I was recently asked about how to anticipate what move somebody is about to attack you with. The guy was very much looking for a way to be able to stay ahead of the game.
I think that he was a bit disappointed in my initial answer, until I explained in more depth. The initial answer is that you DON’T try to anticipate the opponents actual attack.
Just to clarify, anticipate whether or not they are actually going to attack you by all means, but don’t try to anticipate that they will kick or they punch, or they will . . . . . whatever!
If you are trying to think too hard about what he/she/they are going to do next, the thought process will actually slow you down. Assuming that you are in a pre-fight situation where somebody is threatening you, shouting and swearing, psyching themself up for an attack; then you should really be looking to engage their mind by talking in order to distract them whilst lining them up for a pre-emptive strike.
However, for the sake of argument lets assume that for whatever reason you do not get the chance to perform a pre-emptive strike. Maybe the attacker did not get close enough, maybe he knew that you are a capable adversary so kept his distance . . . . . whatever. But you are now in the position where he is about to attack from a fraction out of your pre-emptive striking range. You know it’s coming, but you don’t know what form the attack will take.
Should you try to anticipate what the actual attack will be?
If you anticipate a punch and prepare for it, then he kicks instead you could be in trouble. If you anticipate a kick and prepare for it, then he just rushes in and grabs you, again you could be in trouble.
It is always best to be taking the lead rather than responding (action rather than reaction), but this may not always possible. So how do you react when you haven’t got a clue what the actual form the attack about to launched at you will actually take?
Well there are several things that you need.
Firstly, you need an automatic deeply drilled response that comes out automatically without you having to think about it. That is why we practice basics over and over and over and over again. So when you need them, you can respond automatically without having to be slowed down by “thinking” about what you should be doing or how you should be doing it.
Some form of reality based training or pressure training is good too, so that you don’t “freeze” under the effects of adrenalin. However, if you have experience in real altercations this may not always be necessary.
However, the calmer you can keep your mind, the more likely you are to find an instinctive response to whatever comes at you. If your mind is running away with “oh my god, he’s bigger than me”, (or similar thoughts); you are likely to hesitate. This is something I’ve discussed before in more depth before.
There are a number of elements to our training which assist in calming the mind in these situations. Most obviously, a number of martial arts include some form of meditation (moksu) during the class, where you breathe deeply and clear the mind.
Physical technique done properly should be performed with a relaxed body. The more you relax your body in training, the more your mind will follow and relax too (as body and mind are linked). This is probably more important in many ways than the meditation (just my humble opinion).
Many martial arts also put an emphasis on diaphragmatic breathing (especially if they meditate). This type of breathing is central to Yoga, Tai Chi and any discipline that is about relaxation, so there’s another clue. Diaphragmatic breathing can be used to calm the mind and body in any situation from meditation, traffic jams, problems with work/relationships, through to a physical confrontation. As it relaxes both the mind and body, you can see why it is an integral part in the execution of technique within many traditional martial arts.
So if you can keep your mind calm, relaxed and free from the distraction of having to actually think, then instincts and intuition take over. Your ability to deal with any random attack and counter with a well-drilled response will be greatly increased. An instinctive response will always be faster than a calculated thought out response.
That is why we do not try try to anticipate what the actual attack will be, as by doing so we limit our response options to what we expect will come at us; and by-pass our intuitive nature.
If you have experience of Reality Based Martial Arts, you will already have come across the idea of target hardening. However, it is not always included in traditional martial arts, so although this is not a new concept, I include it here for traditionalists who may not have heard of it before.
If you look at the way that animals hunt in the wild, they nearly all follow a similar pattern; whether it is lions stalking buffalo or wolves hunting moose. They don’t go for the big, fit, powerful young bull with the huge big horns, they go the old, the sick or the young calves who can’t keep up with the herd.
Because it is an easy kill and they can get fed without too much risk of injury to themselves. A hunter who gets injured can’t hunt effectively and starves, so they are not interested in a fair fight with the alpha male of the herd. One on one, a lion is no match for a fit young buffalo. One on one, a wolf is no match for a fit young moose. So they look for the vulnerable members of the herd. If they can hunt in packs to bring down prey larger then themselves, then all the better.
Our caveman ancestors were no different. One on one they were no match for a mammoth, but working together as a tribe they could bring one down. And I’m pretty sure that they did not target the biggest bull mammoth in the herd. So it should be no surprise that this basic primal instinct has been passed down to our modern day street predators (bullies, muggers, rapists, etc).
Our social conditioning and modern environment adds a number of different factors into the equation. The human street predator doesn’t only have to consider whether he (they) can get overpower their victim, they have to consider things like, will they be caught by the police. But the same underlying psychology of the predator is still there.
Street predators will usually look for an easy target where they feel success is assured without much injury or consequences for themselves. Of course, if they are high on drugs or drunk then all bets are off anyway as all ability to reason is out of the window. When drunk or high they are more likely to act in a completely random manor rather than a premeditated manor of a mugger or rapist.
So how you can you deter a street predator(s) by looking like a big young bull with bloody big horns (metaphorically speaking)?
The first thing to realise is that you don’t necessarily have to be big, powerful and strong (though it does of course help if you are). What you really need to do is to exude an air of confidence and awareness.
Lets say for example that a potential rapist is looking for a victim. One women go walks by who is looking around (aware of her surroundings) and confidently looks like she wouldn’t take any nonsense from anybody. Another women of similar age, looks and build walks past; but this one is looking at the ground, afraid to make eye contact and with a very timid demeanour about her. Which one do you think the rapist will go for?
Obviously he is more likely to pick the second one. First of all, he is not likely to get too close to the first lady before she’ll spot him, so not so much chance of getting close and taking her by surprise.
Secondly, even if he has a knife (or any other weapon) and threatens his victim; the first lady is more likely to fight and shout for help. Yes, he can still cut her and run off, but if she screams or shouts (if only once), then the chances of people coming to her assistance and his chances of being caught have been greatly increased. Even if he kills her, he is still more likely to be caught and like the jungle predator who can’t hunt when injured, this can often be enough to deter him (them).
Some rapists intend at the outset to kill their victim when they’ve finished, but they want to do it where they have full control of the situation and they won’t be caught (often by taking her somewhere else). They don’t want to do it where there is a risk that their victim can attract help.
So it is the second lady who is looks timid and looks like she has no fight in her who is more likely to be selected. The irony is that women who have been attacked or abused before will often stop taking care of themselves and dress down in order to make themselves less attractive to a would-be attacker/abuser. But as in the case above, they actually give out more “victim signals” by doing so. Abusers and rapists can often read those signals and know intuitively that they have an easy target.
Men often find strong, confident looking women more attractive; but as discussed above, ironically these women are less likely to be attacked (even though they are perceived as more attractive) because they are more likely to put up a fight.
Although I use the example of a rapist selecting a woman victim, this can be read across to any street predator selecting a target, be it a mugger or just a bully.
Animals in the wild are seldom interested in taking on a target where they may get injured as it will limit they ability to continue hunting and they risk starvation. The human predator has more social conditions to contend with, but the mindset is basically the same.
I want to emphasis that I am NOT suggesting that all you have to do is look confident and you’ll never be attacked again. But it will reduce the odds in your favour. The best self defence of all, is not be attacked in the first place.
Martial arts training with help to give you an air of confidence which will help you. Most traditional martial arts teach good body structure as part of their basic techniques, which also tend to teach the student a more upright and confident looking posture. These things are not enough on there own to assure complete safety, but they do make a definite contribution and should not be overlooked.
The British Combat Association was formed almost 20 years ago in the United Kingdom for the pragmatically biased martial artist who wanted realism over sport or style.
Iain Abernethy who is one of the BCA senior instructors and a world famous instructor for applied bunkai has been teaching all over the world and noted the need for a similar organisation on an international level. So together with the founders of the BCA, Geoff Thompson and Peter Consterdine, they are launching the World Combat Association to support like minded pragmatic martial artists outside of the UK.
The WCA was launched just a few days ago and apparently the website has already crashed twice due to the amount of traffic it received.
If you would like to be a founder member of the WCA, please checkout the following for more information: