WILL and SKILL - The siblings of War


Reality based self-defense practitioners and martial artists as a whole can quickly identify with these aspects of combat /self-defense. But it seems apparent that most only know or identify with one of the two.

Like most siblings, Will and Skill have very different characteristics. Most who know Will feel that Skill doesn’t have much to offer. They see Skill like fine china at a BBQ. Those who know Skill feel the same about Will. It’s the opportunity for trouble no one wants at the party.

The testimonials from those who know Will use words like aggressive, self-preservation, intent, forceful, attitude, gross motor movement, rage, emotional content, killer instinct, stress/stress inoculation, mindset, heart, soldier, desire and savage to describe it (to name a few).


The testimonials from those who know Skill use words like precise, rhythm, self-perfection, surgical, fluid, clinical, fine motor movement, clean, flawless, ease of motion, high ability, fast, conditioned, body mechanics, top notch and much much more.


The loyalist of Skill can be found in the “comic book” martial arts arena and the loyalist of Will can be found in “weekend warrior camo” self-protection arena. Both loyalist groups believe in the totality of one side of training or another.

However, if you’r a mature person, you are most likely wondering how much of one or the other do I need and how do I put this into my training. In essence, what training methods are best for employing the right amount of each and what does that look like in terms of drills and application? If this is something you wish to get into, then please continue. If not, stop reading and dial 2 for customer support.

First things fist. Always attempt to remove the “v.s.” from the equation and your end value will always be greater.

It’s easier to understand it when seeing it from a “serving size”. If you (or someone you are training) has only 2 hours to train, what/how would you train them? If that same someone had 2 months to train, how/what would you train them? If someone had 2 years to train…

Know this! You shouldn’t be showing a trap, foot sweep, energy drill, submission (wrist locks) or boxing combos to someone who can only train for 2 hours. You can however, develop and ability to draw out ones will to survive/killer instinct then add a couple of basic tools to survive a violent attack, and do that in 2 hours. Then over time/consistency increase to balance. The chart is percentage of will v.s. percentage of skill and time.


In Power lifting you have to push with intensity, breath and a desire to reach the top. You also have to have perfect form, balance and technique. But no matter how much I tell myself, or no matter how angry I get, no matter how loud I scream, no matter how much will I have, I am not walking over and putting up 500 lbs. on the bench. Yet the level of grit/grind/will you need to show up to the practice, to enhance that talent with consistency, is a matter of will.

(At the core of our biology is a self-preservation the desire and responsibility to the preservation of you and your tribe. That core desire to preserve is at the root of our will. The very thing that drives you to seek skill is will. So when I say put Skill first, it is in terms of muscle memory and training platforms, because in actuality skill is always a result of will, just a different type.)

When Will and Skill grow up, their expressions become complementary and their success becomes interdependent. In maturity, Will expresses itself and is felt as gross motor stress (not movement). An overwhelming sense of domination, intimidation and persistence. In maturity, Skill expresses itself and is seen as fine motor skills (not movement). An inspiring display of mechanics, feet work, timing and placement. This complementary blend was uttered by the great Mohammed Ali, when he said, “I float like a butterfly and sting like a bee!”.

Personally, I find that Will plus Skill equals intensity. The more balanced this is for me the easier it is to raise my intensity. Its hard to back up one without the other and they are always better together, in my opinion.

So what does it look like when we train and drill will for the long haul? How do I train and develop will and skill together. Well first things first. If we are dealing with just the physical it means learning a skill first. We learn this first because skill is a process of refining repetition into muscle memory, so the cultivation process takes longer. Then saturate your skill or laminate your skill with emotional content. Don’t wait until you have 2 years of skill before you figure out that that will is so dam important.

  • Gain the skill you need for the context you desire.

  • Add emotional content

  • Develop the situational dynamics

  • Add emotional content

(*Emotional content is a very general description of will and since the actual descriptive would lake a book, we will use it with a broad understanding.)


When people add emotional content, they immediately slip gears and fall over themselves. To develop the rare ability to use them both simultaneously comes from keeping your speed slow and the intensity of your emotional content high, along with the mechanics of your preferred technique. Now hopefully, you will be a person who can perform a fine motor skill under gross motor stress. (Note: the addition of emotional content should take away the techniques or movements that are not conducive to the emotions or ones performance during the fog or war.)

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I know many who are very willful at being a very skillful fighter and I know those who are very skillful at being a very willful fighter. And then there are those were you can’t tell where one ends and the other begin. Yet there are also many occasions where more of one is needed than the other. So in the end, both are indispensable.

There is a very important application outside the realm of the physical and that is the psychoanalytical. Teaching children early on that there are forces that align to attack their character and physical well being that exist in the world. (No matter who you are this is a fact of reality.) They need to develop the “will” to show their teeth. Being a victim can often times be a result of never standing up for yourself. Learning to show your teeth early on in life helps reduce the likely hood of becoming a victim.

Thanks for reading.

Good training to you, Michael VanBeek