Aggression: Tapping It, Controlling It, Using It

self defenseIn our society, aggression is not really prized as one of the more noble qualities in the human race, yet it exists and has existed since we started living and breathing on this planet. It has fuelled countless wars amongst us, both on a massive scale and also on a smaller, more interpersonal one. Most people don’t like aggression in any of its forms, yet it is always there in all of us, ready to be used at any time.

Aggression is a form of energy, and like any energy, it is neither positive nor negative. All energy is neutral. Only our actions can be judged positive or negative. It is up to you to use the energy you have in the most responsible way you can.

So aggression is neither to be feared nor frowned upon. It is merely energy that you can use to help manifest your desires. If you decide to use that energy to unjustifiably hurt another human being, then that it is up to you. That’s on you. You may have used aggression to help you hurt that person, but aggression did not create the desire to do so in the first place.

You cannot blame your aggression when you cross the line. The blame lies with you for not being able to control it.

Aggression can be used in a very positive sense, especially when it comes to self protection. In a physical altercation, aggression, properly used, is one the most powerful weapons you have at your disposal. It cannot be underestimated how powerful an energy source aggression can be. To put it mildly, it can really pull you out of hole.


What Is Aggression Exactly?

Wikipedia defines aggression in the following way:

“Aggression, in its broadest sense, is behavior, or a disposition, that is forceful, hostile or attacking. It may occur either in retaliation or without provocation. In narrower definitions that are used in social sciences and behavioral sciences, aggression is an intention to cause harm or an act intended to increase relative social dominance. Predatory or defensive behavior between members of different species may not be considered aggression in the same sense. Aggression can take a variety of forms and can be physical or be communicated verbally or non-verbally.”

There can be a number of causes to this behaviour. One theory suggests that aggression is biological, that it is built into us a species, similar to the hunger and sex drives. There may be truth in this, given how much aggressive drive and behaviour has shaped human history, and how aggression seems to exist just as prevalently in the animal kingdom as it does in the human one.

The theory also suggests that this biological drive causes a build-up of energy in us that can only be released by “catharsis”, or a release of emotional tension. Again, this release can result in either negative (hurting someone) or positive (channelled) action.

Other theories on aggression suggest that it is more of a learned response, more so than a biological one. We learn to be aggressive by watching others be aggressive, and if this aggressive behaviour results in a reward of some kind, then we adopt it even more. This is part of our social conditioning to a large extent. If the environment we grow up in is a particularly aggressive one, then we will naturally learn to use aggression to ir own ends, especially against those who are less familiar with aggression.

Another theory, called Negative Affect Theory, proposes that negative feelings and experiences are the main cause of anger and angry aggression. Sources of that behaviour may include pain, frustration, crowding, sadness or depression. Thus we may walk around taking our aggression on other people, as a means of directing the bad feeling away from ourselves. It is also the cause of much of the violence in our society, as we displace our aggression on to one another.

The truth about aggression is wrapped up within all of these theories however. Aggression cannot be narrowed down to a single point of origin. It may be there on a biological level to begin with, but we also learn to use our aggression by watching others do it, and we also fall victim to feelings of angry aggression due to negative thought processes and negative behaviour patterns.


Finding Your Aggression

In a self protection context, learning to use your aggression is an essential key to success. Most people can find the aggression within themselves quite easily, but a surprising number of people cannot. It always interests me when I first take a new student, to see how easily they can rouse the aggression within themselves. Some people really struggle with it.

Being able to tap into and use your aggression, turning it on and off at will, is a skill like any other, and like any skill, it takes a bit of time to master. It’s just one of those things that is cultivated through the right training over a long period of time.

In a more immediate sense however, there are things you can do, physical and mental drills, that will help facilitate the longer term process.

In a mental sense, you can start by thinking of things that will naturally arouse your sense of aggression, things that may make you angry even. This kind of thinking will drag the raw aggression to the surface so you can start to work with it and get a feel for it. Notice how it makes you feel in every sense, and try to feel the energising power of it. You can also take this a stage further by doing focused visualisation drills.

Now you can do some physical drills, a good one being what I call simply the aggression drill, where you stand in front of a heavy bag or pad and a partner holds you around the waist. On the go signal you lay into the bag or pad with everything you’ve got while the person holding you around your waist adds resistance by puling you backwards, forcing you into really driving forward. The only way you will reach the bag or pad and hit with power is if you use aggression to fuel your actions.

Here’s Iain Abernethy doing a similar drill.

And here’s Steve Morris doing demonstrating his High Intensity Impression drill, which is also designed to bring out aggression.

Practicing drills like these will help bring out your aggression if you struggle bringing it to the surface. After a while you won’t really need the drills, because you should be able to summon your aggression up at will.


Controlling And Using Aggression

Being able to tap into your aggression is all well and good, but if you don’t know how to control and channel that energy it can feel a little like you’re a trainee Ghostbuster who’s just wielded a Proton Pack for the first time–it can be hard to control the stream.

"I can't control it!"

“I can’t control it!”

To properly control and channel aggression you must become adept at switching it on and off at will so that you have complete control over it, no matter your physical or mental state.

Remember: aggression is just a form of energy. Certain mental and physical states are just ways to initially find your way to that source of energy. Once you can tap the source without the need for catalysts, you will gain instant access to it at any time. And like everything, the more you use this ability, the stronger and more powerful it gets.

Uncontrolled aggression is not really what you are after in a self protection context (nor indeed, in any fight context) simply because it will largely control you and dictate your behaviour and actions, instead of the other easy around.

Many SP instructors can be heard telling their students to tap into their inner animal and go fucking nuts in a self defence situation, but to me, this is just too over-simplistic to be of any real use to you. Going apeshit in a fight may win you the fight, but it may also make you take things too far, to your detriment. Skill would also go out the window to a great extent, making you vulnerable to some who knows how to fight.

Fair enough if your back is really up against the wall and you need that added energy you get from getting really mad to get you out of trouble, but that’s it. In the main, relinquishing control to your inner animal isn’t a good idea in a lot of cases.

I’ve seen the red mist come down over a lot of people and it usually aint pretty to watch. It’s also hard to come down from if rage or extreme anger is the driving force behind the aggression. It inevitably gets displaced everywhere.

Cold and controlled aggression is much easier to work with. In this case, the energy is tightly focused and contained, directed only at the threat before you and used in a fairly controlled manner (I say fairly because a lot of time you can’t help loosing your temper in a fight–you’re being hit after all!).

Controlled aggression is a powerful force indeed, and it will make whatever strike you do very powerful also. The trick is channelling your aggression into your movements, something that will only come with deep practice over time.

You must get a deep kinaesthetic sense of your aggression, of how it feels in your body and mind. It is that kinaesthetic representation that you want to create before you strike. Through continued practice you are essentially anchoring that feeling and/or visual representation every time you draw upon your reserves of aggression. This anchor will then be used to trigger your explosive action each time.

The bigger the jolt of aggressive energy you can generate, the more explosive and the more powerful your strikes will be.

On top of this, you must also be conditioned enough, in a physical sense, to sustain this aggression over time. The more aggressive you are, the more energy you will burn and the more lactic acid you will build up in your muscles. You must therefore work on increasing the threshold of your lactic acid system through continued physical conditioning exercises.

The energy of cold aggression will also affect your mindset. It will make you naturally more inclined to press forward and attack your attacker. Sustained, controlled aggression can help you overcome even the most difficult of opponents. It definitely won’t make you unbeatable or any such nonsense, but it will make you a force to be reckoned with. Whether that force is enough to overcome your circumstances is another matter entirely, and will depend on your skill as a fighter, the extent of the danger you are facing and a large dose of luck as well.

Like I often say, there are no magical solutions in self defence and aggression is no magical solution either. It is just another tool to help stack the odds in your favour.


Beyond Self Protection

In a personal development sense, it doesn’t hurt to learn to cultivate your aggression and channel it into the pursuit of your goals in life. I’m not saying you have to turn into some arrogant corporate go-getter, but to go after your goals with verve and aggressively follow up on whatever opportunities come your way.

When times get tough, as they inevitably will in the pursuit of anything worthwhile in life, and you are met with seemingly insurmountable obstacles, channelled aggression can really help you get fired up enough that you will be able to overcome whatever blocks to your advancement that come up.

Aggression is an energy source, and a powerful one at that. You would do well to learn to tap into that energy source and to further use it in any positive way you can, be it either in protecting yourself from harm from others, or in blazing a path through life.


3 Responses to “Aggression: Tapping It, Controlling It, Using It”

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  1. Zara says:

    I certainly agree aggression and violence in themselves are morally neutral and it depends on the circumstances whether they’re wrong or right: no-one in his right mind will claim the destruction and death wrought on nazi-Germany and Japan during WW2 was somehow immoral, quite on the contrary. Evil, in whatever form it manifests itself, should always and everywhere be opposed.

    I wouldn’t say aggression is needed in order to build a succesful life however (outside of self-defence or the defence of innocents): aggression is in essence violence and even if you’re opposed to another party (for example in business or sports) you surely don’t want to harm anybody, you just want to succeed and reach your own goal. In the second case I’d rather call it ambition and the will to succeed rather than aggression.

    In SD blind aggression usually isn’t the way to go: of course some people will be so intimated they’ll just give up but on the whole I’d say it negatively affects your ability to fight effectively and, as you mentioned, it could land you in hot water with the law it you allow it to completely override your common-sense and decency. There really is no excuse to continue kicking or hitting someone who’s no longer a threat to you and your first priority in SD is not inflicting the maximum amount of damage to the opponent (destroying him) but to be able to escape safely. Of course there are circumstances where you’ll need to employ deadly force in order to save your own skin but in that case his death is still not the goal of your actions but a consequence of his evil, selfish and violent behaviour. A man who threatens the lives of others has basically forfeited his own.

  2. Neal Martin says:

    When I say be aggressive in going after your goals, I just mean that you should do so with gusto and be proactive about things. Just as you apply forward pressure against an attacker you would do the same in life, forging ahead, overcoming obstacles etc. It doesn’t mean you have to ride roughshod over everybody else in the process. It’s just about having a little fire in your belly to propel you forward.

  3. Robert says:


    Thank you for this article. Great advice in it. I’ll be using this to make my SP training more real.

    All good wishes,


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