Let’s say you’re in a situation where some big dude is in your face, yelling, screaming, and getting angrier by the second.
If things keep on going the way that they’re going then it looks like you’re going to be in a serious fight any second…
Here’s the question: should you launch a pre-emptive Pearl Harbor style attack on this guy, taking him out before he actually starts fighting with you?
It’s a tricky question…
Here’s a quick video with my thoughts on the topic from the SDT youtube channel, but I go into additional detail below in the rest of the article.
In general there’s a good argument for taking the initiative and moving first. That’s because counter fighting is hard, and – usually – action beats reaction.
If he’s already started his attack when you’re in sit-and-wait mode then you’re already a few steps behind…
He only has to do one thing (e.g. punch your face), whereas you’ll have to do 3 things in order to not take damage: 1) identify his attack, 2) come up with an appropriate response, and 3) actually put your plan into action.
This all takes time, and if you’re at close range then you’re probably going to lose.
And it’s made even worse when you consider the huge number of options your attacker has…
A street situation is so much more unpredictable than a controlled sparring situation in the gym
If you’re karate sparring then you have a pretty good idea of the attacks your opponent is going to use: he’s either going to a) punch you, or b) kick you.
But in the street you have to worry about punches, kicks, headbutts, elbows, grabs, slaps, knees, pepper spray, knives, guns, tackles, headlocks, a bunch of his friends showing up, him getting in a car and running you down with it, and too many other attacks to mention.
The more things you need to monitor and react appropriately to then the longer it’s going to be to choose the correct response (this is known as Hick’s Law which I discuss more in this article on my other site).
Another thing that affects your reaction time is distance…
If he’s 20 feet away, balls his fists and starts to run towards you then you have some time to evaluate your options. Depending on the situation you could run, sprawl, knee, choke or throw some object into his path; each of those could be the correct answer.
But at close range, by the time you recognise that you’re actually in a fight, his haymaker may already be landing on your face. Less distance means less time to react, and that increases the pressure on you to be the first to move.
At close range, if you’re 110% sure that things are going to escalate, then it’s better that YOU start it. Be pre-emptive and take the initiative.
However before you haul off and try to knock him out with your best sucker punch then it’s really important to consider the legal implications of whatever you’re about to do.
If you punch him in the wrong spot by accident, or if he falls and breaks his head open on the pavement, then your surprise attack literally could kill the guy.
How would you like to go in front of judge saying something like “yes, I was pretty sure he was going to attack me, so I punched him in the throat…”
That’s probably not going to play well in a court of law if you’re being charged with manslaughter.
As I said in this video here, would it really be a victory if you ‘win’ a streetfight by KO’ing some dude and then going to prison for 15 years?
The bottom line is that if you’re nose to nose with some guy and you’re SURE that he’s about to hit you then you should probably do something.
Of course one option is to hit him first in a vital area and try to take him out.
But if you have the skills then there are usually a few other alternatives you should consider…
You could increase the distance and then try to verbally defuse the situation. With the increased distance you’ll have more warning of an impending attack.
Or you could try to recruit a few more people to your cause; maybe this guy isn’t so wild about taking on 4 people all at the same time.
Or you might could close the distance and jiu-jitsu the hell out of him.
It’s true that the first mover has the advantage, and sometimes your first move needs to be a sneaky left hook to the jaw. But hopefully your training is sufficiently well rounded so that you have a few other effective alternative options up your sleeve as well!