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Responding vs. reacting in self defense


Get off "The Attack Track" by responding instead of reacting to an attacker's attempt to steamroll you.

This is a fun party trick, but it holds a great lesson in self defense and Thinking Like a Black Belt:

Find a fairly crisp dollar bill and hold it vertically from one end. One at a time, tell your friends to put their thumb and index finger on either side of the bill (about three inches apart, with the bill between the two digits) and ask them to catch the bill as you drop it without warning. The friends should not try to catch the bill until they see it drop. More likely than not, the friends will not be able to catch it and will see it fall untouched.”

~ Adapted from Vicki Cobb’s book Magic … Naturally.

Why won’t they be able to catch it – at least the first time or so?

The mind has to see the bill start moving before it can send out the message to the body to react. Reaction time for most people is usually slower than the drop time of the bill

Similarly, criminals in direct attacks keep themselves in control by taking actions that force their targets into the slower reaction mode.

To better understand this, image the criminal coming in like a freight train trying to run you down. You can react by staying wide-eyed on the track, raising your hands fearfully to your face, and screaming. But that only puts the attacker in control and pushes you back on your heels — the worst possible position. Or, you can start responding and doing things which get you off the attack track.

In the dollar bill scenario, the trick relies on a person’s slow reaction time. If you wanted to respond instead, you wouldn’t wait for the bill to drop before you grabbed it. It ruins the dollar-bill trick, but in self defense, such thinking can save your life.

This is mainly a self-defense concept article, instead of a how-to post. (I’ll get to Dennis Tueller’s 21-foot rule and reactionary gaps later.) I’m curious though, just given this information, can you pick an attack scenario and think how you could respond instead of react to it?


Thank you for visiting and learning about self defense.
If you think others can benefit, please pass it on!

Lori Hoeck

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Marc August 27, 2009, 6:37 am

    I love the analogy Lori. Let’s see.

    How about an argument or heated discussion? One person may “attack” with words; “I hate it when you do that!”

    Now the reaction would be to counter or defend your position on the matter; “Yeah well I hate it when you…”

    The response would be an acknowledgement of sorts; “You do? I had no idea…”

  • Lori Hoeck August 29, 2009, 6:33 pm

    Hi Marc,
    Thank you for the scenario! The response would get you off the track quite well, unless the other person wants to escalate no matter what you say.

  • Barbara Swafford August 30, 2009, 11:59 pm

    Hi Lori,

    You have me thinking with this one, but when I read Marc’s comment it reminded me of a few times when I’ve had a customer call who was irate. My first instinct is usually to be on the defensive, but what I’ve learned to do instead is to let them blow off the steam and then genuinely show them I want to help solve their problem. Just by letting them vent and me listening, not only do they calm down, but they often end up apologizing for their behavior.

  • janice September 15, 2009, 9:16 am

    A question all life coaches use often is “Is this a reaction or a response?” Any time we take to step back and examine our default, knee jerk reactions and paradigms is good.

    One scenario that came to my mind is how often folks’ instincts tell them to struggle and pull away from an attacker’s grab where sometimes a lunge towards them would work better by toppling them and unbalancing them. Struggling while on our feet also makes it easier for someone to drag us somewhere, whereas a quick fake slump to the ground means they have to support all our body weight. If I’m wrong, please straighten me out here, Lori!

  • Lori Hoeck September 15, 2009, 10:01 am

    Hi Janice,
    Thank you for the scenario. A lot of people have a backward lean or they tilt back on their heels as an initial reaction to a grab or punch. Anytime you are off balance unintentionally is rarely a good thing in self defense! So a forward move into the attacker would need to have quick follow-ups to be effective.

    As for struggling vs. slumping I prefer fighting — striking, blinding, groin ripping, head-butting, biting, and finger breaking — but hey, that’s me. 🙂 Now, if a quick and calculated weight and body shift like a grappling move would help, then I’d throw that in, too.

    The key is to throw them off their game by throwing a variety of moves, yells, and actions against them. One of the best moves is the “Nike Defense” — turn and run to safety!

  • Marc September 15, 2009, 10:34 am

    In Aikido the premise is to enter when pulled, turn when pushed.

  • Lori Hoeck September 15, 2009, 10:36 am

    Hi Marc,
    “enter when pulled, turn when pushed”
    Oh, I like that!