25 June 2017

The fear of fighting

Fear of fighting is normal. It is an expected occurrence particularly in weapons combat where the anticipation of serious injury or death is higher.

Controlling fear and harnessing it to one’s advantage is a major objective of fighters since time immemorial. The old masters of the Filipino martial arts (FMA) saw the role of spirituality in conquering one’s fears hence it is no surprise that the bravest of them were also the most religious.

The greatest fear is the fear of death. The traditional FMA masters learned how to deal with this greatest of fears by believing that the outcome of any encounter has already been decided by a Supreme Being and therefore he is free to engage in mortal combat without the baggage of self-preservation. This is the Filipino philosophical-spiritual concept of “Bahala na,” which I tackled a number of times in my previous columns.

“Bathala,” is the name of the supreme deity of the ancient Tagalogs.  Indian author and scholar Upendra Thakur said that its etymology is Indian, “Similarly Bathala, the Tagalog supreme god, is obviously Indra (Battara),” he wrote in his book “Some Aspects of Asian History and Culture.” Bahala na came from Bathala na, which means “Let God.” It is a common pre-battle utterance of Filipino warriors, which simply means that they are entrusting their fates into the hands of God.


Two elderly escrimadors practicing an espada y daga routine. (From Nid Anima’s book The Filipino Martial Arts)

Besides deep spirituality, the other thing that allows traditional FMA masters to stare death straight in the eyes is their confidence on their techniques. In short, they can fight.

Unlike many FMA systems taught today, arnis, escrima and kali taught in the olden days is deadly in simplicity. A remnant system of that era is the cinco teros (five strikes) style. Battle-tested martial arts are devoid of ornamentation and are simple to apply – they are meant for one thing only and that is to kill the enemy quickly and efficiently.

I would like to compare the nature of old-style FMA with the simplicity of a gun. A gun is simple to use; you just aim it at an opponent and pull the trigger. Its simplicity of deployment though does not betray the fact that it is deadly. You know that when that bullet hits your foe he’s going down. You may be pissing in your pants because of fear while you’re firing your gun but you know it’s going to work – as long as your bullet hits the target it’s going to work. It’s the same thing with functional FMA techniques; the old masters experience less fear in combat because they knew that their fighting techniques were simple and functional.

The brutal nature of traditional training also weeded out the fear of fighting among the FMA masters of yore. They used live sticks and blade during practice, which made them at home with these deadly weapons. They were so exposed to real injuries during training that it’s no longer a big deal when a foe pulled a knife on them in real life.

While few today are willing to adopt its brutal paradigm, much can be learned from traditional FMA training when it comes to overcoming the fear of fighting. First is the effectiveness of the fighting techniques being taught. When it comes to fighting techniques, go for gross motor skills (simple movements) rather than fine motor skills (complicated movements). The preference for gross motor skills for real-life fighting was based on the human body’s natural response to threat. When experiencing fear, the human body tends to revert back to using gross motor skills not fine motor skills. Simple things work under pressure; remember the gun analogy.

Another thing is the quality of training. While the term “scenario training” wasn’t even invented then, the FMA masters of yore were doing exactly just that. To these warriors, the training scenario is almost the same as the actual battle scenario. For considerations of safety this cannot be fully used in a modern day setting, however, much can be gained by sticking to its principle and that is to mimic in training as closely as possible the elements of an actual fight.

Proper training with the proper techniques can do a lot in conquering the fear of fighting. I have to agree with these lines from the book “How to Survive the Most Critical 5 Seconds of Your Life” by Tim Larkin and Chris Ranck-Buh that say, “When you know how to ‘swim in the pool of violence,’ however, your reaction will be slightly different. You will still experience the biological fact of fear, but that will be tempered by the knowledge of what to do next. Instead of being shocked and frightened into submission, believing you have no choice but to submit, you’ll do what you’re trained to do. If that training was to wait and see, or to get ready, you may have already lost. If, however, that training is for violence – for causing injury – then that what you will do.”

In all, it simply boils down to knowing what to do and that the techniques that you have work. The rest, you entrust with the Divine.

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