First Strike

There is the thought that the one who throws the first punch usually wins. This is supported with the cliché, ‘Better to be charged by 12 than carried by 6’. In the case of extremes, that would be true. However, there is a very large grey area. Is the offensive first strike defense always appropriate?

I recently saw a video that brought this to the forefront. This is not the first time and will not be the last.

Let me state upfront, the purpose of this post is not to denigrate JKD NYC, the provider of the video, nor Paul Vunak, the producer of the video. The section presented is a clip from a larger video by Paul Vunak, “The Anatomy of a Street Fight”. The video and the clip both put forward the First Strike idea. Hit first and hit hard. I have no idea of the creator’s original intent nor their full content or conclusions. The lacking information may completely justify the conclusion of the shown clip. However, the clip as presented highlights my counter-thought. Here is the clip:

Given a bump, even a confrontational one, there are three possibilities: Innocence, Bluster, and Attack.

You are in a bar. What can you expect to find in a bar beyond the tables, chairs, and drinks? You will find people, and many of those will be drunk. That is what happens in a bar – people get drunk. Drunk people cannot walk well, cannot talk well, and definitely lack some degree of judgement. Hell, they got drunk.

If you are in a bar and a person bumps into you and you immediately “Do your thing”, striking them, while you may have saved yourself from an assault, you may have also beaten the snot out of someone who had no idea they had bumped you. Perhaps they knew they were bumping into you but thought you were someone else.

This does not have to be confined to bars. Drunk people can be encountered on the street, in a concert, a party, anywhere really. However, in those settings you cannot assume inebriation. Likewise, you cannot assume a fight simply because someone bumps into you, even with intention.

You are in a bar, with its fair amount of drunk people. One of them bumps into you with intent. They clearly want your attention. Maybe they do not like your “Make America Great Again” hat, or the way you are eyeing a certain person of interest to them. They have the intent of putting up a show for some degree of satisfaction, though they have no intent of assault other than the bump itself. Upon the bump, you “Do your thing” and break the guy’s face. Again, you may have prevented a fight; though you have no proof a physical attack was imminent.

Once again, this is not exclusive to a bar or party. A bump can be accidental, and even if intentional, you need a little more to prove a fight was bound to happen. You might argue the bumper executed poor judgement. The police may argue you executed poor judgement. What are the odds that a bar or party fight is going to end in death? Is it fair to apply the ‘Charged by 12 rather than carried by 6’ defense? Could something as small as six inches change the outcome? Who is the bad guy in this case?

Here we are in the bar again, or a party and you are bumped. There is serious intent from this bump. The bumper is determined. He or she may be drunk, but it is clear they intend to do you physical harm. Upon the bump, you “Do your thing”. In this scenario, you may be more justified; however, you still have a certain lack of proof.

Let us flip the script a little. You are walking down the street, and you are bumped with serious intent. This is completely different from the bar or party scenario. This bump comes from nowhere. It clearly has no good intent. Frankly, you have a little more proof in this case than you do in the bar / party scenario.

Is the offensive first strike defense always appropriate?

If you are aware enough to keep your martial art tools at the top of your mind and ready to fire, how did you allow yourself to be lulled into dullness and not be aware of the approaching individual? How is it they were able to bump into you at all? In some regards, it is like holding a loaded gun, finger on the trigger, but not paying attention to what is going on around you. Surely, that will go off without a hitch.

Ultimately, some distance would be useful to determine the bumper’s real intent and capabilities. An extremely drunk attacker should be easy to handle. A completely clear-minded individual who accidently chest bumps the wrong person does not deserve a beating. If you possess that much fear, you should not be in the bar in the first place. Buy a six-pack and drink at home. Never walk alone.

TAO - Training Assistance OnlineThe Wing Chun Kuen Kuit says, ‘Meet what enters. Stick to it and guide it away. Go forward into the opening’. This applies to the initial gambit, meeting what enters. To do that, you need to create a clearing – a space defining would be attackers because they enter it, and close friends because you allow them in. Personal space and environmental awareness are your most important tools.

If you sit at the bar with your attention solely on the bartender or your inner thoughts, your back to the roving drunken mob behind you, you have to expect to be bumped. Rather than striking first, gain some distance. Step back or if necessary push the bumper to arm’s length and give yourself the opportunity to determine and “feel” their actual intent. Perhaps the distance will allow the innocent person to clearly see you and recognize they made a mistake. Perhaps you will realize they are just too drunk to be aware they had bumped you.

There is nothing wrong with a preparatory step back. We should all practice the art of fighting without fighting. The beer is the same price across the street. If they intend you harm, it will be immediately clear. Then you can, “Do your thing”.

It is important you are aware of your state – the environment you are in, where people are in relation to you, and how close they get. Maintain your personal space. Be open, alert, and yet relaxed enough to feel and evaluate the intent of those that approach your personal space. If your mindset is to strike first, even an innocent action will be loaded with ill intent, because that is what you are looking for.

The best first strike is to prevent the initial contact at the outset, rather than being prepared to beat the crap out of a barmaid that may have tripped against you.


About Sifu

I teach Wing Chun, both traditional and practical, at KDA Karate Academy. I have a Bachelor of Media Arts degree from USC. I have been an Audio Producer / Engineer, a Law Office Manager. In addition to being a Martial Arts Instructor, I am an author. My new book, "Astro Boy, Sensei, and Me" is available now, as is my Sci-Fi joy ride, "On a Sphere's Edge".

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