Training Log

Starting Strength in the Real World

Big and Strong

by Daniel Oakes | March 21, 2023

two men grappling

I've been reading a few books on self-defense lately, and it seems like it's all the rage these days to teach people that in order to deal with violence you must first become desensitized to violence – by exposing yourself to violent encounters. I mean, you can't learn how to swim unless you get your feet wet, can you? To prepare for violence, then, we simply have to take up boxing and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu – and bam, we're sorted.

But this approach, even though obviously correct, probably isn't the first thing we should take into consideration, in my opinion. If we take the swimming example: yes, to actually swim we need to jump into the pool, but what do we (most of us) do before jumping into the pool? We take off our clothes and put our trunks on.

Okay, that sounds embarrassingly obvious, and that's precisely why most of us don't think about this necessary element of preparation. We simply don't recognize that preparing to swim is as important as jumping into the pool (if we aren't prepared to swim, we will never get into the pool in the first place).

To summarize: Aquaman probably doesn't care about swimming trunks.

Starting to get my point? How physiologically prepared are you to deal with training for violence? What I'm actually (probably poorly) talking about here is the Two-Factor Model of Sports Performance. Training: the process of accumulating a specific adaptation or adaptations necessary for improved performance in an athletic event.

If we are prepared, physically, before we perform a physical task, we will arguably be better able to perform the task.

Take, for example, a massive male rhino munching on some leaves in his zoo enclosure. The keepers are rather sadistic though, so one evening they allow a bunch of lions into the enclosure to see what will happen. The rhino has never 'performed' self-defense before and is not accustomed to violence at all, and thus has a very strong adrenal response, and he panics. But, he doesn't panic as much as a hamster would – he doesn't freeze. He is not physiologically overwhelmed because he is much bigger than the lions. All that sleeping and eating his entire life has been excellent “preparation” for this violent encounter with the lions. The Rhino has no experience in violence. But, by God, he can it dish it out. Because he's big and strong.

You get the point? The man who weighs 250 lb and can deadlift 600 lb who turns up to a BJJ class for the first time will obviously make an impression on the first day. We are no different than zoo animals. The mere presence of a much bigger mammal can make even the most skilled fighters anxious.

So why does nobody talk about the obvious need to be big and strong when it comes to violence? Maybe because, like swimming trunks, it's – paradoxically – too obvious to even think about.

But not for you.  

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