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Moments of Vulnerability - A Key Strategy for Self-Defense

Lazy5 If you're ever in a situation that calls for you to defend yourself, it's a complex situation that calls for you to make several fast judgements before taking action.

Connecting with your opponent is essential, but it takes a lot of practice to be able to remain calm enough to do this. You need to quickly understand his mental state, his quickness, his timing, the rhythm of his movements, and when he is deciding to attack.


Lazy7 Martial arts theory can become complicated. In a self-defense situation you must quickly determine your proper distance from the opponent -- this will depend upon his speed and your speed, your reflexes or ability to reach the opponent with your techniques. You must determine your opponent's timing compared with yours, and the intervals that happen between techniques. And finally, you must assess the rhythm that your opponent is using and how you can disrupt or take advantage of that rhythm.

Lazy8 With all this going on, there are moments of vulnerability happening, and if you can take advantage of those split-second moments, you can end the situation quickly.

There are at least a dozen moments of vulnerability that you can create, or that happen naturally, in which your opponent is vulnerable to attack. Here are just a few of my favorites:

1. Talking -- When someone is talking to you, their attention is diverted and they are vulnerable if you strike quickly enough. Practice this with a partner. Have your partner hold a rubber knife to your stomach. Put both your hands up. Have your partner say something like, "Give me your money." Reply by saying, "What?" As soon as he begins saying it again, strike. You'll find that he can't react as quickly while speaking.

2. Breaking root -- When your opponent is off-balance he is vulnerable. This is a common strategy in tai chi -- to get your opponent to lose his balance while you maintain yours and take advantage of his weakness. This can happen with a simple leg sweep or even causing your opponent to extend too far or lean over too far. Often, a very brief window of opportunity happens when your opponent lunges at you, because many people will over-extend and put themselves off-balance at that moment.

3. Break timing -- This is also one of my favorites, and I use it every time I spar. My opponent throws multiple attacks. I block and deflect those attacks and--in the split-second of time between two attacks, I'll counter. After the opponent punches, for example, there is usually a split-second of time before his next punch when he's withdrawing one hand and preparing to fire the next. That's the moment to strike.

There are more than a dozen of these techniques. My advanced students practice these. Other techniques include the use of "fakes" (pretend to attack one part of the body and--when the opponent blocks in that direction, attack a different part); acting weak or frightened to boost your opponent's confidence; pretend a loss of physical balance (drunken kung-fu is a great example of this); and even attacking while your opponent inhales (it takes longer for him to react when he's inhaling).

The next time you spar or even do push hands, use some of these strategies of creating vulnerability in your opponent. Make them part of your regular practice and experiment with them so that they become part of your thinking and one more weapon in your arsenal. 


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