I was teaching a class for writers about realistic violence. One of the students said, “You think about time differently than anyone I’ve ever known.”I hadn’t realized it but, yeah.
Fighters think about time differently. For most people, as near as I can tell, they think of time as a medium they move through. They are in time the way a fish is in flowing water. They move through it, always in one direction. Or, more accurately, it flows past them continuously.
Fighters see it as a resource. Time can be spent or wasted. It can be borrowed and stolen. It can be invested.
When I give you false information, like feinting, I force you to spend/waste time figuring it out and responding. I have stolen time from you. When I concentrate on getting the job done, putting the bad guy in handcuffs, I spend time. When I think for even a second about possible complaints, that second is wasted. Training is an investment in time now that may pay off in a single incident years from now.
We learn this in fighting but apply it to the rest of our lives. Investing in healthy habits, skills and education at a young age pays off forever. If I wouldn’t waste a fraction of a second in a fight, why would I waste hours with someone I don’t enjoy.
And stolen moments are awesome.
Time is Life
Murder is nothing but stealing time. Kill a young adult and you have stolen fifty or more years of their time. Fifty years they will never experience, fifty years of amazing things they will never do or see. And time-theft is an especially heinous crime because the killer doesn’t get any of that time himself. It is completely wasted.
But turn it around. Wasting other people’s time is slowly killing, taking minutes and hours in dribs and drabs that they can never get back. If time is life, then wasting time is murder.
And wasting your own time is suicide.
You’ve probably heard the grappling saying, “Position before submission.” The idea is that it is much easier to submit an opponent (to win) from a position of advantage, so time is usually better spent improving your position than going for the quick win. I don’t categorize this as a winning strategy. Thing is, if luck (a handmaiden to chaos) presents me an early, easy win from a weak position, I’ll definitely take it.
It may not be a winning, strategy, but it is a winner’s strategy. When things are going well for you, you want to minimize chaos, minimize the role that luck will play in the future. When things are going well, you want to better your position. When things are not going well…
Chaos and uncertainty usually is an advantage to the person in the weakest position. This is common sense— things continuing as they have been will obviously serve those who have been successful under those conditions. The only reason the word is “usually” instead of “always” is that the person in the weaker position must have the mindset and the resources to exploit the chaos.
To manage chaos, the mindset needs adaptability based on awareness of the situation and interactions of the components; and a willingness to act, without the possibility of knowing the outcome. This is sometimes called courage. But no mindset will compensate if luck breaks when you are too weak or damaged to act.
Within the context of Fighter’s Time. You have hit rock bottom when you have nothing to lose. When death is certain— whether a stranglehold from a true enemy (7-9 seconds left) shot in the heart (roughly ten seconds left) a pistol aimed at your head with a finger tightening on a trigger (maybe two seconds left, probably less) or trapped in a burning skyscraper (minutes)— you have nothing to lose.
If that strangle hold is on, you have nothing to lose by holding tight and throwing yourself (and your attached assailant) in front of a truck. Correction, you have a fistful of seconds to lose. Your enemy has much more. Chaos management from rock bottom is recognizing this. There are four basic outcomes:
- You die and the threat does not. This is what was going to happen anyway. You only lose 7 seconds.
- You die and the threat dies. You were going to die anyway, but the threat doesn’t get away with it.
- Neither dies. This is where you started but it’s damn likely the stranglehold is gone and the playing field is more equal.
- You live and the threat dies. You might be injured, but this is the best outcome.
The worst possible outcome is where you started. From rock bottom, things can only get better.
I learned this concept from Gordon Graham, but I doubt if he ever applied it to fighting. And that’s fine, because it’s a valuable concept in almost any situation.
In a nutshell, discretionary time are the moments where you have choices. Outside of emergencies, that’s almost all of life. In emergencies is when the ability to recognize discretionary time becomes a superpower.
In every emergency field, one of the biggest differences between the rookies and the veterans is how they see and exploit time. When a rookie gets challenged and threatened, he feels he has to do something. When a veteran gets challenged, he appreciates that a warning gives him time— time to evaluate, time to plan, time to access resources. Conversely, when a rookie gets jumped, his first thought is often, “I’m under attack! I need a plan!” Planning takes time and under assault, time is damage. The veteran under attack moves. He or she knows that you can only plan when there is time to plan.
Planning takes discretionary time, under attack there is no discretionary time.