The time between realizing an attack is imminent and your defensive response may be fractions of a second, says Kelly McCann. It's what you practice long before those milliseconds that may make all the difference.

How fast is your processor? No, this isn’t the place to find information about personal computing — but it is the right place to talk about personal confrontations. I’m asking how fast you recognize potential threats and process threat information. A lot of people evaluate their “street readiness” based on their hard-skills prowess and allocate far less training time to developing the “soft skills” that are so useful immediately before an attack. The most obvious soft skill, of course, is situational awareness. It’s a cumulative alertness to threats, environment, movement and anomalies. Those anomalies are called pre-incident indicators, the visually unlikely circumstances that collectively indicate an attack could be imminent. Being adept at quickly determining threat potential — without looking like you’re about to implode — is invaluable on the street. It’s one of the few things I (grudgingly) use the new-age term “empowering” to describe. Gawd.


Learn to think and fight for your life with this FREE download!
Face Mash! Kelly McCann’s Essential Self-Defense Moves for Winning Real Street Fights

All right, no epiphany there, but what about in the seconds preceding an attack? Having used your situational awareness to identify a developing threat, what the hell are you supposed to do? What’s the most efficient use of your time when you can’t avoid a physical confrontation and find yourself tensing up and saying, “Uh oh, here it comes”? How good are you at multitasking? Let’s go by the numbers to make this easier (and it’s not easy). Kelly McCann's Threat-Processing Tips — #1: Avoid Paralysis Don’t be a deer in the headlights. A biologist with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources suggests, “They (the deer) don’t know what to do, so they do nothing.” Truly, if you’ve ever seen this happen to someone, it’s amazing — the word “dumbstruck” comes to mind. To avoid this, think about (and embrace) the fact that you could be attacked. It’s not too hard — people are attacked every day, so why not you? Second, visualize yourself successfully dealing with an attack. Not obsessively, mind you, but you should internalize, visualize or just own that you will defend yourself and think about what that means in some detail. If you don’t, look for a salt lick instead of venturing out on your own. Kelly McCann's Threat-Processing Tips — #2: Profile the Potential Attacker Yeah, I said it. Profile the threat (potential attacker) for weapons. And quickly. How? Find his hands ... anything in them? Is either hidden from view? Notice any unsightly bulges? A weighted windbreaker pocket? An outline under his T-shirt? Any of these might add up to a much bigger issue for you. Knowing or suspecting that an attacker might introduce a weapon into a physical altercation is critical to your success — whether it drives you to get the hell out of there, act pre-emptively or pull out all the stops if it does go to blows. Kelly McCann's Threat-Processing Tips — #3: Position, Position, Position Where are you in relation to the attacker? Take immediate action to put yourself in the most tactically advantageous position relative to escape avenues, improvised weapons, and physical obstructions you can put between yourself and him. If you’re this deep into feeling threatened, you obviously don’t need more information, so don’t wait for it. You don’t necessarily have to attack at this moment, but you certainly need to move into the next mindset: Kelly McCann's Threat-Processing Tips — #4: Become the Predator Assume the predatorial mindset and run through the if-he-does-this-I’ll-do-that scenarios in your head. You’re much more likely to take effective action when you’ve visualized it before an attack — even if it’s only milliseconds. Shut out the distraction of hope and don’t think you can wish yourself out of the situation. It’s literally up to you at this moment. Kelly McCann's Threat-Processing Tips — #5: Pre-Emption If you know it’s coming (applying the “reasonable man” standard), waiting any longer just means the attack will fully manifest and your opportunity to disrupt it will be lost. This is tricky. You’ve got to feel that you’ve seen enough to warrant the pre-emptive use of force in self-defense and that you’re in fear for your life. The time to startle your attacker and derail his momentum is now. Don’t half-step. Your initial attack will define the threat he feels and trigger his own fight-or-flight response. Make sure he feels the need to flee. None of this is formulaic. None of it is absolute. You’re always at risk of making the wrong call. To minimize the chance of that happening, spend as much time thinking about the circumstances in which you may have to use force as you do thinking about the use of force itself. Incorporate it into your training by devising drills with ambiguous triggers. Become an expert at discerning reliable pre-incident indicators. Perhaps most important, remember that if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s probably a duck. About the Author: A former officer in the U.S. Marine Corps, Kelly McCann has studied and taught combatives for 25 years. His company, Crucible, provides training to U.S. government, law-enforcement and military personnel. For more of Kelly McCann's hard-hitting combatives instruction in print and on video, check out these best-selling products:
SUBSCRIBE TO BLACKBELT MAGAZINE TODAY!
Don't miss a single issue of the world largest magazine of martial arts.

Talks About Being a Smaller Fighter in a Combat Sport Ruled by Giants

At first glance, most people — most martial artists, even — will zero in on the smaller person in any fight and deem him or her to be at a distinct disadvantage. It's a natural tendency to draw this conclusion based on obvious attributes such as height, weight and reach. However, that tendency does not always lead to accurate conclusions.

Keep Reading Show less
ONE: No Surrender II comes your way on August 14 from Bangkok, and the main event features a pair of outstanding strikers looking to advance in the ONE Bantamweight Muay Thai Tournament for their shot at Nong-O Gaiyanghadao and the ONE Bantamweight World Championship.
Keep Reading Show less

Learn a key Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu technique from world-renowned coach Ricardo Liborio.

1996 World Jiu-Jitsu Championship super heavyweight gold medalist Ricardo Liborio is the co-founder of American Top Team and is considered one of the best Jiu-Jitsu experts in the world. He is a student of Grand Master Carlson Gracie, holding a 6th degree black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and a 2nd degree black belt in Judo.

Keep Reading Show less

Systema might not be one of the most popularly trained martial arts (at least, not within the United States), but this Russian style certainly packs a wallop! Its name simply means "The System," and that level of confidence from its creators tells you all you need to know about its efficacy. Like krav maga, Systema was developed for military use, and focuses on self-defense and real-life combat situations against armed or unarmed opponents.

Keep Reading Show less
Free Bruce Lee Guide
Have you ever wondered how Bruce Lee’s boxing influenced his jeet kune do techniques? Read all about it in this free guide.
Don’t miss a thing Subscribe to Our Newsletter