One of the ideas that comes up a lot in self-defense training is the idea of winning an encounter. But what does that really mean, to win?
Sometimes I’ll hear it described as prevailing, even triumphing over an attacker. The attacker is thwarted, and the tables are turned so completely that they suffer anything from the indignity of having to run away to the grind of facing law enforcement and the judicial system to the ultimate consequence of dying because the intended victim was so successful in defending themselves. It’s the image most of us have in our heads when we imagine winning a violent encounter with a criminal, and it’s an extremely positive one because it reflects a best-case outcome to a terrible situation. Even if, as a potential victim, we are gravely injured, we like to think that we can defend ourselves so well that the person trying to do us wrong will be punished in some way. We might not always be so successful though, whether because we face overwhelming force from the bad guy, get caught in a bad spot, or simply don’t have the skills to win in this way. All hope is not lost, though…
Other times, winning means surviving. When someone tries to kill or seriously injure you, and you don’t die, they have failed in their goal. You, however, have successfully limped or walked away from the fight. Lying in a hospital bed or being permanently disabled or disfigured might not feel like coming out ahead, but it’s not death. You’re alive to recover, and to continue working towards an ever-improving life. You have the opportunity to see what comes next for you, instead of having your days unfairly cut short by a common criminal. You might have had nothing more than willpower and stubbornness to carry you through the attack, but you had it and your attacker did not win because you survived to fight another day. That’s winning.
And once in a while, winning means the attacker suffers for their choice of victim. The victim survives permanently injured or even dies, but they manage to kill or seriously injure their attacker in the process, or leave enough clues behind so that their attacker is caught and convicted of their crime. That, too, is a win, when you have participated in bringing justice against your attacker. It’s a bittersweet victory, but one nonetheless. In fact, it was the very first win that I could envision myself having when I started my journey of seriously studying self-defense beyond simply carrying a gun. Winning a fight in the sense of emerging victorious over a bad guy seemed impossible, but not being an easy victim and making them work and suffer for their crime? The right tools and a small measure of skill can take you that far, when combined with enough determination and the sure knowledge that turning an attacker’s easy payday into a far more difficult effort is still a victory.
You might also hear about winning as escaping. The attack on you isn’t completed because you got away. You ran, and in running, you were injured less than you could have been and stopped the bad guy before he was done. Maybe they get away with their attempt, free to try again with someone else another day, but you? You, too, are free to have another day. Much like avoiding a bad situation entirely, before it even begins, escaping is another way of coming out ahead and winning by denying an attacker their ultimate goal. Does it feel as triumphant as standing breathless over a bad guy, having prevailed in the fight? Nope. Does it mean you’ve survived, perhaps made them suffer through your escape, and denied the attacker their ultimate goal? Yup. And that, my friends, is winning.
All of these definitions of winning are valid, in one way or another. But no matter what you do, you can’t always control which option will present itself to you. What you can do, however, is think about all of these win conditions as potential ways to come out on top. Have a preference, of course, and fight for what you want most. But if you end up with some other way of winning? Be ready to grab that too.