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Fight Deception: The Art of Being First

James “Smokey” West Here

Have you ever heard the saying, “the punch that gets you is the punch you never see?” I have recently been asked questions about how to get to your opponent or attacker without getting hurt. It’s a great question and it involves closing the gap or distance between you and your opponent. If you don’t do a lot of reality-based fight training, this concept will be hard to master or even conceptualize. If a fight or a self-defense situation is imminent, things can get crazy in a hurry. You’ve got to face the situation, even though you (and even seasoned street fighters) are concerned about getting hit first and taken out.

Control the Altercation

I realize there are some genetic freaks out there who are simply hard to hurt, making it even more difficult to beat them. To do so, you have to be deceptive, fast, and first. You may have to sucker punch a guy as there is much to be said about getting off first to win.

Once an altercation has reached critical mass and can no longer be avoided, it is vitally important for you to minimize the damage you take, while maximizing the damage you deal to the would be assailant. Your ability to avoid getting hit is based largely on your movement. This starts with controlling the distance between both of you from the onset, always knowing where you are in relation to your opponent.

Mitigate Attacks

If, for example, you feel like your opponent may bull-rush you, there are a few simple tips you should keep in mind to help minimize the initial rush and impact.

  • You should align yourself just out of the attacker’s reach and on the side furthest away from their power hand or side.
  • If you feel they may lead with a bull-rush or that they’ll strike you first, then you want your feet about shoulder-width apart with your lead foot pointing at their lead foot and you want to have your weight shifted slightly forward about 60% to the front leg and 40% weight to back leg. Your knees should be slightly bent. This will enhance your ability to ride the punch or bull rush without getting your weight locked down on your back heel, immobilizing you. Also, do not let your opponent get their hips lower than yours—gravity counts.
  • Get your hands up close to your shoulders and keep your lead hand between you and your attacker.

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Striking First

If you feel that your best option is to hit first, don’t worry about being judged because you sucker punched some AH who wants to beat your ass. Just let it rip. It’s a great idea, but not always effective.

  • You have to practice hitting hard from many different angles. This is best done on heavy bags.
  • You want to hit the guy in a way that attacks their vulnerabilities and maximizes your punching power. This is never going to be the same for every situation or person.
  • If you can freeze your attacker before you punch by creating a distraction and then hitting him, this is better for you. Fakes and feints work well here. It’s like punching out in front of him.
  • Zig/Zag foot work is a method of closing that may work well, especially if your attacker has tunnel-vision and is fixed on their target and the outcome they desire. This happens when you push/slide very fast, first to the left or right as you close the distance between you and your attacker and then immediately do the same in the opposite direction, all-the-while continuing to close the gap. This may make your opponent miss you or at least have to readjust their footwork and stance, confusing them and getting them off balance and taking the power out of any strikes.

This zig/zag footwork came in handy for me many years ago when I took out a 6’8″ aggressive attacker in the streets one night.

Here’s The Story…

I was stationed at Ft Bragg NC in the 7th Special Forces Group at the time. Two of my martial arts training partners and I were out and about one night having a few adult beverages. Like many young Green Berets, we stayed out until the bars all closed down. As a result, we were not feeling any pain and had also made the natural assumption that no one would screw with us.

Little did we know how quickly things would go south. We went to an all-night breakfast restaurant and it seemed all the other hungry drunks had done the same. Long story short, an all-out brawl broke out and people were slugging it out all around us. We decided to get out of there before the police arrived.

As we were walking to the car through the parking lot, I notice a huge guy heading straight for us. He was about 6’8″ and had very long hair and was wearing a long winter maxi coat. He also had his girlfriend by his side. My internal alarms started going off because he was not only staring me down, but was making a B-line directly at me.

Things Went South Quickly

Of course my mind was going, “Holy shit, WTF?” I figured he didn’t want to talk, so I was thinking of what the best course of action I could take was to avoid getting my ass whooped by this big AH.

Just as I thought things couldn’t get worse, the guy reached into his mouth and pulled his dentures out. Now, I’m thinking this is going to get real and bad in a hurry. Keep in mind that all of these thoughts are racing through my mind in a matter of seconds as this guy is about 25 feet away and closing.

He, however, clearly didn’t have a plan of action and his internal alarms were obviously turned off. As he closed in on me, he accidentally handed me the answer to winning and not losing. He took his dentures and started pushing them down into his right pocket. As he was shoving his dentures into his pocket, I thought to myself, “there is no time like the present and this may be my only chance to take advantage.”

A Brutal Ending

When he was about 8 feet away with his hand stuck in his pocket, I did a quick zig/zag first to his left in a sprint-like motion, rapidly changing directions and zagging back to his right as if I were running past his right side. I reached behind his shoulders and grabbed his long hair and kept running behind him, forcing his weight back on his heels. As he was attempting to play catch up and regain his balances, I pulled him over the hood of the nearest car.

As he fell onto the hood of the car, I slammed his head into it. He tried to get up and I continued the flow and hit him in the face with an elbow strike as hard as I could hit him. I had nothing but my survival and bad intent behind the elbow strike.

As his head bounced back up I hit him a 2nd time with a flush forearm to the face and then immediately stuck my right index finger knuckle-deep into his right eye. This seemed to do the trick. I don’t know medically what nerves are connected to what in and behind the eye ball, but this sure had a negative effect on him. I kept my finger in his eye socket and kept digging my finger into his eye.

Every time I pushed down on my finger, his right leg would straighten out. That was very interesting.

At this point a bunch of bystanders and his girlfriend jumped on me and pulled me off of him. So, we got in the car and drove away with no other involvement from the police or anyone else. This is a neat case where if you know a lot and use a little (i.e. the zig/zag footwork), you can overcome bigger, stronger assailants with little to no real plan.

Closing Thoughts

When your brain goes into survival or self-defense mode, you will stay relaxed and make faster defensive choices without hesitation. I remember when I was training with Joe Lewis he said, “the toughest thing a fighter has to do is to make critical decisions while under fire.” Ain’t that the truth.

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242 thoughts on “Fight Deception: The Art of Being First”

  1. They should make it compulsory in South Africa that school children learn how to defend themselves from a young age as this country is very violent and disgusting to live in

  2. Thanks! I’m nit really into fighting stuffs but I admit that I really need these things in case like this. I wish there’s a video of this.

  3. Thanks! I’m not really into fighting stuffs, but I really need this in case such situation occurs. I hope there’s a video of this.

  4. Thank you! Interesting reading about the bull rushing part. My ex did that once. I didn’t see it coming and it rocked me! It took me awhile to get any kind of control of the situation and I paid dearly for it. Never again.

  5. I’m an unfit, skinny, 63 year old. Certainly not what I used to be after having had cancer three times now. I used to rely on my reputation and toughness, but somewhere along the line my muscles dissapeared. Where I used to have strong legs, good balance and could stay calm and focussed, I now have nothing.

    This is where your training serves me well. A change of mind is the answer. Where I never would hit first, I now have no choice. I still hope I will never need your training tips, but who knows what may happen.

  6. I’m an ex Marine but 65 years old and weigh 113 lbs. My prime I was only 146. Now Im fragile and don’t have the heart I once had. Your teachings are bringing that and confidence back. Thank You And I look forward to your E-Mails

  7. Thanks for your time, that sounds exactly like something that would happen to me similar situations have occurred. I could have five of my friends standing around me anything and if there was someone on a Rampage I would be their target for some reason,lol. You handled that like a badass!!

  8. If you strike first,…you kill you court argument of defending yourself from the aggressor that STARTED the fight. It’s a choice you need to consider now, long before you are ever attacked, if you are ever attacked. So, why start a fight??? But, Why not DEFEND yourself. Thus, the reason I carry grain. Someone starts something – I’m definitely going to finish it,…and quickly.

  9. Hi there. My name is Chris and I’m new to this sight but a little “seasoned” to the community. Firstly , I want to thank you for covering this topic in particular. It’s one that my dad taught me years ago as a teenager and one that I’ve tried to pass on to mine. My father taught me to do everything I could to avoid a fight. If I could find another way, take it. But… When you’ve done that, and the guy still won’t let it go, when diplomacy has failed. You give him what he wants. At that split second, that exact moment when you realize there is no way, you swing first and you swing hard! If it’s violence he wants, violence he gets. If he’s unprepared for it, will that’s his fault. Maybe he should’ve gotten a buddy check! More often than not, you’ll be the one who decides when it’s over, and when you do, make a quick egress. No point in sticking around to what his buddies have to say. You can read about it later! Sorry, I’m a little long winded. Thanks again for a great article and keep fighting the good fight!

  10. Thank you for this iinsight. I met a green beret veteran 35 years ago who instilled the very same values in my mind. He also took the the time to teach me (by example) several quick “fight enders” that I have used several times through my life. You fellas sure do have a line on “the goods” when it comes to hand to hand combat.

  11. In my hand-to-hand combat course I always emphasized the importance of the critical places to strike if a fight is imminent! Eyes, throat and nose! If they can’t see you, they can’t hit you. If they can’t breath they are not interested in anything else and a squashed nose is very disquieting! Of course if you are armed you just shoot the idiot.

  12. my name is Deon Troy Blackwood sir,
    I’m 25 years of age
    I used this technical skills without knowing while my father attacked me with a knife yesterday saying he would kill me. I’m so happy, I am thankful, I read this article. It gave me insight on alot. My father has always tried to harm me growing up forcing me to defend myself. Can you please teach me how to defend when someone has a weapon drawn.

  13. Losing an eye is a tough lesson to learn for being an asshole, but since his intent was to inflict grievous bodily harm I can’t feel any sympathy for him. It’s unfortunate his parents didn’t teach him values like kindness and civility. Good job Smokey.

  14. I play a little bit of football, and probably the most important thing I’ve learned from it is, even a small guy like myself, I cannot be knocked over when I sink my hips, and stay very low. Not even the biggest kid on the whole team can knock me over when I’m lower than they are.
    So I’m glad that they talked about that here because even just something as insignificant as sinking your hips can really benefit you in a confrontation like that.

  15. Nice story, happy you walked away and got out of there fast, on your getaway. If a person is bigger than you, I am only 5’8″ and most men are taller than I am. I still stand up and never lose eye contact with an opponent when confronted I am never afraid to attack first. I do not consider it a sucker punch. I man someone has to begin and it might as well be me since I am the smaller person. If they hit you first then you could be out of the fight instantly, not a good decision or idea. So I will attack as soon as I think they are ready for the confrontation to begin.

  16. I must admit, that was a pretty interesting move. I’m ranked in two styles of karate and have experience as an amateur and professional boxer. I still stay active in karate, so, I’m in a very good position to take care of myself. However, concerning the things that you explain there’s one thing that is quite an important thing to mention. The “average Joe” will NOT be able to make these things work. Not only are most of them physically unable to perform these techniques they do NOT have the necessary experince to make them work. These ALL take practice. If I were them I’d try to find some other way to protect themselves as trying some of these techniques would only get them hurt. I can see what you’re trying to do and if someone has experience you’ve got some interesting things to discuss. However, you “average Joe’s” had better try some other approach.

  17. Love the fighting tips and techniques, love learning different ways to defend myself, as well as teaching my children to hold their own against assailants. Thank you

  18. Thanks for the tips. Being a short guy them big guys can be intimidating at times. Im always willing to learn something more especially when it comes to defending my family and myself

  19. Thank you for your service, I’m a daughter of a Navy veteran. I have been learning from so Manny different service men. One teaching me one thing and another teaching me a couple of things. But I liked the way you rote out the fight and the way you defended yourself. I have used some things throughout my life. Thank you thank you thank you because out of your duty. I enjoy all my liberties. And for that. You have my utmost respect. Thank you kindly Dava

  20. Hi it’s Dava again. I forgot to say. I’m a woman ,So. Learning different steps and striking places. It sure makes me feel better. That Great men such as your self. Teach thought site’s like this. Thank again. Dava

  21. I lived through alot of those scenarios growing up .lol I was the big guy 6′ in the 8th grade .lol I was the one who was usually suckered punched .thank God all it did most of the time was piss me off .I was always the good guy .never thought of puckering a person tried tk talk my way out of fighting .. I’m not a wuss never was .I have a special needs bro .who was picked on alot .until his big bro put an end to it .I was always into sports .fitness boxing at the pAL. served 8 yrs in air force .30 bravo .security spec..but I never new or thought of the zig zag .I knew how to juke. from football .drop that shoulder in boxing and tks that hook.
    I will keep your advice in mind .I always had respect for you snake eaters .I had the pleasure to know afew. thank you for your service I truly mean it .I know what freedom Costs. most take it for granted .I don’t tks and God bless.

  22. Jim, I wrestled in HS & COLLEGE, working out almost year round. I was very successful. 1.5 to 3 hours five days a week, 9 months a year conditions your drilled moves to be more reflex then cognitive when under stress. I worry that people who attempt to learn and use moves as you describe them without the benefit of daily practice and drilling is more a danger to their safety then a useful means of self defense because this is instilling false hope without physical conditioning and repetitive skills training. A more practical approach would be to teach non competitive, untrained folks how to increase their awareness of recognizing and avoiding placing themselves in dangerous situations; like the one you described above. I’m 65 yrs old now and can still do 60 situps in 60 seconds, run a 10 k under 50 minutes, use a 3 pound jump rope for interval training for 40 minutes, etc. This places me in the top 0.010 % of all American men over the age of 40 in the arena of strength and cardiovascular conditioning. The last 22 years of my social worker career I worked in a forensic mental health max security treatment facility. I suffered no injuries during those years not because I could physically defend myself from the dangerous criminally insane male residents, but rather because I was much better at recognizing and avoiding getting cornered by physically acting out individuals. Thus as a supervisor carrying a caseload and responsible for training new staff, my focus was on how not to needlessly confront a delusional client rather then having to physically restrain them. Victor Buehler

  23. I’m 71 and not up to fighting. That’s why I have a concealed carry to protect my wife and I. I hope to God I never have to use it, hoping just the sight of it will stop an attack,but if not,I have an equalizer for someone who is going to do us harm.

  24. To Jim Smokey West, I really got into your story about opening up a can of W.A. on the guy. Good moves and great deception. Keep on keeping on! SemperFi! Randy G. Spence.


  26. Hi Bob, this is an impressive self-defense package. I need some time to go over my finances. At the moment my bills need attention. I’ll give serious consideration to Jim’s training package in the next day or two. Meanwhile, I’m glad to have a few items handy that can protect me in case they’re needed. As a customer of yours you don’t know that I spend a lot of time studying the American Revolution which I’ve given lectures on at Cal State Channel Islands, as well as at the Rotary Club, Optimist Club and other clubs. George Washington and his Continental Army had spec ops troops that played a vital role in defeating the British. Plus, his spies played a crucial role during the war, too. And, I write stories with characters who have military training and have been on spec ops missions. I’m intrigued with the term “Whiskey 9” mentioned by Jim in his presentation. I’ll look it up and get as much info as I can about it. Any suggestions or references for me?

  27. Have 2 bad
    Left has 2 torn ligament, I know that MRI.
    Right might be lower in a torn muscle
    No pictures
    I can help my neighbor with a 90 lb awkward box
    No problems
    Reach in refrigerator grab a 12 ounce drink
    Hurt like hell. Or not

  28. Hearing about these tactics are great. I have future daughter in laws and female neighbors who are young with children who I show these to to tell them it’s not fighting it’s protecting.

  29. Hey Jim, that fight didn’t happen to be at the I-Hop pancake house in Fayetteville did it? because something similar happened to me and my buddy at that IHOP when is was in the 82nd , there was always a fight going on there and yeah it was usually over the girlfriends.

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