Self-defense: assess the dangerousness of an aggressor

On the street: how to know if someone is able to fight

First of all, it must be stressed that the mere fact of having followed or not a generic martial arts (or self-defense) course is not automatically indicative of a dangerous or innocuous opponent.

Note – This article has been asked by one of our Core Course practitioners on Patreon (see how to attend our home study classes here Learn Kung Fu online: a beginner-to-expert course).

The reason is that:

  • Most of the classical courses do not truly prepare for real combat interactions (read How to learn to fight: all the steps)
  • Most of the martial arts students do not follow the curses with real dedication (read Why martial arts do not work: 5 reasons)
  • There are people born in so violent contexts that they do not need any further preparation to be lethal
  • If we consider the concept of “aggression” in a broad sense, even a child has the capability to physically harm someone

This to say that:

  • Having been enrolled in a Karate course, 20 years ago for 2 weeks has nothing to do with having real martial skills (read How to acquire special abilities)
  • Every adversary could be extremely dangerous, the discriminant is the level of our real martial preparation

A note by Master Kongling – To learn to spot a serious martial arts practitioner, let’s read How to study an opponent and The signals that identify an attacker who practice martial arts.

How to understand if a potential aggressor has or not dangerous martial skills?

Having clarified that it is not a belt (read also When a belt becomes a blindfold) that defines the danger of an opponent, let’s pass to take into consideration who is facing who.

The fact is that, against a not-practitioner, a trained expert can potentially cover (even big) gaps that, instead, his / her opponent cannot ignore.

An example

Part of the capabilities of a (pure) weight lifter certainly intersects the ones useful for fighting but:

  • If for a not-practitioner this could mean facing an overwhelming disadvantage
  • For an expert fighter, they are not enough

As we always repeat: we become good at what we do and not at what we do not do (even if similar).

A taxi driver can certainly have good driving capabilities but against a pilot (with the same practice time) on a race track, he will have no chances to prevail.

Following this logic, let’s list what could be dangerous in relation to our preparation.

1. The characteristics to analyze if we are not-practitioners

In this case, before thinking of advanced skills, we must inevitably consider things like:

  • Muscle mass / weight difference
  • Speed / agility difference
  • Age / sex difference

2. If instead we are well prepared for combat…

The skills to search for to spot a dangerous opponent (even for a prepared practitioner) are:

A note by Master Kongling – Let’s be clear, reasoning by extremes is useful for understanding but does not allow to cover all the facets of the practical cases: we are not saying that an expert can / should ignore the first list but simply that it is proportionally “less relevant”.

How to assess those skills that are not immediately visible

The capabilities that we mentioned in the second group are not “visually evident” and therefore we must use a bit of cunning to gain the information we need.

  • If on one side skills like impact conditioning and stamina cannot be assessed rapidly (and need to various exchanges to be assessed)
  • On the other, spatial intelligence, timing, balance (etc.) are more instead absolutely more accessible

The best way to test these skills is to give him / her a rapid faint (eg. a jab), from his / her reaction we can deduce his / her level of danger.

Let’s see a few examples of potential reactions and their (possible) meaning:

  • A person totally unable to fight – The opponent awkwardly reacts with a large gap of time
  • A basically reactive beginner – The opponent reacts by widely moving backward the body or (worst) only the torso / head
  • An intermediate practitioner – The opponent reacts by rapidly closing the guard and / or moving backward / sideways and then immediately recover the past position (in a rather contained way)
  • An advanced practitioner – The opponent recognize the faint and do not move (does not close the eyes, does not flinch, bad sign)
  • An expert practitioner – The opponent does not care whether our movement is a feint or not but precisely knowing that it is not dangerous, he / she uses our opening to immediately counterattack (the worst possible situation)

Final notes

A few conclusive considerations:

  • When an aggression has already started, the time to assess is very small (and the involved level of stress complicates things further) but understanding who we are facing can tell us how to behave (how much we can expose ourselves, what tactics to use, etc.) and therefore it could make the difference between life and death
  • The case we have discussed is the one where the fight has already started and all the other pacific options have been ineffective (read Personal defense: the S.A.F.E. method)

In-depth video courses

In-depth articles


Reply in the comments and share your experience:

  • Have you ever faced someone physically stronger than you?

Author: Master Kongling

Founder of 6 Dragons Kung Fu.

How to master 6 Dragons Kung Fu?

Are you searching for:

  • Daily training exercises?
  • Synthetic theory and concepts?
  • A step by step path from white to black belt?
  • A path (clear, consequential and gradual) designed to build real martial skills?
  • A direct contact with Master Kongling?

Go to our Patreon page and choose a training plan: starting from the Practitioner level, you will gain access to all this and much more.

Inside each Premium Lesson, you will receive the same teaching (practices, tips, concepts, small secrets and corrections) reserved to the live students of Master Kongling.

Important - Once a certain number of registrations are reached, no other participants can be accepted. For more information write to: [email protected].

Support us (1€ / month):