The Preemptive Strike: Proactive Self-Defense 1

“To be prepared for war is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace.”
General George Washington

Those who study karate are familiar with the expression “there is no first strike in karate”. To them, the expression represents the philosophical basis of the martial arts. Taken literally, it refers to the principle that karate practitioners should never initiate or escalate a confrontation, nor should they use their skills other than in self-defense. The philosophical underpinnings of this expression run much deeper than one might expect, holding great relevance for both martial artists and non-martial artists alike.

In the medical profession, health care providers take a proactive approach to treating illness through the use of preventative medicine and early intervention. Unfortunately, this philosophy is not as readily accepted regarding matters of personal defense. The martial artist however, sees preemptive action as an essential part of an effective self-defense capability.

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Efficient Transition – The Slip Step

The ability to transition quickly and efficiently is an essential martial art skill. Those with superior transition skills enjoy a significant tactical advantage by virtue of being in an ideal position from which to act. Moreover, by moving efficiently, martial artists are able to mask their actions and thereby add to their advantage. How then do we apply and benefit from this principle in our daily lives?

In karate, an often used transitional stance is the slip step, which refers to a method of movement through which a practitioner shortens or lengthens the distance between themselves and their opponent. The mechanics enable a practitioner to minimize the time during which they are vulnerable, while maximizing their options through the use of proper body mechanics and distance control. Proper movement helps martial artists avoid being caught in transition.

Like martial artists, we should strive to avoid being caught in transition and ensure that we maintain optionality. Preparation is the key. While each situation is unique, the overriding principle is universal. Those seeking to master the principle should prepare for each event, meeting and encounter as if preparing for battle. In combat, warriors try to anticipate and preempt their opponent’s actions. They seek to control the encounter and achieve a tactical advantage by gaining the “high ground”. By preparing for the each encounter in this way i.e. by knowing your opponent, by being familiar with or ideally selecting the time and place of the meeting, and by anticipating likely actions and responses, you will be hard to knock off balance and therefore less likely to be caught in transition.

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The Preemptive Strike

“To be prepared for war is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace.” – General George Washington

Those who study karate are familiar with the expression “there is no first strike in karate”. To them, the expression represents the philosophical basis of the martial arts. Taken literally, it refers to the principle that karate practitioners should never initiate or escalate a confrontation, nor should they use their skills other than in self-defense. The philosophical underpinnings of this expression run much deeper than one might expect, holding great relevance for both martial artists and non-martial artists alike.

In the medical profession, health care providers take a proactive approach to treating illness through the use of preventative medicine and early intervention. Unfortunately, this philosophy is not as readily accepted regarding matters of personal defense. The martial artist however, sees preemptive action as an essential part of an effective self-defense capability.

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Become the Constant in the Equation

“We do not rise to the level of our expectations. We fall to the level of our training.”

One need not be a mathematician to understand that it is impossible to solve an equation with more variables than constants. Yet, when faced with difficult situations in our lives, we often place upon ourselves this unreasonable expectation. Sadly, misguided expectations form the basis of much of the disappointment and frustration we experience and moreover, prevent us from reaching our potential.

How then, do we achieve our goals when we have more variables than constants? How do we make informed decisions, respond properly in dynamic situations, and make progress when life’s equations seem unsolvable? The answer is simple….you, must become the constant in the equation.

I have been fortunate to witness several martial art matches involving true masters, many of whom were more than sixty years of age. Invariably, I saw the masters effortlessly defeat younger, more physically fit and capable opponents. In many instances, the master was simultaneously sparring multiple opponents! It appeared to me that the opponents were attacking in slow motion, and that the master was anticipating their attacks as if choreographed. Having myself been the “victim” of such encounters, I can assure you this was not the case begging the question, “how can one individual so completely control an encounter containing so many variables (opponents)?

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Analysis Paralysis

According to Wikipedia, the phrase describes a situation where the opportunity cost of decision analysis exceeds the benefits that could be gained by enacting some decision, or an informal or non-deterministic situation where the sheer quantity of analysis overwhelms the decision-making process itself, thus preventing a decision. That to me is just a long-winded way to say dysfunctional! Here’s how to avoid analysis paralysis in your life.

Many intelligent and driven people suffer from Analysis Paralysis. It is important to note that making a conscious decision not to act, is different from analysis paralysis. Analysis paralysis is the inability to take action because you cannot select between and among options. The former is healthy, the latter dysfunctional. To reach our potential we need to identify ways to eliminate analysis paralysis.

In the martial arts, the failure to act is generally met with an immediate and unfavorable result – fist meet face comes to mind. To avoid such occurrences, good instructors teach new students only a few basic techniques so that the selection process is essentially negated. When you only have one block, and one strike, your choices are limited. Moreover, these techniques are continuously drilled so that the student can perform them on an unconscious level. By virtue of their simplicity, students are able to understand and apply the techniques and thereby lay the foundation of an effective self-defensive capability. Students taught in this manner do not fall prey to analysis paralysis because there are no decisions to make. Instead, they unconsciously act using the basic techniques they have acquired.

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