Block or Preempt?

October 25, 2022, Kiel, Germany

Are We Waiting to be Attacked?
Block or Preemptive Strike?

Watch any martial arts demonstration, the moves are smooth and beautiful. The participants are wearing colorful, perhaps exotic uniforms and every player knows his part. But reality is different, reality is ugly and brutal. Senseless violence happens at a moment's notice and all hell breaks lose. You did not see it coming, you are caught unawares, nothing goes as planned back in the training, the shit hits the fan and it is very ugly. And now we are left to clean up the smelly mess, and we wonder, what went wrong?

What happened to our perfectly planned and coordinated defense, what happened to our Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon? Why did nothing go as planned?

And here we enter a controversial topic, here we enter very real differences of opinions and points of view; kung fu, karate, Brazilian Jujitsu, Krav Maga in its many different forms, and everyone believes they have the truth. The truth is that violence is very ugly and no defense will be perfect every time, and from here, we all try out best. 

First some points of agreement. These are points which I have discussed with many leading self-defense instructors and have not found anyone serious who will disagree. I have also seen this point of view clearly stated in many videos of leading instructors whom I have not had the opportunity to meet. 

Avoid all fights if you can - I have never met any serious instructors who advocate fighting when it is possible to avoid a fight. Our goal is to get home safely, our goal is to protect others. If fighting helps achieve this goal, we must consider it, but if there is an option to get home without a bloody scuffle, all agree that that is the preferred option. 

Avoid the knife at all costs - We never approach a person with a knife unless we are prepared to sacrifice ourselves to save another. Approaching an attacker with a knife in his hands is like putting your hand inside a moving propeller. Your hand will be chopped off or severely damaged. Many years ago I asked my teacher this question; you see a terrorist with a knife in his hand, chasing after people to kill them, what do you do? His answer was to not approach this terrorist. If you have a firearm, shoot carefully. If you don't, throw something at him, a stone, a chair, but do not engage him. No knife defense is that secure. Keep your distance. 

Develop your verbal self-defense skills - Depending on the situation talking might help. There are master hostage negotiators that have managed to verbally disarm a dangerous attacker. This takes trainer, it is much more than ...hey man, take it easy, drop that knife.

Learn the culture of the assailant - This is essential. Understand the culture of the attacker, understand what he wants to get out of this situation (Money, ego, power, impress his friends, revenge etc.). If you have no idea what he wants, you are not in a position to choose the correct defense. For example, if his reasons for wanting to harm you are religious or political, offering cash will not help. If he blames you for his life falling apart (getting fired, his wife leaving him, losing his home etc.) he wants to exact revenge, so handing over a few bills will not help the situation. 

Study real cases - I believe that it is not enough to practice drills and old techniques, but we must apply them to the ever-changing world of crime. For this we need to be studying cases around the world. 

Learn to read body language - We need to learn to read people, see potential violence. 

And now we need to address a situation where the attack is starting before we even realize it. Allow me to explain. This is not a situation where a security guard is engaged in dialogue with a suspect, or a doorman with a guy trying to enter. In those situations, a preemptive strike may be possible. In those situations where we fear there may be a knife, we might be able to strike preemptively. But my question is another situation: A guy is charging towards you with a knife, he is already in motion. Can you, should you, charge towards him?

My answer, my experience is that it is nearly impossible to charge him as the attack is already in process and there is simply no time. If we manage to lift up our arms in defense, we should consider ourselves blessed and be thankful for all those years of training. But, and here is a key point, even if we could charge forward there are many reasons not to.

These points are much easier to demonstrate physically then describe verbally, but I will make an attempt. 

1. When I charge in and commit both my arms to his attacking arm, I leave myself vulnerable to an attack from his other hand. That is why I always block with one arm and leave the other arm behind to protect myself. 

2. If I use both my arms against his knife arm, i.e. the attacking arm, he could slip under my arms for a takedown. 

3. If I commit both my arms, and I am carrying a side firearm, he can each over and grab that firearm. This has actually happened in Israel.

When I say not to charge forward I am not taking a "passive" approach. Not at all. 

So why do I stress in training not to charge forward? Why is this the more realistic streetwise approach?

It is not because we don't want to. It is not because we are "waiting for the attack", no, not at all. 

Allow me to break it down to a few key points. (much easier explained and demonstrated live in person, but...let's try here).   

1. We are dealing here with a very violent, fast and aggressive attack. As many victims in Israel described, "the guy came at me like a locomotive". 

Let us stop and think about this...

He is bigger,

He is stronger,

He is the one initiating the attack. 

He has caught us by surprise. 

We are reacting to his attack, that he initiated. We are responding/reacting. In most such cases in Israel, with trained soldiers, they did not even manage to lift up their arms to block, let alone charge forward. We must be humble; we must be realistic. 

Again, the cases we have experienced and studied, were soldiers, well aware that they are a target, they are looking for the knife attack, and yet, when it came, Boom, they were caught off guard and were not even able to execute a simple block, let alone charge in. This is the simple and painful reality. So, even if we want to charge forward, it is simply highly unlikely to ever happen. 

I have worked with many soldiers, in Israel and around the world. This is the reality. Next, 

2. As I have demonstrated on many videos, and at many seminars, let's assume that by some miracle I was able to move in towards the attacker. (I consider this highly unlikely but let us assume) now that both my arms are on his body (rather than one arm held back) he has a clear path to grab my handgun (if we are dealing with a soldier or police), or to push my arm up and go under my arm for a classic MMA takedown (which on concrete will be a game ender). Thus, even If I could charge forward, I am putting myself at a great risk. 

When I block the attack I cause his arm great pain, and THEN I can go forward as we teach with a variety of strikes and elbows etc. I.e. BLOCK his forearm, and then move in aggressively, (or escape)  

3. This third point I demonstrated on one of our vimeos, and that is the change of direction. i.e. When he comes to me, he has fully committed, and he cannot change the course of action. But if I move towards him, trying to preempt his strike, he sees me coming and he can change the direction of his stab and cut me badly. We tried this full force, and no defender was able to avoid getting cut badly. 

4. This is not a standoff situation. This is not two guys outside a pub "postering" before a fight. In such a case I would advocate a preemptive strike if there is no way to talk your way out of it or walk away. Here we are dealing with a totally different scenario; this is a guy with a knife coming at you full force, the opportunity for an effective preemptive strike has already passed. This is a reactive situation. 

5. It is important to realize the distance factor here. Again, this is not a pub situation where a guy is looking at you and postering. This is a situation where there is distance and the only way for you to get to him is by charging forward, but this is too dangerous because he has enough room to maneuver/to change to direction and stab you before you can disable him. There is no opportunity here for a preemptive strike. 

6. Practical example of how all we can hope for is to React and raise our arms with the Universal Block and that illusions of charging-in are just that, delusions: Here in Kiel, I visited the training hall of our instructor, Toto, when I was distracted by looking at his wonderful school, he threw me a ball. I raised up my arm and I caught the ball. i.e. I reacted, he then explained that this is the only reason he keeps the balls in the dojo, to demonstrate the effectiveness of the Universal Block, i.e., we react!

I reacted by lifting my arms, but there was no possibility of moving forward, of charging the ball unless I was looking directly at him and waiting for the ball to be thrown. In the case of a knife even if I were in such a situation, even if I knew he was going to attack (which is highly unlikely) I would choose to either escape or respond. As I explained earlier if I move towards him before he is fully committed, he can still maneuver the knife in a way to cut me before I block. But if I respond while he is already in full attack, my block will be very effective. 

I hope I have helped clarify this issue a bit but the written word is not the best approach for this. Come to our classes and we shall explain. We also have vimeos that explain this point. Those can be found on the Vimeo website under my name. 

Stay safe everyone. 

Moshe Katz’s On Demand Pages on Vimeo


Knife attacks happen very quickly. We use simple gross motor moves

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