This topic does not cover why confrontations start. Confrontations start for a myriad of reasons, from someone having a bad day to having to face a mugger. This topic covers how confrontations start and how they progress.
A confrontation avoided is a fight won
“The secret principle of martial arts is not vanquishing the attacker but resolving to avoid an encounter before its occurrence. To become the object of an attack is an indication that there was an opening in one’s guard and the important thing is to be on guard at all times.” -Gichin Funakoshi
Martial artists should be secure enough in themselves and humble enough to be able to walk away from a fight. They should first have the wisdom to avoid placing themselves in danger and when a fight occurs, the compassion to avoid placing their opponent in danger unless it becomes necessary.
To avoid confrontations, avoid placing yourself in locations or situations where violence is likely and do not make yourself an attractive target to any would-be attackers. Keep valuables out of sight, park your car in well-lighted areas, avoid isolated places, travel with the car doors locked, avoid suspicious-looking people and situations, do not consume too much alcohol, walk towards oncoming traffic, keep away from aggressive individuals or groups, do not stop to talk to strangers, etc. Be aware of your surroundings and, should an undesirable situation start to develop, you may be able to avoid it altogether and, if you cannot avoid it, then at least the element of surprise is lost to your assailant.
If the opportunity for ambush is lost to opponents, they will have to attempt a direct attack. Directly approaching a person takes more courage, since there is a greater risk of losing the confrontation. This may cause the assailant to abort the attack and find an easier victim later. Assailants who approach you directly may appear to be very friendly at first to take you by surprise. They may ask for directions, a light, or the time in a friendly manner in the hope that you will drop your defenses and allow them to get closer. When close enough, they will then launch their assault, either verbal or physical.
It is common for assailants to begin their attacks with a barrage of swearing and verbal abuse. They may be trying to frighten you to get you to comply with their requests, or they may simply be looking for a fight. It may also be that the person is not sure of their ability to beat you, so they are using the verbal attack to "feel you out" to help them to determine the risk of engaging in a fight.
Indicators of an imminent attack
Just before an attack, there are usually indications that an attack is imminent. Recognizing these indicators will reduce the chances of a "surprise" attack.
Single attacker indicators
- Raspy voice. Stress makes the vocal cords tighten, making the voice raspy.
- Repeated phrases. When someone is thinking of how to attack you it is difficult for them to be verbally creative.
- Unusual sweating. Stress causes sweat. You may notice the person sweating on a cold day and sweat on the nose, sides of the mouth, or the palms.
- Tightening of the jaw or clenching the teeth. Pre-fight facial tensions will cause jaw muscle to bulge.
- Mouth breathing. Breathing fast through the mouth instead of the nose is a sign of building anxiety.
- Weight shifting. Attackers will often shift their weight in preparation for a "surprise" attack. They usually will favor one side.
- Fist clenching. When stress causes blood to move away from extremities, an assailant will often pump his fists to try to regain a "normal" feeling in the hands.
- Instinctive behavior. The shoulders roll forward, chin drops, knees bend, pupils dilate, and hair bristles (piloerection). These are instinctive movements used for protection when anticipating a fight.
- Target glancing. An attacker will often look several times in the area he or she wants to strike.
- Reaction hand distraction. An assailant may point to something to distract you so he or she may strike with the other hand. The assailant may ask you the time so he or he may strike while you look at your watch.
- Preparatory movements. Squaring the torso or angling torso away to prepare for flight.
Multiple attacker indicators
- Positioning relative to each other. When one person in the group moves, the others will rearrange accordingly.
- Glance at each other often. They are silently communicating with each other, waiting for the attack signal.
- Saying something that does not make sense. Attackers may say something to confuse you momentarily. In that moment of trying to figure out what was said or what was meant, the group attacks.
- Unusual body language. An attacker may engage you in conversation then wipe his or her hair back, remove a hat, or tug on an ear as a signal for others to attack.
- Secondary subject distraction. One person may get you to look at another member of the group so he or she may attack you.
- The winner usually the first to act. Action is always faster than reaction, so take control of the situation, do not simply respond to your attacker’s actions. The first one to land a solid blow will most likely be the winner. Once an attack is imminent and physical action is the only recourse, then strike first with power.
- Most fights begin at close range. Sparring matches are usually conducted with the combatants outside the kicking range. From there, one or both will close the distance, execute a few techniques, and then move out again. Real fights typically begin at conversation range (punching range) and rarely, if ever, have the back and forth motion seen during a boxing or sparring match. A few punches will be thrown, and, if none stop the fight, the fight will quickly collapse into grappling range with the opponents grabbing each other. Moving back to punching range again will usually not be possible due to the grips the opponents have on each other that keep them in close.
- An attacker is very unlikely to use martial arts techniques. Most thugs do not have any martial arts training, although they may be very experienced in street fighting. Martial artists spend a lot of time practicing with, and against, practitioners of the same discipline. As a result, boxers are good at fighting boxers, and martial artists are good at fighting fellow martial artists. Street fighters are good at dirty fighting.
- Real fights are sloppy. Real fights are not choreographed like fights in movies, nor are the combatants limited to a certain set of techniques as they are in sporting matches. Real fights are not visually pleasing; they are sloppy and crude affairs. The more complex a technique, the greater the chance of it failing in a real situation. Also, the effects of the adrenaline surge you will experience in a real fight will greatly reduce your ability to perform complex tasks.
- Most fights are decided by blows to the head. Fights are most often decided by who lands the first solid blow to the head. However, successful head strikes are difficult since the head is mobile and difficult to hit and the bones of the skull are denser than the bones of the hand, so striking the skull with a fist may well result in a broken hand. With humans, your face identifies who you are; so, when someone attacks you, their first target is usually your face.
- High and middle kicks are usually ineffective. In sparring, a high kick that misses or is blocked is not a big deal. In a fight, it may lead to your defeat or death. As soon as you take a foot off the floor, you are unable to move and are easy to unbalance. The higher you lift your kicking foot, the more vulnerable you are. Low kicks are more difficult to block, they do not have as far to travel, and the chance of the kicking leg being caught is greatly reduced.
- Most fights are over in seconds. Most fights are over almost as quickly as they begin. Once one of the combatants received a powerful blow, he or she will be at the mercy of the opponent.
- Blocking and countering is unlikely to work. Blocking works well at long range or when you know exactly what technique the opponent is going to use. Since neither of these situations is likely in a real fight, it is almost impossible to block and counter an opponent’s punches at close range.
- Real fights are not like sparring matches. In a real fight, there is no limit to the techniques that can be used and there will be no referee to ensure fair play. Real fights are violent and repugnant. Your opponent can bite, gouge your eyes, seize the testicles, spit, use weapons, etc. Losing a real fight can result in permanent physical or mental damage or even the loss of your life. You must be prepared to protect against attacks and be able and willing to use violent and repugnant methods when it becomes necessary.
- Abernethy, I. (2003). Kata Bunkai; The Nature of Fighting; Brief History of Kata; and How Fights Start (Parts 1 and 2). [Online]. Available: IanAbernethy.com [2003, August 1].