Wellington said, “No plan survives contact with the enemy”. He knew, through bitter experience that in battle all the careful, detailed and intricate tactics seldom came to pass when the enemy was engaged. We refer to the ‘chaos’ of war and “the fog of war” - Carl Von Clausewitz (from his treatise ‘On War’). The great military tacticians throughout history knew that you equip your soldiers with skills, material and morale and your commanders with the authority for individual thought and responsive decision making as the enemy is engaged.

In Von Clausewitz’s time, in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, military thinking was concerned with reducing the effects of chance, something earlier generations had assumed was an inevitable consequence, hence the rigidity of thinking and action. Clausewitz had the view that to deny chance was to go against nature – chance was to be welcomed. It was viewed not as a threat but as an opportunity.

 ‘Engage theEnemy’

This was never expressed better than by Napoleon whose operational dictum was: ‘Engage the enemy and see what happens’. Remember that when Napoleon, Wellington and Von Clausewitz were engaged in war, battlefield communications had advanced little further than when Roman legions marched across Europe.

With hundreds of thousands of troops engaged over many miles of ground a commander could soon lose could overall grasp of the situation of the battle. The flexibility of response and reacting to chance were therefore fundamental to success. Inflexibility and rigidity of a plan, bycontrast, would lead to disaster.

‘It is no different when it comes to personal combat’

Whilst we may train combinations of techniques – in other words stringing together punches, kicks or punches with kicks and work these on a bag, or with a training partner on the focus mitts and in sparring, there isno way such combinations will guarantee success in the real world. Even a simple jab/cross combo could be one punch too far!

‘People aren’t punch bags – they are completely unpredictable'

You could jab/cross one person with a fast, joined-up combo and it could work. Do it to someone else and the moment you hit him with the jab his head drops and your second punch, that you have no chance to stop, hits the ‘amour plate’ of his cranium breaking your hand.

So to believe that a 3 or 4 move combos come with a guarantee is tantamount to having a death wish. Practice you combos and have fun developing your skills, but remember this, that if your favorite combination doesn’t work in a competition you may lose a point. If it doesn’t work in the street you may lose your life.

You have to have a mental and physical pause between each technique to see what evolves and to ensure ‘chance’ is on your side. A jab/crosscombo could be a great tactic in the street, but it has to have in-built flexibility. You have to have the combo tactic honed and ready to go, but there must be that ‘mental breath’ taken to allow evaluation of a target opportunity.

‘You only get one free shot – the first one’

If you’ve got your pre-emption right then your first shot should end it. That’s your free shot, but you pay for every other one after that.

'Confidence v Reality'

To make your pre-emptive strike work, you must have absolute confidence in its successful outcome. You must have total commitment to the technique with no doubt entering your mind about it not working. But, you must have a planned follow-up! These two issues are not contradictory.

In Shukokai Karate, after executing a reverse punch we didn’t just return to a guard position, rather the left hand struck out as a vertical edge of hand strike with as much impact as the punch had been delivered – this is referred to in Japanese as Zanshin - in other words - insurance. We know the punch will work, but we have to factor in ‘chance’. To quote Churchill –“there are no guarantees in war”.

‘Powerstrike' techniques come with a guarantee – almost'!

When working the doors I relied on my ‘double hip’ generated Powerstrike techniques, mainly a straight right to the body. They seldom, if ever failed. For any number of reasons, mainly tactical, I may have slapped, swept or, when necessary, even kicked. But, whatever the first strike, I had a follow-up technique. If it was my body shot then the follow-up would be a powerslap with the same hand, but this may have changed to a strangle if the person’s hands had come up as he was hit and I would have to slap them down and move into the strangle. What allowed this flexibility in approach was that I had learned to have a fractional pause between strikes.

‘I drilled techniques to total inflexibility’

It came home to me early in my door work when I hit someone with a short shot to the ribs and followed it up with a slap, nearly drilling myself into the floor. He’d dropped so quickly from the punch that there was simply no target, but I’d pointlessly and instinctively followed through with the slap anyway. I’ve also hit parts of people that were not targets but I had got committed to a set course of action. I’d been drilling combos on the bag thousands of times and they happened whether they should have or not – total inflexibility.

‘A Starter for Ten’

Your pre-emptive hit should end the confrontation so execute it with absolute confidence, but it may well not be the end and then the hit is your ‘starter for ten’ and you have to follow up swiftly, with power, with a plan, but for the most part with observation, giving almost instinctive targeting for following strikes or kicks.

Work on this the next time your on the bag, don’t end upwith fixed, inflexible combinations. You may see very complex combos work in competition, but with gloves on it often doesn’t matter if you hit solid bone, but it will in the street.

In later articles I’ll give you some combinations that have worked for me.