Self-Righteous Entitlement – Wim Demeere

Photo: Martin Shkreli

One of the recurring issues I have when teaching self-defense is that many people have trouble understanding their inner dialogue. In particular, how it goes off track and leads them into trouble. There are all kinds of reasons for that, I’m not going into it today. Suffice it to say that it’s something you see all around you, every day, in varying degrees. You see it in the asshole who cuts you off in traffic, almost causing you to run over a pedestrian. Or the idiot who bumps you into an elderly lady because him being late for a meeting is just so important and you barely manage to catch her before she falls (and breaks her brittle bones). We’ve all met those guys.

Funny thing though, if you point out how rude they are and how their actions endanger others, they get all self-righteous on you and somehow you’re the unreasonable one and they’re the victim. As in, how dare you even speak to them like that!

Truth be told, sometimes we’re that guy. Be honest now, you’ve sinned in this department just as I have. There’s a difference though: reasonable people eventually realize they are messing up and become ashamed of their own behavior. Then they try to change their ways.  Assholes don’t care, they just keep on going with the bad attitude.

The problem with not caring about anything but yourself is first of all, you’ll eventually start believing your own bullshit:

  • You are so much better than everybody else.
  • Those losers are so stupid, they’ll never get it.
  • Nobody can touch you, you’re so awesome.
  • Anybody who tries, you’ll kick his loser ass.

And so on.

The thing these guys don’t understand is that it’s not because people don’t speak back to you or don’t beat the crap out of you for being an egotistical asshole, that they don’t want to. Regular folks don’t always fight over stupid arguments, but they can sure feel like it.

If you scare them a little by turning on your mad monkey vibe, they’ll probably back off. It works, you win. If that happens enough (it often does; being aggressive works very well), then this becomes your reality. You feel it is the natural order of things that you can flip somebody off when they annoy you and never suffer any consequences for it. Why? Well, because the last fifteen times you did it, they cowered and went away. So in your experience, that’s how the world works and you’re absolutely right: in your experience that is certainly the case.

But now we come to a favorite quote of a scientist friend of mine:

The plural of anecdote is not evidence.

Just because that’s how it always turned out for you, doesn’t mean it always will. Just because they didn’t punch you in the face, doesn’t mean they didn’t come close. And you’ll never know why they held back.

Only an idiot thinks everybody else will always restrain themselves like that.

The second problem with being an self-righteous asshole is that because of the dynamics I just described, you eventually get a sense of entitlement about it. It is your right to be an asshole and act as if nobody else matters. Why would you learn to settle matters with a compromise? Why would you even bother seeing things from the other person’s perspective? You’re awesome! Everybody else sucks!

Keep that attitude going long enough and your decision making skills will lead you down a path you can’t return from. It’s just a matter of time before you act self-righteous and obnoxious around somebody who won’t put up with your shit. If you’re lucky, you get out in one piece. If not, well… Here’s a story one of my clients told me a few days ago.

He’s an avid hunter and was out with a friend and his dog, going for game birds. The hunting grounds were close to a river with a path next to it. That path is popular with cyclists and people going for a walk. So they made sure they stopped shooting well before they got to the path. His friend however made the mistake of not putting his dog back on a leash (that’s the law here) and it got in front of a guy on a bike. The guy fell. The friend went over and asked if the guy was alright, said he was sorry, it was his fault and is there anything he could do to help. You can’t really ask for more than somebody owning up to his mistake and offering reparations.

The guy wanted none of it, replied that he should kick the friend’s ass and moved forward. The friend lifted one arm in a defensive posture and the conversation went something like this:

Guy: “Are you scared?”

Friend: “Yes, I am.”

Guy: “You better be.”

After some more huffing and puffing, he got on his bike and left, buzzing my client and missing him by an inch.

 Here’s the part he missed:

  • The friend is a second degree Judo black belt who can more than hold his own.
  • My client had already positioned himself strategically to take the guy out as he threatened the friend.
  • My client went into the flinch guard as the guy buzzed him and told me he was sorely tempted to knock him off his bike with the elbow shot we’ve been training for months. The range was good and it would have worked; he hits really hard.
  • One of their main concerns was that getting in an altercation while hunting would mean they lose their license if the cops got involved. They didn’t want that so they didn’t act.

If you look at it from another point of view, here’s the story again:

A guy gets self-righteous at a man armed with a hunting rifle who offers him a sincere apology for an honest mistake. The guy doesn’t accept the apology and threatens to assault the armed man, while his trained dog is standing next to him along with his self-defense trained friend who’s also carrying a hunting rifle. The main reason they didn’t act was a piece of paper.

Can you see the disconnect with reality?

Threatening two men armed with firearms and a trained dog? In what universe is that a smart move? Probably in the same one where you say “You don’t have the balls to shoot me?” and then eat a bullet?

This is the kind of slippery slope reasoning self-righteous entitlement leads to. I’ve seen it all over the world, in all layers of society. People get used to treating others like crap and just assume there will never be consequences because so far, there haven’t been any. But they fail to understand that it takes two to tango. They refuse to acknowledge how their behavior puts them in a situation that escalates into violence. A situation in which they don’t come out on top, at best.

 When you come to blows with somebody, you are part of the equation. For better or worse, your actions brought you there. Hopefully, you just failed to avoid the problem. But there are also those situations in which you are part of the problem. It would be a mistake to think you can get away with that forever.

So don’t be an asshole.


Training beginners – Wim Demeere

I am often contacted by clients who want to learn self-defense , but have no prior training or experience. They are total beginners, blanks slates. The question for me as an instructor is then: what is the best way to teach them? Throughout the years, I’ve developed my personal approach to answer that question and it has resulted in a basic self-defense system. It isn’t anything new, nor is it revolutionary, but it seems to work well enough, which is why I want to share a part of it with you here.
First some background.

There are many different aspects to self-defense training and there are probably just as many different ways to teach this subject. As a result, it can be difficult to get started on imparting students the skills they need to survive a violent encounter. One approach to do so is to look at common denominators: which aspects keep coming back in a majority of situations a student might encounter? Once you establish those, you have a place to start. Each individual person has his own specific context to take adapt your training to, but working from those common denominators allows you to cover a lot of ground quickly.

One of those common denominators is the timing of the attack in relation to the individual’s awareness of it. I work from three basic scenarios:

– Ambush. You only know you are under attack when the first blow lands. There is no advance warning or awareness of danger.

– He goes first. Your attacker throws the first punch, not you. You have some advance warning though, anything form a few seconds up to a few minutes if it takes the guy that long to work himself up to taking a swing. You are aware of the danger, but for whatever reason you don’t act first and he does.

– You go first. You spot the danger, try to de-escalate and escape, but this fails. You decide to use a pre-emptive strike.

Regardless of the context, these three scenarios seem to come up more often than not. Take some time watching Youtube videos of street violence in all its forms and you will recognize them easily.

Now that we know where to begin we have some choices to make: which techniques do you teach a beginner? I favor versatile techniques and constructive laziness: each technique must serve multiple functions so the student doesn’t need to learn many of them. This helps speed up both the ingraining process and the skill development. I teach a binary system that offers a hard and a soft response: techniques that disable (elbows, knee strikes, some other close-quarters techniques) and techniques that control (head and spine manipulations along with a basic elbow lock.)

The next step is deciding where to start. I choose to begin with the ambush situation because it is often what students fear the most.


When an aggressor lands his first attack, you are already behind the curve and things are unlikely to improve for you as time goes by. Your first goal is then to avoid taking additional damage and hold on to whatever capabilities you have left. To that end, I teach a modified flinch guard that covers both the head and vital organs. From there, the student learns to open up with a sweeping arm technique to help orient him on the attacker and then follow through aggressively with elbows and knee strikes. The counter-attack needs to be fast and brutal.

This rarely looks pretty, even in training, but that doesn’t matter. The goal is to fight through the pain and disorientation and turn the tables on the attacker before he can take you out. At that point, you have nothing to lose as you are already taking damage, so this becomes a full-on counter-assault.

Most students struggle with this at first, so I build up the intensity gradually depending on their tolerance to adrenal stress. Once they have some training, the difficulty levels go up and we incorporate drills and scenario training to mimic real-life situations. I have found that this helps give them the confidence to handle the next two scenarios.  

He goes first

In an encounter where an attacker uses a form of interview or other set-up, the student has some time to assess the situation. In a perfect world, he would de-escalate and leave but that doesn’t always work out. Neither is it always possible to get the first shot in, so it helps to have experience handling things when your attacker throws the first punch.

I teach students to cover up with the modified flinch guard or use the sweeping motion to block what comes at them. They learned both techniques already and have ingrained them thoroughly by that point, so it isn’t too difficult for them to use them in a slightly different context. Their feedback is often that it is easier to handle an incoming attack because they already went through the stress of surprise attacks and scenario training in which I ambush them. As a result, they are both less intimidated by that attack and defend better against it. Flowing into the counter-attack is old hat as well by then and they typically do so with enthusiasm.

You goes first

Tactically speaking, it is often better to strike first when you know that violence is inevitable. However, simply knowing this doesn’t mean you can do it effectively. If you haven’t done it before, it can be mentally and emotionally challenging to “push the button” and launch that first strike, because this time, you are the one starting the dance. Remember that we are talking about students with no experience with violence; they often have reservations about using it.

My approach is to use the sweeping arm motion again and adapt it slightly to attack the eyes and other vulnerable targets with it. Once again, the student has already practiced this movement so much, it isn’t difficult for him to use it in this way. The same goes for the potential follow-up techniques.

This covers only a part of the technical aspects of what I teach them, but the other parts are beyond the scope of this article. My goal was to offer a framework you might find useful for your own training. As I wrote in the beginning, this isn’t the best method out there, nor is it cutting-edge stuff, but it works and is a good way to start the training. I’ve experimented with and fine-tuned this system for the last twenty years and found that the combination of versatile movement and the methodology of teaching the three basic scenarios in this specific order yields results quickly and ingrains lasting skills with beginner students. I hope you can apply some of this information in your own training.

Rage Control – Wim Demeere

The earliest incident I remember of my temper getting out of hand was over something trivial. My older cousin had been needling me until I snapped: I grabbed a scythe and swung it down at him as hard as I could. He jumped back and I missed, burying it deep into the ground, unable to pull it back out. He took me to the ground and into a judo choke hold until I calmed down. I was eight or nine when that happened, I’m not sure anymore.

This wasn’t the last time my bad temper got the best of me, nor the worst. Throughout my youth and early twenties, I flew off the handle many times. I’m immensely lucky that I didn’t seriously injure or kill somebody and end up in jail or dead. I’m even luckier in that I realized early on in life that I needed to control my temper or I would eventually mess up my own life. The pivotal moment came after I kicked somebody in the ribs and he was hospitalized. He didn’t deserve that, there was no reason for me to kick so hard, other than that I was angry. So I went looking for solutions to my anger issue.

I learned that there are many different types of therapy or approaches to fix this problem. I tried several and found behaviour therapy, reframing my thought process, progressive relaxation, meditation and humour to work well for me. These might or might not work for you, we’re all different.

After years of hard work, I progressively got better at staying in control and rarely if ever lose my cool anymore. I’ve come to the point that people who’ve known me for years have never seen me angry and say I am the calmest, most patient person they know. But here’s the uncomfortable truth self-help gurus don’t tell you: my temper never went away. It’s still there.  I have simply learned to not let it rule me.

Every day, I get up and tell myself to not be an asshole and hurt people just because I am pissed off. No matter how easy it would be to do so.

Every day, my temper gives me opportunities to beat people up and ruin my life with the consequences:

  • The idiot who cuts me off in traffic, I’d ram him off the road if I acted on my temper.
  • The arrogant bastard who gives a snarky comment in a meeting, I’d gladly slap him in the face until he starts crying.
  • The wannabe tough guy who eyeballs me at the gas station, I wouldn’t mind taking him on to see the look on his face when he finds out he can’t win and I won’t stop.

After all these years, my first reaction still tends to be the same: my temper wants to flare and take over. Then I tell it not to.

As I got older I got better at this, to the point where it has become automatic and I don’t end up with a big adrenaline dump anymore. I expect to always have to work, at it, until I die.

Why do I bring all this up?

Letting anger control you is a sure-fire way to get into trouble and attract violence.

We all know we’re supposed to avoid violence and de-escalate problems. Yet we continue to see CCTV or cell phone footage of people ignoring this advice and letting their anger get the better of them until fists start flying. If you take an honest look at your own violent encounters (or near misses), you’ll likely discover your anger and other emotions were a determining factor.

Violence takes at least two parties: you and the other guy. You are half the equation. The decisions you make during conflicts, regardless of what your monkey brain is screaming for you to do, are ultimately yours. Avoiding violence is easy in theory, but once a strong emotion like anger is thrown into the mix, it becomes much harder to stop from engaging the other guy when you should de-escalate. The consequences of that violence can leave your life in ruins or end with you bleeding out on a pavement.

If you are quick to anger, here’s an empowering truth for you:

Your temper is not a force of nature. You can learn to control it.

It isn’t easy. You have to question yourself, your motives, your emotions, your mind-set, your decisions, everything. You have to find a balance between doing that while at the same time avoiding “paralysis of analysis.” What’s more, you only get the benefits of self-control after you do all the work. But once you do, your odds of successfully avoiding violence increase and you can live your life more safely.