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“Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night, and when you move, fall like a thunderbolt.”
― Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Many courses teach that self defense (or fighting) is only to be used if you need it. One might argue that once you need self defense, it may already too late.

My own interpretation of Sun Tzu is that you must prepare to take the mindset of a villain and strike with unrelenting force. Act quickly and efficiently to put down your enemy.

Causality is the connection of an action (the cause) to a reaction (the effect) of any causal factors.

To put it more simply, for every action there is a reaction.

In relation to fighting, there is always a person in the cause state and another person in the effect state. Or another way of putting it, an action and reaction state.

This can change at any moment in the fight. When an attacker throws a punch, he is then the cause and you are the effect. Even by reacting to the punch thrown, either redirecting it or taking the punch, you are still in a effect/reaction state.

No one is immune to this. When something happens to you, you must react in one way or another.

“The best defense is attack.”
— Italian Proverb

What is interesting about this law is that it’s easy to switch from being the effect to the cause.

Let’s keep this in the context of self defense to stay on track. It’s really easy to get into metaphysical debates about this type of stuff which would be a entire side conversation. Feel free to email me or comment if you’d like to get deep about this.

But for now, in terms of self defense, the instant you decide to do something, you are now the cause. You can chose not to fight back, and the effect of that is continuing to allow the attacker to attack you.

Or, you can fight back, becoming the cause and putting the attacker into the effect mindset, forcing them to react to what you are doing.

“Attack is the secret of defense; defense is the planning of an attack.”
― Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Don’t misunderstand me by thinking that all an untrained person must do is take on the cause mindset and they will automatically win. That would be far from reality. However, if you can be efficient, dark, and strike with unrelenting force, you may very well have a chance.

Let me explain “dark”. Sometimes this throws people off… Violence is dark. Causing harm to someone (even if they deserve it) is a violent thing to do. We need to accept that and be okay with the darkness required to be efficiently violent at the time we need it most.

It’s not about how many fancy techniques you know. It’s about your willingness to be the cause and not the effect.

I teach many people Krav Maga and self defense skills. I can tell who’s there for the techniques and the cool factor, and who’s there to become a warrior. The warriors are much more capable of surviving an attack. Even with fewer skills and techniques.

One of the hardest parts of my job (which rings true for every self defense instructor) is to teach people to release the warrior that’s deep inside, to unleash our primal instincts on cue. Instructors can create drills, make people sweat, and feel confident. But what’s hardest to instil in a student is that they have the ability to be, as Sun Tzu puts it, “dark and impenetrable”.

“There’s only one basic principle of self-defense – you must apply the most effective weapon, as soon as possible, to the most vulnerable target.”
— Bruce Lee

Here’s some ideas to help you better become the cause while training.

Don’t always wait for your partner (who is playing the attacker role) to issue an attack which you then have to defend. This is creating habits to always be in the effect position. Try to instead attack them while they are preparing to attack you.

As an example, one of the many issues with sparring is the very beginning, touching gloves (along with there being too many rules).

It is taught that out of respect you much touch gloves, create space, and then start fighting. In a sport context, GREAT. Respect is deserved and should be projected. In a self defense class, this should not be an everyday occurrence unless the instructor implicitly states this is a drill, and not a real life scenarios.

Look up street fighting on YouTube. You will find that the majority of participants have a preflight ritual. They talk, create space, circle each other, square off, and then the fight begins.

Don’t do this… If you are about to spar in class, when your partner comes to you to touch gloves, you should be jumping in for a surprise strike to the face followed by multiple kicks, non-stop, until the round is over. You just became the cause.

When you are practicing, don’t do the “I attack you then you attack me” routine that everyone seems to default to. Understandably, you are trying to let the other people have a turn. But you are creating more bad habits.

In any popular action movie, the protagonist gets into a hand-to-hand fight with that antagonist. It’s always a close battle, always on the edge. Watch closely, you will see the hero punch the villain, then the hero stops attacking and the villain strikes back, and so on. I know, I know… It’s a movie. It’s Hollywood! But we are learning through visual osmosis how to fight. Basically you take turns!

Stop doing that. Your strikes should come down like a thunderbolt and be a chaotic, unstoppable force until you have disabled the attacker and can escape.

People won’t like you for this, and your instructor and class setting may prevent you from doing this all of the time. So you may need to find other strategies to avoid making this ritual a habit. As long as you are aware of these limiting factors, you can mitigate your exposure to them.

When it all comes down to it…

In an unavoidable fight you have two options, be the cause or the effect. Which one do you chose?