When you watch a movie like “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” or “Captain America: Civil War,” the fight scenes that take place may only last a few minutes, but they are the product of months and months of training. Fight choreographers and trained stunt people develop the choreography together, writing it, practicing it, filming it, taking out what doesn’t work and trying something new, and then starting that process all over again until the fight choreographer and director are happy with what they’ve got. Then they hand it to actors who themselves train for months on end to be able to act out the finished choreography, and those actors practice and practice the fight scene until they can do them believably.


Whether it’s a real confrontation that suddenly erupts in your daily life, a sparring session, or you one day become a choreographer, stunt person, or actor, any kind of self-defense follows this same arc. If you have to defend yourself one day, it’s not what you do in that moment that makes you capable of doing so. It’s what you’ve done for years beforehand.


In a real-life confrontation, most people without training think of what their body does next, and by the time they’ve made up their mind and communicate that decisions to their muscles, the shape of the confrontation has changed. Whatever that decision was may be obsolete.


For someone who’s trained, you don’t need to think of what your body has to do, of how to stand and position yourself. Your body is already trained to do that. In many ways, your muscles think on their own. Muscle memory kicks in and you protect yourself without having to think of it.


Fighting is a self-fulfilling prophecy. In a real-life situation, if your brain can’t think about anything else beside the fight that’s about to happen, that fight is inevitable. You can’t avoid it. If your body can take care of that thinking on its own, through training, it frees up your brain to start thinking about how to defuse that fight, about how to stop it before it happens. That’s the real strength of martial arts, to train your body to the point where your mind is freed up to recognize and make more choices.


Sometimes that will mean you handle a fight better, sometimes it means you can avoid the fight entirely. Months and years of training give you more control over the minutes that count the most. You can be stronger and more aware in many situations. And who knows – maybe one day, you’ll have the training to choreograph or star in the next “Star Wars” or “Avengers.”