Surprise! Fun for parties, not for altercations.

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I am reading one of Rory Miller’s books. Whenever I read one of his books, I get a new perspective on self-defense. We have talked about some of his concepts in past articles. The monkey dance, the importance of situational awareness, and the inherent flaws in martial arts drills are all topics that have helped me improve my defense posture. Go to the Dauntless Fight Club Archives to see the articles.

In reading his book “Training for Sudden Violence: 72 Practical Drills” I uncovered an arrogance that I held. I pride myself on my situational awareness.  That pride leaves me vulnerable. Yes, I might see something that the average person would miss, but I cannot see everything. It is what we don’t see that is the threat. A criminal is generally not going to attempt a head on “fair” attack and if you see a familiar attack coming you can avoid or otherwise defend yourself from it. The danger is in the surprise.

The surprise can come from an unseen attack or something that is completely unexpected. When we are shopping or are at school, we have an expectation of safety. We would be surprised if someone were to walk in with a gun or knife even if they were right in front of us. It is the surprise that is the threat and we need to be prepared to handle the unexpected.

I was talking about this subject with a friend of mine from Minnesota. This conversation occurred prior to the knife attack at the mall that made national news. He has six children and he feels vulnerable when he brings them all out.  He is concerned that he might miss a dangerous situation while being distracted. How aware do we need to be? Even though the probability of attack is low the severity of loss can be high. We talked about the appropriate level of awareness and appropriate reactions to threats. This conversation came to mind when I was reading the book last night.

No one is perfect. We cannot watch everything all the time. Looking at too much can be as bad as not being aware of your surroundings at all. We need to be aware but understand that our awareness has holes. There are things we can and will miss. We need to prepare for those surprises.

The “knock out game” is a good example. You may not see someone running up behind you and hitting you in the head. You may be talking to someone and are distracted or are in a loud place and not hear the person running up behind you. What do you do if you see a fist in your peripheral vision or worse, how do you recover quickly from a surprise punch to the face.

Rory Miller talks about how hard it is to train for situations like that. It doesn’t make sense to have people sneak up on you and hit you in the head for practice. You also don’t want to hurt your partner when training even though you may have to hurt your attacker to protect yourself or others.

To prepare yourself I recommend that you read Rory’s books and train with the goal of learning to protect yourself. There are many articles on self-defense in the archive and links to buy Rory Miller’s books on the reading list. Visit for information.

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