Most of our time training in the martial arts is spent dealing with an “attacker” who stands in front of us. We often start with our hands up in a good fighting position and wait for our partner to launch an attack that we counter. We also engage in sparring so that we can apply our techniques in a “live” situation without any choreography. As good as these methods of training are, we must be sure to also train for a more common type of street encounter: the surprise attack. Many real fights start with an ambush. This is where the opponent attacks without warning, doing his best to catch you off guard. This is the reality of the street, and if you don’t train for it you won’t be prepared to deal with it. The first aspect to understand is the psychological effect that an ambush has. You are minding your own business when “wham”, out of nowhere you are in a melee. Often the first mental response is one of disbelief. Is this really happening? What’s going on here? While your mind tries to figure out if you are dreaming, the attacker just might put you to sleep. It is very important to be acutely aware of your environment. Most fights happen in places light nightclubs where the danger can be sensed ahead of time, if you are paying attention. If you feel something is out of place, take note and adjust to the situation. If you feel that things are getting hot, go somewhere else. If you are out on the street at night, be aware of those dark spots and of any unusual activity. Don’t ignore it and hope that nothing is going to happen. Get your mind set first and you may be able to avoid the situation altogether.If you are ambushed, you have to hope that you survive the initial attack. A well-executed surprise attack is impossible to defend. It is that simple. Of course, not all ambushes are immediately successful. You must realize that if you are ambushed you will not be able to choose the range in which the fight starts. It is totally up to the attacker. If he starts punching, you are in a standing striking fight. If he grabs you, you are in the clinch. If he tackles you from behind you are in a ground fight. This is why it is so important to train in all the ranges of combat. Specializing in only one area is great if you are just training for particular tournaments where the rules dictate in which range the competition takes place in. In a surprise attack, your adversary dictates where the fight begins.
Another aspect of training that should be addressed is working against odd-angle attacks. Instead of always starting with your partner in front of you, have him or her launch the initial attack from the side or from behind you. It can be a punch, kick, combination, or takedown. To be able to deal with an attack from the side or back you need to practice handling those types of attacks. You should also start with your hands down. You are not going to be in a nice, safe fighting stance when a surprise attack comes. You may be standing with your hands down, sitting, or walking while carrying a load of groceries. Practice from all of these scenarios so that you get some experience ahead of time. That is what good training is all about.
How about sparring? As great and essential as it is, a big problem with sparring is that you are in front of your partner and you know that he is going to attack. You may not know what is coming, but there is no surprise about who is coming after you. Fortunately I have a great drill that is fun for everyone that will allow you to include the element of surprise in your training. I call it the ambush drill.
I take my class, all friends, and have everyone walk around randomly. Here is the game. Anyone can attack anyone else at anytime. They all try their best to sneak up on someone and launch a surprise attack (safely!) while being on the lookout for someone else’s ambush. This drill is great fun. You don’t know who is about to attack you or with what. At the beginning stages I will only allow one or two attacks. Maybe the attacker can only throw a big swinging punch or go for a tackle. Later it can be any sort of striking attack or takedown. If they go to the ground they continue there for a few seconds, then back to their feet to continue the game. This is all done at a safe intensity with proper protective equipment. The result is that everyone gets to feel that nervous energy of knowing someone might be out to get you. You just don’t know who it is or what the attack will be.
If you want to be able to deal with the surprise attack, you must spend time practicing specifically for it. Doing so will raise your awareness for the situation, and hopefully you can avoid such a problem altogether. Try the ambush drill to add that sense of surprise to your training. It is a great drill that is fun and effective
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