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Killer instinct


This is a point-counterpoint discussion.

Here is an article that attempts to refute the concept of a killer instinct. My counterpoints to the article point out the defects in the author’s logic.


The article: Say no to the killer instinct by William Durbin' 

Consider the source

"Doctor" Durbin received his doctorate from the University of Oriental Philosophy, a diploma mill that was closed by the State of Maine. The "university" was operated by Mr. Durbin's instructor, "Doctor" Rod Sacharnoski, who claims a Ph.D. in criminal justice from Columbia Pacific University, another diploma mill that was closed by the Marion County Superior Court in California. In recent writings, “Soke” Durbin no longer uses the title. Apparently, it served its purpose and is no longer needed.


According to Merriam-Webster, a killer instinct is defined as an aggressive tenacious urge for domination in a struggle to attain a set goal.


  •  Author's original points (text) are shown in bold text.
  • TKDTutor's points and counterpoints are shown in (normal text with parentheses)

Some people say that in order to be a good martial artist or an expert of self defense, it is necessary to possess a killer instinct. Yet the very people who need self defense skills the most are those people who tend towards gentleness and non-violence. Would a person who is truly gentle and peaceful even enter a Dojo, if he/she were actually convinced that he/she would have to develop a killer instinct?  (Yes, they would! They are people who need self-defense skills, but skill alone will not get the job done; one must have the will to apply the skills. If you are afraid of water but have a need to learn to swim, it is logical that you will have to overcome your fear and enter the water if you are ever to learn to swim. You may learn to perform all the movements required of swimming, but until you jump into the water, you are only pretending to swim. A so-called nonviolent person may only survive if they possess the ability to be violent when needed or if they have people around them that possess the ability to be violent and are willing to protect the nonviolent. Without people with the ability to be violent when required, nonviolent people would not exist.) Probably not. More important, what needs to be considered, is a killer instinct actually a positive attribute or a deadly attitude that needs to be expunged from a martial artist's personality. (In answer to the question, yes, it is a positive attribute. If we had no violent people in our past, we would still be paying taxes to Great Britain.)
Let's consider what a killer instinct actually is and what it can mean to a modern martial artist, not from the macho point of view, like in the movies, but in a realistic point of view, dealing with legal repercussions. A killer instinct is a willingness to kill in order to survive. True. In regards to sport, it is a willingness to enter into a competition with a disregard for the person you are facing, so that what happens to your opponent is viewed as his responsibility for entering the competition, so that the trophy can be won. (False! In a competition, you must be willing and able to do what the competition requires, but there are no legitimate competitions that require you to kill the opponent. You may have to punish the opponent physically as permitted by the rules, but the opponent knows the rules and accepts the risk of injury when he or she enters the ring. A judo player may be a police sniper who has killed from a distance, a Special Forces soldier who has killed in close, or even an ordinary person with a keen killer instinct; however, no matter what happens on the mat, the player will not have even a fleeting thought of killing the opponent. A killer instinct may make the player a tougher opponent, but it does not make the player a killer.) It is this attitude that has led to the deaths of competitors in boxing rings, Judo tournaments, Karate competitions, and Tae Kwon Do matches. (Says you! Even in the realm of professional boxing where millions of fights have occurred over the decades, deaths are extremely rare and they were not from a fighter wanting to kill the opponent, they were just the accepted consequences of participating in risky behaviors. Has the killer instinct led to the deaths of race car drivers, skiers, football players, firefighters, etc.?)
In life, a killer instinct is a willingness to do anything to be called the winner. (Says you! A killer instinct allows a person to kill if the situation requires it, but it does make a person a cheat, dishonorable, a criminal, or an indiscriminate killer. Winning does not require killing, except where your job requires it, such as in war.) This can lead to a very dangerous way of life, where anything goes just so long as a person feels like they have won what they are seeking. With this type of attitude a person would feel justified to kill in order to keep a girl/boy friend, succeed in business, or in many cases just to prove a point. It is the prevalence of this attitude which might actually explain the current level of violence in our society, rather than the violence we see in television shows and movies. Other cultures have as much if not more violence in their forms of entertainment, than America, most noticeably the Japanese, and yet they have a lot less violence in their society. This could be simply because they have a strong since of loyalty, honor, and community presence, while in America, we have an intense interest in self promotion and a win at any cost, competitive attitude. (If all this is true, then we are screwed! We have millions of active and reserve soldiers who have had to live in a killer instinct mode for a year or more while in combat on battlefields. Now that they are back in the United States and walking among us, should we all fear them? Could just bumping into one of these killers in the grocery store lead to the person suddenly killing us?)
However, not everybody in America is competitive. (True. In the business world, these people are called workers, not owners, managers, or leaders.) There are many people who simply want to live their lives in peace, be the best they can be, and not become in conflict with anyone. (True. They are called pacifists. They talk nonviolence, but when faced with violence, they call warriors for help. Without warriors to protect them, they will be dead or living a peaceful existence as slaves.) And it is these people who would most be in need of self defense training and the philosophical instruction of traditional martial arts, where the training is geared towards self improvement and personal defense. (While it may be true they need the training, without a killer instinct, they will not be willing to use it. You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make him drink. You can teach self-defense to a pacifist, but you cannot make him fight. In case you haven’t noticed, using self-defense requires you to be violent.)

Some people then wonder, if a person learning self defense does not develop a killer instinct, how can they deal with a serious attack from a vicious assailant? (Good question. I wonder what the answer will be.) And the answer to that question is the superior idea known as Honshin. Most martial artists are exposed to the idea of clearing their minds so that they can defend themselves effectively. This clearing of the mind is known as Mushin, and refers to getting rid of all extraneous thoughts which could interfere with spontaneous movement. (Bad answer. More pseudo philosophical BS from a mail-order PhD. Suppose a black belt is on a hot date. As he walks the date back to his car after a meal in a fine restaurant, they are attacked by a carjacker in the parking lot. Does anyone believe that while walking his date to the car the black belt is thinking about a possible attack and clearing his mind using mushin? BULLSHIN!)
However, what lies next in the progress of the mental development is Honshin. Honshin is not just knowing what is right, but the ability to adjust to any given situation with the right action. One of the first questions a beginner will ask, after learning a few techniques, is how will I know which technique to use in an attack, and the answer is by Honshin. This state of mind allows a student to know what needs to be done and when. It allows for the severity of a situation and the many different possible reactions that can be given by a martial artist. (More Bullshin. You know what to do in each situation by repetitious training. Good basketball players, baseball players, or judo players know what to do, and when to do it, because they have practiced it endlessly.)
In example, an attacker may grab your arm, which could be nothing more than a bothersome situation, a prelude to a strike, or an extremely aggressive assault leading to a possible rape or kidnapping. If a person reacts with a killer instinct, he/she may kill when the situation does not warrant it. (True.) Or if a person tries to 'figure' out what to do, they may hesitate and not success in defending themselves. (True.) But by being able to rely on Honshin, the person will know what to do, when to do it, and how much force to use. (Not true. The person will be able to interpret the intent of the grab from the circumstances, and, due to training, will be able to react with the proper response. Mind cleansing has nothing to do with it. When a thug jumps out of the bushes and grabs you around the throat, you had better know how to escape and take out the attacker. He will not wait for you to get your Honshin on.)
Properly developed Honshin allows a martial artist to be free to act without hesitation. It also allows the person to act without guilt. (Whoa! Sounds like a killer instinct to me. I wish I could act any way I wanted without guilt.) Too many times after a self defense situation, a person will second guess themselves. They will ask themselves over and over again, what could they have done differently. But by achieving Honshin, the person does not have to agonize over the decisions made during the confrontation, they will know they did the right thing. (Yea, right! Any person with a conscience will agonize over having to hurt or kill another person, even if the cause was just. The author is telling us that Honshin trains us to eliminate our conscience. Does he believe this is better than a killer instinct?)
The question then is, how does a martial artist develop Honshin and the simple answer is, proper training in the martial arts, but the key word here is 'proper'. Training specifically to have a killer instinct or to fight competitively, creates a predisposition for a certain type of action. (Does it really!) Generally a person who thinks of developing a killer instinct is programming themselves to fight. (It’s called training.) This prejudgment means that even if a situation does not warrant combat, the person will engage in the battle, because they have filled their minds with the concept of fighting. (Bullshin! I guess I should be more afraid of walking the street around ex-soldiers now that the author has told me that they are time bombs just waiting for an excuse to kill.) A competitive attitude can generate an attitude of conflict where none needs to be. (The author is certainly never going to be selected to coach a sports team.) In real life there are more times when it would be better for a person to walk away, yet if the person is used to the idea of fighting and 'answering' a challenge with combat, they may employ violence where it is not necessary. (If this is true, then the opposite must be true; a person not used to the idea of fighting may not employ violence when it is necessary. Is this a good thing?)
It is necessary to understand that violence is never considered the best response in any situation. (Never in any situation? When a spaced-out doper jumps from behind a tree and rushes toward me and my wife with a knife yelling "Kill the monsters!”, violence would seem to be the best response. What am I supposed to do, run away, and leave the wife to defend herself or maybe ask him about his abusive childhood?) Most especially in regard to legal repercussions it needs to be avoided. Too many young people take the scenes in movies entirely too seriously. There are so many martial arts movies which show the hero engage in battle, seriously injuring or killing the 'bad guys' and then being treated like a hero after the battle is over. While movies should give us happy endings and a positive expression of live. They should be fun entertainment of how things could or should be, in that the bad guy loses and the good guy wins and is rewarded as a hero. But real life is not movie life. If a person gets into a fight, they had better be able to prove complete justification for their actions, or they will go to prison for seriously injuring or killing another person. (This is true. However, if they do not have the killer instinct to do what is necessary, they will not have to worry about justifying their actions. Dead people do not explain anything. As the old saying goes, “It is better to be judged by twelve than to be carried by six.”)
If the judge determines that a person was exercising a killer instinct in regard to a defensive situation, it is a good bet he will also consider the defender as having used excessive force and rule against him/her. (Killer instinct is not something a judge considers since it is not a legal term.) This could then lead to a record for assault, manslaughter, or murder. Currently the main self defense concept in force in most states, is that a person can use no more force to defend him/herself, than the attacker intends to use on them. (The rule of law is that the force used be no more than that a reasonable person would have used under the same circumstances. And a jury decides what that amount of force should be for the case at hand.) A killer instinct will almost assuredly result in the use of excessive force, as will almost any competitive urge. (Who says! The author seems to be projecting his limitations onto others. People who have killed, such as soldiers and police officers, refrain from killing people every day. From other statements he has made, it appears the author does not compete. Must be because he is afraid of what he may do if he does compete; he may slip up and kill the opponent. Trained warriors do not dive for cover when a can drops beside them in a store. A karate black belt does not kick or punch the opponent in a judo match. A taekwondo competitor does not have the competitive urge to race other customers to the checkout line. Sane, rational, trained people have control of their killer instincts and competitive nature.)
In regard to the type of training which develops Honshin, first and foremost the training must be taught with an ethical basis. There must be instruction in non-violence and the desire for peaceful resolution to conflict. (True.) Second, the training really needs to be realistically based in effective fighting skills. Too many young people, who train in competitive arts, think of a fight in the same manner as a sparring match. They think that they will honorably 'fight' a bad guy and once they defeat him, he will just give up. But that is an illusion brought on by the tournament scene and too many movies. (True.) 
One actual experience which might shed some light and understanding on the reality of fighting is as follows, a young man was dating a girl who happened to also be dating another fellow. Eventually the two young men found out about each other and decided to have a fight to see who would 'win her hand'. She was quite impressed, they were young, and she decided to go with the winner. Finally the two men battled it out and one won. He left with the girl in his arms. A week later, the loser drove up behind the winner and shot him. Luckily it only hit him in the leg and he lived. But what must be realized is that the fight was not over, just because one had physically dominated the other. It would have been better for everyone if the fight had never happened and the young girl had picked the one she really wanted to be with. (Yes, and it would be nice to have world peace.)
Another situation dealing with the repercussions of fighting, is when a young man became involved in a conflict, once again over a young girl, and when he was attacked by a group of friends of his rival, he pulled a knife to threaten them. He had hoped they would retreat, but instead the rival lunged at him and was impaled on the knife. And while the knife wound was not too severe, in shock and panic the assailant fell to the ground where he died from a head injury. The young man ended up going to prison for manslaughter. (Was there more to this case? He was attacked, he pulled a knife, the assailant lunged at him knowing the knife was in his hand. He must have had an unless lawyer for this to even go to trial.)
This is the reality of combat. Everyone needs to understand what can really happen when they get into a fight. When was the last time you heard a martial arts instructor explain the potential for a head injury due to a fall in a Dojo? And yet in self defense a kick or punch could drop a man to the ground, or a throw or joint lock could cause the head to strike the ground. Students need to have this explained to them so that they will be reluctant to fight. In order to actually save their lives, or the life of an innocent, the results, while unwanted, are acceptable. But to fight over something not life threatening, makes the potentiality of a prison sentence, or just having to live with killing someone, unacceptable. (All true.)
Finally, the training needs to be based on the spiritual aspect like the training of old. In the past, the Sohei (warrior monks), Bushi and Samurai were taught that their spirits were good and needed to be in harmony with the Universal Spirit (sic. God). If they came into this harmony then their skills would proceed from their hearts and since their hearts would be pure, their art would be as well. Training needs to include the spiritual aspect of Kata, where a person is taught that doing Kata allows them to experience harmony with nature, a nature established by God. So that the closer the martial artist harmonies with natural law, the closer they feel to the author of that law. It is this spiritual aspect that really makes Honshin so effective. When the martial arts are taught in this proper manner, then physically the skills improve, mentally the attitude improves, and spiritually the person wants to do what is right. (Whoa! This brings religion into the martial arts, which is something that religious critics of the martial arts say is being taught in martial arts schools. Religions require belief in the unprovable. The fighting techniques are based on cold, hard facts. Being taught right from wrong, respect, ethics, etc. does not need to be based upon religion.)
In regard to real life self defense, we must honestly admit that anything can happen from the easiest escape, where no one gets hurt, to the receiving of serious injury, and the dealing of death. A person who develops the killer instinct, literally looks forward to the opportunity to invoking that instinct in a trail of combat. (False, false, false. When faced with a life or death situation, especially one that threatens family members, most everyone's killer instinct will take control. It is an instinct, after all, a reflexive action that lies dormant until needed, not necessarily a conscious action. Military warriors train to kill on the battlefield, but, while in their hometown, most do not walk around looking for an opportunity to use it, There are rare exceptions, but then there are always exceptions when something involves human behavior.) But the one who develops the Honshin will kill only if necessary, and avoid making it necessary, at all costs, except for the sacrifice of themselves or an innocent. There are also exceptions here; trained martial artists have killed for the same reasons as other killers, anger, greed, honor, jealousy, etc. The person of Honshin will realize that no trophy or championship is worth the potential of seriously injuring or possibly killing another human being. In addition, in life, the Honshin martial artist will apply the principle to decisions of life, living with honor and not selling themselves out for money or fame, seeking instead to live a life of peace and dedication. (What a pile of Honshin. Anyone with basic manners and courtesy has these attributes and they are taught in schools, churches, and homes. Calling it Honshin and acting like it was something special that can only be learned in your style of martial arts is egotistical BS.)

So it is alright to say No to the killer instinct. For with proper martial arts training the person will still be able to defend themselves effectively, making sure to use the right amount of force, without exceeding what is necessary, while developing a mental ability which will allow the person to meet all situations in life with equanimity, knowing that they have done what needs to be done, not more nor less. (This myth about martial artists being able to control the amount of force they use to fit the situation may be used against a martial artist facing a charge of using excessive force that led to serious injury or death of another. If the myth is true, it means the martial artist must have intended to seriously injure or kill the person or he would not have used it and thus is guilty of the charge.) This then is the superior mental level sought by Oriental philosophers and martial artists for centuries, and available to those who are willing to seek higher spiritual levels (As long as they are Durbin’s spiritual beliefs) through martial arts training today. 


More counterpoints

So, according to Mr. Durbin, a person with a killer instinct may kill when it is unnecessary, while a person without a killer instinct can kill when necessary. According to Mr. Durbin, a person with a killer instinct cannot stop killing, but a person without a killer instinct can kill, as long as the person possesses the superior mental abilities brought about by the intense study of Oriental philosophies and religions. Bullshin!
Mr. Durbin presents the opinion that the human “killer instinct” is inappropriate behavior, is unneeded for self-defense, and should be expunged from a martial artist’s personality. If a killer instinct is inappropriate, why do humans and other animals possess it?
We possess it for survival. Humans, as with lions, dogs, birds, etc., possess a killer instinct to protect themselves from attack and to kill food. Humans are carnivores, as evidenced by our sharp, canine teeth; we do not have the flat teeth of a grazer. We kill other animals for food. As with all other animals with a killer instinct, humans must control it. Lions do not walk the plains killing everything they see; they only kill for food and protection, unless the lion is rouge. Likewise, normal humans only kill when it is necessary, and, in the animal world, humans are not especially violent or efficient killers, we just have better weapons.
When humans fight each other, we instinctively try to keep from injuring one another. If you have seen bar fights, untrained fighters use mostly shoving and overhand blows to the bony structures of the upper body that cause little serious damage. Trained fighters have learned to overcome this instinctive behavior and use focused strikes to soft tissue. Since humans do not want to harm other humans, the military must expend an enormous amount of time and training on recruits to get them to obey orders and identify with the group so they will not freeze in combat and will kill when necessary.
Contrary to the Judeo-Christian belief that humans are killers at heart because of Cain killing Able and bringing the “mark of Cain” upon humanity, other than a few sociopaths and psychopaths, humans are not natural born killers. The man-as-killer myth has been perpetuated by other beliefs, such as the philosophy of the Enlightenment in which Thomas Hobbes's depicts the state of nature as a "war of all against all."
Hobbes argued that, without government, the conflicting desires of humans would pit every man against his neighbor in a bloodbath without end. He assumed "wild violence" as the normal state of humans in what anthropologists now call "pre-state" societies. However, Hobbes underestimated the innate sociability of human beings. History presents many examples of "pre-state" societies, which, while violent against outsiders, are internally peaceful. Except for wartime, humans, contrary to what is presented by the entertainment industry, are stable and nonviolent.
The entertainment industry depicts humans as cold-blooded killers just waiting for a reason to kill. They perpetuate the myth that when humans are driven to desperation, they kill naturally. Yet, the military still must train recruits to kill other humans, even when they are being shot at by the enemy. Although humans instinctively kill for food, they do not instinctively want to kill other humans, no matter the reason.
During a war, ordinary humans routinely kill other humans. As discussed above, human beings are not natural born killers of other humans. Therefore, how do we explain human violence in war? Killing during war depends on soldiers being trained to, and developing a habit of, killing on orders. Killing during a war is a behavior taught to soldiers. They are taught to follow the orders of a few leaders who are themselves following the orders of their superiors. They kill on orders. The real killers are the politicians whose actions led to war.
Humans are social primates with social instincts, one of which is docility, a predisposition to obey the tribe leader and other dominant males. This resulted in fewer status fights and meant more young, unmarried males were available to protect the tribe or to hunt for food. A tribe would flourish best if its members were both aggressive towards outsiders and amenable to social control.
This process works if the tribe is kept small. However, when one person gains command of a large group of males, such as a city, war becomes possible. Due to the intense training and unquestioning obedience of the warriors, war only requires a few leaders that are murderers. Stanley Milgram in his 1974 book The Perils of Obedience described experiments that showed how otherwise ethical people could be induced to torture another person by the presence of an authority figure that commands and legitimizes the violence.
Humans are not natural killers of other humans. However, sufficiently docile humans may be taught to kill, to support killing, or to kill on command by teaching them to dissociate themselves from responsibility for the act. When people are constantly taught that other humans are natural-born killers who want to kill them and take their possessions, they will do almost anything to protect themselves and their families.
While humans have a killer instinct, they are not natural-born killers. If a person is concerned about self-protection, the person must cultivate the killer instinct so that it is keen but controlled. Then it may lie dormant until needed when it may be unleashed. If the killer instinct is not cultivated, when it is needed it will not be available or there may be too much delay in its use.

Mr. Durbin trains his students to suppress the killer instinct and to try to eliminate it, but he does not train them to use it. His premise is that when the killer instinct is required, it will miraculously be there for use. As explained above, humans are natural killers of other animals, but they have an innate inhibition against killing other humans under any circumstance. To be able to kill another human, you must have previously thought about doing it, trained in how to do it, and be prepared for the act and its aftermath.

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