Anticipating How Your Opponent Will Attack!

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.

Moksu (meditation)

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.

 

The Gift Of “Peacocking”

This article looks at the pre-fight stage when somebody is trying to pick a fight with you.  It will not apply to a mugger or any form of “professional” street predator who is more likely to launch a surprise attack.

What is Peacocking?

Peacocking is a phrase usually used to describe somebody dressing or behaving in a manner designed to get the attention of the opposite sex.  However, from a martial arts/self protection point of view it is taken to mean how somebody puts on a display of puffing themselves up to make themselves look bigger and tougher in front of a potential opponent.  The chest is pushed out, shoulders pulled back, head held high and often jutting forward and arms often held out from the sides of the body.

The purpose of this behaviour is to intimidate the other person and to build themselves up before a fight.  Or to put it another way, it is to psych themselves up and psych the other person down.  It can however take many other forms such as pointing or shaking the fist at somebody.

Very broadly speaking the type of peacocking will depend on how confident the aggressor feels.  A very confident aggressor is more likely to keep his hands out to the sides of his body, which shows his intended victim that he is completely in control of the situation and he can take is victim as his leisure.  A less confident aggressor is more likely to have his hands between himself and his intended victim, pointing his finger or shaking his fist.  This still gives him some kind of barrier, just in case it doesn’t quite go the way he wants it to.

Why is this important

It is often said that a fight is won or lost before the first punch is even thrown.  It is also said that fighting is more mental than physical.  Both these statements are true.  If an aggressor can mentally intimidate somebody enough before they even attempt to strike their victim, then their victim is likely to hesitate, or worse still, freeze, giving the aggressor the chance to land a successful blow completely unopposed.  That gives them the upper hand from the very start of the fight.

This type of intimidatory tactic comes naturally and without any training to those with a bullying mindset.  It is very intuitive.

Defensive tactics

There are basically 2 main ways to deal with this type of threatening behaviour.  One is act very aggressively or assertively in order to deter the aggressor, the other is the act passively in order to lull the aggressor into a false sense of security, then hit him as hard as you can with a pre-emptive strike.

There are of course a number of variations on each theme and cross over tactics where you act passively first to let them get confident, then flip the switch and “go mental” to completely confuse them.  But for now we’ll stick to the 2 main tactics above.

Aggressive/Assertive

If you really do not want to fight, then acting aggressively or assertively to dissuade them might be your best tactic.  You can “go psycho” on them swearing, snarling, threatening with spittle dribbling down your chin in display of frenzy.  This might work and deter them if you do it convincingly enough.  However, if you are not convincing enough, you are laying down a challenge which they might take up to save losing face; especially if their mates (or worse still – girls) are watching.

If you can act very assertively without actually threatening them, then should they decide that you might be a bit of a handful they can back out without losing face (because you have not actually threatened them).  The key here is to make him want to back out and to make it easy for him to do so.

The video below shows an example of a training session from a FAST Defence seminar using postural and verbal skills to deal with an aggressor in an assertive manner without actually threatening him back.

Note:  Contains bad language.

(FAST = Fear Adrenalin Stress Training).

passive

By acting passively, you build up the aggressors confidence letting him think that he has a soft target.  This is best for when you believe that you are going to have to fight and that there is absolutely no way out.  When you believe that no amount of aggressive or assertive behaviour will detour the aggressor.

The more that you let him feel confident and in control, the more that he is likely to go into peacocking mode.  The more that he does this, the more open he becomes to a pre-emptive strike.  As he sticks his chest out and juts his head forward, so his neck and jaw line are left exposed for a quick strike.  If his arms confidently by sides (like a Western gunfighter) to make himself look bigger, then his arms are out of the way and should be unable to block your surprise attack.

That is why I called this posting the “Gift” of peacocking, because if you get somebody into that mode, they leave themselves incredibly open to you.  If you have trained for any length of time and are confident in your abilities, then having somebody leaving themselves so open should enable you to finish the fight very quickly and efficiently.

Here’s an video example below.

Note:   Contains bad language

Summary

Of course should you ever be in that situation, then whichever tactic you use will be a judgement call at that time.  There will never be a completely right or wrong answer as there will always be so many variables and you can’t always predict accurately whether or not the aggressor will back down or not.

Either way, it is worth practicing both sets of tactic as drills.  This type of type of scenario training can yield quick results, so you don’t necessarily have to practice them over and over again so that it interferes with your normal training.  But it is certainly worth seeking out a qualified instructor and  doing some courses if your club does not normally do this kind of thing.

Pre-Emptive Strike: Modern Reality Based Training Or Traditional Karate

I am a big admirer of Geoff Thompson.  He has done a lot to promote the cause of reality training and is very much into keeping it real.  His training methods are often as much about how to avoid getting into a fight (not taught in many martial arts) as has how to actually conduct the fight itself.  Traditional martial arts generally teach you how to win in a fair fight.  But that’s the problem, most fights aren’t fair.  Sometimes you could be outnumbered, your assailant(s) could have a weapon and they often start from right up in your face without warning (rather than bowing first from a safe distance before gradually moving in).

So assuming that you’ve done all the avoidance techniques and the guy is still coming in and it is clear that the conflict is going to become physical, what is universally the best tactic to use?

Note, I said tactic, not technique.

In the words of Geoff Thompson himself:

“And if an encounter does by necessity become physical I teach and I preach the pre-emptive strike (attacking first). It is the only thing that works consistently. All the other stuff that you see, that you are taught or that you imagine might work ‘out there’ probably will not”.

And:

“If your choice is a physical response, my advice is to be pre-emptive and strike first – very hard – preferably on the jaw (it’s a direct link to the brain”.

In the Karate world in particular, people used to quote Funakoshi when he famously said:

“In Karate, there is no first strike”.

This has been taken to mean that we have to actually wait for an attacker to throw the first strike and then try and block and counter it.  This is a dangerous game to play.  Geoff is spot when he describes this as:

“not only unsound it is dangerous and extremely naive”.

It’s not so bad when you are in a competition and your opponent is just out of range, then suddenly tries to attack (usually whilst still maintaining full leg or arm range).  But in a street where somebody may be right up in your face, nose to nose, screaming obscenities at you, its not so good.  Also, in a street fight an attacker is likely to grab you and pull you around or off balance (a tactic that is banned in Karate, TKD, Kickboxing and some others sport fighting systems).

So why would Funakoshi give advice that would leave his students in a vulnerable position?  Well it is widely accepted by many now that something has been lost in the translation and what Funakoshi really meant was, that you don’t instigate or look for the fight.  However, when in a  situation when physical threat is unavoidable and you cannot get away, Funakoshi wrote in his book, Karate Do Kyohan:

“When there are no avenues of escape or one is caught even before any attempt to escape can be made, then for the first time the use of self-defense techniques should be considered. Even at times like these, do not show any intention of attacking, but first let the attacker become careless. At that time attack him concentrating one’s whole strength in one blow to a vital point and in the moment of surprise, escape, seek shelter, and seek help.”

Funikoshi is clearly talking about a pre-emptive strike.  He recommends that you strike a “vital point” which is not so different from Geoff Thompson recommending that you strike the jaw as it has a direct link to the brain.  He was trained for reality, not competition.  This is the part that has been overlooked in the way that so many people have trained for a number of decades.  I believe that this is largely because Karate has been dumbed down (see my 5 part video course if you haven’t already) and the fact that for such a long time Karate has been interpreted through the eyes of competition fighters.

Geoff Thompson and the other modern reality based martial arts teachers are not the first ones to train this way.  Clearly the old Okinawan masters did too.  However, after decades of being dumbed down for social and political reasons, Geoff and the other masters of reality based training have helped to bring the “lost” elements to help us make our training more complete.

Some people will (quite reasonably) have a concerns about the legalities of using a pre-emptive strike.  Firstly, as you can never be sure how far an attacker will go, it is best to make that you are still around to deal with the legalities.  No point being killed for the sake of worrying about going to court.

Secondly, in the UK at least (and I suspect most other countries), if you feel that you are in a real danger of being harmed by a would-be attacker, you are legally entitled to use a pre-emptive strike.  I don’t know about other countries, but this is a defence that will stand in a British court.  However, you will have to give good reason why you thought that you were in very real and very imminent danger.  Somebody giving you a dodgy look will not be accepted.

Does Pressure Point Fighting Really Work?

This is an area that you will see debated from time to time with people for and against it.  Some claim that pressure points make your techniques ultra effective, whilst others claim that in the heat of the moment you will not have the accuracy to find the point whilst somebody is trying to hit you at the same time.

So who’s right?  Well in my humble opinion, the truth lies somewhere in the middle and it depends on the circumstances.

If you start a fight 6ft apart, close in, then exchanging blows with a capable opponent; I believe that it would be difficult (but not impossible) to find pressure point targets.  Just think when you are sparring against somebody of equal skill, it can be difficult landing a blow on their torso (which is a large target), never mind finding a very small pressure point to hit.  Furthermore, when you have just had an adrenalin dump, your fine motor skills do not work as efficiently.  For this reason, many people advocate concentrating on developing your techniques (regardless of style) so that you are fast and powerful and you will hurt your opponent wherever you hit them.

On the other side of the coin though, very few fights start 6ft apart.  They usually start much closer with the antagonist making impolite enquires as to who the fornication are you visually observing!  Or something like that.

In this kind of scenario, if you are genuinely convinced that you are going to be attacked and you are not able talk sense into your assailant, at some point you may take the decision that you will have to beat some sense into him instead.  I’m not talking about somebody calling you names or jumping a queue, but a real threat of imminent violence.  In this scenario a pre-emptive strike to a pressure point will be much more likely to succeed.  The opponent is still posturing, still psyching himself up; he’s not actually going for it yet.  You don’t step back into a guard as that only warns him that you are a proficient martial artist and tips him off to attack you even more vigorously.

You are better off using what Geoff Thompson calls “the fence”, with hand open and facing down in a universal position of neutrality, feet apart in a solid stance (but not a martial arts stance), engaging his brain with some dialogue (anything at all – isn’t it a shame about the polar bears!), then hit him as fast and hard as you can on a vulnerable point.

Now some traditionalist may get a bit hung up on this, as Funikoshi (founder of Shotokan Karate) stated that in Karate their is no first attack.  This has been interpreted by many as you need to stand there and wait for the other person to throw the first punch.  This is obviously not very practical.  What he really meant was that we should not go looking for a fight.  In other places, Funikoshi has described how to deal with an assailant by showing no sign of fighting, using a pre-emptive strike then running away to get help.

And as I’ve heard Kevin O’Hagan say, “you don’t really want a fair fight do you”? After all, he started it not you.

There are of course other considerations.  Firstly, if your assailant is drunk or high on drugs, they may not even feel very much as there senses are dulled, yet their aggression can be heightened.

Secondly, if your assailant is fully hyped up and adrenalized, they will feel less.  Have you ever cracked you shin against somebody elses in sparring?  You think “ouch”, give it a quick rub and carry on.  But the next day, it is throbbing like mad.

Why did you not feel it very much in sparring?  Its because you were fully warmed up and your adrenalin was flowing.  However, if you (or you assailant) are squaring up for a real confrontation, you have an awful lot more adrenaline in your body than when you are sparring.  You will absorb a lot more punishment without even thinking about it . . . . . and so will he!  Kevin O’Hagan reports of a case in America where a guy attacked a cop with a knife.  The cop shot the guy 4 times, yet the assailant still managed to get to the cop and stab him before collapsing.  How well do you think your pressure point strikes would work against a knife wielding assailant who keeps going with 4 bullets in him.

Boxers have been known to break bones in their hand early in a fight, yet still finish the fight.

I witnessed an incident in a pub many years ago where a confrontation broke out between two lads.  One obviously wanted to fight and the other one did not.  Very quickly a friend of mine, Daren, intervened to calm it down.  Now Daren is a very large, solidly built guy, who whilst having a very friendly disposition is not the type of guy you would want to get on the wrong side of.

As Daren tried to calm the aggressor down, he was met with a complete lack of reason or logic.  Daren lost his temper and went for the lad.  It took 3 of us to hold Daren back, swearing and snarling in complete animal rage, with his sister trying to talk him out of it.  The lad who had started it all turned white.  My friend Keith (who you can see elsewhere on this blog demonstrating bunkai with me) tried applying a pressure point to calm Daren down.  Daren in his complete rage did not even seem to notice.

After a while Daren calmed down and the other lad made a hasty (and wise) exit.  When Keith met Daren a few days later and asked him what all that had been about, Daren gave a cheeky smile and said, “6 months stress all out in a few minutes”.

Human beings are capable of taking an awful lot punishment when in a rage, adrenalised, or just plain determined enough to finish the job; so it does suggest that pressure points can be limited when against somebody in a rage or fully adrenalised.

That said, there are some points that no matter how drunk, high or adrenalized a person is; cannot be resisted.  An attack to the airways so that they cannot breath will always work, be it a strike or a choke.  However, much of a rage someone might be in, if they can’t breath, they can’t fight.

Attacking the carotid sinus (side of the neck where you feel the pulse), causes the blood pressure to the brain to drop and hence the assailant passes out.  This can be done with strikes (especially knife hand) or strangles.

Also an upward blow to the chin or the side of the lower jaw line causes the brain to “bounce” against the back of skull, causing un-conciousness.

These points (and a few others) should normally work under any conditions, though you are more likely to succeed with a pre-emptive strike than in an all out fight.

Whilst I believe that pressure points are valuable and have there place, they should not be treated as a short cut, or as a replacement for perfecting your technique.  Whilst most people recognise that technique may only be 50% efficient when under pressure, 50% of a good technique is still much better than 50% of a bad technique.  If you are not able to get in a pre-emptive strike, you may find yourself having to simply hit your assailant as hard as you can, wherever you can, until a good target becomes available.  By then however, you may be too adrenalised to spot the opening, because a side effect of adrenalin is that blood goes from your brain to your muscles, slowing up your thought process.

Even if you are lucky enough to get in a good pre-emptive strike, that strike will need to fast and hard, which brings us back to good technique.

Russell Stutely is recognised as Europe’s number one leading expert on pressure point fighting.  I recall one of his newsletters where people had been writing in asking him why he spends so much time doing pressure points.  However, his response was that he only does a small amount of training on pressure points, with most of his personal training being basics and power development.  When you look at Russell’s training program, he deals with balance points, power generation and other aspects before he starts on pressure points.  So if Europe’s number one expert on pressure points does not take short cuts and neglect his basics, neither should we.

This is only my opinion and I don’t claim to have gospel knowledge on the subject, but I hope it helps others to form their opinion.