Principles of Martial Arts - Pre-emptive Striking for BJJ and Aikido

Australia’s top Yoshinkan aikido instructor, Shihan Joe Thambu, 8th Dan, and Gracie jiu-jitsu Professor David Krstic, 3rd Degree Black-belt, compare each art’s approach to a combat principle that is widely used, but not usually associated with either art: striking pre-emptively before the aggressor can attack.

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While every martial art or self-defence system may appear different to the others (some significantly), a closer look will reveal many similarities in their techniques and tactics.

Acting first has the significant biological advantage of being faster than reacting to a strike; however, certain elements are required to make it work effectively. What strategies does your system advocate for setting up the distance to launch the action effectively?

BJJ: A street fight is different to a contest. You’re usually in conversation range. You don’t have to do a whole lot of preparation because you’re already there — the biggest issue you have is beating them to the punch. There’s a distinct possibility they can hit you first, so it’s a situation that demands conviction more than preparation. My advice is, if you have to hit someone, you hit them seriously hard.

If you’re in that situation and your adrenaline is buzzing, there’s your warning sign. If they breach the space that forces your decision to strike, you have to have reconciled it within yourself beforehand. You can’t second-guess yourself. No one leaves home wanting to get into a fight, but if someone steps up and you’ve got a really bad feeling about it, you have to be okay with unloading on them. The preparation happens before the fight.

AIKIDO: I think a major failing in martial arts is that distance is often lost in real situations. If you let an aggressor in too close, your reaction time is nil. The closer he is, the lesser your reaction time. I think, maintaining your distance, whether you step back or shove someone back, sets you up for what you can do next. Distancing is very, very important and many people are not very aware of that. I see it all the time in my teaching. If you are conscience of that, it is the first step in winning a battle — or stopping it before it starts.

What I learned from security just hammered home the lessons I learned in aikido. If you have to do something, then do it. It goes back to ‘one cut, one life’. Robert Mustard Sensei is famous for saying, “The power of aikido comes from your mind, body and spirit working together.” Pre-emptive striking requires this: if you are going to engage with someone, your mind has to be in it, your spirit has to be with you. If you have to second-guess yourself, it isn’t going to happen.

 

On the flip side, a sneaky one-punch attack is a popular tactic of street thugs — how does this influence your set-up to go pre-emptive, or how you face an opponent generally?

BJJ: It all comes down to distance management. If you want to hurt someone with your hands, you have to be able to touch them, so the primary tactic in GJJ is either be too far away or far too close (i.e. a clinch). So, if you’re getting bad vibes, you open that space up if you can. Or if you can’t, if you’re already in that conversation range and getting alert signals but you’re not 100 per cent sure it’s go-time, how you stand in relation to a potential attacker is everything. Understanding the body’s capabilities from different positions and the very basic common habits is key. The kinghit thrown by the street thug is not rocket science. The difference is in their conviction; when they go, they go 100 per cent and aren’t fazed about harming you.

A simple angle change can make things so much harder for them and so much easier for you. Every contact with a would-be attacker doesn’t have to be an aggressive one. Working as a bouncer, when I used to speak to irate people, because it’s in a loud environment, people tend to let you a little closer — which could be dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing, but I would angle myself so I could put my hands on their arms in such a way that I’m not provoking violence or causing them to feel uneasy, but I can feel what’s going on. I’m grappling them without grappling them.

When you understand your capabilities as a martial artist, you’re better able to decide when it’s go time. Someone might be a bit mouthy, but if they start to change their position for advantage — for example, if I had my hands on them — I go!

AIKIDO: We must be situationally aware. If you are not aware of how many people are around you and what the full situation is like, you are in trouble. That’s why a lot of security people will not stand with their back to a group of people, even after they’ve stopped working in the trade. If I go out for dinner, I will always run for the chair against the wall.

I have seen someone break a stubby on a bar and glass the guy next to him, with no apparent reason. How do you defend against that? You just have to be aware at all times. Your senses will tell you when you need to leave and when you need to stay, and you need to listen to that.

People are like animals, they send out signals, and nine times out of 10 you can feel if they are putting out a nasty, aggressive vibe.