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How to study an opponent
Understanding who we are facing
The wrong approach to an unexpected self-defense situation
Let's imagine a street scenario where an unknown aggressor wants to beat us: many (bad) self-defense instructors tell us to do not waste time and to attack in the most rapid / aggressive possible way: is it correct?
Note - This article has been asked by one of our Core Course practitioners on Patreon (see how to attend our home study classes here Learn Kung Fu online: a beginner-to-expert course).
In many cases, the surprise effect can certainly be an effective tactic to (physically) prevail (read The best way to hit first: a little trick) but in a lot of others, it could mean:
Being immediately knocked down (or worse)
End up in jail shortly after (read Best martial arts for self-defense)
The problem is that if we have no information about who is in front of us, the only thing we know is that if he / she has accepted the risk of attacking (and he/ she is not in an altered state) it is because he / she is quite sure of prevailing (eg. Counting on a hidden weapon, a superior physical prowess, etc.).
A note by Master Kongling - We are not saying that all the aggressors are able to perfectly assess who is stronger but that being a not so difficult calculation, in 70% of the cases he / she could be right.
The right way to face an unknown opponent
In a self-defense scenario, before fighting (directly and intensely) an opponent that we don't know, it is important to (quicly):
Assess the scenario (real number of potential assailants, presence of weapons, real intentions, etc.)
Try to pursue all the possible peaceful options (read Personal defense: the S. A. F. E. Method)
Try to understand his / her skill level (if we are forced to fight)
How to discover the skill level of an adversary
In this tutorial, we want to deepen what are the questions that a good practitioner (instantaneously) tries to assess before accepting to fight:
What is his / her combat system (traditional, modern, improvised, etc.)?
What is his/ her personality (aggressive, defensive, etc.)?
What is his/ her physical state (muscle mass, speed, balance, etc.)?
What is his/ her mental state (calm, scared, angry, etc.)?
A few premises before continuing:
The physical confrontation should always and in any case be avoided (read The 6DKF's diagram about the use of violence)
As we said, we do not always have the time to do the right assessments but sometimes it is possible to study the opponent, even during a started struggle (expert level)
In situations of danger, we always have very little time to make our evaluations (and act accordingly)
It is important to stress that any kind of instantaneous evaluation based on a person that we do not know will be inaccurate (and if made in a stressful situation even less) but we have to try
This tutorial is born to help us to understand what we should quickly think about and what to look at
We do not have to check each time everything but what is more relevant in relation to the context (we will see how to train this skill)
The tips we are going to see can also be useful to study an adversary to prepare a sportive fight
What to look studying an opponent
Let's start analyzing the foundations of the opponent's study:
Pace / timing - Is it constant? Slow? Fast? Variable? Does it connect to ours?
Speed / agility - Does he moves more or less quickly / easily compared to us? Does he stand still?
Space management - Does he occupy our spaces dominating the fighting scenario or he is subdued by us?
Reactivity - Are his reflexes poor? Are they good? Are they combat-calibrated correctly?
Power - What is the relationship between his muscle mass and ours? Is his mass balanced with his agility?
Breathing - Does he is economizing energies? Is he tired even to move? In what psychophysical state is he? Is his breathing heavy or by the nose and controlled?
Blows - How high / long can he probably arrive? Does he try to use punches, kicks, constraints, weapons?
Fighting style - which guard he keep? Which martial art which seems to use (or think to use)?
Fighting stance - Is his stance correct? Wrong? Personal? None? Hidden? Is his guard low or high? Are his elbows narrow or wide (leaving openings)?
Dominant part - Is he left-handed? Right-handed? Ambidextrous? What directions / limbs he prefer?
Tension - What "vibrate"? What does he want to use (feet, head, arms, etc.)?
Gaze direction - Where he looks? Toward targets? Toward our attacking tools? Does he use the overall view?
Attitude - Is he afraid? Angry? Relaxed? Sure of himself? Shiny?
Character - Is he ready to attack / fight / defend? Is he studying us? Is he preparing tricks / tactics?
Body conformation - Which differences in height, weight, proportions has he over us?
Targets - Where / when can we get him? What are his weaknesses? Discovered points? Unexpected access points?
Habits - What does he repeat in terms of techniques, movements and directions?
How to deal with... - What will he probably use against us (weight, physical strength, agility, specific techniques, etc.)? How can we react to it?
Excluding the aggressions that are instantaneous, multiple (read Forget everything you know about multiple opponents fighting) or without space-time to reflect: gathering the right information can make the difference between life and death.
For consistency, it should be noted that:
Rarely (if ever) we may be able to steal all of this information together before we get into the real fight, let's just pick what we can to give us a track and / or an idea of how to act
It is not always possible and / or convenient to study our opponents, sometimes we have strong advantages to exploit (eg. A perfect surprise effect) or strong disadvantages to manage (eg. We have been caught by surprise)
This type of study should be done in an instinctive and immediate way (it must not distract us), only practice, profound detachment (read Become the absolute zero) and experience can give us this high-level skill
We never have to use our "active reason" to analyze with a precise and sequential method a similar amount of data (this would be a sure defeat)
In the next articles of this series, we will deepen the introduced topic connecting "what we need to understand" to "what is good / bad for us" to "what we can use in our favor" (read Study an opponent to use his errors and Study the opponent: concepts and applications); in addition to this, we will see how to train the capability to rapidly assess the right information.
Master Kongling wants to thank Daniel (from Reddit) for his contribution to this article.
In-depth video courses
Advanced combat tactics - One of the most important video courses of our school, about 6 Dragons Kung Fu's advanced fighting strategy
Worst combat errors to avoid - A course entirely dedicated to the mistakes that make a fighter weak
10 most common errors in combat: solutions - A selection of the most frequent beginner's mistakes
10 errors of intermediate fighters: solutions - Some of the worst errors of intermediate level practitioners
Reply in the comments and share your experience:
Do you feel able to read your opponents?