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Self-Defense Readiness Test: See If You’d Be Prepared Mentally and Physically

Preparation is no guarantee of survival, but few doubt that the odds of prevailing in any stressful situation increase for the prepared person. See how you rate on a self-defense readiness test.

self-defense readiness test
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Recall the words of Louis Pasteur: “Chance favors the prepared mind.”

I agree with that quote, but when it comes to martial arts, I think it’s only part of the picture. Here’s an example of what I mean: We all know that in addition to having a prepared mind, our quest for self-defense readiness should include having good health. That’s achieved by moderating our food intake, choosing meals that are more wise than not, and getting in a good level of physical activity that strengthens the myriad physical processes that make up our bodies. These choices go a long way toward making our day less grumbling and, in hard times, making us more capable.

So let’s expand on Pasteur’s wisdom: Skills and drills favor the individual whose mind has been prepared. In line with this expanded foundation of preparedness, I will offer a basic battery of self-assessment questions as food for thought. I’m not declaring that this list of skills is the list. I’m merely suggesting it as a series of prompts that might provoke the person who has never given much thought to readiness to evaluate his or her training.

If you decide to undertake any of the tests outlined below, give yourself one point for each success. If you fail in a test, give yourself a half point for at least trying. If you do not perform any tests or skip a test — even if you know in your heart that you could do it — give yourself a big fat zero because maybe, just maybe, that “prepared mind” assumes something that the body really can’t deliver. And even if you know your body could deliver and you don’t do it anyway, well, maybe the body could deliver but the grit cannot.

Rather than use an artificial construct such as BMI (body mass index), a sport-specific definition or a military test designed for the missions undertaken by a given unit, I prefer to start with the definition of physical preparedness provided by turn-of-the-century strongman Earle Liederman in his book Endurance. Despite his own physical specialization, he allows us to see the wisdom of a good overall base that requires no herculean effort: “Every man should be able to save his own life. He should be able to swim far enough, run fast and long enough to save his life in case of emergency and necessity. He also should be able to chin himself a reasonable number of times, as well as to dip a number of times, and he should be able to jump a reasonable height and distance.”

Here we go with Liederman’s list! Remember to give yourself one point for each test

you complete successfully.

“A man should be able to:”

“Swim at least half a mile or more.”

“Run at top speed 200 yards or more.”

“Jump over obstacles higher than his waist.”

“Pull his body upward by the strength of his arms until his chin touches his hands, at least 15 to 20 times.”

“Dip between parallel bars or between two chairs at least 25 times or more.”

“If he can accomplish these things, he need have no fear concerning the safety of his life should he be forced into an emergency from which he alone may be able to save himself.”

Allow me to add a few other potentially useful factors to Liederman’s guidelines. 

Assistance Loads

• In an emergency, you may be required to move a heavy object. Can you drag a 100- pound sandbag 50 yards in less than 30 seconds? (Make your drag weight mimic a human body’s resistance. Seldom do fallen companions come with the smooth runners you find on the bottom of a weight sled.)

• Can you buddy-carry another human being at least 25 yards? (If you are small in stature, no worries on this test. But give yourself two points if you can perform the next one. It provides a benchmark for the grit required to stretcher-carry with a team or carry-support a small child out of danger.)

• Can you carry a 45-pound weight 1 mile in less than 12 minutes without putting it down? (The weight can be a barbell plate or a kettlebell, but I’m a fan of using an empty Olympic bar — anything that requires you to carry it and not merely distribute it comfortably as in a rucksack or weight vest.)

• Can you hold your breath comfortably for one minute with only a five-second preparation time? (When a car plunges over the guardrail on a bridge or a loved one goes beneath the surface of a lake, your desire to go to your calm free-diver happy place will not exist. Immediate action will be necessary.)

Underwater Swimming and/or Walking Apnea Test

You’re unlikely to require that emergency breath-hold in absence of activity. Sitting calmly, holding your breath while watching the seconds tick by is one thing; holding your breath while executing a task is another. Choose one of the following. BTW, if you can’t pass the Liederman swim test, it’s safe to assume that you won’t do well here.

• Can you swim 25 yards underwater?

• Can you take the aforementioned five-second breath preparation and walk at a

moderate pace for 50 yards without taking another breath?

Best While Un-Best

• Do you partake of any substances to a degree that would impinge your cognitive or physical performance? Yes, we all like to unwind. However, we must acknowledge that when the feces meets the oscillating blades, it seldom says, “Is now not a good time? I’ll come back when the party is over.”

Grit Tests

The following are grit tests. That means that while they pertain to the body, they are tests of resolve rather than tests of physical prowess.

• Can you stand in the full spray of your shower turned to its coldest for 60 seconds?

• Can you fast for an entire day (water is permitted) while resisting the temptation to indulge in your favorite foods (which you have cruelly positioned in plain sight)?

• Can you for three days straight set your alarm for 3:08 a.m. (or whatever time fits into your schedule), wake up immediately (no snooze button), get on your feet, and remain standing or walking around for 15 minutes? No texting, phone checking or reading is permitted. It’s just you facing the prospect of waking up in the middle of the night and simply being up. Curiously, our research revealed that this is a test that even the most rock-solid hate completing — which means it must be important.

• Named after one of the sages of stoicism, the Epictetus Day tests your tight-lipped grit. Can you, for one day, place a pebble in one shoe so that you feel its uncomfortable dig with each step? Go about your day, and if at any point the pebble shifts to a more comfortable position, adjust it to one that’s less than fun.

Do not complain to yourself or to anyone else. Know that this test might elicit an occasional wince.

A companion could ask, “Is there something wrong?” You might say, honestly, “Oh, I have a rock in my shoe.”

“Why don’t you take it out?”

Simply reply, “I like it.” No other explanation is allowed. Enjoy yourself.

Mark Hatmaker’s website is

This article originally appeared in a 2020 edition of Black Belt Magazine.

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