The Way of Strategy

In reply to the formal post of Dan’s here.

The objective is to checkmate the enemy’s king, which is to say attack in such a fashion that the enemy cannot avoid or defend against it. In a checkmate strategy, the opponent has no options at all. Even in chess, which utilizes an equal time and round table format, the defending player must react to the attacking player’s gambit or move. And the stronger the attack, the more tendency there is to panic and react to the single threat, rather than looking into the future and seeing the second, third, fourth, and fifth potential threats. Thus a grandmaster attacks in such a way that the enemy never gets a chance to counter-attack, regardless of how many turns he has at moving his pieces. He never gets a chance to counter-attack because he is always on the defensive. What is called “one move behind”. He has no time to do what he wants to do. And time is not something one can get back. (Refer to Napoleon’s famous quote: approximately, give me anything but time)

In a physical reality that we inhabit, we don’t have turns. Things either happen simultaneously or the attacker attacks and the defender defends. This keeps going on until the attack goes through the defender’s guard and checkmate happens automatically at that point. In reality, time is much more valuable a commodity than in chess, because nobody gets a “turn” based upon some arbitrary rule.

The grandmasters (of chess) can simulate the reality of an uninterrupted and invincible offensive by simply never giving the opponent any time to launch counter-attacks. An opponent’s skill, speed, strength, or insight is of no use when he has no time to use it. He has to process the data, decide on an action, and then use his nerves to send the command to his body so that his body will carry out the action. In chess, he has to make his moves quickly or else timeout and lose. In reality, fighting takes endurance and the smallest of mistakes add up to loss of time in the long run.

By attacking in such a way that it interrupts or prevents the opponent from acting, allowing only reactions, blocks and deflections are no longer a feasible way to achieve victory.

Rather, any block or deflection used is simply because the attacker planned on using it to setup a more devastating attack. A grandmaster threatens the king and forces a reaction by the defending piece to block the attack or support the defense, then brings in another attack utilizing the gap in the defense or increasing the pressure by threatening another sector/piece. If the defending side only had time to do two moves, he would be out of that trap. But he’ll never be allowed that time. Chess has relatively simple rules, which can be data processed by AI linear thinking or parallel processed by human experiential thinking. Even with such simple rules, the human mind can crash due to the stress. Imagine what the case would be in an actual life and death confrontation. If people are upset about their situation while playing chess…

In fighting, only human experiential thinking will be of use. The variables are too many to calculate linearly.

An effective attack plans ahead by decreasing the opponent’s options and time. So long as a person has time to think and act, he can do things to disrupt your plan. But once he runs out of time due to tactical or strategic advantages the enemy holds, the defender no longer has an option to even defend let alone counter-attack.

The more experienced I became, the better the quality of my opponents became.

I’ve played in a inter-college tournament between Georgia Tech and other schools. Tech’s highest ranked players are in the 2200, which are very hard to beat since they have a lot of experience to back up their data processing speed. It is mostly in the end game where experience tells the difference in timing. Instead of calculating 50 different moves per turn, they know that if they get this One Thing, that in the end game they will have an advantage after X amount of turns.

Human experts don’t so much calculate their moves ahead of time as they already “know” what will happen using experience. Thus they are predicting, not this chess game, but previous chess games like it. Thus they only need to follow the prediction for one chess game. The chess game where they win. If they can predict the moves and make it happen, they win. They don’t need to waste mental cycles thinking about how to block an attack while disadvantaged. Their plan of attack will automatically prevent the enemy from making trouble.

The only thing a fighter needs to worry about is the optimum number of attacks he needs to use to destroy the opponent’s ability to have time to react. Blocking, because it is reactive, operates on the assumption that the opponent is attacking but makes a mistake in timing. A mistake in timing allows the defender time to act differently and disrupt the overall tactics/strategy. Defense also uses up time, but does not force the opponent to waste equal time. Thus while one can use it to turn the tables and reverse the initiative advantage, it isn’t “designed” to prevent problems before they happen. It’s to deal with problems when they happen. But when you have problems, that means you’re not winning and are in fact not devoting all your resources to completing the most effective attack you can. Resources are diverted to defense and time is wasted doing that.

The general nature of strategy hasn’t changed since Sun Tzu or Neanderthal days. What has changed are the tactics, the specific methods people use. Our technology has advanced, our training methodologies have diversified, and our general knowledge of the world has become clearer. None of that has changed the goal of strategy.

The primary difference I see in training focus is that defensive training assumes that the opponent will make a mistake and allow you to reverse the tables. Or it assumes you made a mistake allowing the opponent to have the initiative. Offensive training focuses the human mind on creating opportunity and denying it to the enemy. Offensive strategy does not assume the attacker has the advantage. Only that if you want to win, and not lose, your only option is an effective attack. Anything else simply delays the inevitable.

TFT is more similar to Japanese Iaido and iaijutsu than karate. In fact, much of the Japanese sword arts are based upon the strategy of successful attacks. Something only hard won experience forged over time can render usable. While China lost their sword fighting days thousand of years ago, Japan only lost it in the last 2 or 3 centuries. Relatively short on a cultural timeline. Americans lost medieval swordmanship after it was already lost in Europe, so double penalty there. They did get a resurgence on pike/bayonet techniques, though.

Humans tend to treat open handed fighting systems different than they treat firearms, clubs, bombs, firearms, swords, or artificial materials such as poison or WMDs. This kind of disassociation and segregation of what are really the same things (tools humans use to get things done quicker) really muddies the mind and clouds the waters on the Way of Strategy.

In strategy, a defensive action isn’t defensive to begin with. It’s a trap or logistical support for the offensive action. Karate deflections would fit that definition, except humans need a very concrete intent present in order to get things done. Otherwise even the correct tool won’t get the job done when the user has uncertain intent.

Offensive action is not 90% of the equation, but 100% of the equation that leads to victory, because real offensive operations and actions don’t exist without 100% defense. An attack that is interrupted or counter-attacked, becomes ineffective because it can’t do what it planned to do. That’s no longer an “attack”, because it didn’t happen. He wasn’t “attacking you”. He was setting himself up to fail and you just took advantage of that. That has little to nothing to do with an attack that generates a threat that must be responded to.

Defense, however, can be passive as well as active. An attack threatening enough to completely kill or disable a person, must be responded to or else it is game over. However, there are only X number of ways to respond to it and the attacker knows exactly which ones they are. Thus the attacker has already planned further attacks, ahead of time based upon this predictive process, to take advantage of any counter attempts or defensive methods the defender can use. The attacker’s mind is ahead in the future while the defender’s mind is in the past. This leads to the situation where offensive strategy has more time than a defensive strategy: where time is a resource that can’t be renewed. Completing the process, the defense that the attacker uses becomes solely focusing on generating effective attacks that demand the defender react to it in predictable fashions. The defense of the attacker comes 100% from successfully attacking and generating threats for the defender. The moment those threats are countered or cease to exist, or if the threat is louder in bark than the bite, the defense of the attacker becomes zero. Thus in order to accomplish defense and attack successfully at the same time, one must focus on attacks that generate results. Focusing on defense often allows the attacker to generate a better attack, which eventually defeats the defender’s best defense. There is also the signal delay while the brain tries to figure out which to use, attacks or defenses. Strategy figured out a way to deal with that issue as well, by forgetting entirely about defense and only thinking in terms of offense.

There are two issues that people have with this goal or strategy. Most people are too incompetent to generate sufficient attack timing/power to defeat good defenses, like most chess players are too inexperienced to see what is obvious to a grandmaster. This means even a weak defense can defeat most attacks because those attacks are done with incompetence in mind. The other issue of the two concerns how humans treat H2H different than they do with tools of mass murder. Because their “intent” in mind is different when they see the open hand vs a gun in hand pointed at their head, they are unable to generate sufficient power and damage with their attacks. So human H2H attacks often count on luck and initiative to win, not on actual effective threats being generated that forces the defender to react. The defender isn’t forced, but is just prodded to react in a way the defender decides is best for defense. A moderate attack will often be defeated by a superior defense, but even a weak attack can defeat the most absolute of defenses given time or luck. In H2H death conflicts, “probably” is not good enough of an answer. “Certain” is what one should strive for. If your defense is not “certain”, but an attack is “certain” if the attack is of a sufficient level, then human effort should be devoted towards the latter not the former. Like I said, one of the issues people have with this strategy is that they think they are incapable of generating lethal force with their hands alone. That may have been true back in the stone age, but human knowledge and proficiency has developed methods that our ancestors could only dream of.

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3 Comments on “The Way of Strategy”


  1. “The primary difference I see in training focus is that defensive training assumes that the opponent will make a mistake and allow you to reverse the tables. Or it assumes you made a mistake allowing the opponent to have the initiative.”

    I disagree. It assumes the obvious: that you will often be surprised and have to “react” rather than be proactive. The realities of reaction time will, in many cases, preclude anything other than an evasion and/or deflection. The assumption you’re making is that a deflection or evasion will somehow be unnecessary because of a good attack strategy. This assumes you’ll never be surprised or left with late initiative.

    Every attack leaves an opening. Every attack strategy has a weakness. The job of defence is to protect you from their attack and exploit that weakness. The assumption you’re making is that you can’t “turn the tables” against an attack is that there are attacks with no weakness. True, if the attack is 2mm away from your face, it might be far too late for any counter. There is no weakness left to exploit. But if the attack is being launched and you don’t have time to nullify it by means of your own attack, then there are always possibilities of turning the tables.

    “Offensive training focuses the human mind on creating opportunity and denying it to the enemy.”

    True. But this assumes you have the upper hand – or sufficient control to start “denying opportunity” and increasing your own. Again, it fails to acknowledge the reality that you will, almost certainly, be left with “late initiative” in many street attacks.

    Even Tim Larkin points out an example of being “blindsided”. What he assumes thereafter is that you have the opportunity to go on the counter offensive immediately. That isn’t generally true. The attacker won’t just stop after the first blow and wait for your counter.

    And what if you are unlucky enough to be blindsided by a TFT exponent? Is it “all over red rover” – or will you still be able to “create opportunity and deny it to the enemy”? I suspect that in that case you would say that you’re finished. Maybe. I’ve found defensive strategies allow you to recover in many cases, against even the best attackers, so that you can borrow time until you can recover dominance.

    Saying that you will always be able to recover from a blindside attack using offence is, to me, manifestly inaccurate. Saying that it is pointless trying to recover from a blindside attack that leaves you no room for offence is, to me, giving up.

    Thanks again for reading and for your perspective Ymar!


  2. On the subject of late initiative, I invite you to read this blog post:

    http://dandjurdjevic.blogspot.com/2010/10/simultaneous-techniques-part-3-case.html

    It clearly shows how, in the case of a particular street offensive, an demonstrably able fighter is left with no option other than to evade and deflect. If he hadn’t he would have been finished. He didn’t have the luxury of going on the offensive – he was reacting.

    Sometimes that’s all you have. And if you don’t have good defence skills, then you don’t stand a chance.

    In short, citing the benefits of attack in no way removes the need for defence. Both are necessary halves – like yin and yang.

  3. ymarsakar Says:

    This is basically a setup for the point I made later at Dan’s comment section. Which is actually the next post in the series on this topic: Which Comes First.

    The issue of

    “The realities of reaction time will, in many cases, preclude anything other than an evasion and/or deflection. The assumption you’re making is that a deflection or evasion will somehow be unnecessary because of a good attack strategy.”

    Is covered next post. There I cover both situations that deal with the person reacting and the person not reacting (often called proactive or taking the initiative).

    “But this assumes you have the upper hand – or sufficient control to start “denying opportunity” and increasing your own. Again, it fails to acknowledge the reality that you will, almost certainly, be left with “late initiative” in many street attacks.”

    The critical importance concerning why attacking and taking back the initiative is even more important in late initiative situations, is also covered somewhat in Which Comes First. https://ymarsakar.wordpress.com/2011/07/03/block-or-attack-which-comes-first/

    “But if the attack is being launched and you don’t have time to nullify it by means of your own attack, then there are always possibilities of turning the tables.”

    This is rather similar to the idea of first responses to a mass casualty shooting spree. Do you 1. take cover, 2. locate enemy and shoot at enemy to kill or 3. run away really fast.

    While the options and combinations are infinite. You could run first, then take cover and conceal yourself, then locate enemy and shoot to kill. Or you could shoot to kill first, take cover in response to counter fire, and then run away after you’ve killed everyone that is a threat. While the options are more or less open, the priority in which one comes first in a person’s mind, isn’t so open to variation. If a person’s highest priority is saving his own life, he isn’t going to locate anybody or shoot at anybody. NOr is he going to go get his gun, if he has any, and shoot anyone. Nor will he shoot anyone if he is a cop and his job is to protect the peace, more modernly called protect the lawyers and judge lobby set of unconstitutional laws, but that’s another debate topic entirely. But Katrina and Mumbai had examples of police that were basically just civilians running away. Running away with the only guns around, that is, that could have been used to defeat the chaos insurgents.

    So while I don’t disagree about “possibilities”, what I am chiefly concerned about is “priority”. Not possibility, but priorities. Priorities and then intent, which then comes with motivation.

    In the situation Dan linked to, I’ve seen that video. My previous analysis is the same as my current analysis. The boxer was taking a chance that he could deflect and back away from being encircled. Without being hit by a car or by an ally of his enemies that somehow got behind him. And he relied upon a relatively unbroken terrain, which he could back pedal on without knowing anything about, making the assumption that it was flat and couldn’t trip him. Because if it did trip him…

    The point is, every second that goes by where the boxer hasn’t neutralized the 3 specific threats in front of him, is a second where Murphy can jump and clobber the boxer with something the boxer never saw coming. Could never see coming in a million years even.

    That’s strategic defeat, even if the boxer successfully defends against his opponents with the correct tactics of block/deflect/backaway.

    The tactic of backing away and preventing his enemies from surrounding him was the key component of his victory. But the time he gave his opponents was a dramatic risk to take, one he would never have taken if he truly believed a single hit with his arm would have destroyed a single opponent. Then he would just have destroyed one opponent, circled back around to avoid being surrounded, and then destroyed the other 2 with 2 strikes, one for each threat. In 3 strikes, the time it takes for a car to start up and drive down the driveway, the threats have all been neutralized. Without relying on a back pedal tactic using the assumption the terrain (or the other cars) won’t threaten the boxer. There are many ways to avoid being surrounded. Back pedaling is only one of them.

    So the boxer went defensive because 1. he had multiple opponents and the only way he knew to avoid being encircled was to adopt a defensive posture, mostly and 2. he could not rely on a single hit to destroy his opponents, so he waited for his enemies to provide him an advantage or just got too close, before he attacked.

    A lot of the damage due to the strikes wasn’t from the punch. It was from the idiot attacker flying up in mid air from the punch and landing on his head on concrete. That did most of the damage. The 3 were also inexperienced at trapping, so tripped each other up.

    All in all, this may be a late initiative scenario, but it’s a relatively low threat one relatively speaking. Offensive strategy is to win back initiative in the most dangerous and lethal situations where the defender has no advantage, strategically or tactically, and is facing many times the number and firepower the defender actually can bring to bear.


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