Pre-emptive Strikes

Photo of being poked in the eye

This interview was published in March 2008 and took the form of a discussion between senior martial artists, Dennis Jones and Steve Rowe. Both of whom have a strong predigree in security work.

Lately Steve I’ve been getting a number of emails from people wanting to know more about pre-emptive striking. Their concerns centred on when is the right moment, when someone is starting on you, to hit them? Another question that also came up was about my DVD. In the DVD I take a small step with my left foot, stepping slightly to my opponent’s right side. I would take a little shuffle just before I powered my big right hander into the target! A few people wondered if this slight pre-emptive left leg movement would give the game away. But before I answer the questions, I want to talk about self defence on the street. (In the home if you are in fear of an intruder the law generally does not require you to wait to be attacked before using defensive force yourself.)

Now there are two things that worry decent people when they think about having to defend themselves out in the street. The first is how they will react when frightened, and the second is about the unnerving situation of having to justify their action in court. Facing a lengthy jail sentence or a big fine and probation is a major concern that the majority of law abiding citizens carry, like a millstone around their neck, for all their adult life.

As far as self defence is concerned a court appearance is in my experience rarely a cut and dried event. Just because most of us are familiar with the simple definition of self defence it don’t mean-even if you believe and everyone else believes your actions were in harmony with the definition-that you won’t end up in the dock. However, it does go without saying that if you are physically attacked you can-if you want to-defend yourself.

Fighting back when the odds are not ‘too heavily stacked against you’ is quite natural. And if you are attacked by someone armed with a weapon, most people would think it reasonable to defend yourself using a weapon as well. In the interest of self preservation anything can happen in a street fight but if you go too far, like giving someone a few extra digs and a good kicking for starting the trouble, you can easily put yourself in court. Each fight is different and often requires a lot of unraveling by the experts to get to the bottom of what actually occurred. Having each action and moment pulled apart in court, it’s not long before the ‘Judge and Jury’ will be able to determine if you acted lawfully that is, lawfully according to English law. For example if a ten year old child attacked you with a flurry of punches I am sure the courts would not consider your action reasonable if you replied with a few adult punches of your own! I know that’s an extreme example but I feel it does help highlight the problem of reasonableness, which as an issue goes far beyond, ‘Well officer, he hit me so I hit him back’ type of statement.

I have a law book. It was published with the layman in mind and in it is written the following statement:

“It is both good law and good sense that a man who is attacked may defend himself. It is both good law and good sense that he may do, but only do, what is reasonably necessary.”

Now I’m no lawyer but two terms stand out for me. The first is ‘…who is attacked…’ the second ‘…reasonably necessary.’ So I reckon the generally held belief in self defence of hitting first or first strike can cause a lot of legal problems in the cold light of day. Hitting first means you are not reacting to an attack but simple stopping a perceived attack. However, because it has not occurred, how can you prove you were about to be attacked! It might be that you were verbally threatened but that does not mean that a physical attack is imminent. Most threats of violence are mostly empty words and striking out because you’re in fear of getting beaten up by a couple of scumbags who are giving you grief in the street…well if you get arrested don’t assume ‘because you thought they were going to attack you’ that the law is automatically on your side. If you are put in that unenviable position of having to defend yourself out on the street, its good legal sense to make sure that the force you use is justified and that you apply it just as you’re being attacked!

However, it must be remembered that the vast majority of verbals on the street do not lead to violence. For example, I’ve had youths giving me a hard time on the door, telling me that I’m a **** or whatever, and for the last 10 or so years I’ve known that the chances of not getting arrested if you punched their lights out is pretty slim. Now I’ve been in countless situations like that and generally ‘You can safely ignore most idiots.’ I’ve always been happy to leave them to their own devices but only as long as they don’t put a hand on me! Quite truthfully anybody that’s a nasty piece of work, you know the ones Steve, the sort that have no respect for anyone else, will in the end, and I’ve seen this happen countless times through my life, usually get what they truly deserve – you reap what you sow as the Bible says!

In the early days when I first started bouncing, that’s what happened, they reaped what they sowed; mouthy thugs would get slapped for gobbing off! Often one of the older bouncers or occasionally a member of the public (usually an ex-soldier) would administer the discipline. Back then the police were as keen as we were to keep good order around our nightclubs and on our streets. Times have changed, but irrespective of the risk of getting arrested for defending yourself, it has never been more important than it is now-a-days to train hard so that you can fight if you have to. Quite simply our society does not seem to have the ability to moderate the behaviour of the countless ‘nasty violent thugs’ that ruin our lives. And developing the right mindset and fighting ability might be the only thing that prevents you and the people you love from getting a good hiding – or even worse.

Over the years I’ve seen many pre- emptive strikes used to good effect. Often they’ll end a conflict just a split second after the physicals have started and I’ll finish this months column talking about ‘what I’ve learned’ over the last two decades.

Fundamentally, ‘pre-emptive strike’ is all about the street. I have found that in ‘street conflicts’ (but not in boxing matches or in most other types of combative sports) no one is looking out for slight body movements in an attempt to predict an attack. If martial artists are training to look for ‘signs’ like ‘slight body or foot movement’ as a part of a street strategy, well I believe there’re focusing inappropriately.

Your focus when faced with danger should be on your potential attacker and in a holistic manner. I tend to ignore most of the words that are spoken prior to conflict, preferring instead to work out, and very quickly, whether I’m in danger of getting hurt. My ascertaining is based on the following:

  • Reason/s for the conflict and there is always one. Occasionally it’s so trivial it makes you think it’s something out of ‘Alice in Wonderland.’
  • His emotions
  • His demeanour and intention
  • Predicted outcome (will I be successful)
  • Possible repercussions both legal and otherwise (revenge attack etc.)
  • Disengagement strategy and do you know him or does he know you.
  • Distance from opponent
  • Body position and how is he moving (walking, darting movements, staring etc)

In a street conflict the antagonist will always focus on your face, which incidentally is your identity and personality. The only time they look away is if they intend to trick you in an attempt to get you to drop your mental and physical guard. Another tactic street thugs always use is to try and dominate your mind. If he controls your mind, your body will do what he wants. If you succumb to his mind games you’ll be in a lot of trouble! Often in the street (or nightclub etc.) it’s all about getting the advantage. Whether with numbers and/or using weapons, the scum bag will also be tricking and scaring you and at the same time he’s always trying to set you up. Remember a common trait of prolific murderers is that they have an incredible skill to deceive potential victims.

Often in a conflict an antagonist uses extreme emotions-generally because they themselves are unstable. Sometimes they’ll turn anger into friendship and then friendship into anger and so on. Other times they’ll go into a frenzied and highly emotive verbal attack. I have found the following most helpful:

  • Don’t engage in conversation that goes beyond politeness. Keep it simple and try and discreetly disengage and get away.
  • Be pleasant but keep resolved in your heart that your ‘pre emptive strike’ is ready to launch its attack.
  • Keep your emotions hidden, drop your head slightly, breath deeply and through your nose but keep a pleasant non- aggressive face.
  • Constantly gauge distance and be aware of other people and possible weapons that could be used like bricks, stones and bottles etc. that is if the fight goes beyond the initial contact.

Your focus in training must be on hitting hard, quickly and accurately. Work on three or four blows, right and left and elbows. Remember when you use the pre-emptive strike you have tricked your opponent! Thinking that they are going to do you, they have made the mistake and moved themselves into range-just as they are attacking you. Often because of the mindset of the antagonist they, like a predator, hardly notice any of their victim’s nervous movements. Shaking body limbs, nervous twitches are the order of the day and when you start to make your move, they for a split second instinctively assume (they believe that you are terrified) you’re trying to get away from them. A sideward step is generally seen as an attempt to walk around them-make it look like that!

This article was written by Steve Rowe and Dennis Jones and is published here