Posted by: B Gourley | September 28, 2010

The Human Fighting Machine

People are, in a number of ways, optimized for fighting. Bipedalism is perhaps the most readily notable evolutionary advantage of the human physical form for combat. Bipedalism (in conjunction with the opposable thumb) allows our species to run like hell, jink, and still jab out with a weapon. Bipedalism also gives humans an orientation and a kind of mobility that makes it harder to take a person’s back. An enemy who can get control of one’s back is relatively invulnerable to the weapons of (and wielded by) our limbs while the attacker goes after the throat or other soft spots.

The flip side is that our “soft underbelly” is not really an “underbelly”, but rather is exposed to the enemy. Of course, we can use our upper limbs to defend these soft targets. The other vulnerability of bipedalism is a human’s relatively easy capacity to be made unbalanced. While cows may be the most famous species for being tipped over, humans are uniquely vulnerable to this form of attack.

The human mind also offers some advantages, as well as vulnerabilities. Humans are exceedingly good at pattern recognition, so much so that we often see patterns in randomness (Madonna in a tortilla). This gives mankind a powerful capacity to rapidly recognize friend from foe, which comes in handy in the domain of combat where decisions must be made at the speed of instinct. The human capacity to think through strategic calculations with great swiftness, in great depth, and with sophistication is, in one sense, an advantage. At the strategic level it becomes quite a game-changer.

On the other hand, human cerebral capacity also creates a great vulnerability. One cannot consciously think through responses in close-quarters combat, and attempting to do so can cause one to become paralyzed in processing.  This is presumably why modes of thought (Zen Buddhism and Taoism) that emphasize the value of quieting the mind are so integral to the martial arts of  East Asia that we know so well.


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