A Strategy and Tactics Primer
for the Martial Artist
By Rory A. Miller
Before we start explaining strategy or tactics we need to address assumptions as they apply to martial arts. Assumptions are those things you believe to be true without really considering them. They provide the background for much of how you see the parts of the world that you have never experienced. You assume that people in the world are very similar to the people you know, or you assume that they are very different. Either point of view will color all of your interactions and perceptions with those people.
Violence, for the vast majority of martial artists, is unknown territory. Though they have studied “fighting”, very little of what they learn is based on experience, and very much is based on word of mouth. That leaves a lot of room for assumptions, both personal assumptions and assumptions picked up from teachers, the assumptions of the style, etc.
Let’s start with the assumptions of the style. Every style is for something, a collection of tactics and tools to deal with what the founder was afraid of. For the old style of jujutsu that I study, the assumed opponent was an armed and armored warrior, the assumed environment was a battlefield full of armed people, the assumed situation was that your weapon had been dropped or broken suddenly and the assumed goal was to get an opponents weapon, probably by killing him. This list of assumptions drives almost everything in the style. It forces a close, brutal, quick and aggressive concept based entirely on gross motor skills.
A style based on the founder’s fear of losing a non-contact tournament will look different, even if it is just as well adapted for that idea of a fight as my jujutsu.
This is the first thing you must do: understand thoroughly what your style is for. Violence is a very broad category of human interaction. Many, many instructors attempt to apply something designed for a very narrow aspect of violence, such as unarmed dueling, and extrapolate it to other incompatible areas, such as ambush survival. My jujutsu, for instance, is wonderfully adapted to close range medieval battlefield emergencies. From there it is a fairly easy stretch to predatory assault survival, but difficult to adapt to either sparring or the pain-compliance/restraint level of police Defensive Tactics (DTs).
Each instructor also has assumptions based on his or her experience, training and (too often) television and popular culture. The first major assumption is a belief in what a “fight” is and looks like. The second is in how they define a “win”. Most styles and instructors are remarkably well adapted to getting the win in the right kind of fight, and crippled when the fight doesn’t match their expectation or when the conditions of a win change.
Goals dictate strategy.
Strategy dictates tactics.
Tactics dictate techniques.
Goals may differ. Real violence is
a very broad subject and no two encounters are the same. What is a
“win” in one situation may not be in the next. The goal is
how you define the win in that particular encounter. Sometimes it
will reflect your martial arts training: an incapacitating blow may
be what you need. But sometimes the goal is to break away or create
enough space to access a weapon or just get enough air to scream for
help. If the goal changes, so does everything else. If you have only
trained for one goal, i.e. the submission, you will be hampered when
the goal is different. Start putting your students in situation
where the goal is non-standard, such as escaping from a small room
or car; drawing a weapon from one of several opponents’ belts or
getting to a dummy phone and punching in 911. One of the simplest
drills is “Breakthrough” where the student must, as fast as
possible, get through a door blocked by two opponents. Fighting each
or both of them takes too long.
The goal is what needs to happen, parameters are what you can’t do. For me, that’s Departmental Policy and Procedure most of the time. But it may also include not leaving someone behind, not losing a weapon from your belt or any number of limitations.
Goals and Parameters combine to dictate strategy. Strategy is the general plan for accomplishing the goal. Fight, run and hide are the three classic survival strategies. Don’t limit yourself to these, though. Deceive and strike; ambush; wait for a mistake and exploit; are all well known. In the martial arts “Do Damage” is the core strategy of karate, “Disrupt Balance” is the strategy of judo.
Strategy and environment dictate tactics. Tactics are the ‘how’ of implementing strategy. Availability of weapons, targets, escape routes, as well as lighting, footing and space are all elements of the environment that will affect your choice of tactics.
Tactics and the “totality of circumstances” dictate the specific technique you will use. Totality of circumstances is the law enforcement term for all of the infinite details of the moment that influence a decision. For instance…
Goal: stop bad guy from hurting me.
Tactic: hit him with a stick many times.
Technique: snap to the exposed temple.
The point is, if your goal
changes, so will everything else. How you move, how you think, how
you act. Everything changes. The striving for perfection of a single
goal, the hallmark of dojo training, is far too narrow for real
Conflicting Goals in Drills
Be aware that in any classroom or dojo setting there is a gap between the perceived goal and the real goal. The perceived goal may be anything from mastering a technique to learning knife defense. The real goal never changes: make the instructor happy. This is why when you teach scenarios the students will not go “outside the box” without specific permission. They won’t scream, or yell at another student to dial 911 or run away or grab a weapon off the wall- all things they should really do if attacked – because deep down the goal is to give the instructor what the student thinks the instructor wants. As such, an instructor should allow their students to occasionally travel outside of the box.
Rory A. Miller is a Corrections Officer who resides in Portland, Oregon. He is a training officer with the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office and is ranked in Sosuishitsu-ryu Jujutsu and Judo.