“A study of human reaction time shows that it takes too long for a response message to reach the part of the body that should respond if the attacker is within touching distance. Unless the attacker telegraphs, it is impossible to know when the attack is coming, and by the time it is seen it is too late to move out of the way. In the days of the Wild West this reflex lag cost a lot of would be gun fighters their lives. Often they thought that getting the drop on someone meant that the person was under their control. Many of them were shocked and amazed when their intended victim drew and fired his weapon before they could discharge theirs (and I might add dam well dead because they didn’t shoot when they had the chance). Any modern quick draw artist can do the same thing. They will let you hold a cocked gun in a situation where you only have to discharge your weapon before they can draw and fire, and they will beat you every time because of reflex lag.”
Jesse Glover, Bruce Lee: Between Wing Chun and Jeet Kune Do
In the last few years, I’ve been very focused on that fleeting moment between the initiation of a conflict and the kickoff of violence. Its pretty clear from many sources (Geoff Thompson, Niels Bohr, etc) that the outcome of a violent encounter is heavily dependent on who acts first and how definitive their action is. There are a lot of ideas to unpack in this space. How far do you go in your first action? Your options are endless and each one has ethical, legal, and physical ramifications. It seems pretty clear that the safest option in a conflict is a well-executed ambush, but this has all sorts of ramifications as above (especially ethical and legal). If faced with aggression I can reason or negotiate. Sometimes this doesn’t work (see all streetfights and Chamberlain’s appeasement of Hitler, out of infinite examples). If we move to physical responses, we have an ever-accelerating range of options, from the innocuous to the ridiculous. I can respond with a “hard stare,” a “fence,” a shove, a punch, a kick, a knife, a handgun, shotgun, rifle, sniper rifle, a grenade, and other ordnance all the way up to the nuclear option. I can handle it myself or get my friends. Getting my friends can range from my best mate to a gang up to my army against your army. Throw in all the possible implements of war (tanks, artillery, battleships, aircraft, etc). It’s silly but I like to think of it in this broad manner. Conflict is conflict.
Its all “who you know” and where do you draw the line.
In one sense, the First World War was a family squabble (King George V of Great Britain, Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, and Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany were first cousins — their grandmother was Queen Victoria).
How far are you prepared to go, especially in that moment before anything has kicked off? This is one of the reasons I think the whole MMA vs Classic Martial Arts vs street fighting approaches is a confused area. There is a very big difference between climbing into a ring with someone you know, where many actions are off the table, and where you know what skills they have and whether they are armed (they’re not) versus the complete mystery that is a random encounter.
Some fighting methods (in fully trained and competent hands) are a more full bore than others. Aikido is hypothetically non-lethal only. Methods like Esrima and some forms of Silat will pretty quickly pull a knife and they are really good at shaving that time between the deployment of the weapon and fatal consequences down close to zero. There are lots of people walking around strapped who will draw and shoot without much provocation. There are other people who might find out where you live and wipe out your whole family over a perceived offense (see various gangs, mobs, and serial killers). Allegedly, former Patriots Tight End Aaron Hernandez shot two random guys dead over some minor scuffle in a Boston bar, maybe due to the consequences of CTE.
So you have to keep all this in mind in your training, if you’re training for the street and would like to be prepared for the extremely unlikely event that you’ll run into someone who is dangerous, touchy, maybe even crazy. How do you respond in that grey area between the contact and the initiation of violence? Legally, you cannot hit first. So you have to recognize the nature of your situation (violence is about to happen) and you have to be primed (like Glover’s gunfighter). And you have to finish the fight when you don’t know if the other person is armed or has a friend or friends (or is the very rare but possible person who is both connected and vindictive).
These are useful thought experiments to have if you are someone training to be prepared for violence.