Philip Holder, PhD.
Grandmaster North American Wing Chun Association
copyright by Philip Holder 1998


Most of the time, when we hear or read about training for combat, the articles and conversations revolve around physical techniques and applications. In actuality, the physical applications are less important than mental attitude, perception, composure, and commitment that a person has.

In looking back over the many martial artists that I have met through the years, it is evident to me that the mental state of the person is far more important than the technical abilities of that person. This is not to say that technique and conditioning are not important… They certainly are. It simply means that often we underestimate the importance of proper attitude, will, and mental conditioning.

As an example, one particular instance comes to mind. You too may have witnessed this in your martial arts background too. What I’m about to pass on to you is not uncommon.

Years ago, a friend of a friend, was doing well on the sport tournament circuit. If you were to watch him doing forms, or kicking the bag, you would assume him to be an excellent fighter. He certainly had the physical skills and the technique. One evening while walking through a nearby city, he was confronted by a couple of street hoods. A fight quickly ensued. The two untrained thugs promptly beat the tar out of this “martial artist” and put him in the hospital. How could this be you ask? The reason is simple. He had all of the physical skills and none of the emotional skills. His training, to date, had been all academic. He had never trained in a way that would give him the coping mechanisms for the stress of a real threat. The result… he froze up when the threat was real.

If asked, what would you tell a person with no martial arts training who was likely to be involved in a situation requiring personal defense. Let’s say that someone came to me and asked if I could teach them some defensive tactics, because a bully was planning to kick the tar out of them in the immediate future. In this situation I would definitely not attempt to teach them “techniques” for self defense. Any instructor, who is truthful knows that you cannot teach a novice anything that will be of use in five easy lessons. My response would be to train their mind. To train their attitude and perception of the impending events. I would address such issues as stress management, the fact that there is no such thing as a fair fight (always stack the deck in your favor), maintaining composure, looking for a window of opportunity and so forth. These are issues that too often go un-addressed… even in presumed serious martial arts training programs.


In a real fight, most often, no one wins. One person just loses a little more than the other (unless you consider hurting someone winning). The adolescent attitude that being able to kick someone’s but makes you superior is a farce. It is the way of a coward.

It is easy to hurt people. True courage is demonstrated in one’s ability to face the more difficult tasks in life. Such goals as maximizing your potential and doing something constructive and of lasting value. This might include being a better friend, teacher, or parent. In essence, helping others. The next time you hear someone talking about how tough they are, ask yourself, “What is this person doing that is of positive value. What is he or she contributing to make the world a better place”.

Let wisdom, not anger or ego be your guide. The practice of “Kung Fu of the Mind” can be achieved by asking the following questions when confronted with a possible threat.

  1. If you fight, will it be for honorable reasons or simply to protect my ego (often confused with honor).
  2. Is there anything of lasting value to gain through this fight.
  3. Would this be a hill that I would be proud to die on.

The answers to these questions should give you a clearer picture about whether the fight you are contemplating has any redeeming qualities.


If in fact, fighting becomes necessary, it is important that you be mentally and emotionally prepared. No matter how good you are, in battle, there is always the chance of injury or death. No matter how good you are, there is always the chance that it will be your blood that is spilled.

The two best tools for mental preparation are meditation and full contact sparring. They both prepare the mind to manage stress. As well, they both give greater insight into your ability to withstand and tolerate hardship.

Full contact sparring has an inherent advantage in training. If you have experienced defending full contact kicks and punches hundreds or times, you will be more familiar with the nature of a real attack. It will not be something new to you if someone really attempts to actually hit you. As well, you will soon find that your body can withstand more punishment than you originally thought possible with little lasting effect. This will lead to greater confidence. As well, you will be less inclined to stop and inspect your wounds in the midst of combat. Often people are hit and injured while checking to see if they are injured. Contact sparring will give you the ability to maintain your focus.

Along with this familiarity of actual attacks comes reduced stress. With a greater knowledge of what is likely to occur, stress is reduced. Stress distorts perception. When stress is effectively managed you gain greater insight into what is actually going on at each moment.

Critics of full contact say that “technique goes out the window” when people fight full contact. Although I don’t agree with that statement, consider this… Each training method has a specific purpose. Forms teach position and movement. Chi Sao teaches the ability to interpret intent through touch, and so on. It is not the purpose of contact sparring to teach form. Contact sparring teaches penetration and coordinated effort. Even more importantly, it trains the ability to maintain composure under stress. That is where the true value of contact sparring is found.

Meditation helps to calm the mind and to tune into the vast reservoir of internal energy that we all possess. It provides the tools to achieve personal detachment while maintaining emotional content. It provides an additional tool in stress management. Often, it gives devoted practitioners the ability to avoid those fights that lack merit by virtue of a greater self knowledge and maturity.


For quite a few years, I have been using hypnosis as a tool to help my students relax and to manage stress. Hypnosis is a very powerful tool for establishing perceptual changes and facilitating growth. In many ways, it is more powerful than meditation. As well, it provides faster results. Hypnosis is a tool to access the powerful subconscious mind. This is the area of the mind where habits, emotion, and personality are housed (visit our web page for additional information about hypnosis).

In the final analysis, it is you strength of character, confidence, determination, will, and your ability to remain centered that will best protect you. Having a great right jab is an asset, no doubt, but without the heart and the emotional content, you will still be at a loss when trouble comes your way. There is great truth in the old saying, “It’s not the dog in the fight, it’s the fight in the dog”.

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