Defence expert Geoff Thompson often mentions this in his books. 


Everyone, it would appear, addresses the physical response –
and each school of thought, of which there are many, seems to
contradict the other – but what about those vital seconds before
combat, pre-fight ritual, the build-up that often dictates the outcome
of the fight?…

Knowledge is power – to make our techniques work against today’s
enemy we need empirical background on him, we need to study
his weaknesses and strengths, his rituals – the body language and
street speak he uses prior to attack.

Geoff Thompson. Three Second Fighter

By understanding the process of violence itself, the interview, the posturing, and the deception, you can manipulate this to “set up” your opponent for a pre-emptive strike or simply avoid violence altogether.

So which is better?

The obvious thing to say is “both”. They are just as important as each other, but the key to their use is knowing when to use them. Together or on their own. This can only be done through consistent training. You have to have the tools to be able to do damage with all out aggression and you would also have to train to be able to use verbal skills. With a well organised training system, this is possible. You would learn when to fight and when to use other more cerebral skills to solve a situation.

All out aggression?

Have a look at this video. Many are “match” fights. See how many you can spot that aren’t exactly gaining an advantage from the all-out aggression method. Quite a few come unstuck because the other person has a bit more luck or skill. You could argue that a bit more knowledge and composure might have gone a long way.

A training example for both methods

A good example of this type of training is one we did at The Combat Academy. Our “target” had to walk through the woods and was provided with improvised weapons ( that he had to spot ). Someone was hiding, waiting for him behind a tree and I stalked him with another assailant. Sensibly enough he spotted the large stick provided for him and as soon as he was jumped, fended us off with it. He then worked his way to safety.

Good use of both methods

The head instructor summarised the session by pointing out that he could have used more aggressive verbal commands when he had the stick. Go bonkers. Go crazy and threaten loudly. Be excessively aggressive. So in effect, he would combine both of the elements I am discussing here. He spotted a usable weapon. Stayed aware of other possible assailants ( me ) and then when he needed to, ramped up the aggression as something to deter and instill doubt in his enemies. If needed, he would fiercely fight anyone who came near him. Both aggressive and calculating.

Training the two skills

There is never a real situation that works out perfectly. That’s life. You can train and train, but it doesn’t mean that it will go as planned when it all kicks off. But you still have to work on skills that will bend things in your favour. So you need to understand the attack process and how you can manipulate it to your advantage. You also need to work on grappling and striking skills that can damage your opponent. What you would then need to do is work on scenarios, similar to the above one, that test the two together.

This quote from Rory Miller describes how his training methods look to connect aggression with thinking under pressure. The second part clearly illustrating how some people can take time to learn to use the thinking bit!

This drill should always be played with an eye toward using the environment. Within the bounds of safety, the user should try to get the manipulator to run into a wall or obstacle. That is the skill that can turn the natural chaos of a fight into your home-field advantage…

That said, the biggest problem, especially with young men, will be the need to dominate. They will go force against force to stop the manipulator.

Miller, Rory. Training for Sudden Violence: 72 Practical Drills (p. 43). YMAA Publication Center. Kindle Edition.

To summarise

Taking the initiative and being the aggressor has huge advantages when it comes to defending yourself. You can surprise your attacker with the sheer ferocity of your response and sometimes that can, in itself, be enough to deter a possibly violent altercation.

Yet there, of course, are huge advantages in staying cool under pressure and knowing when to respond ferociously or using verbal skills and clever positioning. The argument has to, therefore, support training in both methods. Understanding clever tactics and how you can manipulate someone psychologically, but also working on ways to “flip the switch” and fight all out to overwhelm your opponent.

Author: Andrew Johnson

I trained many years in Kung Fu, fought in full contact competitions and am a qualified instructor at The Combat Academy in the UK. The aim of this blog is to look at what modern self-defense training actually is and what it most probably should be.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *