It seems that most traditional martial arts teach defenses which are predicated on specific types of attacks. This likely comes from the eras long ago where everyone involved in a conflict was trained essentially the same way. For example, the vast majority of martial arts teach straight line reverse and/or lunge punches aimed at the defender’s face and then teach defenses against these.
With weapons attacks we are typically taught to defend from a particular type of style of attack as well.
Since we know from the outset what the attack is likely to consist of, with a little training the defense is relatively easy, even when the intensity of the attack is increased.
More often than not, when the attacker (in class) inadvertently or deliberately changes the method of attack the defender tends to ask the attacker to start over and “do it right” or he ends up failing to effectively defend the “unorthodox attack”. Herein lies the origin of the term “bad attacker”.
Moshe Katz, founder and head instructor of Israeli Krav International once said “There are no bad attackers……There are only bad defenses.”.
This brings me to the point where I would like to share my personal observations based on over two decades of training and well over one decade of teaching. As a matter of clarification, these observations are related strictly to real world self defense (on the street, in your home, etc.) and not to training under controlled, monitored conditions in the dojo or dojang. In our world of IKI Krav Maga we never tell anyone how they should attack and that makes things beyond interesting at times, especially since the instructor (in this case that would be me) never knows quite what to expect, especially when demonstrating a technique…..
Punch Attacks: On the street it is much more likely that you will see a circular type punch than a straight punch. The circular punch can be anything from a ‘haymaker’ to a type of hook to an uppercut. Straight punches in a street situation are usually from someone who has a bit of boxing or traditional martial arts training. The boxer will likely throw a jab first and the traditional martial artist will use more of a power punch, straight for the face or, less frequently, at the body. The point here is that you just don’t know in advance and knowing ahead of time that you don’t or won’t know is really important information to have. Additionally we see people stepping into the punch with the same foot as the punching hand, others stepping with the opposite foot and some not stepping at all. While your training may tell you that all but one of these is a bad attacker, if you haven’t trained to expect the unexpected you are likely going to get hit and you may not know why until much later. Another important aspect of this scenario is that you will more than likely not know initially whether the attacker is right or left handed.
Consequently we advocate training for the unexpected and we let the attacker do whatever is natural to him or her in the process. Makes for some close calls occasionally but doing this teaches you to be very aware of what is going on and to scan (with your peripheral vision) for “tells” or telegraphing of the punch. “Tells” will always occur with a power punch. With a jab or “sucker punch” the “tells” are extremely difficult to read but you can often ‘read’ the attacker’s attitude before he/she strikes.
One of the ironies here is that if you decide to purely defend (i.e., back up and block the punch) you may or may not end up in the right position to do so. Conversely, if you opt to defend by attacking the person punching (i.e., moving into him/her and using a hard strike attack as your block) the type of punch and/or footwork involved doesn’t really much matter. There are a few exceptions, of course, but we’ll address those at another time.
Weapons attacks: The same situation occurs when someone is trying to strike with a hard, blunt weapon or cut you with an edged weapon. If you know in advance how or if the attacker will step and/or in what direction he/she will swing the attacking weapon defending is relatively easy (with training). On the other hand, if you do not know these things in advance, much can go wrong and usually does. Our tendency is to step back and execute a defensive technique or move but not knowing which (if any) foot will be stepping and/or how far and/or in what direction makes our defensive move more difficult. Again, if we attack the attacker by moving instantly into him and striking with force (preferably in two locations simultaneously) this will disrupt his/her game plan drastically and put us in control from that moment forward.
Indeed this is all counter intuitive but that is the beauty of it. No matter how smart an attacker is or is not, he/she subconsciously expects certain things to happen when the attack is initiated. Once you do something that overtly conflicts with those expectations the attacker has to essentially “reboot” and figure out how to deal with what he never imagined would happen.