That first punch: can you really "block" it?

Introduction: that nasty first punch

I recently had my attention averted to a blog post of the (always interesting!) Wim Demeere, ie. "How not to block a punch". I find myself agreeing with pretty much all of what Wim has to say, but I have my own gloss on the issue – particularly as it relates to that all important first punch that people so often face.

First, let's have a look at the video that Wim critiques. I have embedded it below:

A video featuring an assortment of punches to the face – all of which are unanswered – and a particular practitioner's answer to how to "block" such punches.

"It's not possible to block this sort of punch – and here's the evidence!"

The first thing people think of when watching a video like this is to question whether it is at all possible to "block" such a punch. They will draw distinctions of the kind I make later in this article under the heading "What about the practitioner in the first video?" and conclude that blocking a fast punch of the kind seen in the video is, in fact, impossible.

This conclusion is wrong for so many, many reasons. I'll explain why below.

Most people who don't practise traditional "blocks" aren't entirely clear about what they actually are. Often they assume that the arms might be used to provide some sort of "shield". And in this assumption they are partially correct: blocks can indeed function as a simple obstacle.

In fact, boxers use this sort of "block" all the time, if you consider that having your guard up prevents your opponent getting a clear shot at your head. Indeed, the guard and "block" are really so inseparable that they could almost be regarded as one and the same: a good bare knuckle guard not only provides a physical barrier (a block) to attacks, it also allows you to slip or deflect punches when the attacker thinks there's a gap.

The guard as a punch deterrent

But more importantly, a good guard usually deters the attack from being launched in the first place. If your guard is properly up, an attacker will be reluctant to launch a punch at your face. Why? First, the attacker doesn't really want to be landing punches on your own bony arms and knuckles. It is not only a waste of time and energy, but can be painful. Second, and more relevantly, people understand instinctively that every time they punch they leave an opening. So no one is going to punch to a well-protected target and risk being counter-punched when their arm is extended.

A video in which I discuss how every technique you throw leaves an opening

Yes, fighters must, sooner or later, throw an attack. But a good fighter knows that timing that attack is essential. You must time it to ensure that you'll hit your target while minimising your own exposure to counter attack at the same time. Punching a well guarded target is, accordingly, the very definition of folly.

Milliseconds count!

The video at the start of this article makes various assertions about the speed of punches. And for the most part, I suspect that it is broadly correct.

It takes, on average for a youngish person, about 0.2 s (or 200 ms) to react to a punch. If it is true (as the video above alleges) that a punch can reach you in 200 ms, then you might be reacting as the punch hits you!

However, I don't think that being so completely beaten by sheer speed is a realistic fear. It is certainly inconsistent with my own experience. Yes, there are people who can hit you so fast you're only starting to react as the punch lands. But this isn't the norm. Not only can I say this from personal experience, but I can also rely on my experience in prosecution of cases involving punches outside nightclubs etc. (many of which were caught on surveillance camera). In other words, not every punch is going to take a mere 200 ms to hit you.

Rather, I think the time for a typical fast punch (not to mention a slower one thrown by someone affected by alcohol) lands in about 250 ms. This 50 ms difference might not seem like much but it is enough, as I will shortly detail.

The "80% rule"

You see, if a punch is going to hit you in 250 ms, and you react at 0.2 s (or 200 ms), you will react when the punch is 80% of its way to landing on your face.

Yes, someone young, fit and strong might be able to hit you in 200 ms. But then again most young, fast male attackers aim their aggression at other young males. In those circumstances, the victim might (like many young people) have a reaction time of 0.16 s – in which case we're back to where we started: the victim reacts when the punch is 80% of its way towards his face. [Remember that this is true of young people even if they are physically weaker than their attackers; reaction time is not dependant on your "fitness" or strength. It is what it is. Thankfully, the art of deflection does not rely on "strength" but rather on good technique and "situational reflex".]

This "80% rule" is consistent with my experience and observation over the last 31 years. It has consistently shown up in my training, that of my students and in my observations of fights (in my private and professional lives). Mostly, you will have 20% of the "punch time" left at your disposal (assuming you have an effective "situational reflex", of course).

Now I'm not suggesting that you should rely upon this! Indeed, you should take every measure to stack the odds in your favour, as I will soon discuss (see under the heading "Having a solid defence strategy"). This is particularly true for older people whose reaction time has decreased; you have to fight smart, not just hard - this is where an experienced fighter can still have the edge over faster, stronger (but less experienced) opponents.

For example, an experienced fighter would have noticed the "tell" of the hand gesture in the above screenshot taken from the first video (see point 4 titled "Look for non-verbal cues of imminent attack" towards the end of this article), not to mention observed all the other points I raise as tips for a solid defence strategy.

Despite this, the "80% rule" does provide some general guidance as to what to expect in relation to attack speed vs. reaction times, so I raise it for this reason.

"You can't beat 'em all" doesn't mean you should give up!

I also mention this "80% rule" in case some readers despondently conclude that if ever you are attacked with a punch, the situation is "hopeless". I know many people who would feel this way after watching the first video above (and that's despite the practitioner showing his own ability versus the 200 ms punching "robot"!). Common sense should tell you that not all punches land – whether it be on the street, in the ring or in military hand-to-hand combat. People can and do evade/deflect/block punches. They do it all the time.

What if you're an older person (with slower reaction times) being attacked by a fast and strong young man? Well, one might well ask: "What if you were attacked by an 8 foot giant? or "What if you are faced with a crowd of angry men with big sticks?" In the end, martial arts training can't prepare you for everything, nor did anyone ever suggest it could.

Anyway, even if you have a slower reaction time and you happen to be faced with a younger, faster and stronger opponent, there are things you can do to stack the odds in your favour (again, see under the heading "Having a solid defence strategy"). "Blocking" isn't the answer to everything (which was, I think, one of Wim's main points).

"What can you do in 50 ms?"

Okay, so you have 20% of the time left – maybe 50 ms. Is this enough? The answer is a resounding "Yes!" You can indeed "block" (ie. deflect) a punch in that time, as the practitioner in the opening video demonstrates. I will shortly explain why (ie. the science and art underpinning deflection).

Please note, I am not saying (as per the first video) that deflection (I'll call it "deflection" from now on to avoid misunderstanding) is "easy": this implies that the science and art of deflection is easy – which it most certainly isn't! If it were, no one would need to study martial arts. What I am saying is that if you have the requisite training and skill, the remaining 20% of the time left before impact is quite sufficient for the deflection of the punch that is flying at you.

Let's see how you can go about doing this:

The "centre sternum rule"

I've already made the point that, when it comes to punches to the face in particular, the guard and "blocking" are really indivisible. So it should come as no surprise that you can't expect to "block" any attack if your guard is down (in fact, it is highly improbable that you will be able to do so). After all, you might only have 50 ms (ie. 0.05 s!) to achieve your deflection! It is very hard to do anything in that time when your hands are down at your sides. It takes more than twice as long for them to be raised into the guard!

If you have only 50 ms or so at your disposal, you want your deflection to comprise a movement over centimetres or millimetres – not one metre or thereabouts!

Most traditional deflections are based on the anatomical model of the raised arms, where the elbows are kept low, but your hands are over the line drawn at the centre of your chest (ie. usually the line drawn through the nipples).

I call this the "centre sternum line".

In other words, traditional deflections against attacks to the upper body all proceed on the assumption that your hands are over the centre sternum line. If your hands are elsewhere, the deflections simply won't work.

A video in which I discuss the "centre sternum rule"

It is interesting to note that in all my cross-referencing of traditional martial arts from China, Okinawa, Japan and the Philippines, the same themes come into play and the same deflection principles are employed (often with identical movements – for example the rising block or "jodan/age uke").

In fact, the principles are really the same in Western boxing, savate, Muay Thai, capoeira, etc. And this shouldn't be surprising. Basic anatomy, hand speed and reaction time remain the same for humans across the globe.

With your hands above the centre sternum line, you should be able to achieve a deflection using a very small movement, as I illustrate in the video above. You don't need a huge movement of the arm; rather it moves only a few centimetres at most. Can you move a centimetre or two in 0.05 s? Absolutely! That's why deflections can and do work against punches to the face.

Forearm vs. palm

From the preceding discussion it should be apparent that your attacker's punch will be quite close to your face by the time you can realistically expect to react. Assuming you have your hands higher than your centre sternum line and you have them extended a bit outwards, it is accordingly likely that by the time you react, the punch will have passed your hands. For this reason, traditional martial arts overwhelmingly favour the forearm over the palm as a deflecting instrument. I discuss this more comprehensively in my article: "Why block with the forearm – rather than the palm?".

A video in which I discuss the use of forearms instead of palms for deflection

Yet the demonstration of blocking against the "robot" in the first video showed palm "slaps". Yes, there are times where palm deflections (including those from wing chun, such as jut sau, pak sau etc.) are useful and necessary. But the forearm is, and should remain, your primary deflection instrument. (Even wing chun uses its palm "slaps" more for trapping and control, not necessarily for the initial deflection. For the latter, wing chun uses forearm deflections such as bong sau and high and low gaun sau.)

Your forearms will always be your most useful deflection surface – particularly if you have a bare knuckle guard rather than one suitable for gloved fighting. This is for the simple reason that it will be the most available surface (given typical attack speeds and reaction times, combined with the safest guard posture).

What about the practitioner in the first video?

The fact that the practitioner in the first video manages to deflect the "robot" effectively using his palms is a testament to his own excellent skill and fast reaction time.

However it is in part aided by the fact that there is very little penetration with the blow: critics of the video might point out that there is a world of difference between how he is using the "robot" (ie. with shallow penetration) and how the punches in the first video where being thrown (ie. with a very deep penetration).

Had the practitioner stepped in half a step closer to the "robot" I'm not at all sure he would have been as successful (particularly given the fact that he is intercepting the attacks with his hands so close to his face - he is picking them off at the very last millisecond where the angle of deflection and the speed of his hands need to be much greater).

Furthermore, most of the attacking punches in the first video had some element of "curve" to their path. In my experience this greatly increases the difficulty of applying deflections generally, particularly palm ones which are really designed for countering "wing chun style" linear, direct punches.

By contrast, I'm fairly confident that forearm deflections of the kind I demonstrate in my video on the "centre sternum rule" would have had no such issues; in other words, he could have deflected the attacks even easier, and at a closer range, had he used suitable forearm deflections.

Moreover the deflection would also have worked against "curved punches" as I demonstrate in the centre sternum" video.

I demonstrate the single whip deflection from taijiquan against "curved" punches in the video below from 2:13 onwards.

Despite these comments, I feel I must commend the practitioner on his high level of skill and excellent analysis and presentation in terms of his video. In particular I am greatly impressed with his "robot" - I want one!

Many movements in traditional forms - eg. single whip from taijiquan - go to great lengths to keep both your arms above the centre sternum line, and for good reason as you can see from this video.

Having a solid defence strategy

Needless to say I have experimented with deflections and guards for the last 3 decades. But I came to some of the above realisations very early on in my "career".

When I was a teenager, there was a particular idiot at my high school who used to walk up to people and "give them the eyeball". Then, without warning, he would punch them in the face. I must stress that there was no provocation, no lead-up – nothing. He was a sociopath – pure and simple. He wasn't stupid by any measure: he won the economics prize in our final year. But he was utterly devoid of any sense of empathy and remorse – which, together with language define us as human beings, in my opinion. Anyway, seeing this happening to some of the young lads I knew, I trained for months and months for this scenario. I had a friend "eyeball" me and throw punches at my face. I kept training until I had a 9/10 chance of responding with a block/counter utilising the basic rising block.

Unfortunately, or fortunately, this idiot never picked on me, so I never got to test it. I'm fairly confident I would have flattened him and remained unscathed.

But one thing I did realise was the importance of having your arms raised above the centre sternum line. I began to experiment with ways of getting my arms up in a way that would not give this idiot warning of what I was trying to do (such as scratching my head or rubbing my chin or pinching my lip).

Overall, I came to the conclusion that I needed to be, at least in some senses, "proactive". In particular, I needed to avoid "playing his game". Here are the "proactive tips" I discovered way back then:

1. Don't do the "monkey dance"

Whatever you do, don't do the old "eyeball" or "chest bumping" routine – what Rory Miller calls the "monkey dance". It is pointless and dangerous. Don't posture at all. It is absolutely the stupidest thing you could do. So reserve it for stupid people.

Either hit or don't hit. There should be no "in between". If you do the monkey dance and you get smacked you have only yourself to blame.

Many of the punches shown in the first video are the direct result of a monkey dance. Notice how many of the victims either walk into their attacker's punch or simply let the attacker walk up to them and punch – all as part of some sort of "chest bumping" ritual. Don't do it!

2. Keep your personal space - as much as possible anyway!

Part of not doing the monkey dance is keeping your attacker at a safe distance, which equates to having them outside the melee range.

Unless there is good reason for someone to be within that range (eg. when you're in a queue or at a rock concert, etc.) people will normally feel most comfortable standing a "safe" distance from each other when conversing. Entering the "personal space" is usually interpreted as (a) an act of intimacy; or (b) an act of aggression. No small wonder then that we can be disquieted by someone moving into that "personal space", however innocently.

I'm sure you all know people who don't have "personal space" – people who somehow don't realise that they are standing at a distance that is uncomfortably close for you. In most cases, these people are benign; they simply don't have the instinct that the rest of us have of keeping people out of the outside the melee range!

I have known many people who haven't had this instinct. When having a chat with them, I've had to consciously tell myself that it's "okay" to let them remain so close!

But with a physical aggressor it's not okay. If they approach within a certain distance you might well be justified in interpreting the act as an impending assault – and reacting with an appropriate (defensive) response (subject to my qualification below).

So I advise my students to step back with their preferred leg in a kind of defensive stance. Depending on the context they can push the attacker away and warn them, or if an attack really is imminent, strike. There are many shades of grey, so there can be no definitive advice. You have to take each case as it comes.

In this regard, please note that you can't go round hitting (or even pushing!) people just because they get too close - whether in argument or just because they don't have the same sense of "personal space". Sometimes you have to let people into that space; it's a risk we all take countless times in our lives. Many people will argue verbally at close range and there is no point in escalating the situation with a push - never mind a strike.

Note that many "reality based schools" go overboard here and advocate all sorts of simplistic violent solutions that, while manifestly effective, are so over-the-top that they are not only inappropriate and unethical/immoral, but practically guaranteed to bring you a great deal of trouble with the law.

A large part of wisdom is understanding exactly when a situation is truly verging on a physical confrontation. This wisdom comes from experience - it is not something about which anyone can give some sort of "guide". And in the end, many seemingly irrevocable conflicts have been "talked down" in that range.1

In any event, whatever you do, don't do what everyone in that video did, namely:
  1. willingly step into the melee range with someone; or
  2. let that someone hang around in that range,
when you suspect on reasonable grounds that this someone is intent on a physical confrontation. To do so is to invite disaster.

[In respect of "hanging around the melee range", my first teacher Bob Davies used to say: "Beware of the dog who hangs around the kitchen!"]

3. Keep your hands above the centre sternum line

Whatever you do, keep your hands up. This doesn't mean you have to adopt a formal guard posture. The latter can often escalate a situation pointlessly. Rather, use whatever is appropriate in the circumstances.

A "hands up and palms out" gesture is often seen as conciliatory but many attackers will be wise to this. It doesn't negate the usefulness of the "guard" but it is something to consider.

Another alternative recommended to me by the late Erle Montaigue and, more recently, Richard Norton, is the "contemplative pose" where your arms appear to be "crossed" with one hand near your lip. This is not as safe as the "palms out" posture but it is a lot less aggressive while still enabling your hands to stay above the centre sternum line (albeit with a bit less accessibility).

Other alternatives include gesticulating ("nervously" or in "exasperation", if you have to), counting with your fingers (eg. "I think there are two main things to consider here..."), scratching your head, rubbing your chin (or both!), etc. Most hand gestures involve you keeping them above the centre sternum line. Be imaginative! Remember: you don't have to be Italian or Balkan to gesticulate! Whatever you do, just keep your hands up.

Take note of the victims in the first video: how many had their hands up above the centre sternum line?

4. Look for non-verbal cues of imminent attack

A common tactic I grew up watching is that of an aggressor walking up to his/her victim, making some sort of "joke" or other (often nonsensical) statement, then looking away. The look away might seem innocent but it serves to allow the attacker to step deeper into your personal space and/or wind up for an explosive, unprovoked punch.

This "look away" is usually accompanied by a "weight shift" - a classic "tell" of an impending attack - as shown in the video below:

If someone is behaving strangely near you, whether with a "look away", weight shift or any other strange, inappropriate or confusing gesture or statement, be very, very careful – especially if they do so while moving into your personal space. Expect an attack and do the other things I've mentioned (widen the gap, raise your arms, etc.).

Take another look at the punches in the first video and see if you can spot the non-verbal cues that indicated an imminent attack. Most of the ones that erupt from nothing have some sort of "tell" beforehand – whether it is a weight shift, a glance downward, or a even a strange hand gesture. All of these are intended to distract you. How many of the victims responded to, or even seemed to notice, the "tell"? Not one.

Consider the fellow in the shop making a strange hand gesture: the victim does not even seem to notice that it is a "tell"; a subliminal partially clenched fist and a distraction from the other fist that will soon be hitting him. "Tells" like this are subconscious. Look out for them.

5. Keep your eyes on your attacker

This brings me to another, rather straightforward, but very important point: keep your eyes on your attacker!

This will not only allow you to do the obvious (ie. see any attack as it is launched) but it will also let you spot the "tells" of which I spoke above.

Consider again that fellow in the shop showing his strange hand gesture (ie. a partly clenched fist): the victim has his eyes averted, almost downwards, throughout the entire conversation.

Now have a look at the "weight shift" video above and you'll see an even more glaring example of the victim casting his eyes down.

In male dominance displays (ie. "monkey dances") this is normally a sign of submissiveness. Those who are dominated will do it subconsciously in the "hope" that the aggressor will be appeased and leave them alone.

Whatever you do, don't fall into this trap. Don't place your welfare at the mercy of your attacker - you might well find that he/she has none whatsoever! Keep your eyes on your attacker at all times.

6. Learn some defensive skill!

Last, but not least, learn some defensive skill for heaven's sake! I know I'll get the inevitable rush of responses about how "attack is the best form of defence", yada, yada. As I've noted before, if you face a surprise attack, chances are you will barely have enough time to intercept the attack – never mind hit your attacker.

Think about it: if you find yourself facing a punch – one that you couldn't "pre-empt" – you'll have maybe 50 ms to do something before a punch smashes you in the face. A strike to your attacker will take you at least 200 ms. A move from a guard to a deflection will take you 40 ms. Which one should you try?

This is why even top MMA fighters, who never use "blocks" in the cage, are occasionally seen to default to "blocks" when facing a surprise attack in a civilian defence context.

Consider Guy Mezger's successful defence of a woman who was being assaulted and note his own words:
    " He was throwing a really kind of wild punch, which I thought was a punch — I didn’t know he had a knife in his hand — and I kind of blocked it with my left and hit him with the right and knocked him out again."
Yes, Guy got a bad cut on his hand courtesy of this defence. But he didn't get killed. And the "block" was his instinctive, defensive response.

The art of deflection ("blocking") isn't "easy". You need to study it. Don't rely on your natural "flinch reaction" to throw up a "block". Learn how to do it properly; groove the angles of attack, the planes of deflection, the different ways of slipping a powerful punch or strike. Make these movements second nature.

And don't just learn how to "block". Learn how to evade as well. You can't rely on arm movements alone. If your body is moving away as your arms are moving outward, you have the best chance of not being hit. If you rely on only one and not the other, you have twice as much chance of getting hit – it's as simple as that.

Moreover, as I argued in "Surving the surprise attack", you can "buy more time" through evasion. In fact, I've found that evasion can easily double the "time to impact" (if the impact is even going to land): in other words, you can increase that 50 ms to 100 ms or even more.

You might use evasion alone to avoid the impact, but generally a punch launched in the circumstances seen in the first video is too fast and too close to be evaded completely. (Remember that it takes much more time to move your head or body than it does to move your hands, which are so densely "wired" for speed.) This is why even experienced MMA fighters like Guy Mezger can be forced to include some sort of "block" in their defence of a sudden attack in a civilian context; the "reactive" nature of the context1 and the consequent "short time" (say, 50 ms) available usually necessitates both evasion and deflection.

Now take a look at the video at the start and take notice of who does what in response to the attack. In all but two cases, the victim doesn't react at all. No "block", no "evasion". Nothing.

Yes, in two cases the victim starts to lift an arm or tries to evade, but in the rest there is barely a twitch in response to the punch. This is an absolute failure of any appropriate reflexive response – what I have called a "situational reflex blindspot". You need to make sure that you don't have such a blindspot.

And in the two cases of attempted defence (depicted above and to the left), the movement was so late, and so inadequate, that it might as well not have occurred at all (the fellow to the left has his hands up in guard but does no more than look away from the punch - instead of ducking/bobbing/weaving, and despite having his hands in a perfect protective position to deflect or block the attack).


The sort of assault depicted in the first video is, realistically, most people's main "defence nightmare". Not because it is the most serious form of assault they could possibly face: far from it. Such punches, as serious as they might be, are a far cry from an attempted murder, a gang attack, or a rape, to name just a few of the more serious violent offences.

Assaults of the kind depicted in the video are normally over in one punch; the attacker doesn't press the attack relentlessly. Yes, that one punch can even be fatal, particularly if you strike your head heavily as you fall. But in the end, it is hardly the same as facing an attacker with a knife or a gun, or multiple attackers, or anyone who intends to kill or seriously injure you (rather than throw a punch at your face as part of some dominance display).

No, it is most people's main "defence nightmare" precisely because it is the most likely to happen - particularly in the case of young men.

You can help to avoid this "nightmare" through some simple measures:

First, avoid the chest-bumping male dominance display (ie. the "monkey dance") that so often leads up to this sort of assault. Second, keep your personal space. Third, keep your hands above the centre sternum line. Fourth, look for non-verbal cues of imminent danger. Fifth, always keep your eyes on your attacker. And sixth, learn some proper defensive skills - in particular skills appropriate to civilian defence tactics (as opposed to the tactics of cage fighting or some sort of modified military assault system).1

These 6 lessons are what most ordinary folks need to observe in avoiding violence. The rest of martial arts and combat sport lore is of variable significance to them.


1. As I will discuss in a future article, due to legal and ethical/moral constraints, the tactics (as opposed to the techniques/skills and conditioning) of the cage/ring, where attack is the very aim, are profoundly unsuited to civilian defence.

Copyright © 2012 Dejan Djurdjevic


  1. Fantastic article. Very much enjoyed it.

  2. Funny that people rarely mention the role of peripheral vision with respect to improving reaction time.

    The importance of peripheral vision can be illustrate with the "impossible" to catch-the-dollar-bill trick

    It is not even close to impossible. I can catch it about 70%. The trick is to not look at the bill but to look slightly below the wrist using peripheral vision to watch the tendons of the wrist and muscles of the forearm. The extensor muscles don't just have to move to part the fingers thus dropping the bill, but FIRST the antagonistic muscle have to release. If I use my peripheral vision to watch for any movement of their hand/wrist and/or forearm I can catch it about 70% of the time.

    Same trick works with a punch. Keep your gaze at face level, but use your peripheral vision to watch the elbow area for any motion or weight shift. If your work at it you can -greatly- reduce reaction time.

  3. "As I've noted before, if you face a surprise attack, chances are you will barely have enough time to intercept the attack Enever mind hit your attacker."

    The obvious response to that is this only deals under the assumption that the person defending can react to the surprise attack because they see it. A real surprise attack is never seen until it has already landed. This issue needs to be raised because the element of intercepting surprise attacks functions under an assumption that is not always true.

    As one example, all the videos Dan presented were people either facing each other or at least aware of each other's distance. A real surprise attack comes in at a blind spot and ends, without the victim even knowing that they were not alone. This is the crucial difference between people wanting to fight you and people wanting to get rid of you. The latter is always a greater threat than the former. Watching prosecution videos of bar room brawls automatically skews the observer's mind point into thinking the greatest danger is people involving themselves in altercations. That is not so much the greatest danger as the most common danger.

    The most common problems are also solved using nothing but some easy to use avoidance measures. One doesn't need to fight to win such arguments. When it comes to higher threat levels, learning how to avoid it does the user no good. They are rare because all the people that could avoid it, have. And you are chosen because you didn't or couldn't avoid it. That's great for 99.9% of the people out there, but not so great for the corpse on the ground.

    Fighting methods are not the optimum solution set for social problems. Yet most people use violence due to social issues. That's not what most everyday "civilians" need worry about. Civilians and military members need to worry about events called Columbine, Ft. Hood, and Virginia Tech. 9/11. DC Snipers. In those situations, avoidance is defined as locking yourself in a hole and staying there until Armageddon comes.

    Self defense instructors are too overly concerned about applying their complicated techniques to social issues that could simply be solved through de-escalating emotional and social stresses.

    If you are at the point where you have allowed someone to enter close enough that they can hit you before you can react, you are doing it wrong. Instead of focusing on improving your reflexes, you should have improved your verbal, social, and avoidance skills instead. Those that attempt to train their skills to deal with social or anti-social violence, will be unprepared for the real threats they should have been worried about. The ones that they can't avoid 99.9% of the time. Being effective at taking down punks, bullies, and bar room fighters, will significantly increase your blind spot vulnerability to those living at a higher food chain in the jungle.

  4. An old karate teacher once told me that you always got to contemplate the possibility of getting hit, that karate is not only blocks and evasions but also being able to take a shot and not lose it. That breathing is for more than meditation. You breathe, you groove, you take it and give some back, all in the flow of combat. You also got to hone your ability to read a situation, read intent, smell what’s coming. It’s not that you may get hit, but what you do with it.
    A good follow-up post would be: “You got blindsided…now what?”

  5. Thanks Ryan. The peripheral vision works with the dollar bill but sadly not because you're improving your reaction time. You're simply using more appropriate senses to provide the stimulus rather than less appropriate ones.

    The peripheral vision thing works because the rods in your eye are more sensitive to movement as well as light and dark (they are not sensitive to colour or detail). The rods sit on the periphery of your retina (hence peripheral vision).

    The cones provide greater detail and can discern colour, but they are not very good at discerning movement or basic light and dark.

    So every martial artist should focus his/her attention on the centre of his/her opponent (I usually use the chin or forehead, depending on the opponent's height) and use peripheral vision to react to punches kicks etc.

    Thanks for reminding me - I'll do an article on it!

    But your reaction one's reaction time is set at birth and cannot be increased/improved. It decreases by a rate of milliseconds per year after a certain age (I forget when and by how much, but I'll look it up).

    Apart from using peripheral vision to maximise appropriate sensory input, you can also improve your situational reflex (ie. actually having an appropriate reflex reaction to a given situation in the first place rather than having no reaction at all).

  6. Ymar, the "obvious response" to your comment is that something you don't even see coming isn't something a martial arts technique can help you with, so it is necessarily outside the scope of what I'm discussing. I've covered the "nearest thing" to your scenario in my article: "Surviving the surprise attack" where you get tapped on the shoulder, then turn around to see a punch heading towards you (a common nightclub tactic).

    As to "talking people down" and using any number of other avoidance strategies, I'm not only "all for it" but you'll notice the title of this blog is "The Way of Least Resistance" - ie. the Daoist concept of wu-wei, which is very much a guiding principle for me, not only in martial arts but in my life in general. I discuss some of the "talk downs" I've had in my articles on wu-wei.

    In any event wu-wei argues against your proposed "attack-centric" method. I can't tell you how many people have, over the years, entered my personal space where I've salvaged the situation and avoided a physical confrontation. If I'd clocked every one of them, I'd have a criminal record longer than my arm.

    I cover the appropriateness of "attack as defence" in a legal sense in my footnote. In summary, the law essentially requires you to be reactive in civilian defence. Not only does the law require it, but common sense does too. Most people who get irate and walk into your personal space don't want a physical fight, and escalating every situation out of "an abundance of caution" is foolish and unnecessary - the exact opposite of wu-wei (apart from being legally very problematic.

    Understanding when people are intent on physical violence is part of gauging a situation. But sometimes the best of us get it wrong and end up facing a punch. That is what I mean by "surprise attack" - not some hit from behind by an attacker of which you weren't even aware, etc.

    If you are confident that you will hit someone who's coming into your personal space "only when it is necessary", then all credit to you. But I can tell you now that the onus will be on you to show that your "attacker" did mean to do you some injury: a menacing glare or harsh words won't even come close to cutting it, given the number of people who argue "nose to nose" practically every day (including spouses, siblings or friends). The standard of establishing a case for "imminent danger of physical harm" is fairly high. Clocking someone "because you didn't want to take chances" or "let them into your personal space" would be very inadvisable.

  7. I agree Jorge: reading situations and recovery from being blindsided are very important. They both come with experience: one is wisdom, the other spirit. Topics for another day for sure!

  8. I'm think you are correct about the neurological reality but readers can try it using this.

    Looking at the box my fist score was in the low 300s and improved to the mid-200s after a few tries Looking slightly to the side of the box my first try was 176 and improved after a couple tries (although not by much).

    So whether or not the neurological factors are fixed you can *functionally* improve your reaction time.

  9. Maybe it was a fluke. I just tried it again and was only doing low to mid 200s.

  10. My brother got me onto a similar site back in the early 2000s when he was finishing his degree in sports science.

    To get an accurate reading you have to do many tests and then take an average.

    And no, you can't improve it (as my brother learned during his degree). You get a bit better at "mouse technique" (initially you fumlbe, accounting for your low 300s score) but that is about it.

    You can fluke it with "guessing" (just as you can sometimes click way too soon!). I've had flukes that got me a reading around 140!

    But my true reading (averaged out over 20 or so goes) is around 260 (about right for my age).

    Reaction time is a very interesting subject. It is studied as a subset of psychology and biology under the name "mental chronometry". As fascinating as it is, I'm more interested in reflex - particularly reflexes that are appropriate/productive in a given situation. Having a good reaction time is neither here nor there if you have absolutely no reflex to actually activate that reaction time. This is why all the people in that video just stood there while the punch was being launched. They generally didn't even flinch.

    The science of traditional martial arts lies, to a large extent, in enhancing and modifying the natural flinch reflex.

    Thanks for reading and for your contribution.

  11. Sorry - that should have said "fumble"! Lol!

  12. Dan, since you were practicing on how to react to sneak attacks from people walking up to you and pretending to talk or do something else non hostile while they get in range while you were at a fairly young age, how does this teach other people to rely on social skills when they neither have the social skills nor the H2H skills to "salvage" as you say, a bad situation?

    Many people focus on the H2H part because they're worried about the worst case scenario, at least in their minds. The thing is, H2H skills are neither the best tools to use in such scenarios nor are those scenarios in fact the "worst case". By "best" I also mean "least chances of causing you to die".

    Ideally, a person could obtain both kinds of skill at an equal rate, but in reality, even if you could manage to pull it off, I wouldn't simply assume that everyone else would be able to replicate your own results. Your own personal choices are made using a very unique set of circumstances. Namely the fact that it is you, not they, who are in the situation to begin with.

    Based upon your descriptions, the responses you are thinking of aren't an accurate description of what I'm thinking of. I do not recommend clocking people. That's only one thing people "can" do, usually in those same mentioned bar room brawls because it is an immediate idea that comes to people's heads. Before attacks can be defined, one must first distinguish the threat and the problem. That is as yet unclear. When I said that H2H responses aren't the best solutions to social or even anti social violence, you seemed to agree but then used punching the other person as an example of what you found wrong with my position. That logic isn't straight because that's not the idea I'm painting here.

    As for what you said in the beginning, even if the goal is Wu Wei, there is not necessarily a full agreement on what actions constitute a faithful obedience to the Path or whether someone stepped off the Path by mistake. There are various ways to calculate it, one using utilitarian ethics and another using virtue ethics, but that's a different topic *that's more than the character limit here*.

    The onus is always on you if you claim self defense. Simply ask the number of people who accidentally kill people in bar fights for Australia, Texas, South Africa, South Korea, etc.

    Dealing with all these complicated issues as a person is fighting is bad. Dealing with them before the fight even starts, is a good idea in general. By not ending the threat, the hero in our MMA Texas scenario created a situation where more people could die rather than less. And only luck saved him from it, rather than skill. Going into this situation prepared and with the right tools/experience is one thing. Going into this hoping some guy will "give up" because the hero is bigger and stronger, is one of those ideas that look good on paper but doesn't work as well in reality. The details of why this is so, I'll leave for a longer format or as a QA.

  13. As sometimes happens when I try to approve comments using my phone, my fingers slip and I hit the small "delete" button instead. So here is a comment from Fabian:

    "Good day
    i dont know if you remeber me my name is fabian and isent you an email regarding floyd mayweathers padwork=offense and defense at the same time. well im not a martial artist my back ground is exclusively boxing i think one of the points that ive learnt as a boxer is to always have half a body that is give your attacker only half your body that way it makes it very difficult to get hit with a punch an example is floyd mayweathers sholder roll or this video seen here and here of course as a martial artist you would probably have some reservations but i feel in my experience when i applied your bareknuckle stance with my boxing experience im much more of a problem to the way im patiently waiting for the blog on how to apply floyds pad work with martial arts
    thanks and have a great day

    Thanks Fabian. I will address stance and "squaring off" another time. For the moment, the issues raised in the boxing videos you've referred us to are addressed in traditional martial arts in more or less identical terms. The zenkutsu dachi (long/forward stance) of the tradition Eastern arts is, for example, just a boxers' stance, elongated to add load in practice. Otherwise the identical stance occurs without the "load" or elongation.

  14. We're probably on the same page Ymar.

    "Dan, since you were practicing on how to react to sneak attacks from people walking up to you and pretending to talk or do something else non hostile while they get in range while you were at a fairly young age, how does this teach other people to rely on social skills when they neither have the social skills nor the H2H skills to "salvage" as you say, a bad situation?"

    It doesn't. I cover my philosophy on wu-wei elsewhere. I will write much more about it in future articles. This article (and my preparation since I was a teenager) is intended for the rare scenarios where you somehow end up being faced with such an attack depsite trying your best to "talk a situation down". In other words, this article doesn't address the point you're making, but it isn't intended to.

    By the way, it should be clear from the article that my wu-wei approach was ultimately more effective than my physical "just in case" training: the idiot to whom I refer punched practically everyone else in my class at one time or other. He never once even became aggressive towards me.

    "By not ending the threat, the hero in our MMA Texas scenario created a situation where more people could die rather than less. And only luck saved him from it, rather than skill. Going into this situation prepared and with the right tools/experience is one thing. Going into this hoping some guy will "give up" because the hero is bigger and stronger, is one of those ideas that look good on paper but doesn't work as well in reality."

    We'll have to agree to disagree. Guy did what he was legally (and ethically) entitled to do. Had he "finished the guy off" more completely the first time (he knocked him out for crying out loud - how much more would one want?!) he would almost certainly have a criminal record now. The man would never have pulled a knife and his whole rationale for taking this action would never have come to light. With hindsight it is easy to say "He should have finished him off the first time." But, to quote Edward Schneideman: "Hindsight is not only clearer than perception-in-the-moment but also unfair to those who actually lived through the moment." As to "luck" I think Mezger showed enormous skill. The "bad luck" he had was that the fellow had a knife and decided to use it (a scenario we might all face unexpectedly). Otherwise the successful defence of the woman and of himself was his own hard work. It had nothing to do with luck. The cut to his hand was regrettable, but as I say, hindsight is a powerful thing.

  15. There's some crucial disagreements I'm getting to in a moment. I didn't hit upon the specifics until I had explored some of the initial issues first.

    On specifics, my recommendations are similar to the ones you posted here. Control your space by 1. not looking like you are defenseless and 2. taking away what the opponent needs to surprise you. The first is what is reactive, but the second is proactive. And that's not the only thing that is proactive. That is just the situation where people walk about normally and nothing attacks them. If they do get into an encounter, they will have to use even more proactive measures, or else risk the situation escalating, as it did in the Texas hand vs knife story. Meaty hand and tendons are a poor material to pit against knives. "Seeing it" or "not seeing it" isn't the issue. More than 9/10 times, the person that knows how to use the knife, will never let you see it. In fact the knife user allowed the other person to see a lot of things, if they were paying close enough attention. If I wanted to stab someone because I was losing a brawl, I'd do it when they were wrestling with me and unable to notice what is going on. One stab up the groin, one into the back of the thighs and a twist out circular gouge will destroy the nerves and sever arteries and veins. Before the wrestler even realizes there is a knife or he has been stabbed. Being proactive doesn't just mean having your hands up, it means not playing around once you or someone else has their hands on the other. That leads to escalation the same way as verbal argument leads to escalation, except in a way most people won't even notice is happening.

    Stabs to the groin and bladder will often cause large neural or artery damage, plus the infection caused by a ruptured bladder will guarantee infection and death without sufficient luck or medical attention. Either target can be used first and both are easily accessible to those getting knife users into "mma style headlocks". The fact that this didn't happen is a testament to the Texas mma user's "luck" not "skill". Last time I checked, martial artists did not teach their students to survive attacks via luck.

    People get lucky all the time in brawls and other situations, because their opponent is incompetent and of a low, though still significant, threat level. Currently, what most people are worried about are the lowest threat levels in existence in terms of opponents they can find. Bullies, bar room brawlers, street fighters, etc. It's fine if they want to train to deal with those types of individuals, but people should realize the very small pond they are dealing with here. There will be restrictions placed on the person if they train with just one type of opponent in mind, and not all the other far more significant threats above the food chain.

    In another sense the military and law enforcement both have severe restrictions in terms of rules of engagement and acquiring authorization or permission for the use of force. The civilian going about his normal day business, only has to worry about one spectrum of violence, rather than the full spectrum of social, anti social, and asocial violence as the military and law enforcement must worry about and train for (often with total incompetence, but still). These restrictions exist to ensure abuse of power will not be used. For a civilian, their "power" is almost nonexistent and really just resides in their own personal judgment and capabilities. Thus the expectations of the rules of engagement for civilians are far less onerous than for the military or law enforcement. If one lives in a country where the law enforcement holds to lower standards of conduct than the civilians, that is a semi or permanent police state waiting to happen.

  16. These methods Dan posted are often used by bouncers or doormen. Security controlling access spaces to night clubs and the like. If someone attempts to escalate verbally, calm them down. If they attempt to get close to you so they can headbutt you or attack you by surprise, use your arm to keep them away. If all fails, lock them and use superior numbers to overwhelm them, not fight them. This is not "clocking" people as many people seem to constantly think about doing. These methods of defense I am well familiar with, and use almost instinctively in my own fashion. My original and continued point is that do not expect this to stop a determined attacker who believes they can take you out. As in, you being dead means they are safe from you. So you can't talk them down because you living is a threat to them, in their view.

    Like most things in life, people need to set priorities now, not later. Decide what your situation is, and whether you want to learn how to fight to defend yourself from brawlers or learn how to avoid the situation altogether. Decide whether you want to hope the highest types of violence won't happen or learn how to swim so that you don't drown by accident. Once you do decide, THEN and only THEN do you decide on the methods you will use to learn how to do so. Many people decide to learn the methods of fighting and then decide later what kind of situation they think they will be able to deal with with those skills. Wrong way. It results in people trying to hammer in everything they see, because a hammer is the only tool in their box. I believe in being goal and problem focused, and acquiring many different tools in my box.

    When I look at a person, I first ask about their situation and the level of threats they face in their lives most commonly. Then I select a method or technique, and teach it. If a person wishes to avoid crime and faces burglary or common street conflicts they wish to escape, basic evasion and escape methods are easy to learn. There is no "martial arts technique drilling for months and months" required, because we're not trying to solve the entire existence of war and conflict on planet Earth using one be all, end all style. It'd also be inefficient as self defense training for someone to spend months learning something they needed tomorrow. If a person wishes to survive or defeat 3 or more people, even 15 people, the requirements will be stiffer, but not by much.

  17. What a thoroughly interesting and insightful critique. Some truly excellent advice for most people to practice when faced with potential violence.

    It really is a fine line between reacting and over-reacting to a potential attack. I think that most martial artists spend hours practicing the what, when and how of techniques, but never give much thought to "why". Always a pleasure to read your blog posts!

  18. Thank you Xin. I regard this topic as one of the most pressing. I'm surprised I haven't addressed it before. I hope I did it justice, because it concern the one that has occupied most of my martial career (as I believe it occupies most martial artists). No one wants to be "sucker punched"!

  19. Xin, the way I was taught was I was given the purpose or goal I was learning towards, 10 minutes of lecture, and told to do 50 minutes of on the mat practice.

    So every technique was already attached to a purpose or goal for me, and was often relegated to a low priority overall. For some reason, people spent about a year or so doing punches in horse stance and nobody told them what they could be doing with that stuff until they were black belts or something.

    That might make sense when you're teaching toddlers and teenagers. We, however, live in the real world. And the real world has things like Columbine, Virginia Tech, Ft. Hood, and Batman Colorado incidents happen. The excuse of intentional ignorance when teaching students, gets less and less applicable.

    If a person cannot even deal with bar brawlers, street fighters, and criminal gangs, there is no way they can terminate terrorists, serial killers, murderers, and sociopaths. However, I can say that once you train for a specific threat spectrum at the highest level, all the other stuff starts looking stupid and ridiculous in comparison. Which is a bit of a strange side effect, because police and military personnel are primarily trained to deal with lower level threats in H2H, only using a gun for lethal force. There aren't a lot of people or organizations that exist that specialize in engaging at H2H range utilizing lethal force engagement rules. Most civilian orgs say that this isn't their goal because they mostly worry about the common stuff.

    The thing is, if someone is mouthing off at me in person, one of the first things I'm going to think about is how to put them into a body bag. Not about what insults is coming out of his mouth. I ask myself the question of whether I really want to go through the paperwork of killing this person and whether it benefits me in the long run. Most of the time, I'm amused and a slight quirk comes to the side of my lips because it's just so funny the way people carry on mouthing off like they can do anything to back up their words. This has the consequence of deterring violence and de-escalating it, when used properly.

    The point is, most people, who have 2 eyes and ears, can detect when people are safe to attack or not safe to attack. Just on instinct alone. Most of the problem people when it comes to killing or injuring people and get into legal problem are 1. the people who are either untrained or just ignorant about the dangers of bar room brawling and 2. people who use lethal force without fully understanding that they are using lethal force. Just like most of the gun accidents come from people who are sub trained or playing around.

    I've found that people who are properly trained in H2H lethal force, are both harder to surprise and harder to pin down with legal consequences or lawsuits. Because they don't attack people for rage reasons so avoid most conflicts and raging people leave them alone because those people's instincts tell them to. Just how it works. The people that get into these fights "all" the folks are worrying about are either lost in lala land with a big "hit me" sign on their foreheads or raging and mouthing off at people they shouldn't be. That's when people get sucker punched.

    The public perception, even now, is that if you learn to use lethal force with your fists, suddenly you're going to get into all these bar room brawls and get into legal trouble. My experience has been the exact opposite. Same thing with guns. Only police should have guns, that should decrease crime right? Complete opposite result in reality. Virginia Tech, the theater, Ft. Hood (a military base), and Columbine were all, guess what? Gun free zones. The only guns allowed were on police. Even the military members were disarmed of their persona firearms and locked into an armory that takes like 30 minutes to access.

    H2H skills to eliminate gun users and terrorists, starts sounding a lot more useful.

  20. Clarification: By ending the threat, I don't mean finishing people off as in death blows. Although they sometimes qualify and aren't specifically excluded here.

    Ending the threat means ensuring that the other person cannot escalate or attack you or anyone else. A classic move would have been to choke out the guy in 5 seconds. Even those on drugs and can get knocked down (not out, you're not out when you get right back up), will lose consciousness. An unconsciousness person is technically no longer a threat, legally and ethically.

    I don't recommend using chokes, due to other issues, but that was certainly an option the person in question had and was trained for. And it's not like he made one mistake, and realized he had to end the threat because it was no escalating. He tried what he did, and kept doing it even though he saw it was going to lead to the other guy escalating the scenario. It was logical to think a small guy that attacks you and gets whooped will bow out. It was logical to wonder why a small guy that gets whooped is coming back for more. It is also a logical conclusion that the small guy is going to escalate to weapons and that's why he is coming back for more because he thinks he can win. Now the user in question came to the same logical conclusions as the list, except for the last one. He didn't make the connection.

    Over reliance on punches to knock people out is a good example of not using all the tools available. And I'm not referring to techniques but to problems and solutions.

    By not realizing and understanding what the situation was and where it was going, this is an example of a lack of "social awareness" and de-escalation skills, not "punch out power" deficiencies. It was not the case that the person in question lacked the physical power, skills, or speed to get the job done. He saw the guy coming up and pretended he was unaware. The deficiency here is, once again, the lack of social awareness of violence and how it works in the real world.

    What I originally pointed out was that people often think that by training martial speed and power, they can deal with all these types of situations in a competent fashion. This kind of thinking has consequences people should be aware of.

    I also don't think social awareness and H2H skills are independent of each other. For example, I believe Dan's preparations altered his eye contact length, facial expression, body language, and aura/vibes to the point that the bully instinctively realized he had to avoid this guy. Instead of using the balance of social de-escalation and avoidance skills backed up by their H2H skills, what I mostly see in the world is people relying on either one or the other exclusively. Turn the other cheek vs kill them all and let god sort them out, which is still pretty popular in Somalia, Iran, North Korea, South Africa, etc.

    The end point is, for those that had a tl;dr semi-literacy moment, do not put your hands on anyone without realizing that this can ultimately lead to their death or your death. Irregardless of what you think will happen and irregardless of what people intend to do. Because this standard is higher and more complete than the law, following it will cover you for any lesser standard. There are plenty of individuals, police backed by government power, who go around killing people and then having a paid vacation as a consequence because it was LEGAL for them to do so. That is legally justified. Using the law as your guide, is not enough because while many things are legally justified, far less is ethically justified on a personal level. Avoiding Conflict was not about following some law set by the police, the army, or the bureaucrats. That's not Wu Wei's ultimate objective.

  21. fabian,

    There are several principles and functional differences that backs the way people do certain things to other people.

    For boxing, they rely on quick step and hop footwork and a shallow front profile to energize their reaction speed and primary/secondary hand blocks. This means that they are not grounded so they cannot take a hit from the front of their chest, only glancing sideways off their chest. Their feet will go off the ground when the force feeds into them, so they go sideways so that the force goes across their body, and allows their leg muscles to cope with it using speed and reactions.

    Other methods rely on grounding, using both hands to defend and control the other person's attacking tools so that you don't need fast reaction speed, just two hands acting as one. Instead of using one side of the body and one arm for defense as boxing does, they instead rely on two hands and two sides of the body to replace speed. A person with one hand has to be fast to catch attacks. A person that can use two hands at once to catch and control attacks, won't need as much speed and won't need to angle his body as much all the time.

    Marvin Cook in that video provides a very good explanation of fundamental mechanics and principles. One of the reasons why internal methods always face the opponent shoulders squared is because it's too easy to collapse the hip joint with a close range force attack. Boxing is much longer ranged so their hits can easily be deflected via the angle of their so. Not so much at grappling or melee range. Fightings arts often also like to attack the legs and knees, via the same principle as trapping and limb destruction. Having one leg in front all the time, will end up with that foot speared to the ground and then someone is going to rush in close and start the full out assault, preventing you from retreating or changing how your body is positioned. Having a sideways profile to avoid hits won't matter at point blank range. Maneuvrability favors the sniper, the more mobile army, and so forth. When you're stuck at melee range and can't move, it's all about who is tougher and meaner.

    People will most likely never hear me say a stance is good or bad, or that a technique works or doesn't work. That is pretty much meaningless given the methodology I use. It's like when I hear people ask whether they can use their knives to scoop up dog poo. Yea, theoretically you could do it like that, but it's not optimal and it will render your tool, the knife, harder to use for anything else until you recondition it.

    Any fighter can make use of body deflection and angle advantages, but they don't necessarily use it for the same reason or with the same timing.

    Strangely enough, position wise kenjutsu forward stances are similar to boxing stances. Especially in the way that it is important to hide the position and movement of your legs from the enemy. Which is why the split trousers were invented, amongst other reasons. Significant differences but also a few similarities. Any user of any fighting art or system can improve their methods. There's no ceiling or limitation that you can only get the true knowledge from ancient scrolls and traditions. That's not how it works. There are other options. If there weren't, those ancient scrolls would be valueless because how did the original writers come up with the stuff to begin with? The students at Cook's place is lucky to be there. While people can improve their stuff, most people don't cause they lack that creative and ambitious spark.

  22. Sorry for the late post, just thought I would comment. I hear the "use peripheral vision" stuff all the time and it works great in TRAINING, but not in real life. When your adrenaline is going, the fist thing that goes is the peripheral vision, it will be tunnel vision. This is why if you train with LEO's on firearms they teach a full body pivot to scan behind them instead of quick peeks like many MA's try to teach to see behind them. It's just not going to happen in real life.

  23. K-Hirakis, the tunnel vision phenomena is not as common as you seem to imply and moreover is irrelevant because the use of peripheral vision I am speaking of is WITHIN the tunnel. I'm talking about looking towards the face while watching the elbow area. Nobody with normally functioning eyes gets any sort tunnel vision that would exclude doing that. What I am talking about is *definitely* possible during a full-on adrenaline dump.


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