Before we continue, I’d like to highlight that what I’m referring to now is cases of self-defence, not ego-driven monkey dance we often see among young men. I’m talking about the real ‘this guy is looking to kill you’ type stuff.
The reason Cobra Kai’s motto is so effective in self-defence is because it perfectly demonstrates the three things that bad guys do when they want to take you out. Let’s look at that in more depth, and look at each Cobra Kai principle in detail:
- Strike First: Cobra Kai understood a fundamental principle. To quote Tim Larkin, 'sudden is quicker than fast'. Action is faster than reaction. Much like any other field of human endeavour, first mover’s advantage counts for a hell of a lot.
The bad guy who’s going to try and punch your face in is not going to let you take the first shot. He’s not going to touch gloves and shape up for a fair fight (though, if you know what to look for, there will often be tell-tale signs something is about to happen). What he will do, however, is hit first and hit suddenly.
One of the things that most martial arts and self defence schools practice is a reactive approach, as opposed to a proactive one. In other words, there is a prevailing mindset of ‘when he does X, I will do Y’. He throws a haymaker, I will block. He chokes, I will release the choke, etc.
However, what we see in the vast majority of footage of violence is that first mover’s advantage is very real. Often, the person who hits first and hits suddenly is the one who gets to keep most of their teeth.
Yes, there are consequences – legal, psychological, and emotional ones – for hitting first. But if your life is at stake, make no mistake (ha! That rhymes!) – go first, or get beat.
- Strike Hard: Cobra Kai weren’t looking for lengthy, even competitions of skill. In the first Karate Kid move, when Johnny was told by his Sensei to ‘sweep the leg’, even though it was an illegal technique, it was to make sure the opponent is effectively neutralised.
Those baddies who are looking to hurt you in the real world are going to sweep the proverbial leg just the same. If it’s not a social hierarchy, ego fight, if it’s someone looking to get bad things done, they will be looking for a victim – not a fight. What that means is that not only will they strike first, but they will look at striking where they can do the most damage to make sure their victim doesn’t get a chance to put up a fight. This can take several forms; striking ‘illegal’ targets, such as the groin, eyes, or throat, attacking from the sides or back, or using some other force multiplier such as a weapon or superior numbers.
In much the same way, those looking to protect themselves need to adopt the mindset of using what works, not what is ‘fair’. As the old saying goes, if you find yourself in a fair fight, you didn’t prepare well enough. We must train ourselves not only to move first, but to move aggressively.
- No Mercy: The Cobra Kai’s mindset was always one of victory and decisiveness. They were taught to do what needs to be done to achieve objectives, even if it ain’t moral, ethical or pretty.
Perhaps the biggest edge that those who look to do you harm have is their mindset. Simply put, they have a clear outcome in mind, unwavering commitment to that outcome and the intent and willingness to do whatever it takes to achieve it. This means that once they go, they don’t stop and don’t hesitate.
When faced with someone who is looking to put you in the ground, hesitating is a pretty good way to end up there. The mindset must be one of doing whatever it takes to survive, without compromise or hesitation. Yes, there may be legal, and other, ramifications to this. But if we are looking at the worst-case scenario, one where someone is looking to kill you or those around you, then you must be willing to do what is necessary in order to get home safely (more on this here).
So there you have it. If you are looking to survive a real violent encounter, one where lives are at stake, then look no further than the awesome wisdom behind the most infamous Karate group in the world. Whether by design or through a complete fluke, the writers of the films and show managed to capture some of the most important principles of self-defence.
Cobra Kai stack the odds in their favour. That’s exactly why their second motto, ‘Cobra Kai never dies’, holds true! And if we heed their words, learn and get it right, hopefully we won’t either. Or at least not for a long, long time.
Stay safe, stay tuned.