1. It will be a surprise attack, where you need to react immediately with whatever technique you have available.
2. The threat will build more slowly, where you have some time to plan for a proper counter-attack.
If you get forewarning of the attack, try to remove yourself from the situation before it escalates to a physical encounter. If somebody grabs or strikes you, you may need to engage your opponent for an unbalancing move, but this is not always necessary. If you have thought about possible scenarios beforehand, you may be able to de-escalate the situation, even if you have already been struck. Evaluate whether this is an isolated strike or grab, or whether there is a further threat to your safety. Granted, it is difficult to make such split second decisions in the midst of battle, so it helps to have done a considerable amount of thinking about possible scenarios beforehand. The nature of the threat can also be determined by knowing your opponent’s reason for attacking you. Is he looking for a fight? Is he venting his anger? Is he out to rob or control you? If you can’t de-escalate or get away, an unbalancing technique may be appropriate.
Once you have unbalanced your adversary, again try to get away. This may not always be possible, and you might decide to stay and subdue him on the ground. If you are the only one present, and there is little chance that somebody else will come and help you, a press to a sensitive part of your opponent’s anatomy may not be enough, because as soon as you let up, your opponent may again try to hurt you. A sharp blow, a breaking or dislocation technique, or a choke to render him unconscious may be more appropriate.
If it becomes necessary to engage an adversary, your actions must be done with full intent. You must be committed and powerful. A strike, grab, or unbalancing move does not work off of “technique” alone. Even if your technique is very accurate, if there is no power or intent behind it, it will not work. In the training hall, you might see people fly yards away when you redirect the motion of their attack. But on the street, the attack is not likely to happen with so much obvious momentum that you can really send your opponents flying that far. And if you can see the attack coming from a mile away, you can just as easily flee it all together.
How much force should one use? In theory, the answer is simple: enough to subdue the attacker, without seriously injuring or killing him. In reality, however, the answer is not so simple. If the attack is unexpected, you have little knowledge of your attacker’s motive, so it is more difficult to decide just how far to go. You must ensure your safety, until you no longer perceive a threat. The more you train in self-defense and chaotic situations, the easier it is to decide at the spur of the moment how much offense to use. This is because you train yourself to be more alert to situations that might require defense or offense, and so you are more aware of your own capabilities. If you train often, your mind will constantly be on self-preservation and, as a result, you will condition yourself to being ready with a moment’s notice.
Another interesting issue is how to determine when it is necessary to defend yourself at all, especially if it is a surprise attack. If a friend or co-worker pushes you from behind in an act of playfulness, it would be inappropriate to turn around and throw him hard on the concrete floor. So, even if you’re taken by surprise, you must still give yourself a moment to assess the situation.
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