Article: The Best Defense

The following is an article I wrote for For more self defence articles, please see my posts on self defence.


I had the stock of the paintball rifle pulled tightly into my shoulder as I leaned my back against the rocky mound. Thirty feet away, my opponent was doing the same. "Schnak. Schnak. Schnak." Enemy fire brought paintballs whizzing half a meter away from where I stood. We've been exchanging bursts like this for about thirty seconds; an eternity on the paintball battlefield. It was a standoff.

Either my martial arts training or some good sense kicked in and I decided to take the initiative. I started firing measured bursts, broke cover, and sprinted to close the gap. Twenty feet. Ten feet. The enemy had no choice but to stay behind cover. In seconds I had the snub nose of the paintball rifle held at point blank range. He was forced to surrender.

That game was over 10 years ago, but was a prime example of the favorite martial art saying "The best defence is a good offence." Meaning you should proactively take control of a situation rather than passively holding your ground. The statement is a valid strategy for the modern martial artist. It implies that one should not be passive during an onslaught, but to launch a counter-offensive immediately. The 'best defence' calls one to commit to a first strike, lashing out quickly. Personally, I liken the statement to the ideas I communicate in my self-defence course. Teaching untrained participants to defend themselves requires empowering them to go against the grain; to use an unfamiliar aggressive force. However, this "best defence" worldview is not altogether aligned with the philosophy propounded by traditional martial art systems. Many traditional schools, concerned with developing spiritual calmness, advocate non-violence. The Father of Karate himself, Gichin Funakoshi Sensei, stated in point three of his niju kun, "there is no first attack in Karate." Thus I'm exploring the mirror opposite of the "best defence," which is:
The best offence is a good defence.

The " best offence" makes one think that the way to win an encounter is to improve your defensive skills to a point where your opponent loses his fighting spirit because of his perceived inability to win. This is counter to the self defence idea of a counter-offensive.

Let's look at how the "best offense" relates to martial arts training, and let's start with Taekwondo's first pattern Chon-ji.

Most beginners dismiss Chon-ji for its basic two moves. Does the "best offense" draw our attention on Chon-ji's lower block? The purposeful block to a front kick. Or can it also relate to the high fold of our arms before the low block snaps downward?

In recent years I have taught the folding for the low block as an elbow strike to an oncoming arm or leg. Landing the hard point of your elbow on an opponent's inner forearm or lower shin creates immense discomfort. But think about the reaction hand. If you've got your left arm up and over for a left lower block, what is your right arm doing? Your right arm could be the other part of a powerful defensive sandwich. The opponent's arm being caught between your left elbow and the right forearm (or the palm of your right hand) is subject to crushing forces, bringing us back to the idea of the "best offense."

In this approach to the "best offense," the practitioner robs his opponent of striking tools. It's hard to concentrate on the fight if you've got a broken hand.

This is where martial arts and a good self-defence syllabus overlap. Taking the elbow sandwich idea, a resourceful practitioner could look through all the patterns and discover devastating techniques from rather innocuous, oft-discounted techniques. The following techniques are drawn directly from our Taekwondo patterns and are a few examples of moves that literally rob the opponent of the will to fight.

1. Dan-gun's knife hand fold can be used as an elbow break.
2. Doh-san's cross arm fold for the double knife hand block can be applied powerfully to a double lapel grab by dropping your body weight on your opponent's arms.
3. Won-hyo's cup and saucer hand positions can be used to grip the fingers of an attacker's hand and then wrenched apart separately as one performs the following sequence in the pattern.
4. Yul-guk's jump backfist could deliver a powerful foot stomp to end a fight.
5. Choon-gun's middle block followed by circular block could entrap the opponent's arm, locking out his shoulder joint.

Aside from self-defence type applications, students learning to spar can also explore the "best offense." It is when you wait for your opponent to attack, and as soon as he's committed, you launch a simultaneous counter on obvious loopholes. The trick is learning to read the subtle body shifts before the opponent attacks, and of course, moving quickly to take advantage of them.

This sparring tactic is simple to learn, and can be done with such basic strikes as those learned from Chon-ji and Dan-gun. The interesting point to note is that it contradicts the 'attack first' self-defence strategy for the beginning student. Beginners who use this counter-offensive know that it is fairly easy to successfully score against practitioners of similar skill.

But if you're reading this you might be thinking that there's a certain "trick" to sparring. Or worse, there's a certain "trick" to self defence. I know of a martial arts instructor who says Karate and Taekwondo practitioners "have gotten it all wrong." We train and we add more and more techniques to our repertoire, and finally when we're faced with a real threat, can't pull it together. To this, Funakoshi Sensei, in point fourteen of his niju kun, reminds us to "Move according to your opponent." Meaning, there is no one way to win. Stick with one strategy and you're setting yourself up for failure.

While I myself juxtapose martial arts training with self-defence training, the truth is that there are many overlaps. It is not true that sticking with a routine in one will result in success in another. This is why examining conceptual rules of thumb for both martial arts and self defence should be done throughout your training.

Funakoshi Sensei drives home the message again, "Devise at all times."

Colin Wee
Taekwondo Techniques, Patterns, and Applications at the Traditional Taekwondo Blog. [Subscribe using email or RSS feeds] [Tkd Sitemap]


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