We have been conditioned to believe that all real warriors have chiseled appearances and look like they live in the gym. Sly Stallone’s Rocky and all his opponents in the movies, real-life championship boxers and certainly a majority of MMA fighters look like physical specimens. How else could they stand the test of combat unless they worked out incessantly, and achieved lean and rock-hard physical dimensions.

I offer into evidence, the above photo of Fedor Emelianenko. To the uninitiated,

Fedor looks like someone who works at your local Stop & Shop meat department, or maybe like your best friend’s uncle who is a tax attorney. He is soft, round and truly an unlikely veteran of the ring and cage. Undefeated MMA champion for almost 10 years? Possessor of devastating punching power responsible for countless one-punch knockouts? I would not hesitate to say he is the unlikely poster child.

I write all this not in an attempt to disrespect King Fedor, but to underscore an important point in self defense; appearances can be very deceiving.

How a person chooses to sculpt his or her body has little to do with punching ability, footwork, speed, flexibility or the outcome of a fight. I have met many people who are unimposing physically, understated verbally, yet are literally lethal weapons.

One of my favorite stories that illustrates this is when a good friend of mine was on hishoneymoon in Jamaica. I will call him Steve for purposes of privacy. Steve was out with his newlywed wife and another couple at a cafe in Jamaica. Steve excused himself and stepped out into the parking lot so he could enjoy a cigar. Steve was immediately confronted by a rastafarion trying to sell him weed. Steve politely declined and walked away. The rastafarion decided he was being given the brush off, became aggressive and threatened Steve with a knife. What the rastafarion did not know was that Steve was fourth degree black belt. Dressed in his shorts and casual tee, and not being physically imposing, who would have guessed what was about to happen:

Steve looked at his would-be attacker, took a step towards him and proceeded to throw a jumping spinning hook kick over his head as a warning shot. He landed in a balanced fighting stance and smiled….the rastafarion dropped the knife and took off! He knew he had made a mistake in who he targeted that day.

The converse is, of course, also true. I have trained with, sparred against and witnessed many muscular specimens, who could easily bench my weight, whose “traps have traps”, and who have legs that are worthy of an Italian sculpture. Yet, they each had no idea how to throw a punch, moved like Frankenstein in a bog and had the hand-eye coordination of a DWI driver. You would never think to challenge them, as they look fierce, but let’s face it, their training is all body building, and not combative.

In my experience, it is always best to assume the worst. Whether you are confronted by someone who looks like Jesse “the body” Ventura or Jesse Eisenberg, assume they know all they need to start and finish a fight. Attackers come in all shapes and sizes, as well as varying degrees of combative skill sets. When in doubt, de-escalate and remove yourself from the situation, or if given no option, launch the first and most brutal direct strikes possible to end the engagement quickly, because in the end, what maters most is not how someone looked before the fight, but how battered and bruised they look afterwards.