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Martial Art Strategy for Self-Defense

Martial Art Strategy for Self-Defense

Bushin Ryu Physical Principles – Defanging the Snake


There is a certain boxing maxim: “Make him miss and make him pay.”

Understanding that your hands do two things in a physical altercation as follows:

  1. They Protect You, and…
  2. They Hurt the Opponent

That’s all well and good, but what if there was a way to just make him/her pay and immediately reverse the momentum of the fight? It just so happens that there is.

What is Defanging the Snake?

defanging the snakeWe teach a strategy called “defanging the snake.” There are many martial arts that teach a strategy with this very name, however, in Bushin Ryu we go about this a little differently.

The first thing to realize is that defense and a counter-attack really are not different or separate things. The naming construct we give it has semantic implications, but when you strip it down there is no difference to the Warrior. Sometimes the idea of being a defender holds an illusion that the Warrior ‘defending’ is not in control.

When something bad takes place regardless of what type of emergency it is, my attitude and outlook must be set on leadership mode, meaning that I am in control. This means that in combat if you are the ‘defender’ and you see this as a role, then it might be better to put yourself in the role of the ‘attacker’ though be it you’re actually counter-attacking. Do you see how this now brings into focus that you’re in control?

Defending is Attacking

Defanging the Snake is a great physical principle within our system that allows the student to adopt this role and the corresponding intent that goes with it.

It has you literally attacking your Uke/Tori’s incoming limb before it can do any damage. While this tactic clearly stems from the influence of armed combat one should not think for a moment that it doesn’t apply equally well to empty-hand skills.

empty-hand skillsThe role of this type of Waza in armed combat is the same as it is in unarmed combat: to exploit the fact that the opponent is reaching toward the defender. Because all seasoned martial artists intuitively understand where their body is in space relative to their opponent called Maai, this path to victory is clear: Deny them their target and replace it with your weapon so that it’s the opponent, and not you, who is injured.

It is important to note that just because the path is clear doesn’t mean it’s easy to pull off. In reality, limb destruction is a skill that needs to be practiced seriously by any Budoka who wishes to make it a reliable tool in his or her arsenal. Once mastered, though, it will become a prized possession that can be used to bypass the purely defensive initial phase of a violent encounter.

Understanding the Defensive Tactic Stages

defensive tacticsIf you dissect the physical altercations into their various components, you’ll notice that
altercations have three stages. Yes, the stages can be repeated several times within the same battle until a conclusion is reached, but basically, they are the only distinct parts of combat.

Which are:

  1. The Entry,
  2. The Follow-Up, and
  3. The Finish

If you knock out your foe with a single punch, all three stages are embodied within that punch. If you’re in a fight involving multiple technique exchanges, there will be multiple entries and follow-ups until the finish occurs.

One of the primary advantages that this concept bestows is that it allows you to remove an important time factor, the delay that normally occurs between a purely defensive action such as a block, deflection, or cover and the moment you inflict injury in an effort to end the threat.

In essence, you convert Tori’s opening move into the first part of your counter.
Once you’re able to seize the offensive, you quickly can turn the momentum in your favor.

The Psychology of Defanging the Snake

Clearly, defanging the snake operates on a physical level, but it also can have a huge
psychological effect.

Psychology of Defanging the SnakeThink of the psychological component like this, when a person attacks they expect to hit or they don’t throw the strike, and in their mind, the most conceivable negative thing that could happen would be for them to miss their target, but they certainly do not think they’ll feel sudden pain by being struck themselves. That is the brilliance of limb destructions. Many times, one applied effectively can be enough to crush an adversary’s fighting spirit.

Now please understand we are not saying that knowing how to defang the snake will lead to an easy victory. Anytime you find yourself in a physical fight as a Warrior, it has the potential to become a lethal encounter. That’s why good instructors will caution you never to underestimate your opponent or their resolve. Conversely, this also means that you should never overestimate a tactic or technique in your toolbox. Treat defanging the snake as any other weapon in your arsenal. Learn where it will be most appropriate.

A superior self-defense plan entails developing all your offensive and defensive skills to the highest possible level. Once your go-to techniques and tactics are reliable and your overall skill base is solid, start experimenting with the limb destructions shown in Koppojutsu curriculum. Then spend time fine-tuning them.

Pre-Requisite Skills Needed to Defang the Snake

Skill Set #1: Range Awareness

To be able to implement limb destruction, you must possess a good sense of Maai “engagement distance”, including the timing aspects of Maai. In addition, your defensive skills must be second nature.

The Budoka must understand the best ways of working into the most appropriate ranges for launching their counteroffensive. Knowing this is critical when you first attempt to use limb destructions because you’ll need to focus on those that are closely related to your natural defensive tendencies.

Skill Set #2: Controlling the Opponent

controlling your opponentAnother factor to keep in mind is that limb destructions work because they afford you the same level of defense as your more passive defensive skills while simultaneously adding that aforementioned element of pain and most importantly this MUST be coupled with the element of Kuzushi (unbalancing). In other words, even if you don’t injure your opponent’s limb, you’ve still taken control of their structure, therefore, controlling their attack.

In a properly executed limb destruction, you never have to gamble that a failed defang means you’re getting bit by the snake provided your pre-requisites are on cue, especially that of having Kuzushi on Contact.

How to Improve Your Martial Art Skill Sets

The best way to develop this toolset is to focus on one destruction at a time and drill it over and over again. Once you’ve become successful with the drills, refine it during “handicapped Waza” against the same attack. Handicapped Waza refers to open mat sessions in which you purposefully limit the techniques you use or the entry methods.

martial arts gilbertAs an example, if you had to defend yourself and perform Waza between two parked cars it would severely limit your ability to Tenkan, or Choyaku. So now drill your Waza at open mat, but say that you’re not allowed to use Tenkan or Choyaku movement but you must perform Tatekentsuki Kotegaeshi. Or have your partner attack Ushiro Tekubi Dori from Static with your face and body against a wall.

I think you get the picture. “Handicapped Waza” is not only enlightening, but it is also extremely fun as well. There are many different ways to train in this way. Get creative and see how much a simple variable can throw you off your game.

It also highlights how important your Atemi Waza skills are. When you deem your limb destruction atemi waza reliable, move on to the next destruction.


Regardless of which limb destructions you wind up favoring, understand that everyone that you add to your arsenal will need to pair well with your other Waza skills. No matter which set of destructions you choose to adopt as your favorites, don’t dismiss the possibility of mixing them up in a self-defense action. Moving in and out of the various ranges with superior Maai can provide opportunities, in other words, a technique you didn’t consider initially might work later on in a different stage of the defense.

Budo Shingikan DojoAt the Budo Shingikan Dojo, our students understand these techniques are added tools in their arsenal. They’re intended to be used if needed and not only as a punching defense but also in a clinch or grappling situation. The tool you employ in any given altercation ultimately is less important than the spirit with which you deploy it. Focus on controlling the environment and work on developing skills that are congruent with that goal.

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