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What If Monkeys are always asking 'What if it doesn't work?'
and coming up with catastrophic failure scenario.
All of these questions are externally oriented. The 'problem'
 is perceived to be out there. They never turn this tendency
internally and ask "What if the problem is with my imagination
and fears running amok and ruining my life?
                             Marc MacYoung

(a field guide to problem people in dojos/seminars/training)

On this page:
Seeking the Perfect Plan | Lions And Tigers And Bears ... Oh My! | The Cost of Violence | Imagination is a survival function | Imagined vs. Real Danger | What Are They Looking For? | Just Itchin' Revisited | In Conclusion | Fear vs. Danger

Let's establish something right up front. Engaging in violent conflict is dangerous! Every time you are involved in violence, it is a crapshoot whether or not you will be injured, crippled or killed.

And like all truly dangerous activities, you can do everything "right" and still get injured. If you cannot calmly and rationally accept this reality, then you have no business being in this arena.

Violence is extremely mutable. Those mutations occur from situation to situation and second to second depending on circumstances. As such, attempting to micromanage and have exact pre-planned responses to every possible scenario is unrealistic. Such an attitude hinders mental flexibility and inhibits the responder's ability to adapt to changing circumstances. This inability increases the danger to the would be responder.

Let us further state, there is NO guaranteed, never-fail, ultimate method to keep from getting hurt. And anybody who tells you otherwise is lying to you -- usually in order to get your money.

There are many instructors of so-called combat systems, reality based self-defense programs or deadly esoteric martial arts styles that will take your money in exchange for teaching you their ' guaranteed system.'

The reason these con men exist is because there are people -- who burdened with an over-active imagination -- are trying to find a way to never lose. This obsession of theirs leaves them vulnerable to the lies and nonsense of the BS artists who claim they can make you invincible.

The raw truth is that when it comes to losing at violence, everyone gets their turn. Nobody always wins. When that happens, you have to pay the price. You need to know this going in. If you are afraid to take a beating then don't try to stand up and fight, run away.

While that may stick in your craw, it is a far safer strategy. Violence is dangerous because it mutates so fast. Things change in the blink of an eye. But this is not chaos, nor is it random. It is:
  a) the OODA loop being executed at high speed -- by everyone involved
  b) factors/conditions that existed previously, but were unknown to you
  c) physics and results vs. what you intended (or hoped) would happen

These can be summed up as decisions, surprise and unintended consequences. All change what is happening. And they all occur really, really fast in violence. While violence may look chaotic and random, if it were slowed down, these points would be easier to identify and see the results.

In order to best navigate through violence one must have the ability to adapt, improvise and overcome -- and do it quickly. Your plans and actions need to change as fast as the circumstances. And even then you run the risk of not being able to adapt fast enough. This is why there are no guaranteed ways to always 'win' or remain unscathed when it comes to violence. There is no system that cover every possible mutation or requirement.

However, there is a particular mindset -- people who are both obsessed with the image of violence and a desire to micromanage it -- who keep the hucksters of 'guaranteed fighting systems' rolling in money.

These people are also royal pains in the ass to traditional martial arts instructors. That's because, no matter what is presented to them, such people's fertile imagination always finds a bigger, badder boogey man and weakness with the information. It never occurs to them how often their fantasies of violence defy the laws of physics, common sense, odds, chances and disregards how violent people behave. Worse, they will try to force what you are teaching to conform to those imaginary fears.

All they can see is their fear and their obsession with winning and not getting hurt. We have a name for these people. It is a name based on the question they are always chattering. We call them "What-If- Monkeys." Or WIMs for short.

Seeking the "Perfect Plan"
General George Patton once observed "A good plan violently executed now is better than the perfect plan next week"

Our summation is that WIMs are not only looking for the perfect plan, but they are looking for a move that will END the situation right there. Because, after all ... it's perfect.

Putting that in plain English, they are looking for a move that they don't have to do anything else. They want to believe this 'uber-technique' (or more common 'ultimate attitude') will work not only for any kind of situation that they find themselves in, but will put a stop to it.

First off: That isn't how violence works. Any move is ONLY as good as what it is intended for. If it works -- at that second -- to achieve an immediate goal, then it is a 'good' move.

For example, a block is designed to keep you from getting hit. If it achieves that against a specific attack, that means it worked. Did that attack land? No. Then it was a good plan.

What that block is NOT designed to do is handle his next attack, much less render him incapable of launching that second attack. That would be a perfect plan. Something that not only keeps you safe from the immediate attack, but destroys the attacker in one awesome display of power.

But that is what WIMs are looking for.

The second point is they are often looking for those results without having even executed the good plan effectively. They want something that no matter how sloppily they perform it or use it at the wrong time or place, it is STILL guaranteed to 'work' (but that's another problem). These unrealistic expectations are the basis of their -- and I use this term loosely -- strategic thinking.

Oh BTW, did I also mention that they want it to work regardless of what the other guy is doing, how big he is, how experienced he is and how many there are? And it needs to be an instinctive, no brainer move too.

Are you beginning to see the problem with what they want regarding a complicated and dangerous subject?

This is a pervading attitude about every possible move. But let's show how this manifest with say ... a surprise punch. The optimum response is doing something that keeps you from getting hit. That's the number one priority -- especially because you might not get a chance to do anything else if the attack lands.

EXCEPT, instead of settling for something that will keep them from getting a broken jaw, WIMS want an action that will keep them safe, solve all the above problems and prevent him from attacking again.

Over the last 20 years, I've dealt with a lot of WIMs. And what I've noticed is that as a starting point their questions can be summed up as "But what if after I do this, he attacks again?"

Well, not to be the bearer of bad tidings, but if you've been bushwhacked of course he's going to attack again. The only thing your defensive action did was to keep his first attack from landing. As far as plans go, that's good enough.

In the next second, you're going to have to think up something else to address what is happening. There is no one move that works for everything. And yet, this is exactly what the WIMs are constantly asking for.

Lions And Tigers And Bears ... Oh My!
In the movie The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy, the Tin Man and the Scarecrow are whipping themselves up into a terrified frenzy while walking through the forest. A suggested danger has snowballed. With each one suggesting a new and additional danger. This ends with them chanting "Lions and tigers and bears ... oh my!" And then, alackaday! Their fears are realized when they meet a lion.

That scene, where Dorothy et all, whip themselves into a frenzy over -- not only imagined dangers -- but escalating imagined dangers, is a good example of WIMs do to themselves. For every imagined danger, there's always something worse to continue the emotional spiral.

Except unlike the Wizard of Oz:
a) Given their lifestyle choices, they're really not likely to meet their imaginary boogey man
b) If they do, the real thing isn't likely to be cowardly.
c) They're more likely to panic and kick the shit out of a Munchkin that spooks them.

If you're having problems with Wizard of Oz references, realize that is the same problem most people have with WIMs' fantasies. This is especially true because people are afraid they'll be the Munchkin that accidentally spooks the WIM. 

WIMs have troubles outside training as well -- including coming across as a loose cannon to regular people.

The problem with WIMs isn't just that they are looking for the perfect plan for everyday violence (which is hard enough). They take it to an extreme. They want a perfect plan that works in whatever cock-a-mammy fantasy that they can come up with.

"What if I am walking down a dark alley with $20 bills hanging out of my pockets and I'm attacked by 27 Ninjas with Uzis? What do I do?"

Although that is an obvious exaggeration, there is no legitimate instructor of MA/SD/WSD/DT who hasn't been asked a question like this. We refer to these kind of extremely unlikely, no-win scenarios as "27 Ninja Questions." They are pretty much the identifying sign of WIMs. While everyone can innocently ask an unrealistic question, by the time you've handled 3 or 4 from the same person, you'll know you have a What-If-Monkey on your hands. This is especially true if these questions continually pop up in the middle of explanations of techniques.

What WIMs do not realize is that every violent situation has limitations. Limitations specific to that situation. That is why 27 Ninjas Questions are so absurd, they change 'the rules' in an unrealistic way.

Realize there are billions of theoretical possible scenarios and ways things can happen. That is true. But things rapidly go from what is possible to what is probable in any given situation. The What-if questions of WIMs ignore this concept.

What we are saying is that once the participants, the motivations, the environment and the situation are developed, the possibilities narrow. A few billion possibilities, give way to a few thousand probabilities. For example, are there kung fu experts out in the world? Yes. But are you fighting one? If yes, his physical abilities allow for all kinds of things to happen. If no, then many of the things that a master could do will not be possible. Can a kung fu master kick you in the face from three inches away? Yes. But can the guy you are facing? No. So a lot of stuff is taken off the table that you don't have to worry about.

What your opponent is capable of and what you can do define what is probable. The situation defines the parameters of how points A, B and C will manifest. What we are saying is this: Who you are facing, what he has, what he wants and what he is willing to do in order to win -- and the same applied to you -- limit the possibilities of situation. They also enhance the probabilities. Given those limitations, only certain things are likely to happen.

When WIMs bring up their 27 ninjas, they are in effect changing the parameters of the situation. For example, in the middle of a technique that would work on the average drunk, their question suddenly -- and magically -- bestows on the opponent the skills of a kung fu master. The counter action they are proposing to destroy this technique would require a physical skill level -- and the ability to do it on the fly -- that most people just do not have. Never mind the fact that someone of the skill/danger level they are imagining wouldn't be engaging in a long drawn out fight with you anyway. Some how, the guy develops super-powers. Did the guy have a grenade in his pocket when the fight started? If no, then how did it get there? If yes, why didn't he just throw it in the first place -- and from a distance -- instead of fighting you? (1)

The best way to spot a 27 Ninjas Question is to look at how fast and unrealistically they escalate the situation. These questions reframe the question to where the WIM is left with no choice but to maim or kill his opponent. The changes in the parameters of the situation is so extreme that the only hope of surviving is to go berserk. (And in real life, even that would be a very slim chance). It is interesting to note however, that although the questions are always phrased so it is always the other guy who is escalating it, the WIM is the one who is looking to escalate the violence. Keep this in mind as it is part of the WIM pathology.

However, 27 Ninjas Questions can also be used to spot a fraud instructor -- especially those pandering 'guaranteed systems.' You must realize that WIMs and snake-oil salesmen have a symbiotic relationship. The What-If-Monkey has fantasy questions and the Ultimate-Fighting-System instructor has fantasy answers. Usually the U-F-S instructor has what we call a "Dr Bonner's Miracle, Cure-All Elixir Move." This is one move that supposedly does everything. No matter what happens, you apply this move and it will save you. This is usually their trademark move -- and it usually has some kind of super-cool, awesome, two-word name. A name that starts with "The _______". This move (or approach) is central to their 'fighting system' and has the same status as crosses for holding off vampires.

This is why we say 27 Ninjas Questions can be used to spot fraud instructors. No matter how complex or ingenious the scenario painted by the WIM, the answer by the Ultimate-Fighting-System instructor usually boils down to "You do 'The ______'" It doesn't matter if it is a specific technique or adopting a kung-fu-killer-commando -kill-'em-all- and-let-god-sort-'em-out attitude (which is another response of these one-hit-wonder instructors). This single pat answer comes a little too quickly and conveniently to their lips, no matter what the situation being described. But it is exactly what the WIMs want to hear.

Remember the mutable nature of violence? This pat answer to fantastic and unrealistic scenarios is as much the identification of snake-oil-salesmen as 27 Ninjas are to WIMs. Don't worry when someone asks a question that makes you go "What the...?" because it seems to be divorced from reality. What should really snap your head around and make you worried is when -- instead of saying "that's not realistic" -- the so-called expert is too fast, too simple and too confident with a cure-all answer. (Instead of cross vs. vampires, think "The _____ vs. 27 Ninjas).
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The Cost of Violence
In order to help you understand this next point, we'd like to revisit a point we made earlier. As we said: You can do everything correctly and still die because the unexpected happens. You can die because you screw up and underestimate an opponent You can die because you didn't see a critical factor and did A instead of B. You can get killed because the enemy does something totally outside your planning and experience. Or you can die because you just weren't fast enough to stop him. With this in mind, you HAVE to accept that you can get killed or hurt.

If you can't accept that fact, then DON'T step up.

But here is something else to think about. Win, lose or draw, pain is part of the process. You are going to be sore in the morning. The only question is "How much pain is there going to be?" Now add to this, if you step into this arena you are going to get hurt. I'm not talking just pain, now we're talking about damage. Fighting puts stresses and injuries onto your body that doesn't go away. For those of you who missed it, that's permanent damage, injuries that you're going to have to live with for the next 60 years and take to the grave with you.

While we all have heard comments about how you might get hurt if you fight. The raw truth is, the more you do it, it changes from a "odds are" to a "you WILL" get hurt. The longer you play the game, the more it is going to happen. I'm not just talking about winning or losing here. I'm talking about getting torn up even if you "win." (Think of the song "The Winner"). I carry a collection of aches that in my youth I was able to ignore, but now remind me of every fight I have ever been in when the weather changes. That's the price you pay for engaging in physical conflict.

What-If-Monkeys (WIMs) don't want to pay that price. They are not only looking for a guaranteed victory, but one that doesn't hurt in the process.

In fact they're obsessive about it. And like obsession of any kind, they begin to float away from reality. Because they are always so scared of getting hurt they are always looking for ways it can happen. Their fertile little imaginations can always find a bigger and more complex problem that will undermine what is being shown. Something that -- in their minds at least -- always increases the danger. They are picturing an imaginary unstoppable juggernaut who can violate the laws of physics. I have literally had WIMs ask me "what if gravity doesn't work?" when demonstrating a takedown technique. But to the WIM it seems like a perfectly logical question. The problem with them is they never stop asking these silly questions; that's why we call them 'What-If-Monkeys,' they're constantly chattering instead of working on the move.

Here is where things get really weird. We've already established that WIMs have an almost pathological fear of being hurt. And yet at the same time they are drawn to the idea violence like a moth to the flame. There is something in their head that, although they are terrified of violence, will not allow them to back off. An ugly cocktail of fear, anger, self-doubt, envy, ambition, stubbornness, imagination and refusal to look at their motivations is what drives WIMs. Most of them want the perceived power of being fighters without having to pay the blood price.

As such they are high-centered. Forever stuck between actually engaging in violence and forever training for 'if' it ever happens. It almost seems to gall them that they have neither the courage to attack nor the ability to swallow their pride and withdraw. This creates a fixation. An obsession that is driven by their imagination. An imagination that knows no bounds or anchors and is constantly feeding their fear. This is where they are constantly getting their questions of "what if it doesn't work?" or "What do I do if I'm attacked by 27 ninjas?
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Imagination is a survival function
WIMs have lost sight of an important point. That is: 'What is' is far more important than 'what if.' In doing this they have allowed a very important survival function to spin out of control. To understand what we're talking about we need to look at a biological survival tool we have.

There is a great debate over exactly how strongly influenced by instincts human beings are. While there are certain behaviors that can be deemed instinctive, it seems that we are more software rather than hardware driven on certain subjects. For example, we do not have an irresistible urge to migrate south every fall and north every spring. In short, mother nature didn't hardwire into us "Do this at this time, no questions asked" like she did with so many other species. Programs that by being hardwired into the animals ensure a species' survival in an ecological niche.

However, current theory postulates that in order to compensate for this lack of hardwiring, we were given an imagination. Sticking with the seasonal example, we as humans learned that there comes -- every year -- a time of cold, white stuff falling from the skies. This is a time when food is not easily found. Imagination is what gives us the ability to look at all the food laying around when everything is green and picture what it would be like in the winter without any. This leads us to the decision to store food during the plentiful times so we can make it through the lean times. Imagination allowed our ancestors to learn how to function within the realities of their environment. It gave them a way to plan for, and get through, lean times without instincts (Well, that and a whole lot of other neat benefits).

This is an example of how imagination works with what is. Specific to this example, we know that winter comes every year and how long it is going to last so we can come up with appropriate coping strategies based on the resources available. Imagination, when combined with knowledge, realistic assessment and available resources is a wonderful thing. Stop and look around where you are and realize that everything in the room with you was created by imagination blended with knowledge, skill and science. It is truly amazing what mankind has done with imagination.

Unfortunately, every now and then the imagination process goes "sproing!"

For the process to work, there must be balance. What you can imagine must be balanced against
1) What you can do
2 What are the limitations, factors or constraints of the situation

Let's give you an example of these. In the late 15th century Leonardo da Vinci envisioned a prototype helicopter. His drawings, however, were based on the resources available to him at the time. We know now that his design would never fly based on the power source and materials he could have used. It would be over 400 years before the first helicopter lifted a human off the ground. That is four centuries of technological development before imagination became reality. What we are trying to point out here is that while da Vinci could imagine it, it wasn't realistic until countless other technological factors had been addressed.

Putting in the context of this example: What-If-Monkeys are long on imagination, but short on technological understanding. They can imagine all kinds of boogey men and problems, but they don't factor in why those problems aren't realistic. For example, the WIM that essentially asked me "What if gravity suddenly stops working?" In his imagination he could envision someone moving in a way to counter the move, what he didn't consider is that the laws of physics said it wasn't going to work that way.

Another key problem with WIMs is fear. In fact, it is fear that fuels their imaginations running wild. Fear and panic are a spiral. They activate certain parts of the brain while shutting down others. This is an actual physiological process that changes your thinking. You may believe you are being logical and rational, but the part of your brain that is active is the part that controls the emotions. (See Daniel Goleman's Emotional Intelligence). You cannot think logically in this condition, but what you can do is pour more gasoline onto the fire. That is to say, emotional thoughts that spur on the fear and the paranoia are let through, but thoughts that would make you stop and say "Oh yeah, that's right" are blocked. This is how a WIM could believe that gravity would stop working so the bad guy could still attack him. Until an outside source pointed out to him that gravity doesn't take coffee breaks, it seemed perfectly "logical" to him.

This is why we say: Imagination -- although a critical survival tool -- needs to be balanced with a firm understanding of reality in order to be useful.

Without this anchor in how things work, imagination spins off into la-la land. And the most insidious part of the process is that while tripping around in fantasy land, the person still believes that they are firmly rooted in reality. We'll give you the example of most so-called "reality based self-defense programs." Although they swear they're all about hard-core reality, those programs are the Disneyland of WIMs.
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Imagined vs. Real Danger
Violence is a crap shoot. And the absolute best you can do is stack the odds in your favor. But it is at this fork in the road that What-If-Monkeys split from rational threat assessment and planning.

Before we go any further, we'd like to tell you a story. Recently we got a phone call from a friend who was sitting in his car in a parking lot of a shopping center. We assume it was on the nicer side of town because we know where he lives and prefers to operate. He was waiting for his wife to finish her appointment and he called us on his cell phone. On the car seat next to him was a pistol, on his driver door consol was a knife and as he spoke, he was doing constant visual sweeps of the surrounding area. Putting it bluntly, this man was ready to kill someone if they attacked him.

Sounds kind of paranoid doesn't it?

Except for one thing. This man is not only retired military (having seen combat in three theaters of war), but he currently works as a psychiatric nurse in forensic max (the mental hospital for the most violent of the criminally insane). As such, he routinely has attempts on his life at work. We're not talking about being attacked by people who might be dangerous. If someone is in forensic max, they have a proven track record of homicide, kidnap and torture. These people truly are crazy and dangerous and he must constantly physically engage them.

Unfortunately because of a recent spat of escapes and budget mandated releases, there is a high likelihood of him running into someone who wants to kill him. To be more specific, not only who wants to kill him, but will attempt to do so if they find him. And since he is a resident near where these people are being released, there exists a strong possibility of an encounter. This isn't random, out of the blue violence either, it is very much personal. They want him dead. And outside of the institution, they are commonly armed with something better than the improvised weapons they can fashion inside.

Add to all of this an escaped inmate -- after committing some murders and rapes after escaping -- had been arrested in a bar not a 100 yards from where he was sitting. Was he looking for our friend? Maybe. There is a good chance that, knowing he would get caught, he wanted to even the score before going back to lockup. This isn't crazy as it seems. If you don't know exactly where someone is, you can often find them by waiting in an area where they are likely to show up. The escapee's presence in that part of town was a legitimate cause for concern.

In light of this very real danger, the measures this man takes are not unreasonable.

However, what about a bakery truck driver? Someone who makes a delivery to the supermarket in that shopping center. Is it reasonable for him to carry the same weapons and be on that level of alert?

No it's not. The driver does not have the factors in his life that would make for a viable threat. Crazed homicidal maniacs are not out specifically looking for him. And yet, with just a dash of imagination (unchecked by reality) it is easy for the bread guy to imagine psychos with Uzis waiting for him behind every corner. Realistically though, such a person is not likely to run across the dangers he imagines.

This is the fundamental flaw in the WIMs train of thinking. They are not in situations where they'd be running across the horrors they imagine. They are in fact, far more likely to die in car accidents, from food/drug allergies or being hit by lightening than they are from being attacked by a homicidal asylum escapee.

But let's scale that back a bit. Another worry of WIMs is the deadly streetfighter that they are constantly training to defeat. Are there people who are that good of fighters and that dangerous? Yes, but they don't normally waste their time looking for WIMs to do battle with. In short, and it may be a blow to the WIM's egos, but they are pretty much off these DANGEROUS dudes radars. Unless the WIM does something spectacularly stupid to attract such a person's attention, they are just background, color and noise to the heavy hitters.

But that doesn't prevent the WIM from preparing to do battle with these minions of the ultimate evil. Their imagination dreams up wild scenarios of carnage. No lie, we've seen a WIM ask a group of WSD instructors how to carry a gun into the shower with her. And yes, she was imagining what if she was attacked in the shower. What was even worse was the instructors were answering her question ...

Apparently, neither she nor they, ever thought about locking the door before getting into the shower.

What Are They Looking For?
Any psychologist will tell you that it is nearly impossible to definitively identify a motive for behaviors. That's because human emotions and motivations tend to be complex, multifaceted issues that have many subtle influences. You cannot make a concise statement of "This is what motivates these people" as people's motivations are incredibly wide and varied -- even within a specific group.

Having said that, we can talk about motivations in a more general fashion and in the context of trends. It is a factor that is present, but the question is how much and what are the mitigating factors? From dealing with WIMs around the world I have observed several consistent trends in their behavior.

    1) Most of them already have a preconceived notion about what they believe
       a) the problem is
       b) the solution is

These misconceptions are as often influenced by Hollywood as they are by limited experience and personal fixations. The exact mix of these is specific to the particular WIM. Now a practical person might ask "Since you know both the problem and the solution, why bother going to seminars/classes at all?" This brings up five more generalized motivations that are likely to be present.

    2) They're looking for confirmation of their preconceived notions/previous training

    3) They're looking for a means to resolve an inner conflict through training

    4) They're looking for permission

    5) They're looking to impress everyone with how much they know.

    6) This motivation we will discuss later.

Now each of these can be present, but again, you cannot definitively say that is what motivates a particular WIM. But let's look at them one at a time.

Quite often WIMs fixate on what they think will be the solution by seeking out specific training. Training that doesn't necessarily work in reality (2), but what it does do is reinforce their preconceived notions. This is confirmation in what they want to believe.

The significance of seeking confirmation cannot be understated. They WANT it to be about this. Almost as badly as they want this to be the solution. If they don't get this confirmation, then they are going to become upset. In these circumstances, quite often WIMs become disruptive with their questioning. They are actively seeking to find fault with what is being presented. This takes us close to the sixth motivation, but not exactly. In this stage they are becoming hostile and disruptive because you aren't telling them what they want to hear.

Understand that long before a WIM ever enters your school, he's been on a long quest seeking confirmation that he is right. If he does not get that confirmation, he will move on to another school/seminar/system. In fact, the best way to describe this pattern goes back to the son of a friend, named Brett. Brett had the worst luck of anyone I'd ever met. Despite being surrounded by some extremely competent people via his father's connections, bad things just seemed to plague this kid. This is strange because he asked for advice all the time. At first it was difficult to understand why until I was finally able to closely observe how this kid operated. It turns out that he wasn't asking advice, he was looking for benediction for what he wanted to do. His mind was already made up, but he lacked the courage to act on his own. If he asked 100 people, 99 would say not to do something. He, however, would keep on asking until he found that one person who said "Great idea." Armed with the answer that he wanted, he would do what 99 people had told him was a bad idea. Quite naturally, it would blow up in his face. WIMs have the same quest. They want confirmation that they are right. And if they are right, then that lines up points 3 and 4.

Recognize the behavior of WIMs may act-out through training or their pontifications on the internet, but that is not the motivation. In fact, what motivates them often has nothing to do with self-defense. Earlier we mentioned that they have an ugly cocktail of fear, anger, self-doubt, envy, ambition, stubbornness, imagination and refusal to engage in introspection. One of the most painful experiences a person can undergo is having an outlook on life that doesn't sync with how the world works. For example, we all go through this stage when we are teenagers. Where our expectations and attitudes begin to run headlong into adult-sized issues. Most people adapt. They do this by adjusting their attitudes and expectations of the world. However, the people who will go through life having the most trouble are the ones who refuse to let go of certain assumptions and beliefs.

This is point three, the attempting to resolve an inner conflict. For example, many WIMs want to be big dogs. In fact, they want to be the alphas of the pack. But the simple fact is, they just don't have what it takes to be leaders. But that doesn't stop them from believing that they should be. In a similar vein, these guys believe that they should be tough, but they simply lack the ability. They ferociously cling to the idea that this training will instill in them that attribute. In short, they believe their shame about not being a fighter, can be resolved through training. They don't ever go out and fight, but they are forever training to fight. This seriously skews their perspective on life. The WIMs greatest fear is that the world discovers what they think about themselves ... primarily that they are cowards.

As you may have guessed by now WIMs tend not to be happy or emotionally content people. In fact, they tend to have lots of pent up anger and hostility. But despite this chronic anger, they are afraid to act upon it. Whereas a truly violent person will physically assault someone when confronted, these individuals instead back down. However, this sticks in their craws. They will obsess on what they should have done, what they will do the next time create all kinds of excuses why they couldn't act and dwell on all kinds of violent fantasies. They may also engage in what is called "Kicking the cat." This is what happens when someone who feels himself picked on and unwilling to act against the source, turns his anger on a weaker third party and under conditions that it is safe to attack You can see this behavior on internet forums -- where the distance and anonymity of the internet -- allows for verbal attacks that have no danger of physical repercussions.

We tell you this to help you understand the fourth point, that of 'Looking for an excuse." Remember we mentioned how 27 Ninja Questions always escalate the use of force? Realize that WIMs know that violence is wrong, that is why they don't really do it. But they desperately want to unleash the rage, anger and bitterness of a lifetime of thinking themselves cowards. This brings us around to imagining situations where they have 'no choice" but to unleash their deadly fighting art. These are the fantasy scenarios their 27 Ninjas Questions cook up. In this fantastic scenario, -- because they are trapped by circumstances -- they cannot retreat. They are left with not choice but to kill. All the restrictions and social mores that keep them in check are suddenly stripped away and they have "permission" to seriously hurt or kill someone.

In shooting circles this is known as "Jes' itchin' to shoot someone." Such individuals are considered unstable and dangerous because all it takes is a trigger pull. However, that same attitude is not only often ignored in the martial arts, but in some cases actively encouraged. If not openly under the guise of "self-defense" then under the idea of being a "warrior."

Recognize that a What-If-Monkey that pesters the teacher with countless absurd questions will often turn around and present himself as an expert in the same field. This brings us to the fifth motivation of impressing everyone with their knowledge.

While it would seem to be pretty self-explanatory, we'd like to show how it ties in with the other points. First off, there is often the element of "Look how well informed I am to ask such intelligent questions about the subject." Granted this image of intelligence is pretty much self-ascribed. But the WIM honestly believes it is a valid and intelligent question. As such, he might be trying to impress the instructor and fellow students with his ability to find flaws with what is being taught. (Granted that strategy usually backfires by annoying the instructor and other students, but like we said, there's a reason these people are not accepted as leaders). While the bulk of students will try to subtly avoid this person, there are usually one or two others who will be naive enough to be impressed with the WIM's questions.

But where WIM's really display this behavior is on internet forums. There, usually surrounded by like minded people, they not only display for each other, but they desperately attempt to impress people who know less than themselves. It is not only the recognition and kudos that these people crave. Remember, down deep there is a horrible conflict between what they think of themselves, how the world should behave towards them and the way the world really works. And yes, people listening to them and ooohing and ahhhing over how much they 'know' about violence sooths that.

But even more important, is like fanatics everywhere, there is the desire to convert others to how they think. This is a mutation of the logical fallacy Ad Populum (appeal to the populace), except the person the What-If-Monkey is trying to convince is himself. If you look you can see the same thought process as a religious fanatic, who believes that systemic problems with culture/economics/lifestyle choices can be cured by everyone converting to the same faith as himself. If everyone believes what he believes, then he is "right" and the problem isn't with him or how he is doing things. This is why What-If-Monkeys are so often missionaries of misinformation regarding how violence "really" happens and what you need to do.

The simple fact is we live in a world where violence is generally frowned upon. Most people live non-violent lives and make choices that keep them far away from violence. While war makes for great history, it kind of interferes with people doing little things like producing food and doing work that allows for economic success. On a more personal scale, violence does this as well, but it also brands the violent person as unstable, untrustworthy and generally obnoxious. To an overwhelming number of people in society violence is a non-issue in their lives. Quite frankly, life is hard enough and they are too busy trying to get by to waste their time putting up with a violent person. As such, the bulk of society tends to shun such a person. Leaving that person to function in some isolated corner where he cannot do too much damage. (3)

For an overwhelming majority of the population a strategy of not fixating on violence, avoiding bad areas, and just trying to get along and live one's life ... works. It has a proven track record to keep them out of violent situations. However, despite the raging success of this strategy, those who have bought into the fantasies of violence refer to such people as "sheep" and look at them with contempt. Don't these fools realize the constant danger of Ninjas with Uzis?

However, it is this fixation with violence that causes normal people to put the What-If-Monkeys into the same category as the weirdo on the bus who wants to tell you about how the aliens transported the second shooter off the grassy knoll during the Kennedy assassination. WIMs obsession with violence makes people uncomfortable about dealing with them. While the WIM only sees the threat of being attacked, most people on the outside looking in, see an unstable mix of neurosis, paranoia, denial, obsession, fantasy and a desire to hurt someone.

Is it any wonder why these people are shunned by most of society as paranoid whack jobs? Unfortunately, instead of causing them to stop and reevaluate their decision making paradigms, most WIMs just climb deeper into their dysfunction; they become more and more convinced that the world is out to get them.
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Just Itchin' Revisited
Point four of the previous section dealt with WIMs seeking an excuse to become violent. We'd like to revisit the idea of "Just Itchin' to Shoot Someone" and go into a little more depth. Not only is this way of thinking dangerously unstable, but it has a lot to do with why WIMs are social outcasts. People don't trust them not to become violent. How is the average person to know that the WIM isn't going to go off the deep end? As such, why shouldn't they file him in a trashcan with the rest of the losers, crazies and violent?

A big part of the WIM fantasy is they want to find themselves in a situation where they would be justified in allowing the dam to burst and letting out all that stored hostility, anger and violence that they keep bottled up inside them. This is why, as an instructor, you must always be careful of people who are constantly trying to paint scenarios where they HAVE to fight!

This kind of What-If-Monkey is very common. The questions they ask always revolve around the inability to withdraw from a situation. "What if I can't run? What if I'm cornered? What if I am with my disabled grandmother, who is in a wheelchair? What if I am attacked by the Paraguay Olympic track and field team?" The imagination that these people come up with scenarios -- to give themselves permission to unleash their killer-kung-fu-commando-death-touch fighting style on a bad guy (who left them no choice but to unleash their inner demon) -- would be impressive, if it weren't for the motivation. They want to hurt someone -- usually in revenge for all the emotional pain and insecurity they've felt all their lives.

When it comes to physical violence, most of these people are like a hound sniffing around outside a bear's den. They smell something that they know they don't want to tangle with, but they just can't let it go. They won't do the smart thing and leave the area, but they just can't get enough courage up to go into that den and take on the bear. So instead they end up pacing around the entrance of the den, sniffing and growling to show themselves how tough they are; all the while really hoping that the bear doesn't come out. They know if that bear does come out, they're going to be in a world of trouble, but they just can't commit themselves to either going in or running away.

This however, does not stop them from engaging in all kinds of verbal and emotional violence. And while this is the kind of behavior that often leads to physical violence, it seems WIMs are incapable of consummating the process. They are forever stuck in a typhoon of emotions, conflict and verbal/emotional violence. Like drama queens theirs is a constant state of trauma-drama and being adrenalized by so-called "close calls." (4)

Where this becomes a problem is that such people aren't looking for a way to extract themselves from a potential situation. Nor, quite honestly, are they looking for a way to get along with their fellow man through negotiate, compromise and controlling their own behavior. In the more extreme cases, these people are actively hostile and aggressive, just waiting for someone to say something about their bad behavior so they can go off on -- what they perceive as -- an attacker. In truth, most of these conflicts are simply someone reacting negatively to the WIMs rude and obnoxious behavior, but to the revenge seeking WIM, it's just another example of the big bad world attacking him/her. This constant state of interpersonal conflict and lack of social graces is a major contributing factor of why WIMs are so often socially stunted and limited in career options.

But that is in their day-to-day lives. What happens if they finally find themselves in a physical altercation. Well, unfortunately that doesn't tend to work out to well either. Remember the "What if" questions these people ask are largely based in removing that nasty element of choice. All of a sudden, that quandary of "should I run away or stand and fight" is taken away and they have to unleash the dogs of war.

The problem with this mindset is that it can often create what we refer to as "rattlesnake cornered." Even as snakes go, the North American rattlesnake is not going to win any prizes for great IQ. One of a rattlesnake's less endearing traits is its ability to "get cornered" in an open field. While often they will slither away when something is approaching, just as often something goes click in the rattler's little pea-brain and convince the snake that it is cornered. This despite the fact that it is in the middle of a wide open field. When this happens, instead of fleeing, the snake takes a defensive posture with no option but to strike. While this results in a large number of snake bites across the North American continent, it also results in a high rattlesnake mortality rate. Instead of safely withdrawing, the snake strikes at someone or something that immediately kills it.

People who are seeking a justification to unleash their rage on someone often will put themselves into a situation where they are rattlesnake cornered. They could have withdrawn from a situation long before. But instead they choose to remain and allow the situation to develop to a possible violent conclusion. A conclusion where they have not choice but to lose control.

Or so they think.

The problem with this theory is that if the situation has degenerated that far, it doesn't matter if you lose control, you don't necessarily have control over the other guy. He may have made the conscious decision to be violent. No longer is the WIM in possible danger of violence, he's now in the middle of it.

Add to this, that apparently, the person who is thinking he has to lose control is under the impression that he can lose only enough control to allow himself to become violent, but not enough that he cannot perform. Think about that for a second ... he's far enough gone that he has to go berserk, but not so far gone that he forgets how to do all this killer-kung-fu-commando stuff?

There is a bit of a contradiction there.

One that will result in whatever ultimate fighting solution the WIM believes he knows failing miserably under fire. The main problem is remember how we mentioned that a Kung Fu Master has a different set of possibilities than an untrained fighter? Well the same goes for the caliber of "bad guy" that these guys imagine themselves heroically doing battle with. That caliber of bad guy isn't interested in 'fighting' at all, to him violence is a tool to achieve an end. And he is no more interested in using those tools in a stand up fight than a carpenter is interested in using his hammers to put on a juggling show. Whatever, ultimate solution the What-If-Monkey thinks he's got up his sleeve, an experienced opponent isn't going to give him a chance to use it. He's going to be too busy doing unto the What-If-Monkey.

A simple statement of fact is that WIMs are usually too busy asking what-if questions to really practice. As such they seldom if ever get around to ingraining the skillsets, reflexes and proper bodymechanics to be able to effectively perform under serious attack. (Either that or they've put their faith in gadgets and gizmos that are of limited value)

However, a far more likely occurrence will be the WIM going off on someone who is not a legitimate threat. Remember that excuse to go berserk? Ask yourself how often you've had to deal with a serial killer coming at you in a dark alley vs. how many times you've had a rude and obnoxious idiot make a big broo ha-ha over a small incident. Perhaps it was a fender bender where emotions were running high. It is these kind of situations where WIMs are most unstable and dangerous. The danger is not to the WIM, but to the other person. If the WIM feels threatened he's going to come uncorked on someone who probably wasn't that much of a threat.

This is why WIMs are such a problem to martial arts/self-defense instructors. Sure they are a pain in the butt in class, but there is an agenda behind all those What-If questions. We categorically recommend to instructors to be careful about falling into the trap these questions pose. Basically, what such a student is attempting to do is to get you to give him permission to use what you are showing on another human being. He wants you to tell him it is alright to go postal on someone. Now depending on what state you live (and teach in) there is the possibility of civil liability. If the WIM does go out and cut loose on someone -- after being rattlesnake cornered -- a savvy lawyer is going to be looking for the "deep pockets" in this situation. And his gaze is likely to fall on you and your school.

Remember we mentioned the kid Brett who was always looking for allies and permission for what he wanted to do? WIMs will try to use you the same way. Counter WIMs seeking allies by paying close attention to the legal requirements and consequences of use of force, then making sure that what you are teaching as " self-defense" conforms to those standards.
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When a WIM finds a home
Do you remember in the 'What are they Looking For' section we mention a sixth motivation? We said we'd discuss later. Now is the time to bring it up. This is a point that is pretty specific to instructors (although anyone who has ever been on the receiving end of a flame job on an internet forum has had a brush with it as well).

6) They're looking for ammunition to discredit you and/or plunder from your system

These people's nearly pathological fear of losing is also the source of their fanatical and rabid support of any system that they've convinced themselves has finally offered them guaranteed success. When this happens the motivations of the What-If-Monkey changes from a searcher for the ultimate fighting system to a true believer in a mass movement (Eric Hoffer The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movement). And now you're dealing with a fanatic who will do anything to protect his sacred source including pillage from and attack other ways of doing things.

This behavior is common among both MA Cult members and MA Pirates. They are lumped together because quite often these two work in tandem. This type of WIM attends training not only to rip off any good information the instructor has , but also to discredit him. Anything of value is pillaged, taken back to the True Believer's instructor and incorporated into that program. Then everything else and the seminar instructor is discredited. Usually this will occur later on the internet or back within the home organization (This is akin to sleeping with a woman and then telling all of your friends she's a whore for sleeping around).

This creates two conditions that are immediately recognizable if you know what to look for. And watch for them you need to ... because their presence indicates that something is amiss. First, anything that does work from the other system is responded to with a "We do that fact, we did it first!" In the more extreme cases, this will be bumped up to "they stole it from us."

The second will be an internet campaign of generalized "That instructor doesn't know shit" or "He's a fake" this is commonly accompanied by "I went to one of his seminars and his stuff didn't work!" The reason this is interesting is that no where does the speaker establish his own credibility. For all you know, despite all his talk about his fighting prowes the man can be so physically incompetent as to not be able to fight his way out of a wet kleenex. Recognize that while it is easy to say things with utter confidence and conviction, that has absolutely no bearing on the truth (5).

While the potential for internet smear campaigns among True Believers is nearly limitless, these people can also become disruptive in seminars/class. They will demand an inordinate amount of time and attention with their questions. Remember True Believers (nee WIMs) believe they have found confirmation for them being "right." Therefore, anything that doesn't agree with or challenges that sacred status will be questioned, attacked and derided.

In less obnoxious cases like this, the WIMs commonly keep on asking about things that they feel you are leaving out. If it is important to them, then it should be important to you as well. This despite the fact that, quite often, the questions they are asking are not germane to the topic at hand.

In more obnoxious cases the 27 Ninjas Questions are designed to trip you up and discredit you. If you cannot reasonably answer an unreasonable question, then the True Believe feels he has shown you to be a fraud. Unfortunately people who don't know any better often assume that the WIM is asking a legitimate question. As we recommended earlier, counter WIMs seeking allies by paying close attention to the legal requirements and consequences of use of force, then making sure that what you are teaching as " self-defense" conforms to those standards. If it is a stylistic issue (as in this is how the style does something) do not allow yourself to be drawn off into a discussion about "what happens in a real streetfight and how this move won't work in one."

Now quite often in cases like this, the WIM adapts a tactic where he will proceed to demonstrate his style's superiority. Either by abusing fellow seminar students by doing moves from his style instead of what is being taught, countering the other student's attempt to learn and execute the move. In cases like this you must be able to clearly identify what the individual is doing to counter the move's execution. Call the troublemaker on exactly what he is doing and why such a counter only works against someone who is trying to learn the move.

A subcategory of this is a person who either constantly questions moves from his previous style's perspective or performs the moves according to that system. First let us start with the fact: How it is done in another style is not important, what is important is how it is being demonstrated in this seminar. Second, and the reason that this is relevant to WIMs is that they commonly attempt to do the move with their old style of movement. A movement style that creates a different set of physics. Physics that don't work with the techniques being shown! A large proportion of the "What if it doesn't work?" questioning arise from the fact that the WIM is failing to meet the standards of effective movement because of his previous training. He's automatically moving this way, when he should be consciously moving that way. His ingrained bodymovement is destroying the moves effectiveness because it is not allowing him to meet the standards of the move.

Here again we come back to the difference between doing a move "right" or doing a move to effective standards. Quite often the attacks on different instructors and styles are vague and personal. The WIM turned critic cannot specifically list the component parts that were flawed in regard to the presented information. If it really doesn't work, then the critic should be able to specifically identify the reasons it doesn't work. What are the functional standards that the move failed to meet and why didn't it meet them?

This is the difference between critiquing and criticizing. A critique can list what is wrong with something because of A, B, C and D. These are legitimate issues that need to be addressed. Someone who is criticizing, however, is not interested in legitimate critique and is instead, expressing an agenda. As such, the condemnation of someone who is criticizing will be both vague and personal.

In countering such charges, you must be able to precise with what the other person is doing. Whether that be via logical fallacies or poor execution of a move you teach that he claims doesn't work. As we often say "Stupidity makes great sound bite. Truth, however, is a lot more pedantic."
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Fear Management vs. Danger Management
There is an important distinction between training that makes you feel better and training that actually keeps you safe -- if you apply it.

Unfortunately, WIMs and their agendas have negatively influenced the quality of many training programs. Basically they demand that instructors teach what they want to learn regarding self-defense. This isn't customer satisfaction, it's like demanding a chemistry professor teach you alchemy AS chemistry (the problem is alchemy doesn't actually work). We refer to this resulting programs as Fear vs. Danger Management.

And WIMs just love Fear programs.

In Conclusion
No matter what their motivations, What-If-Monkeys can be a problem for both instructors and fellow students. But before you blame the WIMs for being troublemakers you had better make sure that you are not giving them legitimate grounds for questioning what it is you are teaching.

In this regard, the WIMs do serve a useful purpose. In as much as they can help you figure out if what you are teaching can and does meet the standards of effective movement. If it doesn't, then it is time to go back to the fundamentals and see what went wrong. Use them to learn how to better communicate and teach the fundamentals that must be present in order for a move to work.

Having said that, you also need to realize that there are some people who will never be satisfied until they are told what they want to hear. Such people are not looking to learn what you have to teach, they are more egocentric based. It is about them being proven right in their assessment of both the problem and their preferred solution.

This page is by and large designed to help instructors understand WIMs and come up with ways to counter them. WIMs are like problem students in the classroom, they take time away from other students by their incessant demands and bad behavior. As an instructor it is your responsibility to teach everyone, not just focus on a few troublemakers. Hopefully with the explanations presented here, you can come up with some effective strategies for shutting them down in both schools and seminars.

The second intent of this page is to help those who are students (or interested in learning about self-defense) see through the dust that WIMs kick up on this subject.

If you are not aware that effectiveness is based on meeting standards, rather than attitude, physical fitness, who your instructor is or what style you know, it is easy to distracted by the constant chattering of the "What-If-Monkeys" -- especially if they have found their guru. In the latter situation, a significant part of their chatter is less about finding what works than it is advertisement for their instructor/style...both by building theirs up and tearing others down.

If, as a student, you don't wish to be branded a What If Monkey, learn to ask legitimate questions instead of vague, ill-defined ones. An old scientific maxim is: You can't get accurate answers until you ask accurate questions.

Instead of asking, what if this doesn't work, learn to ask, what are the components that make this work? A good instructor who --
a) knows his stuff and
b) who is teaching something that works
 -- will be able to tell you. Furthermore, he'll be able to give you clearly defined standards that you must meet in order for the move to work.

If he can't or won't, then something is wrong. And don't be mislead by him changing the subject about lineage, tradition, advanced teaching or how you are doing the move wrong in some vague or unspecified way. The move needs to work as advertised. (Granted, you need to be careful not to mistake an explanation/demonstration of the component parts as the whole. Parts seldom work as well as the combined whole). If the formula works, the formula works. If it doesn't -- and you are doing all the component parts -- then something is wrong with the formula.

If this is the case, then you might want to consider changing schools or clarify your training goals.


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1 ) This seems like a reasonable question to the WIM because standing there in training, watching the move being executed slowly and -- usually broken apart for teaching -- what he is seeing isn't the full execution of the move. As such there are windows of opportunity where a counter can be applied. What he is NOT seeing is the move being executed at speed and en todo. In those circumstances the so-called opening he 'thinks' he sees is much, much smaller -- if not non-existent. Also standing there knowing what the move will be, it is easy to counter because he expects it (which is often how he will fudge the move if you try to demonstrate it on him). However he would find it more difficult to counter if you kicked him in the nuts first and then executed the technique. Return to Text

2) By the term reality, we don't just mean in the physical altercation itself. We're also talking about the pre-fight conditions and the aftermath as well. People who are experienced with violence -- as opposed to those who mistake training for experience -- understand that these pre and post issues are very much a part of "reality." They are critical components of both success and failure and must be managed. Unfortunately, most training does not address these issues, therefore the student is not prepared for "reality" -- no matter how much he may believe he is. Return to Text

3) Are there areas where violent and dysfunctional people flourish? Yes there are. In fact, it can be pretty well demographically shown that certain areas are more dangerous than others. An overwhelming majority of violence occurs in those areas and if you spend significant amounts of time there, then you drastically increase your chances of it happening to you. However, notice the economic conditions of those areas. While one ideology would have you believe that poverty, et all causes violence, it can also be argued that violent, unstable people do not make sound financial and career decisions. These areas however can be -- and are -- easily avoided. Return to Text

4) This point is of special note. Speaking as someone who's job it was to use force to prevent violence and also, as one who grew up fighting in a violent neighborhood, I can say: Violence isn't that hard to get involved in. In fact, it's pretty easy. Being in a bad area, having a bad attitude and at a bad time is a pretty much a sure-fire way to make something go down. This is why despite always flitting around the edges of it, the WIMs ability to avoid physical violence is so interesting. Putting it in sales terminology, it seems WIMs are always about selling the sizzle, not the steak. They aren't about the act, they are about the rush -- without the act. Go to internet forums and look for this ratio; Lurid tales of near-misses with violence and their bravery in light of the potential danger FAR outnumber stories of actual physical engagements. Kudos and the "ooh/aah! factor" is given for how dangerous it could have been. It is almost as if "being ready for violence" is more important than being effective during violence. Return to Text

5) Especially when it comes internet forums, we heartily recommend you acquaint yourself with different types of logical fallacies (tricks, lies and distractions commonly used in arguments). While logical fallacies are often used to win arguments and manipulate public opinion, they don't prove truth. In fact, they obscure it -- usually to intentionally confuse, hide or distract you from the fact that the speaker isn't that credible or knowledgeable. This knowledge will help you spot spin and agenda in daily life -- such as with the media, editorializing and blogging -- which, because it is done by professionals, can be harder to spot. It is here that internet self-defense forums actually are of use. Because the arguments of most 'True Believers' (nee WIMs) are not only stereotypical logical fallacies -- but clumsy and crude examples -- you can use their posts to train yourself to spot spin and deception. You can use them as a kind of a "Logical Fallacies for Dummies" introduction. In fact, if instead of watching TV one evening, you want to play a game, go to the Nizkor Project Webpage and read the list of logical fallacies. Then open a second browser window on a self-defense forum thread and try and guess which type of logical fallacy a person is using. In some of the better threads you'll get several in the same post. It's kind of like doing an interactive crossword puzzle. Return to Text

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