Preemptive Strikes and Distraction Techniques

Many self-defense practitioners and self defense legal experts believe that if the situation is so clear-cut, and one feels certain violence is unavoidable, the defender has a much better chance of surviving by landing the first blow and gaining the immediate upper hand.  I totally agree with this.  In fact, statistics have shown that a single well-placed strike in such a circumstance has usually been all that is necessary to end the conflict.  If we get lucky, we might just knock the attacker out; even if this was not the result, the first strike is usually enough to distract the attacker so that one can either run or follow-up with more effective strikes.

“When it is clear to you that you or anyone dependent upon you for protection is about to suffer physical violence at the hands of extralegal assailants, attack, and keep on attacking until you are safe.” – Professor Bradley J. Steiner

Your Self Defense arsenal should include “preemptive” (offensive) action on your part.

“An attempt to strike another, when sufficiently near
so that there is danger, the person assailed may strike first,
and is not required to wait until he has been struck.”

– 16th Century English Self Defense Law

First, let us consider the situation of what I refer to as an individual’s preemptive self-offense.

Hypothetically speaking, you are face to face with the assailant, and you know you are about to be tackled.  What should you do?  You might look for an improvised weapon or other tool.  But what if these are unavailable?  If you plan to hit and kick your way out of the situation, should you be the first one to strike? The answer is yes, you should.

Preemptive Attack

A preemptive attack, i.e., physically hitting someone else before you yourself have suffered actual physical damage, would be justified for an individual if, in an emergency situation, he had a rational (reasonable) expectation that another person was about to assault him.

Lawful “preemptive” self offense is simply the act of landing the first-blow in a situation that has reached a point of no hope for de-escalation or escape. If you are walking alone down a dark street, and you notice a suspicious person approaching you, what should you do?  Should you wait until they have their hands on you to start preparing to fight back?  No!  What you do before the physical attack begins can have a huge impact on the outcome of the attack.  If you know an attack is imminent, or you have a strong gut feeling that you might be in danger, it is time to begin mental preparation.  If you have a stun gun, pepper spray, or another self defense device, it is also time to make sure it is immediately accessible and not buried in the bottom of your bag.  Many people shy away from making the first move for several reasons.  One may be a lack of confidence in fighting skills.  Another may be fear of legal aftermath—will one get in trouble for initiating the attack?

The short answer is, no.   Whether you use a self defense device, or protect yourself using your fists, as long as you can articulate that the attack was indeed imminent, the law allows you to protect yourself physically.

It is often unwise to wait for your attacker to get his hands on you before you put up a defense.  In fact, you will often find it very difficult to defend yourself if you wait until you are already in this situation.  By allowing the attack to unfold without creating a pre-emptive offense, you lose control, or the upper hand of the situation.  It is always best to run away from the situation, if at all possible, but if not, you should still be the one to make the first offensive move.  If the attack is truly inevitable, you have no reason to wait.

Intimidation is a crime.  The definition of intimidation is this: if someone verbally threatens you, even if they have not yet touched you, they have committed the crime of intimidation, which is considered in most states as unlawful force or coercion.  If someone threatens you by shouting, “I’m going to kill you!” they have already committed a crime of intimidation.  You should, in fact, you must assume that they mean what they say and immediately take whatever action you feel is appropriate under the circumstances!  Do not wait for confirmation when they actually attempt to murder you!  I believe that this statement by Professor Steiner truly sums up my thoughts on this topic, “Innocent human beings cannot be expected to wait until they are actually suffering what may be permanent or lethal injuries before undertaking necessary self-protective action.“

There are a lot of martial arts teachers who are divided over the issue of the pre-emptive strike. On the one hand, some traditional training begins with the “assailant” attacking the student.  As a result, many students think that they can wait for someone to attack them, at which point the student deftly escapes the attack using their martial arts techniques.  Although these strategies work well in practice, will you really be able to escape such a situation by beginning to fight back only after the attack has already begun?  You might if you have invested some time in training for the surprise assault and utilizing some form of default position.  I would rather position myself for the preemptive attack and let the bad guy play catch-up, not the other way around.  Keep this important fact in mind: fighting in a martial arts competition and real fighting on the street are two completely different things, requiring two completely different mindsets and training.

As a self defense instructor, you should encourage the preemptive attack in real self defense situations.  In other words, hit them before they hit you and keeping hitting them until they are no longer a threat to you.

Index Positions or Passive Stances

Index positions are prepared stances.  They allow you to place your preemptive weapons in range of a target without telegraphing your intention.  The four basic index position are the “Jack Benny”, the “Ed Sullivan”, the “Bodyguard” and the “Fence”.

“An index position as is nothing more than a stance you assume in any threatening, face-to-face situation you can’t simply walk away from.  Indexing enables you to instantly defend or attack without the appearance of being prepared to do either.

-Kelly McCann-

These are natural positions, sometimes called “passive stances” that you might find yourselves in on a daily basis.  Miyamoto Musashi said, “Make your fighting stance your everyday stance and make your everyday stance your fighting stance.”  We highly recommend you follow this simple principle and to become cognizant of the stances you currently assume habitually.  It is impractical to assume a fighting stance all day every day—what a ridiculous thought.  The answer to readiness is the index position, which becomes your everyday stance.  When assuming an index position, the feet should be placed in a configuration that provides you with a balanced platform.  Once the balanced platform is in place, focus should shift to hand and arm positioning.  You should position your hands for the most effective preemptive strike.   A great concept to remember is Closest Weapon, Closest Target, which is a fighting strategy developed by Tony Blauer.  Blauer’s concept, coupled with index positions, is a very effective strategy for situational readiness.  An excellent example is the Ed Sullivan index position.  It is a very natural set-up for the Ax-Hand strike.  The Ax-Hand strike, as you probably know, is a penetrating hand strike that can truly devastate an unexpected opponent.  It should be noted, that the more persistent the aggressor is, the more quickly you should move to the “Fence” position.  This position allows for a natural barrier between you and your opponent.  It also places your hands in position to strike very effectively, if needed.

Distraction Techniques

Distraction Techniques are designed to disrupt the assailant’s mental process and draw focus away from their primary assault, thereby allowing the victim the ability to apply a release and or escape.  Bruce Siddle, of PPCT Management Systems, LLC, defines the distraction technique as “the use of control techniques that weaken motor action by changing the thought process”.   Most distraction techniques work for about 3 seconds, which is a very short amount of time. Either immediate follow-up or escape is highly recommended.  Distraction techniques are often used in situations where another person grabs you or your clothing.  They are a simple, yet effective.


As I suggested, if you believe that the situation is so black and white as to feel certainty that violence is unavoidable, you stand a much better chance of surviving by delivering the first blow and gaining the immediate upper hand.  By gaining the upper hand you are more likely to WIN in this confrontation!  I am all about winning.  It is critical to understand that three elements should be in place for you to utilize any type of force.  Those three elements are ability, opportunity and jeopardy.   As I say, once the “stars are aligned”, hit them and keep hitting them until they are no longer a threat to you or your loved ones.  Preemptive striking is an important element that must be considered in regards to your Self Offense arsenal.  Ensure that you are training and practicing these strikes often.  Remember this great quote: “Martial arts are something you do with someone; combatives you do to someone.” – Kelly McCann



  1. This is a very interesting post, with a lot of very helpful comments and content. I feel that everyone who is in marital arts should read this. I have heard, from the more traditional side of martial arts, a lot of the hesitation outlined in the post. On the other hand, I have experienced first hand how critical it can be to assess the situation quickly and be the first to take action. The surprise factor was definately on my side, and by the time that the individual was ready to attempt a response, it was over. It was the training, awareness, speed, and not hesitating to be the first person getting into the confrontation, that allowed me to go home unharmed. By the way, I did not stop to look at him. This seems to be a mistake people make; they stop and look at the individual, if he is ok. I have seen it way too often. This is something we should also put in the mindset of people. Once the person is down, get out of the location, and do not look back.

  2. Thank you for another wonderful post. Where else could anybody get that type of information in such an ideal way of writing? I’ve a presentation next week, and I’m on the look for such info.

  3. I’m often to running a blog and i actually appreciate your content. The article has really peaks my interest. I am going to bookmark your web site and preserve checking for new information.

Comments RSS TrackBack Identifier URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s