Eye of the Tiger.

Whether it’s the theme song of the Rocky movie series, or extracted from William Blake’s immortal poem, it’s essential to the conqueror’s makeup.

Without it, sooner or later you will lose the fight—literally and figuratively. Because the time you need it is when you’re on the downslide—on the losing side of the combatant’s accountancy ledger column. Either that, or it’s immediately prior to a pre-emptive attack.

You don’t need the tiger’s eye when you’re winning, because you’re already winning without it (presuming this specific contact isn’t over and done with in a split-second of explosive reactionary force). And while this, in theory, is the ideal solution to the problem, it can’t always be carried out for physical, legal, moral, or ethical reasons. You can’t, for example, shoot a stationary societal degenerate in 2008 urban America from 30 yards away just because he has a knife in his hand.

Does he deserve it? Probably. Nobody but the village idiot stands in the middle of the street armed with a large blade without at least potentially ensuing malicious intent. But are you justified in perforating him with lead pills? Obviously not. The question is: Do you have the requisite mental drive to deliver deadly force if required, be it with bullets, blades, rocks, or your bare hands? And secondly, do you have the backbone to continue fighting when all hope appears to be lost?

The answer to the first question is invariably, “Of course I do. That’s why I took all those firearms, knife, and slingshot self-defense courses. If somebody messes with me, I’ll tear out his guts and make fishing line out of them.” Well, that’s all well and good when he’s some almost inanimate entity flinging Kalashnikov Kookies at you from 40 yards away. It’s a different ballgame when you’re at contact distance, staring into his eyes (big mistake!), and have to gut him out with that neato “fighting knife” you’ve been showing off to all who were gullible enough to be captivated by your gore stories. Or maybe it was even self-delusion.

In either case, now it’s put up or shut up time, and all of a sudden you feel a certain momentary reticence at having to morph into a human Cuisinart. So you hesitate at the thought of all the blood and guts, even though it’s not going to be yours—and we all know that He Who Hesitates is lost. So you lose. And your kid inherits daddy’s Killer Knife from Hell. And everybody dribbles a shot of whiskey on your grave, and proceeds to announce to all within earshot what an idiot you had been, and what they would have done under the same circumstances—if only they’d been there at the time.

Such is the fickleness of a man and his so-called friends.

The truth of the matter is that a percentage of people cannot bring themselves to inflict severe bodily harm on other humans, no matter what the circumstances. It primarily stems from two causes: Either they’ve grown up in a sheltered existence, where they’ve never had to get their hands dirty (“My rich daddy hires people to do those things for me”), or it goes against the grain of their societal upbringing to resort to “animal-like” violence and ferocity. This, even at the cost of their own lives, or at least to the point of hesitation where immediate physical brutality would be the only adequate and successful response.

The latter is often literally the last thought going through the modern-day Western urbanite’s mind—especially in America—where many people grow up with “I pay my taxes, where’s InstaCop or a government representative?” syndrome. These folk believe that Robocop, Batman, or a Senator will instantly appear to save the day. Here’s the bad news, Slick: Robocop is in the shop for repairs, Batman is busy cleaning out some backed-up guano in his cave’s septic system, and the Senator stopped caring about you the day after you voted him into office.

That’s why the predator selected you. He knew your trio of avenging angels was busy, and he smelled on you the incapacity for close-up, brutal, retaliatory violence. Society is degenerating and you’ll probably be on your own when physically attacked. And since self-defense is a right and not a privilege, you had better exercise it to the full extent of the law—proportionate to the amount of violence or perceived violence being inflicted on you—or you will be maimed, crippled, raped, or killed.

Any attempt at anything else will be regarded by your attacker as a sign of weakness and will goad him on to further violence. He’s already broken your arm and slashed open your torso. He didn’t take your wallet and run after the initial contact, so he obviously has things on his mind other than robbery. What makes you think he’s going to quit now?

And since you enjoyed last deer season so much, what with all the caping, skinning, and disemboweling of Bambi, why do you now find it so abhorrent to have to do the same just because the animal is in an urban jungle and walks on his hind paws? Especially when it’s in defense of your life? We’re all the same inside—two-legged or four. Meat, bone, pipes, wires, and some liquid. That’s it, until we’re returned to dust. There is no difference between an enraged rogue lion and the dregs of society—just the mindset of the prey.

It’s time to adopt the eye of the tiger.

If you’re a wildebees (yes, that’s the correct spelling), and a lion attacks you, you have three choices: bleat, be fleet, or defeat. And if the only chance you have is to hoof out his eyeballs, let’s see how long a blind king lasts in the jungle. Otherwise you will be but an entrée on the pussycat menu of life.

Two cases in point, 30 years apart:

Case one was a half-hour television show on the subject of rape. The debating panel—so help me—was comprised of four males. After 24 minutes, they finally deigned to take questions from the audience, one of whom was a woman. That was the good news. The bad news was that when one of the panel—a self-defense ex-spurt—suggested gouging out a rapist’s eyes, the woman recoiled in horror, saying she could never resort to such violence.

This author’s opinion, for what it’s worth? Crawl under a rock and bleat. Get raped. (And before any readers declare this author to be a pompous, asinine chauvinist, that isn’t the case. But if you aren’t prepared to fight for what’s rightfully yours, whenever and however possible, you have to pay the piper.) It’s as simple as that. Famous last words: “But he had a knife.” No, really? Do something!

Case two occurred 30 years later during a self-defense pistol course. After-hours I was working with five female clients on some close-quarters strikes to cover their bases in the event they couldn’t get a pistol to hand. After demonstrating a throat strike on a wooden building support, one of the five clients shocked me by asking if there wasn’t “something that would have the same stopping effect but wouldn’t hurt him so much?”

Maybe I missed something in the translation, but in my humble opinion she should sell her pistol and save the money, because if a rapist ever selects her, she can consider herself raped. She will never drop the hammer on him, she will never cut him, and she will never punch or kick him.

The not-so-curious fact in both of the above cases is that neither of the women had borne children. Maternity is a great help in what is colloquially called the “killer instinct.” Mess with a mother’s cubs and you’re dog meat.

But whether it’s in the rural jungle or the urban, male or female, two-legged or four, the “killer instinct” and the will to continue fighting no matter how bad things seem are essential components to the survival makeup.

The Eye of the Tiger.

Some people have it, some never will.

[This column first appeared in the February 2009 issue of S.W.A.T.]

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