Fighting Spirit! Can it be Taught?

Posted by: John W. Zimmer
Under: karate, martial arts, Self-defense
31 Oct 2011

Imagine that you have taken a year of karate lessons from your local dojo and you decided to take a short-cut home from school (through the park) because you are running late and it is getting dark. Oh yeah – you are a 15 year-old girl. You are confident because you hold a blue belt and have actually had some sparring experience – loved it but the other girl – not so much!


Well some other teen boys approach you as dusk falls – asking if you want to party. There are three of them and they are younger than you. You tell them no thanks and as you try to leave – they block the trail in both directions! Still talking they say that have some beers in a cooler nearby and how about having a bit of fun.


Your escape route is seemingly cut off and you don’t want to go with these boys for a “bit of fun” so what do you do?


More on this later but in this post I will examine what fighting spirit is and how it can help one make good self-defense decisions. Also I will talk about the lack of fighting spirit and the ramifications of that. In a nut shell the fight or flight decision in us sometimes has to be made in an instant for us to gain a momentary advantage. If we do not act when we have a tactical advantage – your chances of a good outcome diminish!


Take a look at this video to see what is possible as Dr. Ruthless so aptly demonstrates.


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Watching this video I can see what I call figthing spirit in action. The willingness to put up a fight to escape an attack is key to having fighting spirit. One quote from this video is how I feel about self-defense, “… hit the on switch inside yourself and become the attacker… ATTACK BACK…”


Defining the meaning – Fighting Spirit is the willingness to fight back but also the ability to rise to the occasion and do it! If you are willing to fight back but are not used to the idea of actually hurting someone in your own defense – you may hesitate too long and lose any advantage.


When I used to teach karate, one of the things we graded on was fighting spirit. I’d look at a student willingness to explode in an instant. I would watch sparring, techniques, kata to see if one took fighting seriously and seemed to be able to surmount adversity!


What do I mean by surmount adversity? Well in fighting one does not always do all of the hitting. Sometimes the other guy/gal gets in some good strikes. When this happens… what does the student do? If he/she fights through the pain with good tactics and is able to rally – then I think the student is able to surmount adversity (at least as far as I can tell in the school).


One example I can give when I was learning kick-boxing, regular boxing matches were part of the training. One day I was boxing with Andy Selcer at the school we were going about three rounds. Andy is a very well rounded fighter who had won the battle of Atlanta and he had some good boxing skills. The first round I came in confident as I was taller and had the reach on him. You see I had been working on my boxing skills for about six months and thought I could punch my way out of a paper bag.


Andy took me to school that day as I came in with the fast jab and cross – attempting to trade blows with Andy. He took my first punch and countered on the inside very effectively. I would then back up taking his heat. After the first round I had taken a beating and knew I had to do something different. Andy basically owned me so far… I was his punching bag.


The second round I switched up my strategy. I started sticking the jab and moving laterally in either direction (so as to not give away my escape). I’d still do the odd attack to keep him guessing but I did not take too much heat in the second round.


The third round I had gotten back my confidence and stuck with my stick and  move strategy. After the rounds Andy said to me after the first round – he did not think I would be able to adjust my strategy and was happy to see I had adjusted. This is one of the reasons I did so well as a young fighter – having so many good partners to work out with. We each tried to build on the others skills to help each other.


Sorry – I went off on a tangent here a bit but you get the idea – to have fighting spirit you not only have to have the willingness to fight back with the smarts to figure out a winning strategy! It is your life on the line.


Many instructors I know have opined that fighting spirit cannot be taught. One either has it or does not. I disagree. Fighting spirit can be drawn out of a student as they are educated on what a fight actually is! If some one attack you… you do not have long to respond. Many people do not respond because they had depended on everyone else to protect them in their lives and they just would freeze if anything bad ever happened to them.


I say this. The fact that you exist demonstrates that you are fit. I mean through out the ages until just recently – the survival of the fittest just like the animal kingdom dictated who lived and who died. Your ancestors were survivors! You can be too!


Here is the thing… if you ever need to defend yourself – you will need it now! You will not get a chance to agonize over the decision to fight back or not. You will have to go off like a crazed animal to survive!


Well let me get back tot he girl in the park. She probably should not have gone into the park at night or even stuck around if she was coming up on a group of other kids she did not know but in this case she was already surrounded. As it did not look like the kids were going to let her go – our girl tried an evasive technique.


She said ok – let me show you something (all the while calculating her escape route), she unfastened her belt (or keys would work) and after getting it loose (the boys were thinking she was getting friendly) she swung the belt buckle at the lone boy in her path and yelled GET BACK!!! and she ran keeping an eye behind her (to strike back as needed).


This is just one possible escape plan and attack were really fluid. If someone kidnaps you (preventing your escape) you have to right to do what you have to do get away so long as you don’t go overboard. By the way in this case a couple of bad decisions contributed to the girl being at the wrong place at the wrong time. It is not her responsibility bad boys detained her but she does have to deal with it.


It will not always be clear the time for talking is done unless you are willing to fight your way out of a situation. If you are willing then you can more confidently tell the attacker to BACK OFF! And remember fighting spirit can be drawn out with the proper training so you too can make good fight or flight decisions if you ever have to!

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6 Responses to “Fighting Spirit! Can it be Taught?”

  1. Matt Klein Says:

    Liked this post John. Agree with you fully that fighting spirit can be taught. Have seen so many kids in our schools scared to death of sparring, flinching, looking away, but through many rounds they slowly get used to it. You can see the confidence in the way they move. An attacker can sense it and that is half the battle.

    Assailants do not expect a good fight in most cases. You read so many stories in the paper about an abduction attempt that was put to a dead halt by a kick to the groin or a punch to the nose. Many times the defender was untrained. Survival instinct kicks in. That girl swinging the belt buckle surprised the devil out of those boys.

    Remember sparring with Andy Selcer. He could hit me with everything but the kitchen sink. A true legend.
    Matt Klein recently posted..Learning About Teaching from the Best in the WorldMy Profile

  2. Dr. J Says:

    Excellent discussion, John!

    I would like to think that, just like bedside manor for a doctor, fighting spirit can be developed. It’s part example, part learned, and perhaps most important, part desired.

    I’ve been in a few battles, but nothing brought out my spirit more than that day when I faced that pack of pit bulls and was not top of the food chain! I had no idea that I could draw on that kind of spirit, not having really faced a situation quite that serious ever before. I definitely reached back into my primordial roots :-)
    Dr. J recently posted..Calories Per Dollar: When Cheap Food Means Fattening FoodMy Profile

  3. jason @ security door chains Says:

    I would like to think that we all have that fighting spirit within us and use it when we have to – even though we don’t know that it is there – along with strength we don’t know that we have either. How else would people be able to lift cars off of others as has happened?

    I remember being cornered by a gang of young lads when I was 20. Thought on my feet, broke through them and ran to a skip where there was a large piece of wood. I screamed at them and swung the wood. Their pack mentality disappeared and I escaped.

    Fighting spirit!
    jason @ security door chains recently posted..The best ways to beat the door step criminalMy Profile

  4. edmonton dude Says:

    In my opinion fighting spirit can’t be taught but it can inspire people to have a fighting spirit to themselves.

  5. Leo Says:


    Thanks for an amazing post! I believe that fighting spirit must be inculcated from childhood but it must be done very carefully as it may result in development of aggressive behavior. The spirit of fighting is adversity needs to be taught to every individual.
    Leo recently posted..Informacion sobre los riesgos del cigarilloMy Profile

  6. John W. Zimmer Says:

    Hi Matt,

    Great point about assailants not expecting a good fight! I found when I was a doorman most of altercations I got in – they should have just walked away rather than try to rough up the doorman (me). :)

    Hey Dr J!

    I think the learned and desired is a good combination! When I was a kid – it took just a few bullies to develop my burning desire. :)

    Hi Jason!

    Great strategy with the wood. It sounds like you unnerved them allowing your escape!

    Hey Edmonton Dude!

    It kind of sounds like you are saying it can’t and can be taught? I think if the want is great enough – it can be learned. Thanks for opining.

    Great point Leo!

    Yes it could inadvertently form a bully if the instructor does not nurture it. Thanks for commenting!