"Strike first, strike hard, no mercy sir!"

I've received many messages and comments on social media and privately regarding my recent article "Enter the interception".

A common response is exemplified by "Nelson's" below:
""When in doubt strike out." was the maxim under which I was trained. This I took to mean when confrontation is inevitable you must have the wherewithal to react BEFORE you get popped whether it be by a knife, gun or fist. If you insist on being a dojo lawyer and giving an opponent the first shot you'd better stay on the "good" side of town only in daylight hours." 
This is a variation on the old "I'd rather be tried by 12 than carried by 6". I have to say, it has a lot of emotional appeal and seems unimpeachable when it is raised: no one can disagree with it in principle.

However I don't feel this provides any kind of formula for conflict management. To me, it is far too simplistic to capture the myriad social circumstances we encounter in our lives.  It is so simplistic, it might as well be something recited in a "Cobra Kai" dojo:
"Strike first, strike hard, no mercy sir!"  
Yeah, right.

So a troubled teenager walks up to you in a threatening manner: do you "strike out"? If so, how hard? What kind of strike? So a man who is clearly grieving or otherwise upset by some tragedy misunderstands something you say and walks up angrily to you. Do you strike out automatically? Again, how hard and in what way?

There are so many times in my life where I could have simply "struck out" but didn't - only to have the situation resolved peacefully and far more beneficially (for me and everyone else). Please note: I didn't "wait" because of some formula of "letting him have the first shot". I simply assessed each case as it presented itself. I made a judgment call not to strike out. Did I have doubts about whether I'd got it right? You bet. But I made the best choice I could in the circumstances.

You have to take every case as it comes and judge it as best you can. Sure, you should pre-empt an impending attack when the circumstances require it. But pre-empting automatically just because you have a "doubt"? I'm sorry, but I don't subscribe to any such "formula". As comforting as it might be to espouse such a "formula", it's applicability is fraught with grey edges. Try to apply it dogmatically and you might find it actually results in grievous and needless tragedy. That's what comes of trying to apply any "formula" to our complex social interaction.

But, more than anything else, I don't ever recall saying anyone should "give your opponent the first shot". That is a common response the moment I speak of "interceptions" of attacks. However, it is a red herring. No civilian defence art I've studied envisages doing so. Yes, civilian defence proceeds on the assumption that you've been attacked - but it does not proceed on the assumption that this is because you've waited for that attack.

If you think about it, the difference is huge.

As I previously noted, in many Western countries having someone walking into your personal space in a threatening manner can constitute an assault in itself. Furthermore, if they are carrying a knife, then usually all bets are off; you might well be able to do whatever it is you need to do - including using lethal force (check your own jurisdictions laws; don't take this as legal advice!).

So the law probably authorises pre-emption in obvious cases anyway. The non-obvious ones? Well, there's a reason we can't have a formula for them, isn't there? It's precisely because they aren't obvious!

What I think Nelson and others have a problem with is acknowledging the necessity of defensive skill: skill in such things as interception and evasion.  They want to rely on the mantra that "offence is the best defence".  Consider "Tom's" comment below:
"I throw a punch. OK, now you block like a forearm say for point.  My arm can now reorbit, recover a knife you did not know of and now a dagger is now in play.  But defang the snake - take out the teeth - can the snake hit ? Just for a point of view: I have a son.  I am an 82nd AirBorne Ranger - no time for them to try to strike or wait for counter."
I can tell you something: there is no easier way for your attacker to "reorbit" his arm and "recover a knife" than if you're unconscious on the ground - all because you didn't intercept that first attack!

And of course, there is also that assumption again - that interception somehow involves "waiting"!  As I said to Tom, this is what I most like about the term "interception": it avoids any misrepresentation of civilian defence arts as "waiting" for anything.  While "block" is often misunderstood to imply some sort of "waiting", the term "interception" shouldn't (although people are still managing to surprise me - particularly when they realise that by this term I mean something other than "attack, attack, attack!").

"Block" also seems to imply "no counter" (at least, to some folks).  The idea that this is how traditional martial arts are designed to work is a myth - one that I've previously dispelled, I believe very conclusively.  Interceptions are the first part of a coordinated response to an attack: one that negates the particular attack and neutralises the potential for any follow-up ones.  Yes, "blocking with no counter" is a kind of "interception" - but it is the least preferable kind to any martial artist (traditional or otherwise).

So when I use the term "interception", I hope people will stop thinking of the least preferable option and start thinking of the most preferable one instead.  Because that is exactly what civilian defence arts teach.  This is exactly what "blocks" in civilian defence arts actually are: they are interceptions that have been mislabeled as something else.

There is no "block and wait" in traditional martial arts.  There never has been.  There is only interception.  And the one that takes the shortest, quickest route is the one you use.  And you counter either at the same time as the interception or as contemporaneously as possible.

So much for myths about interceptions.  What worries me more is this persistent impression that "all you need is attack" (sounds like something you can sing to a Beatles tune doesn't it?).  Just "strike out".  The rest will sort itself out.  Sure.

What I would like to know from all these people out there who say they "don't have time to wait for an attack" and who adopt a "strike out when in doubt" methodology is this:
How many times in your life have you actually followed your own proposed methodology?
It sounds grand - but have you actually done it?  And if so, how did it work out?

My strong suspicion is that unless you're paranoid, anti-social nutcase who goes around smacking anyone who gives you even the slightest suspicion of hostility, you've probably never "hit out when in doubt" - despite any "Cobra Kai hubris" on your part. 

(I refer you to my article on "necessary and reasonable force" by way of reminder of what your moral/ethical and legal obligations in civil society actually are.  You can feel free to ignore them.  But if you are in the habit of smacking people left right and centre, you will almost certainly have a rap sheet as long as my arm - way to go, "civilian defender"!)

I think it is more likely that if you've even been in any kind of "fight", you've been forced to react to an aggressor/attacker/initiator.  In other words, he/she got in first and you've responded.

Now if I am correct in my previous assumption, were you forced to "respond" because you had stupidly "waited for the attack"?  Or was it simply because that's just how things played out - and how they tend to play out for the best of us?

Attackers don't exactly have a vested interest in giving you "fair warning" of an impending assault, now do they?  If they are serious about attacking you, they'll do it in a way that doesn't give you a chance to "strike first".  As Rory Miller is so fond of saying, they don't want to fight you; they want to take you out.

Nelson responded to these observations by saying:
Proper discernment of intent is not a simple "formula" but comes with years of practice. On the street it can save your fanny. Some folks might call it "mind reading".
And my response was that I prefer to use whatever "discernment of intent" skills I have developed to avoid conflict altogether. So far, I've been fairly successful in this (see my story about one such occasion on a particular St Patrick's Day).

Also, my brother has just pointed out to me that if "striking first" were such a "foolproof method" of dealing with aggression, there would be virtually no instances of multiple, highly trained, alert military personnel being gunned down by one enemy operative.  How could this happen?  It's simple: the best of us get surprised by sudden aggression.  A good aggressor plans it that way.  It needn't even be a "strike from behind".  I'm talking about something catching us by surprise even when we're supposed to be "switched on" and facing potential danger.

There is only one place where a "strike first, strike hard, no mercy sir!" mentality actually belongs - and that is in a Cobra Kai dojo in a B-grade movie.  It is, as I've previously noted, just hubris; a parody of simplistic "conflict management theory".

If you're serious about defending yourself (rather than merely launching your own surprise attacks on unsuspecting victims), you'd better learn some defensive skill.  That is the heart of civilian defence.  All the Cobra Kai "tough talk" in the world won't help you.  All the zombie training, all the "target focused training", all the board/shield/bag hitting in the world will do "diddly squat".  You'll know how to attack something that doesn't hit back.  That's all.

Copyright © 2013 Dejan Djurdjevic