Will & Skill

Will; noun; (1)The faculty of conscious and especially of deliberate action; the power of control the mind has over its own actions: the freedom of the will.
Purpose or determination, often hearty or stubborn determination.

Several times recently, when a discussion of training personal defensive skills has come up, I’ve seen someone opine that, essentially, “all the training in the world won’t help you if you don’t have the will to kill”. While they are, to a point, correct enough, these folks are typically saying this to reinforce themselves for not training. Because, apparently, training isn’t necessary when they’ve got all this will, and spend their time psyching themselves up to “do what it takes”.
The truth is, you can have all the will in the world in your last moments, but where there is a will there is not always a way. Millions of people have died, hard, with hearts and minds full of the will to survive. Sure, stories exist of folks with strong will overcoming staggeringly bad odds, including their own lack of training, to survive many horrors, but they remain in the minority. Far more people have suffered for their ignorance or sloth and died badly because they didn’t have the skills necessary to do otherwise. For all their will in dying, they had little to none in life to motivate the acquisition of skill. that might’ve saved them. They had failed mentally, long before they met their ends.

It has been said that the fight is 95% mental, and 5% physical. This may very well be true, but that does not mean that the 5% is somehow unrelated to the 95%. It is the physical which receives the harm done, the physical which dies; The physical which delivers upon the will to do harm, the physical which carries out the tasks of victory. The physical, however, cannot perform without the mental. That supposed 5% does not exist in a vacuum, separately from the mental game. The mental game is more than simple “will” as well; It is the decision making, task performance negotiating, complexity navigating machine that drives your physical self. Without that we are lost, and while we have innate tools to help that along, they must be properly honed to do what we want. And so, we train.
We train to learn that which we do not know, and then to improve our abilities to do that which we cannot do well. When it comes to combative and survival skills, we can always be improving. We can always put ourselves under challenge, pressure testing our skills in the training environment to develop solutions to problems, and hone our ability to execute those processes under stress. The mind can be continually toughened, made more robust by challenge, as can the body.
It is not as simple as learning to pull iron, put lead on target, and then learning to throw a punch, and then learning to draw a knife, and then learning to wrestle. Not as simple as learning how to build a fire, and how to dress out squirrels, and doing some hiking. All of these things are ingredients, which must be brought together. They begin disparate, and it is up to us to bring them together in training. We train to reduce the gaps. Because it is in those gaps where we die. Those points where, in the words of John Farnam, “linking together a series of psychomotor subroutines into a full technique, the seams remain”. Those gaping seams, their resultant gaps in what we’re doing, must be removed through continual pressure testing and refining.

Cultivating bravado and confusing it with will,  especially when not training, is a mistake. Without the will to do what is necessary to survive, you have little hope; But for all that, you still have to have skill. That skill should be effective, robust, and continually pressure tested and refined. Your will, iron and crystalline as it may be, can only be properly affected through a disciplined, trained, body and mind. And if your will is truly that iron and crystalline, you’ll have the discipline to continually pursue training. If you don’t, it isn’t, and no amount of wishing will make it so.

One response to “Will & Skill”

  1. Excellent essay on the subject.

    Reminds me of this quote; “It’s not the will to win, but the will to prepare to win that makes the difference.” – Bear Bryant

    Or; “Luck is when preparation meets opportunity”

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