Nobody likes being hit in the face, and I’m no exception.

When I first started training Muay Thai I got hit quite a lot.

And I really hated it.

So, I developed a strategy when faced with incoming head punches that I would turtle up, keeping my hands close to my head and back away, trying to protect my face.

Muay Thai stance

I would peek out waiting for the moment my opponent left a gap and then open up to retalitate.

This worked for a while… kind of…

But then one day my coach beckoned me over in front of the whole class.

Now you have to understand, my coach was a fearsome character.

7x world champion and seasoned Muay Thai veteran, now he was in his early 50s with only one tooth left. He didn’t take any shit and had a foul temper. If you got on his bad side he’d give you a savage taste of his iron shins straight into your leg.

He was not the kind of guy you fucked with.

I was rightfully apprehensive as he squared off against me, indicating that I put my hands up ready to spar.

Suddenly he leaped forwards and his fist came crashing straight into my nose.

I staggered and stepped back, but he instantly filled the gap and kept coming. Fists rained into my field of vision from all angles.

I raised my hands to protect my face, still trying to recover. Peeking out, I saw that there was no space to make a counter punch. So I stepped back again and tightened up.

Immediately I took a sickening gut punch that doubled me over gasping for air.

I stayed bent over for a split second too long and my vision exploded into stars.

I’d just taken a knee to the face.

This was serious. My nose was bleeding, my head was ringing and I hardly knew where I was.

And still the blows came.

Usually my opponent would let up at this point. But not my coach.

Relentlessly, he continued the furious onslaught without a single break. He was out for blood.

Through the ringing in my ears I somehow managed to hear his voice, angry and distant.

“Fight back, Sam! Hit me!”

His fists were moving so fast I could barely see them.

And, in that moment, in a confused delirium of pain, with absolutely nowhere to turn, suddenly I was hit with the realisation.

In a sudden flash everything became clear.

I’d been relying on my opponent’s mercy to save me. But there’s no room for that in a real fight.

Understanding flooded through my body.

This time, NOBODY was coming to save me.

If I didn’t do anything, he was going to continue this onslaught unabated until I was hospitalised.

I knew to my bones that there was only one way out of this tunnel of pain.

It was time to put up or shut up. I had to fight my way out.

So I opened up, and immediately took a blast to the face but I didn’t feel it. I was ready to kill.

My coach was a wily old fox but I had one advantage: I was young and powerful.

I became a man possessed as I screamed and felt my body become a savage punching machine.

I would break out of this situation through sheer energy.

I lashed out from every angle, suddenly careless of the blows landing on my body. I had about 20 seconds of this energy in me but that was all I needed.

My coach stopped punching out as he put his hands up to protect his own face.

And, unbelievably, now I had HIM on the back foot.

I landed a solid gut shot and saw his eyes widen.

I had him on the defensive now. Step by step he backed up until he was against the cage.

Then he called time.

As he calmly dismissed me and turned back to face the class again, I saw a twinkle in his eye. I knew I’d got him. He knew he’d gotten through to me.

From then on, every time I felt the urge to turtle up under an onslaught of blows, I flipped it around and got aggressive instead.

My coach taught me a valuable lesson that day.

He taught me that the best defence is a strong offence.

I learned that you don’t need a perfect attack, you just need an energetic attack - one that’s gonna distract your opponent enough to allow you to get some real shots in.

Defensive thinking didn’t work for the French in WW2 and it won’t work for your career either.

Make no mistake about it, every single day you wake up you are going into battle.

If you’re in denial about this, you’re losing.

Let me be very clear on this:

You can’t opt out of the game

Women seem to “get” this better than men do. You can tell because most women put on warpaint (makeup) without fail, every. single. day.

They understand that you can’t check out of the game, you have to play.

Defensive thinking is how people get taken by surprise. A lot of men seem to have missed the memo on this one.

Example 1

A classic example is the man who becomes lazy in his relationship.

He has found the perfect girl and everything is going well. He stops taking care of himself so much, stops going to the gym, stops flirting with other women. I mean, why bother, he’s already won the game, right?

Maybe he gets a little out of shape and puts on a bit of a belly. He spends a little more time drinking beer in front of the TV instead of working out like he used to.

Then one day he comes home to find his wife cheating on him with the poolboy and a fresh set of divorce papers shoved in front of his nose.

He failed to realise that you don’t get to opt out of the game.

Often these men are left tragically confused and surprised. He “never saw it coming”.

The truth is, the warning signs had been there for months or even years. They were ignored by a man desperately trying to preserve a failing relationship instead of looking inwards and realising that he needs to do the work on himself in order to become more valued.

He was playing defence instead of attack.

It was already too late by the time the inevitable blowup happened.

And what’s worse, he has now drifted so far from the true north of being a valuable, attractive man that his chances in the hyper-competitive modern dating market are slim-to-none.

Example 2

Another example is the “lifer” employee.

Everyone knows someone like this. They’ve been at the company for as long as anyone can remember. They take legal steps and game the system to make sure they can’t ever be fired, then pass each day in an unaware cloud of unproductive lethargy.

They got the job already, so now they can just relax and defend their position, right?

Until one day the company needs to cut some costs and they find a security guard waiting at their desk with a cardboard box, ready to escort them from the building.

“It’s not fair! I never saw it coming!”

Bullshit. They saw, they just didn’t want to believe, and now they are paying the price for their lack of initiative.

Their skills may have had value once, when they got hired. But years of playing defence have left them with no good options once the hammer came down.

In summary, the tighter you curl up in your defensive ball, the harder you eventually get rekt.

The correct play is to relentlessly stack advantages instead.

You just landed your dream job?

Great!

Start interviewing for your next job and building out a side business the very next day.

Keep lady luck on the back foot constantly.

This is the only way that works.

The way of always moving forward.

The irony of course is that living life on attack mode with naked aggression leads to far more security and stability than turtling up and seeking “security” which is largely an illusion.

I’ll deliberately take higher rates with less job security any day of the week.

Why? Because I want to know that I’ll get cut immediately for underperformance.

This keeps me sharp. It keeps me focused.

Just like when I sparred with my coach, it gets me as close to the raw truth as possible.

And it means that in the unlikely scenario I ever do get cut, I’ll have another gig lined up the very next day because I was ready for it, marketed myself effectively, and kept my skills current.

Constrast that to the alternate approach, where you keep your head down and shoot for “job security”.

Underperform long enough, and the company will find a way to get rid of you.

And now you’re really screwed because all you managed to do was insulate yourself from reality as your market value dwindled and your marketable public image slid quietly into obscurity.

Lady Luck despises the man who turtles up and seeks escape from the onslaught.

She favours the man who embraces it, runs towards the pain and chooses to live life on attack mode.


Thanks to Nigel Clifford, Marcel Cutts and Matt Tait for reading drafts of this.