We have a host of actions and reactions built into us. Instinct is the result of millions of years of evolution. While instinct proves beneficial in an evolutionary way, natural reactions are not always the best option for the individual.
Individuals in combat have to deal with their instincts. Instincts like fight or flight, flinching, ducking, turning away, turtling, shutting the eyes, may be beneficial in the grand scheme of the species, but may not serve the combatant well.
Some of our natural reactions are based on our physical design – the shape of the human body and how it works. Some natural responses are individual learned behaviors arising from personal experience.
While most people think of martial arts as ways to learn how to fight, ultimately they are an attempt to overcome our instincts. We train to override the instinct to flinch or turn away. At times, an open hand or an elbow may be better than a fist. Getting closer to an opponent may provide more safety and opportunity than the intuitive attempt to maintain distance. Millennia of experimentation and training have given us myriad superior counter-intuitive, counter-instinctive approaches.
We train to learn to avoid the unnecessary fight. Some battles are not worth the risks. Our studies are an attempt to overcome the instinctual behavior of meeting resistance with excessive force. As such, the study of a martial art is an attempt to rise above our animal selves, an attempt to suppress many of our natural reactions and supplant them with improved responses.
The study of a martial art is a desire to evolve.