Block or Attack: Which Comes First?

There’s two timelines I’m talking about here concerning defense and attack methodologies. One is the actual physical timeline, where I agree that defense precedes attack. In fact, simply closing the distance in an internal body momentum structural rooted stance strike, has already completed the defensive maneuver of getting inside the other person’s external strike range and rendering it ineffect. Just as being too close makes a gun and sword less effective, getting really too close makes even punches and kicks less effective and just slower at that. That’s a defense.

The other timeline is what is actually going on in people’s mental landscapes. In that reality, thought precedes action, and if the thought is “I want to make sure my defense is solid” then the thought is basically taking up time-space when it could just have been “I want to make an effective attack and while on the way to this goal, I’ll coincidentally assure my own safety and lower the risk of fatal damage to my body”.

By focusing purely on the physical action timeline, the training methodology is decremented and disorganized since it is humans that are being trained and expected to do these things, not simply logic order machines. The continual emphasis that defense precedes attack, makes students believe that defense is the primary importance and that it is a prerequisite to the actual attack. Thus if their defense fails or simply doesn’t work the way they intended it, their OODA cycle “resets” and they basically start from square one. Until they go through the successful defense motion, in their heads they won’t proceed to the “attack mental loop”.

Against determined attackers who actually want to hurt somebody, instead of just getting angry and starting an anti-social fight, they will bring weapons, numbers, or other tactical advantages in order to “cheat” at the fight. Because they’re not interested in fighting, just making sure their target is either dead or hospitalized. This means such attacks are either 1. determined or 2. skilled or 3. both. In such circumstances, the defender, or regular civilian, must turn the tables and remove the attacker’s initiative because the situation is not in the defender’s favor. It wasn’t designed to be. Because the attack is determined, the defense must also be as strong or stronger. Yet even if the defense suceeds, the defender may not be able to mentally switch gears in time to go on the attack. Instead, they try to defend again, and given the KISS principle, all it takes is one successful attack to make the defender start looping mentally, instead of breaking out and attacking. The body only goes where the mind has already gone. If the mind is still in “I got to make sure this defense move works”, that person is just not going to switch to offense. Unless they believed their defense had a less certain chance of safeguarding their life than actually attacking. The mind has to believe and switch gears, before the body does anything.

Adrenaline also causes consciousness focus and tunnel vision. Basically, there’s this tendency to laser focus on doing a single thing, if that thing is what a person believes will let him survive. By focusing predominantly on “defense first, then attack”, this is basically training a person to think in such a fashion that when under adrenaline, they are in danger of “looping” the defensive part and never going anywhere else. Like I said, there is the physical timeline and then there’s what is going on in a person’s mind’s timeline.

A person that intends to use a hard block as a strike, doesn’t care whether an external observer thinks his first action is a block or an attack. In his mind, it is clearly an attack. It doesn’t matter what it looks like to people on the outside, because none of that matters compared to the priority the fighter has to place on what he is actually devoting his time to thinking of in a fight. Time is a precious commodity and it cannot be regenerated once lost.

Because of this, I don’t emphasize physical timelines of what comes first. From the fighter’s perspective, the attack comes first because that’s what his brain needs to be thinking of in order to make the correct decisions. If he first does something the rest of us would call “defensive”, that’s not really going to matter much. This is the often noted Void Miyamoto Musashi wrote about, where mental perspective starts actually affecting physical reality concerning humans. Miyamoto often talks about cutting with the Void or with the spirit, and people don’t get it because they think “how can I cut with my spirit, when all that is doing the cutting is my sword and arm”. Well, that’s because the brain has to be clear first, before the body will be clear in obeying orders. Too many complications like thinking about defense, then attack, then defense, then attack, starts running into Murphy’s Laws.

The only thing with a purpose is the human brain. That is the original weapon of man. A technique has no purpose, because a technique is a lifeless, unaware tool. The purpose of any weapon or tool created by man, is the purpose the creator’s brain came up with. A block has no purpose. Nor does an attack. But the person using it has a purpose and a goal and an intent.

Before, I wasn’t speaking of a specific martial art, TMA or otherwise, but more in general on training methodology I see people use. Specifically: training methodology that deals with training the mind to focus on things and view the context between offense/defense. Training methodology requires a different skillset than actually using H2H techniques. Thus even the best technicians, aren’t necessarily using the best training methodology.

Specific replies to the comments posted at Dan’s blog post.

“In other words, doing the torque during the impact as you explain it to be the case for soft blocks in your system.”

My interpretation: when rotation is applied to a forearm strike, it sticks and compresses the radial nerve longer in the arm, thus producing more damage. Less so with the forearm rotating and more so with the torso/shoulder rotating down and around. Depending on the meat of a person’s forearm, it might take a much longer duration force-strike to do anything to the radial nerve in the opponent’s arm. Just because the radial nerve is only close to the surface, not right on the surface of the arm.

“(Such “rolling” doesn’t apply to knife-hand [hard] blocks, which are used in more of a chopping fashion.)”

That makes sense, as the knife’s danger is a vector and making the vector go as far away as possible from your own body/lims allows your body to get close in and do some damage to the knife user.

“….do anything but reduce the impact force to the attacking limb”

If it is just the forearm rotating, like the videos posted here, then it’s not enough: the impact will reduce. If it is the shoulders, torso, and knees rotating and dropping in a gravity well, it’s more than enough to transfer even though it isn’t going in a straight A to B progression. Rotation applies just as much force as linear penetration strikes, it just takes longer contact for it to work. This is good against targets that are resistant to linear force strikes. The human arm tends to be very floppy. The elbow also tends to make it twist in angles. Thus it is hard to apply force with continous acceleration against the arm in a straight line strike. The arm just flies away and the force is lost in kinetic motion as it bleeds away the momentum. By applying rotation and penetration, the resistance of the arm is destroyed before the arm is able to move away and absorb further applications of force. Not real useful for breaking bone (there are easier ways to do that), but against a nerve target, it’s enough.

“Otherwise, in my experience people high on adrenaline don’t really notice pain in the forearms. ”

This is probably due to dilution or mistranslation from Chinese medicine to Western medicine, but most of the targets those TMA systems are hitting isn’t the arm. It’s the radial nerve in the arm. I’ve noticed nobody actually says that. Maybe cause they don’t know, anatomically, where that nerve is as it wraps around the forearm or if they do know, they know it by a different name and system (meridians). A proper strike against that nerve deadens the nerve and causes temporary nerve damage, preventing a person from sending reliable signals to his hands and fingers. They also lose a lot of strength there, although adrenaline can make up for some of that with pure willpower. Adrenaline can ignore pain. It cannot ignore damage to the nervous system in terms of controlling organs or muscles. So an adrenalized individual won’t feel pain. He’ll just lose control of his arm and hand for a time. Very nasty for someone who trained their entire life in hand speed or punching power. A trick to use against stronger and meatier opponents. The human body can take a lot of non-specific trauma. Note Dan here as Case Example Alpha. But the human body cannot take injury at all. Nerve damage is, indeed, an injury. Albeit one varying in life threatening levels.

“I have found that most “hard” blocks can be done in a way that is “soft” – ie. that minimises impact during the deflection.”

I see any technique, attack or block, motion or throw, as a tool. One that is modified by the user for the user’s purposes. Thus if a user wants to modify hard blocks into soft, they can do so, if they can do so that is. If they believe it will benefit them, that’s their choice to make.

“It seems to me that this is not a deflection, which wedges into the attack at an angle and deflects it off its axis. ”

It isn’t a deflection, I agree. That’s because it’s a hard block used as a strike with the intention of attacking and doing damage with a block. IF that doesn’t make sense, refer back to the difference between physical timeline and mental thoughts. It’s why I said for TMA, a hard block was originally used as a strike. That’s because that’s what it is most useful for. A strike on the arm, which also coincidentally stops the arm from attacking. A deflection is something totally different. A deflection setups a strike on the body/torso, not on the arm. It evades and avoids the arm because that’s not the goal. The arm is just in the way, so it gets flicked off.

“I don’t believe literal blocks are advisable – and I speak from experience.”

If the intention was to solely defend, that would be true. Such a block would not serve the purpose, given it’s force on force. If the intention changed, however….

The point I wanted most to clear up is that when I speak of offense or the way of strategy on attacking, I don’t speak of always attacking first in reality. In a physical confrontation, I may very well have to defend myself first, then go on the attack. But in my mind, I’m thinking of attacking first, defense a secondary or tiertiary issue. That’s because I have a specific goal or aesthetic in mind. When I see an incoming mortal blow, I want to be able to immediately conceptualize and launch a fatal strike that arrives before the mortal blow kills me. Sometimes that isn’t the case, as in Japanese double kill ken jutsu scenarios. Sometimes the enemy’s hit hits, but it isn’t immediately fatal, just eventually mortal, without medical treatment. But the ideal is to launch a fatal strike, while totally ignoring the incoming mortal strike, in order to kill and destroy the opponent’s ability to apply power to the cut or strike, so that even if it hits me a quarter of a second later, it has lost most of its power and leverage. That is what I view as beautiful and true. An ideal to be striven for. The concept isn’t about being suicidal, but about putting everything you got on destroying the enemy, and coincidentally preserving your life. If your life is of value to you. Also applies to getting shot. Don’t assume one bullet at point blank range will stop you or anyone else you are shooting.

Everything I talk about concerning the Way of Strategy, bears that kind of mentality in mind. Other people will not have this mentality or list of priorities, I realize that very well. That’s because I was not just interested in self defense, but also defense of others, including family, friends, strangers, civilians, or simply the country itself. Form follows function. When the function changes, the form changes as well.

“The knowledge is there and it is not lacking as you imply.”

If such knowledge was present and the training methodology exists to pass it on to people without any martial arts background, I would agree with you. But I can’t, because I don’t see that in evidence. While there are many individual practitioners that have gained their skills through dedication and time placed effort, that’s not the same as having a training methodology that trains neophytes to be on the same level, faster than it took the Master to get to his level.

While I understand more about your background from your elaboration concerning who you view as “we” in your reference to those who know how to attack, that still doesn’t change the problem of training methodologies. A training methodology is to educate neophyte students so that they learn faster than the teachers themselves learned it. Knowledge is of little use to people, when only some people have it and they can’t pass it along efficiently. Or if it takes decades and decades. That basically means the number of “potential people” who can acquire that knowledge goes way down… So when I see the emphasis on “block first, attack second”, I’m telling you that my observation and conclusion is that this is part of what makes traditional martial arts so long to master for neophyte students. The training methodology is lacking, even if the technique itself has been perfected or refined over centuries.

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