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.

The expression there is no first strike in karate does not mean that martial artists must wait until a strike is directed at them before responding; quite the opposite. If for example, a person expresses dislike for you, buys a hunting knife, dresses in black, hides outside your house at night, and sneaks up behind you as you approach your door, would you say they intended you harm? Should you wait until the knife is inches from you before responding?

Extreme example perhaps, but it communicates the point that if an attack is imminent, you need not wait until the knife is in route before acting. There is no first strike in karate refers to the intent of the encounter. Stopping a knife by preventing it from being pulled is not initiating a first strike, but rather employing a prudent and proactive self-defense.

Many people refrain from taking preemptive action for fear of being seen as overly aggressive, or because they are uncomfortable initiating confrontation. Unknowingly, these individuals are actually inviting potential attacks against their physical, emotional or psychological well-being. Emboldened by passive behavior, adversaries seek to exploit perceived weakness. When your adversary has reason to expect you might act preemptively, they are more likely to engage in “right-minded” behavior.

By demonstrating the willingness to take preemptive action, i.e. proactively defending yourself, you can avoid or mitigate acts design to injure, embarrass, sabotage, tarnish and otherwise harm you whether at the PTA or in the corporate boardroom. Preemptive action is self-defense. It is not random, uncontrolled or otherwise irrational and overly aggressive behavior. Like the martial artist, you should never hesitate to or feel bad about being proactive in your own defense; even a single demonstration of this capability will clearly communicate your message to potential adversaries.

In conclusion, the principle we are considering applies to the entirety of personal defense: physical, emotional and psychological. That said, the principle of preemptive action and the doctrine of law may be at odds regarding the subject of self-defense. Consequently, while I wholeheartedly advocate this principle, I caution readers to exercise prudence when engaging in matters involving physical confrontation.