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miket's picture
"Indubitably, Watson" aka 'How many moves can you think ahead"

OK, silly original kernel but a serious hypothetical question:  I took my kids to see Sherlock Holmes III last night, which was fun.  If you've seen the movies you're probably familar with the "slow motion previews" where Holmes thinks through what he is about to do, how his opponent will react to that, and how he will respond accordingly.  If not you can check an example here:

Obviously that is pure fiction.  But it got me thinking more about the idea of what I call "defensive anticipation" to students.  For instance, if the idea that if you have 'intercepted' or are 'monitoring'  (i.e. in tactile contact with) a particular limb of the threat's body, then you can kind of 'cheat' and 'pick up' or 'gain' some reactive mental space with the anticipation that the other side of his body will LIKELY fire the next attack, which can assist with your positioning.

So, if you have 'accounted for' a left punch, you can be fairly certain that there is at least a high percentage CHANCE that he will follow with the right side, and vice verse, people frequently attacking with what Mark Hatmaker called...grrr... can't remember... he had a term though for R-L-R-L types of attacks that escapes me at the moment and which I will have to look up.

I am not attempting to reduce spontaneous combat to a paint by numbers formula.   Also, obviously, we are talking about CHANCES here, and with a chance there is a decided opportunity to be 'dead wrong'.  But I have found that its possible, especially with less trained people you tell to "attack you" spontaneously to antcipate in the manner i have described and I have personally seen a high percentage of effectiveness in the application of this 'sixth sense', which in reality has more to do (IMO) with their weight committment, momentum, follow-through, and the body mechanics and natural 'loading' of alternating body sides than any sort of ninja spiritualism. 

So, the movie just set me to thinking again:  have other people had similar empirical experiences, and how many moves is it really profitable to 'think ahead', or more specifically, to 'train ahead' for in 'for real' fighting?  I'm anticipating answers from 'none' to 'ten (i.e. Kenpo like strike sequences) ' and have personally trained with instructors who have various justifying rationales for both approaches... :-)

michael rosenbaum
michael rosenbaum's picture

Um, I usually go for three moves ahead.

1. I'm attacked

2. I cover and scream bloody murder

3. I run like a striped a&*ed ape. cool

Sorry Mike, I just couldn't help myself.

Merry Christmas!

miket's picture

LOL, no worries.  smiley   It's not like you're exactly 'derailing' the thread here... cheep cheep cheep... smiley

Happy Holidays to you as well. 

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Interesting question! With regards to self-protection, my take on it would be not to think ahead at all but have trained so that the enemy’s reaction to the technique of the moment triggers a suitable follow up. We would look at what the likely reactions are (pass out, fall backward, flinch, cover and move forward, etc) and ensure we have a trained response to all of those. There is no need to spend much training time on unlikely actions. So we are not talking combinations here, but ways to maintain dominance based on the likely reactions of the enemy to the technique of the moment; with the aim always being to end things with that technique (one blow – one kill and all that).

It’s a little different when talking about a mutual exchange with a fellow martial artist where the likely responses can be predicted with more precision. The reason for this is that you are not only aware of their instinctive reactions but their trained reactions too. In that context I would say it is possible to be throw combinations that take likely reactions into account. I’d still limit it to 2 or 3 motions though as the exponential rise in the number of possibilities would render fixed combinations of more techniques extremely unlikely to fit the exact circumstances as they unfold.

Good video clip!

All the best,


PASmith's picture

BJJ and other grappling arts have this sort of "thinking ahead" at their very core. "Chaining" as it is sometimes called. Of course it's also very related to Iain's "likely reactions". If you watch Royce Gracie in the early UFC's and some of the early "Gracie's in action" fights you can see that they know (or had worked out) what the other person was going to do before they did. A lot of the early BJJ success was down to this understanding.

The Gracie's knew that the strikers would "plant" their weight to strike. They knew that once they had clinched the strikes would lack enough power to KO. They knew that once they mounted the guy and started punching him in the face he was likely to turn over and allow them to rear naked choke him.

miket's picture

Thanks for the replies guys.  One of them made me remember a GIF I saw of Floyd Mayweather, I think vs. Hatton...  The illustration was interesting because Maywether was rolling Hatton's cross before Hatton even knew he was throwing the punch.  So I agree, predictive chaining in a skille dcontest is one possibility.\

However, this is more what I was referring to:  "So we are not talking combinations here [yes], but ways to maintain dominance based on the likely reactions of the enemy to the technique of the moment [yes, but I was refering more generally to the non-tactic-specific relative body positioning]".

Personally I see both of those 'anticipations' as being the 'same' thing, i.e. an 'untrained LIKELY physiological reaction' as opposed to a 'trained LIKELY physiological reaction', although I agree that these tow things manifest differently depending on context.  But what I am referring to is more his underlying physiological (or biological?) reactiopn based on positioning.

So what then are the universal elements? i.e.  for instance, I tell student's that a person in conflict will 'always' be likely to resist pressure 'in opposite' (e.g. the basis for a lot of judo and jujtsu reversals)... start them left to move them right and etc.  But as far as 'defensive anticipation' I am trying to simplify even further... or maybe what I 'discovered' is really a bit of a 'no brainer.'  But my thinking is that, "doubling up"  on the same side with either hand + hand like a double jab or hand + foot (on the same side of the body, like a front kick + lunge punch or a sidekick + jab, etc.), are more "acquired" than 'natural' skills.  My limited experiential observation is more to the point that having 'committed' one side of the body with momentum and intense force into an attack, this tends to 'force' the threat to follow-on by priveleging the 'loaded' (rear) side fo the body, i.e. regardless of the technique that they choose to throw.  But with close 'positioning',  (I.e. moving outside toward two o'clock with your view being 12; or alternately outside toward your 10) you can 'draw' the loaded off-hand as a 'frequent' high percentage 'likely follow-up'.

So, knowing this is likely, in this situation, depending on your proximity, you can develop responses that start to 'smother' that likely occurence before he even realizes its a possibility.   Or maybe 'despite the fact' that he realizes its a possibility, because his basic animal nature is pushing him to work with that 'loaded' side.  So, what I am getting at is that you move from straight-up 'reacting' to what he is doing (the way you did with your first riposte) to 'acting' before or as he does, thus the 'mental pick up' I was attempting to refer to.  And, with some creativity, your 'second' move can be one that smothers the 'likely' blow whether it comes or not AND hits, precisely so that you start to shift the momentum.

What I am trying to do is progress one move down the ladder...  i.e. we frequently assume that its 'highly likely' HAPV as an opening salvo will be a right haymaker.  So, we devise various responses that enter and hit simultaneously vs. that 'likely' initial move.  What I am trying to articulate that I have been playing with is (for instance), say you 'only' manage to parry that first punch / grasp/ push/ whatever, or even just flicnh and make contact with it. And at that point, the opposite side becomes 'next likely' due to the reasons I indicated.. at least it has a lot with mys students, enough to cause me to notice it. 

I don't know if that's any clearer of an explanation, and like I said, maybe the discovery is just a "duh".   

Shoto's picture

First of all, I'm a huge sherlockian. Second I'll stick with rosenbaums tactics. These three moves I can definetly adapt in any situation. To the main topic, like iain said, moves are infinite. How do I know, my opponent is going to react If I  mae geri him to the stomach? there are literally 1000 ways the fight may continue.  Only thing I know, it's likely that he will be blown back. In my opinion we should concentrate on more specific defense tactics.

Obviously we don't get access to our enemies thoughts, hence we simply can't foresee how the opponent will act/react. there are just too many possibilities. I agree, that we can create chances, i.e. lowering the guard to provoke an attack to the head etc. But it's not a prediction.

To add sth. new to our discussion, I'd like to propose proprioception as a way to kind of predict our enemy's next move. If we hold contact to some part of out opponents body, we feel all the movement milliseconds before the move is completed plus our tactile sense reaction is much faster than our visional one. This gives an actual advantage in close combat fights, and helps to "predict" moves.

Have a wonderful christmas.


miket's picture

Well, I agree that fighting is 'infinite' **in nuance**.  And as to the proprioception, 'yes, exactly.'  To a degree, that is what I am trying to describe (i..e. the "tactile contact") part of my post, but I am attempting to discuss more of a 'position-based' propriopception.

If you think about it, he can do 'anything'.  That's true.

What I am saying is, if he does THIS, with 'this' being a solid weight commitment onto one side of his body, certain movements THEN become 'proportionally next likely' in terms of follow-up.  TO me, your example with the Mae geri is the 'same' thing in reverse, you 'know' (i.e. with 'highly likely certainty') that if you kick him well in the gut, a certain SPECIFIC physiological position ("doubled over") is the 'likely' result, which allows you to 'plan' logical follow-ups to that opening move.  So a hammer to the back of the neck becomes 'more likely to be effective' than a shoot for his legs.  That would be how an example of how 'effective combination' thinking manages to 'work' in my book.  Move A sets up the logical placement of Move B and etc.

And in saying that, we recognize that 'in combat', all bets are off, and that 'reality' may not accommodate our 'plan'.  Yet we train with such 'plans' all the time, because sometimes we DO get the result we are anticipating, and psychologically, that is what we 'hope' for when we launch our combo, i.e. not too many fighters go into a round going "I'll throw this because he is likely to block it."  No, we hit where he is 'open', i.e. where he has no defense and/or is not expecting it, and to that opening move, we add certain 'predictive' follow-ups.  So we snap the jab as an opener with the cross as a logical follow-up (partly I wouuld argue what makes thi 'logica;' is the loading of our body).  And, from an offensive standpoint, we also train to 'roll' the jab right into a front hook OFF his parry, because  we recognize that tapping or 'parrying the jab' is a likely 'response' to that jab on his part.  So, one option for us is to cross.  A second option for us IF he parries is to hook.  And in training, we do a great deal of 'strucured combination' work in support of these predictive options.

Yet we know that reality decides for us in a 'real' fight whether we wil have the opportunity to use EITHER of those two hypotheitcal options.  And truly, we may not.  But we train for them anyway, based on certain precursor assumptions.  And my argument would be that because there is no way for us to know in advance what threat reality will ultimately give us (if any), that 'all training' is both assumptive and (attempts to be) predictive in nature on that basis.

What I am trying to articulate is a thinking that a certain similar phenomena to the offensive combination thinking is extant with regard to defense.  And, admittedly, I posed the question more from a perspective of dealing with striking only, which I realize is a contrived context to begin with.  (I say that because I think its indicative of the RANGE that my original question assumed a hypothetical conflict ensuing from).  But mostly, I am trying to take this discussion outside of specific 'tactics' which ARE myriad (he COULD grab, punch, push, poke, spear, draw, pull a cell phone and call a buddy, etc.) and 'reduce' or distill the discussion somewhat to 'sides of the body', physiology, and 'positions'.  So, Shoshin, I am kind of assuming proprioception fits in that someplace, e.g. if I have limb to limb contact, I have that contingent upon certain posiitions.

The fact is, if he kicks left (as an example), you have 'myriad' options, yourself.  But what I would assert is that TO ENTER counter-offesnively 'many to most'  of them (but not probably 'all' of them) involve you moving your body one of two ways defensively 'around' his kick.  So, a person says (hypothetically) "no, I would just leg-shield his kick and do this".  But what I am talking about is that the act of shielding his kick is going to put you either inside or outside his leg. 

And, based on being in one of those POSITIONS, and having proprioceptively 'accounted for' his weapon by virtue of whatever defensive moevement you choose to employ, suddenly, you 'know' where he is.  And if you know where he is, and you know RELATIONALLY where you are, suddenly, I think it becomes possible **IN TRAINING** to start to develop responses that work vs. "high percentage chance follow-ups.", the same way we 'predict' to a degree what is liekly to emerge in response to effective offense.

As an attempt at an even more simplified example, say I am fighting a point fighter who comes at me sideways with a side kick from a point fighting stance,   I immediately am confronted with my 'myriad' of options, all of which have certain positional roots to them. I can hold position and brace to 'take' the kick, however I choose to do 'that' in a tactically specifc manner (and which will depend on the target of his kick). 

Or, I can move in any one of the basic 'eight directions', which concept itself is in reality a 'gross simplification of the infinite', there being 360 possibilities in a circle, each of which can be factionally subdivided into its own myriad possibilities ad nauseum.  What I mean is, it becomes ridiculous in training to practice moving to 45 degrees, then to 46, then 47, Then 48.5 etc.  So, we simplify to the 'eight' general directions for discussion purposes with the underlying understanding that they 'encompass' the infinite in a generalized but useful way.  And we recognize that what we train as a 45 degree movement in training may actually have to be 'adjusted' in a real fight, i.e. that reality may not accommodate our training assumptions.

So to go back to my side kick example, one option is to stay in place.  Five options (to the sides, rear, and rear quarters) will take me out of range but will negate any counter offensive options on my part because in that case I am maintaining interval.  One option (straight forward into the kick) is open to me but 'high risk' (aknowledging that various options exist to cover and 'jam' the kick.)  So, I really only have two (or at most three including the former) options that take ME into offensive range, i.e. which allow me to "enter" in a counter offensive manner.  And those are, straight in as stated, or forward to the outside, and forward to the inside of his leg. 

So, my question (from a less specific standpoint) started from about this point...  To stay with the current example, the side kick, what I am attampting to articulate is if you DO move forward 'around' his kick, this will change your 'relative positions.  And doing so therefore is likely to 'draw' cerrtain follow-up attacks.   One option we would have to account for is the assumption that  he is already throwing move number two as part of HIS combination, which as I said earlier takes us back to acquired responses which we would expect from a trained fighter, and which will vary based on the specific type of training undertaken.  So, accounting for his likely follow-up as part of a combination (sidekick backfist reverse punch would be one permutation to explore if we are training to fight karateka, or fight in a karate tournament.

And in reality, his options are again myriad.  Which is why an understanding of action / reaction and initiative is so important to convey to students.  The fact is, I cannot keep pace with his actions by reacting, I have to 'steal' the initiatve and start HIM reacting by 1)  creating pain 2) maintaining forward pressure, and 3) keeping him physically off balance (which is how I articluate the three operative principles of 'attacking' to students).

[Another base assumption of my original question is that it was a 'class 3' option..(Personally I divide the subject of  initiatve into four 'classes' of actions:  1) preemptive 2) simultaneous crashes/jams and smothers 3) riposting/ countering and 4) recovery.   i.e.  Asusme whatever attack he throws lands and we stagger back.  We would effectively be starting a fight from a 'class 4' poition, and the movements on our part which are 'appropriate' would change.  So, that's an attempt to clarify that I was originally attempting to ask about 'defensive anticipation' more from the perspective of riposting]

NOw, in making my ripost or 'entering', say I move toward Mr. Side Kicker's back; changing our relative positions.  I then need be 'proportionally less concerned' with a reverse punch follow-up and 'proportionally more concerned' with any kind of spinning high line or low line attack.  So, an 'assumption' I might make in training is that I want to stay 'close' to his back, and either a) keep one hand high to guard the elbow, or b) if I am in really close contact, bury my chin and face down on his scapula for the same reason (for instance if I am going for a body lock).   My observation was that such decisions are 'positionally-based' inferences, although I apologize if I have not been clear in explaining it.

So, without at all menaing to find fault, what I appear to be hearing in this thread is mostly that 'real combat is way too complex for prediction'.  And in sum, I agree with that, **IF** we are talking about walking into a 'real' fight and trying to guess what he is going to do... Agreed, that's impossible.

However, combative TRAINING is (I would argue) largely about positional analysis... if he stands this way, attack him this way.  If he stands that way, attack him that way (and etc. etc. etc.).  So when I speak of "prediction", I am more referring to it from the positional basis I have attempted to clarify here, and my argument would be that as instructors we do this 'all the time'; we just tend to apply this thinking to offensive combinations and not so much to reacting to what he is doing.  Or if we apply it in defense, we tend to do it 'unscientifically', based on either a) the combinations we know ourselves and tend to favor or b) an even more subjective subconscious intuition.

Anyway, I am not asking anyone to agree with me, and like I said in my last, it may be that its just kind of a 'no-brainer' that, 'yeah, if you move outside the guys punch or kick, (and account for both it, and more generally, the threat's relative position), its not much of a disovery to think he will then come with the other hand or foot'.  But what I am trying to articulate is that our generalized 'move' (realizing this is not a chess game) in response to his attack 'opens' certain options ("gates?") for him and closes off others.  SO, we need to be concerned, from a defensive standpoint, about what options are 'opened' to him from certain primary relative positions.

That's the simplest way I can say it without an illustration but I hope that's clearer...?