If you want to have the best chance possible of prevailing in a violent encounter, you need to be physically fit. That’s right, I said it. Now I know we’ve all heard the old saying “God made men, and Colonel Colt made them equal”, but I’m pretty sure the man who said that lived in an age before you could buy a six-pound sack of sticky-crisps to eat while entertaining yourself for hours on end via electronics without ever leaving your sofa. Also, he probably worked for Colt (just saying). Often, through our daily and dietary habits, we make ourselves less the equal of those who would attack us.
Where does this laxity about the state of our bodies, even while we may take our personal safety seriously, come from? In my opinion, it’s derived from an over-reliance on (and too much romanticism of) gear. After all, if you tell most people that pistol “X” is used by some elite group, the SEALs, for example, then they are perfectly happy to go and buy it. All it costs is money, and now you’re a little bit like a SEAL. But tell that same guy to run into the surf, roll on the beach, and then bang out a 4-mile run on the sand at an 8min/mile pace and suddenly you’ve lost his interest, even though the SEALs do that, too.
I’ve been guilty of this, too, I’ll admit. I mean, who hasn’t had that moment at the gun shop after watching a Chuck Norris movie when you look up at the Uzi behind the counter and think “Man, I bet I’d look pretty sweet rocking that thing. Just like a short, beardless Chuck Norris!” But when ol’ Chuck pops up advertising some fitness equipment, I can’t change the channel fast enough. After all, gear just costs money, but fitness? That costs sweat, time and commitment.
Now before you think this is going to be a rant in which I, the reasonably fit author, yell at you, the (value unknown) reader, about your failings at the great gym class of life, please know two things: I have been much heavier and unfit than I am now (I was over 200lbs on a 5’9” frame when I got married in 2005) and I have been much leaner and fitter than I am now (I fought professionally at 140lbs from 2006-2010). So I’m not going to berate you about what it takes to get fit. I know it’s hard to crawl out of the hole, because I’ve done it. I know all the excuses about time, money, hesitance, because I’ve made them all myself at one point or another. Instead, as someone who has been at both ends of the spectrum, I’m simply going to tell you what you might be missing, and why it’s worth it to start now, even in the smallest ways, to take better care of the machine you keep your soul in.
You will be harder to kill
When it comes to personal defense, the most basic advantage you can have is to be physically stronger and faster than your attacker. Anything you can do to defend yourself is magnified or diminished by your personal fitness. In the wild the weakest animals are the first to be culled, often taken down by a single predator, but it takes an entire pride of lions to bring down the strongest.
You will get more out of your training
We train to fight. We call it personal defense and only fight when we are truly and directly threatened, but it is fighting none the less, and fighting is a physical endeavor. So is the training required to fight well. Whether you are taking a class on weapon manipulations, gun handling, unarmed combatives or any combination thereof, having a baseline of decent physical conditioning will help you get more out of the training. You will get cleaner repetitions and retain more information from training if you aren’t busy gasping for breath.
You will look less like prey
Just like predators in the wild can tell the easy prey from hard, so can predators in society. All predators, man or beast, look for prey that they can take with the least risk of sustaining injury. When you have a degree of fitness higher than those around you it shows. It shows in physical attributes like a leaner body, wider shoulders or ease of motion and it shows in a more confident posture and attitude. Just the appearance of strength can dissuade potential attackers, which certainly makes it worth having.
You will function better under stress
How often have you had your heart-rate pounding? How often have you had to function while deprived of your fine motor skill? Those things happen under stress, especially the sudden and terrifying stress of a fight. You can manufacture these conditions to a degree with physical exercise, thus having a chance to experience them before you encounter them ‘in the wild’ so to speak. The physical stress of exercise can provide a degree of stress inoculation that serves you well in personal defense.
You will have a better (and longer) quality of life
Why do we study personal defense if not because we value or lives? We love those close to us and we want to be there for them. However, violence is not the only thing that can rob us of our lives and take us from our families; there is also ill-health and fatigue. Good fitness is a key part of good health, and good health is a key part of enjoying a full life. A full life is worth defending.
Now I don’t think that fitness is everything (I wouldn’t be teaching combatives if I thought it was) nor do I think that fitness will always trump skill, or that someone who is anything less than chiseled won’t have knowledge and skills. But if you’re skilled and dangerous when you’re overweight and unathletic, you’ll be even more so when you get into shape. That’s something to consider.