Painful Indecision

Why didn’t the squirrel cross the road?

This is not a famous question. But from a tactical point of view, it is an important one.

When you see a squirrel exposed to danger, in the middle of a road, with a car heading his or her way, what does he or she do? The squirrel looks confused. Indecisive. Panicked.

The squirrel in fact is resorting to an evasive maneuver that is highly effective against a larger, faster but less-maneuverable predator, like a coyote, dog, kestrel or person.

We know this is a highly effective maneuver because the squirrels that lived to propagate their species all do it. The one’s who ran as fast as they could in a straight line are now dead.

When we see this indecisive-looking squirrel behavior as a car approaches, we may inwardly encourage him to Run, Hurry, Go straight to safety at the other side of the road!

The squirrel’s evasive tactic that worked well since the demise of the dinosaurs, fails now, during the ascent of the automobile. This tactic makes things worse. It delays the squirrel’s exit from the path of danger and renders them helpless, too close to the yellow line for too long to save themselves.

That squirrel behavior is not a bad choice. It is not a choice. It is a habit. Or an instinct. They just do it.

If they were a person, with the ability to think ahead, they might think what many people think: when the time comes and danger threatens, I will know what to do.

I will evade and survive. I will move like a soccer player in the midst of a crowded field and deftly dodge, turn, dribble and score. Yay me.

That kind of fantasy moves through the minds of untrained and inexperienced people when they think ahead to the possibility of violent confrontation. They think they will do something they saw in a show. Or that they will “just do it.” Or that, with right on their side, and innocence in their heart, that they will somehow be able to win. Not bloody likely.

The reality is that very same squirrel who used the ineffective anti-car tactic, had successfully used the very same tactic successfully against big predators, many times. 

That untrained person, lost in a field of imagination, has never tried or tested any tactic. To rely on imagination may be reassuring. But it will not be reliable. And then, in the heat of the moment, it will be too late to learn, too late to try and test our choices or our skills. No time may be left to us to try to get it right again.

It is necessary for us to condition, train and master our body and mind. To toughen and sharpen them. With purpose, not fear. To benefit every day from the heat and pressure of training, in every dimension of life.

Is there any dimension of life – at home, work school, in sports or music, with family and friends – that would not be better, more fulfilling, more enjoyable, more successful, when you are feeling great, healthy, fit and alert?

We can choose. Animals not so much. We can move evasively. It is a necessary and highly effective tactic. Sometimes. And we can move forcefully, deliberately, directly. That is highly effective too.

With training we will be more able to meet the moment without panic, indecision or confusion. With training it is more likely that we will recognize the emerging situation: we have been here before. We will be more likely to choose an effective course of action. 

Ready or not, we can all expect to face high pressure at some time. We want to meet it with something better than painful indecision. 


For more on the tactical theory underlying our approach read the article Too Fast To See.

Post and photo copyright © 2023 Jeffrey Brooks, Mountain Karate, Saluda, NC 山林流Yamabayashi Shorin Ryu dojo

Mountain Karate’s YouTube channel: @mountainkarate

For more insights to add to your treasury of knowledge and skill read True Karate Dō

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