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Avoiding Ambush through Defensive Living

Can you really expect the unexpected?

My style? You can call it the art of fighting without fighting.
- Bruce Lee as Lee, Enter The Dragon

At our recent Midterm Self Defence Special we were asked about defending against a punch from behind. This came up because a friend of one of the attendees had recently been attacked that way. Earlier the same day we gave a talk for a community group and during the talk we were asked about a stabbing incident where the attacker walked up behind the victim and stabbed them in the side.
In both cases our immediate reaction was to ask for more information. In the first case the victim and some friends were walking past a gang of teenagers. One of the gang stopped them with a typical "what did you say about me?" distraction while another stepped behind and threw a punch. In the second case there had been a fight in a nightclub and one person was thrown out. That person got a knife and waited outside for the victim to leave then snuck up on him and stabbed him without warning.
At first glance it seems impossible to come up with a technique that would have resulted in a different outcome in either situation. Truth be told, we didn't even bother offering a technique because, as we always say, there's a lot more to Self Defence than throwing punches. In fact, the best way to survive a violent encounter of any type is to avoid it. As Mr. Miyagi said, "Best block? No be there".
These attacks didn't happen in a vacuum. In both cases there was an opportunity to avoid trouble that was either ignored or missed. Of course it's easy to say that after the fact. What we try to teach people is how to identify the danger and sieze the opportunity to avoid it.
When he was teaching me to drive my father told me that everyone else on the road is an idiot, liable to do something stupid at any time. He stressed that it was up to me to be prepared for anything and that meant driving defensively and paying attention to everything. That's a lesson that can be applied to avoiding ambush. Living defensively doesn't mean leaping at shadows and living in fear of attacks from anyone and everyone. It means simply paying attention to the world around you. Remember what Ra's Al Ghul tried to teach Batman - "Always mind your surroundings".
With that in mind we try to teach people about Jeff Cooper's colour code when it comes to awareness.

Jeff Cooper's Colour Code

WhiteSwitched off. You are unaware and unprepared, e.g. walking down the street checking your phone and bumping into lampposts.
YellowSwitched on. Aware of your surroundings and scanning for possible threats.
OrangeThreat identified. Something is off and your spidey-senses are tingling. Now is the time to act to avoid trouble.
RedYou are under attack.

Taking the first situation as an example, once the gang of teens had been spotted there was an identifiable threat. Once the threat is identified the opportunity to avoid the danger is immediately presented. In this case simply crossing the road may have been sufficient to avoid the danger. Now, we're not a bunch of paranoids, clutching our pearls at the thoughts of unruly teens. The danger may turn out to be nothing more than sniggering as we pass or it may be some shouted insults. We plan for the worst case scenario - being surrounded and beaten - and act to avoid it. Crossing the road leaves the gang free to ignore us, snigger about us or shout insults at us but they can't reach us so the physical attack is avoided and that's a win. So what if, seeing us cross the road, the gang or a member crosses the road too? Well that's a real indicator that something is up and the safest option is turning around and going back the way we came. Maybe they were doing it to try and bum a cigarette but maybe they were doing it to distract us and set us up for an attack. Either way, we're not there so there's no physical threat.
For the second scenario we always stress that an incident isn't necessarily over just because the threat has been removed. The threat may be sitting outside texting his mates to join him or he may be heading to collect a weapon before returning to wait. Once the threat has been removed, the safest option is to leave. Go somewhere else or go home. Is it fair that your night has to end because of some idiot? Of course not but someone who calls their mates to help give you a beating, or sits outside with a blade in their pocket waiting for you has no interest in what's fair. Is your insistence that you are entitled to stay out worth stitches or worse? Sure, the threat may just go home, moaning about how you started it and then move on with their lives but you have to decide how much you're willing to take that risk.
Living defensively is maintaining a Yellow alert level. Just as checking the mirrors and road ahead for hazards becomes automatic when driving, being aware of the surroundings becomes second nature after practice. We can't really expect the unexpected but through living defensively we can spot the warnings and take appropriate action to avoid trouble. Or, as we say in Irish, "Ná bac le mac an bhacaigh is ní bhacfaidh mac an bhacaigh leat."
If you'd like to learn more you know where to find us every Monday and, of course, your first class is free.