I read an article relating to this topic over a year ago and found it quite interesting. I sometimes reference it in my classes.
According to this research, the average American male over-estimates their fighting ability by 4000% (So here in Johannesburg it would be about 40000%, I guess). Wow! That is a really high over-estimation.
Apparently this type of thinking is due to a psychological phenomenon called illusory superiority. It relates to many things that a human might do in life, but generally not in such high percentages as with fighting. There are many theories as to why this occurs, but when it comes to fighting I would like to add to it.
Humans are animals at the end of the day, and over time we have lost many of our survival instincts. Thousands of years ago it would have been natural to go out hunting for survival and fighting with other clans. Very early in life reality would have taken a bite and a clear picture of where you stood in the world would have been quite evident. Today, we still have those genes that were built into us over thousands of years, so there is still an unquenchable thirst in most for some sort of primal activity or adventure. Like with other animals, males inherently want to be the alpha in the pack and the easiest way to establish this in the past would have been through physical combat – fighting.
In today’s more “civilized” society many of our primal instincts have been suppressed. They have been replaced by other things to falsely satisfy many of our cravings and urges. We get a taste for adventure and fighting through other means, namely, television and video games. Both instill a false sense of self when it comes to fighting. In movies a single hero takes on twenty men, knocking them out, hospitalizing and killing them with a single blow to each. In video games people take on a first person role as the character and through constant imagination and vision re-inforcement begin to believe that they actually are that character. The difference, for many, between imagination and reality is lost.
I’m sure many Instructors out there would be able to relate. I have had countless people come through my doors saying that they want to do martial arts because they have “a natural fighting ability and great co-ord, so might as well take it to the next level”, or “I learn really fast – how soon until I can get my black belt?”. Most often I never see these people again after they take a beating from somebody, literally, half of their size.
On the flip side, many long term, experienced martial artists under-estimate themselves. Because they have integrated “fighting” into their daily lives and are constantly hitting and being hit by other martial artists. They tend to not want to fight and have a different perspective when it comes to fighting because the reality of it is different. They assume that because they train, can perform techniques and “fight” often, that everybody else does too. Because it is their daily routine, they begin to assume it is everybody’s. And so, you get people who can actually fight not wanting to.
It is the same as being dropped in the middle of the jungle with nothing and being told to survive. Most of us would like to think we would, but in reality we would soon die. Although it was a part of our nature for so long, we have lost the knowledge and ability to do it.
So, all of the keyboard warriors out there, BEWARE! The people you are so confident you could beat down on would likely smash your head in if you ever crossed paths in real life.