The Importance of Using Distractions

The other day, one of my students who is a member of the RCMP (Canada’s national police) came to me and told me of how he recently had an on the job experience in which the importance of using a distraction was emphasized.

This student is not large, but still has to apprehend people all the same. In this recent incident, a very drunk man was walking in the middle of a busy city street during rush hour. He first tried to talk the man off the road, but he was resistant. My student had to arrest the man for his own safety so he asked the man to put his hands behind his back, while he took hold of his wrist. The drunk man, however, was resistant and pulled his arms into his body, saying no and refusing to cooperate.

At this point, my student kicked him in the shin. The man, distracted by the sudden pain, relaxed his arms, making it easy for my student to get control of his arm, take him to the ground, then cuff him.

This is a perfect example of how a distraction can be used in a law enforcement scenario. It also works well in a self-defense context. The reason why it works is because the conscious mind can’t focus on two things at the same time. The sharp pain caused by the shin kick caused the man to distract his focus from his resistance to the more immediate shock of the pain. It need not be a shin kick specifically though. It can be a strike to a nerve motor point, pressure to a nerve pressure point, a pinch to a sensitive area, a strike to the groin, etc.

The shin kick is one of my favourite choices as a distraction (if you’re wearing strong shoes). Because it is low, people often don’t see it coming. When you use a shin kick, your hands are free for defensive purposes. Also, in my student’s case, he was very visible in the public eye, dealing with his suspect in a busy city street. The shin kick in this case is pretty innocuous and doesn’t look overly violent, even though it performs the task effectively. It is much more subtle than using fists, knees or elbows.

Anyway, I was very pleased to hear how this student applied our martial art effectively to accomplish what he needed to do on the job, only using as much force as was necessary to nullify the situation. Does anyone else out there have any similar experiences using distraction strikes that they would like to share?

Comments (10)

10 thoughts on “The Importance of Using Distractions

  1. Hi,

    It has been a huge fan of martial arts and more specifically to MMA. The art of disarming or distractions is very effective immobilizing your opponent while minimizing its damage. I had a lot of experience when it comes to MMA or Jiu Jitsu Trainers.


  2. I was working as a doorman and had a couple of guys upset with asked to leave. I asked them to come outside and I would explain it better. As we walked out on the sidewalk, I said to my German Shepard in the car, "good dog" and proceeded to let him out and pet him.

    The guys did not know what to do because if they pushed the issue with me, my dog was sure to take exception (although he was seemingly friendly). 🙂

    We got into a discussion of our dogs and at the end I told the guys that my hands were tied and I could not let them back in that evening but come back again – no problem.

    I did not have to fight those guys that night due to distraction I think.

  3. Nicely done! Non-violent methods are always the best way to resolve conflict situations. I applaud you. 🙂

  4. Distractions are very important. I think it is especially more so with grappling techniques. In order to apply a standing wrist lock for example, against someone who does not want to be locked, distractions (kick in the shin as you say, a knee to the groin, flick towards the eye) provide one with a split second to apply the lock.

    Distractions are something that all martial artists should consider.

  5. That was an interesting story, glad your student remembered his training and was able to use it effectively. JJ truly is a great art and especially well suited to low-level aggression where control is generally more important than damage. A friend of mine is a police-officer in our capital (local police but in a pretty rough neighbourhood) and the hand-to-hand training they received is firmly grounded in JJ and most strikes are used as distractions and not to do a lot of damage. I do feel as a civilian the situation is different though, for one you’ll usually be alone when attacked so you cannot rely on backup (police-officers nearly always patrol in pairs) plus unless you’re a criminal or a licensed bodyguard you won’t have access to a firearm or baton in case things go wrong. The main problem is you’ll have to be highly trained to pull off a succesfull low violence defense and even then it’s dangerous since in most cases you’ll never know what you’re up against (the guy could be a kickboxing or BJJ-champion for all you know). The way I train nowadays is practicing how to hit hard and fast (on the right places of course) and inflict the maximum amount of damage if need be (I’d rather hit him once more than taking the risk of him being conscious enough to counter), I figure if you learn that you’ll have a) confidence enough to face anything you could reasonably encounter on the street and b) you’ll have a solid base to start exploring ways to make your defenses softer while retaining the same effectiveness.

    Basically you should learn two major ways or approaches in defending any attack, goho or the hard approach and juho or the soft way. Goho usually means hitting and kicking vital targets with full force, the aim here is to inflict maximum damage and knock him out or break stuff. Juho usually entails joint-locks, strangulations, pressure-points and throws. The aim here is to preserve the attacker as much as possible and control him while limiting the amount of damage necessary to take him out (which is after all the goal of all fighting, regardless of style or approach). Both ways have their advantages and disadvantages and the choice depends on the situation, the opponent and your own level of skill. If you’ve haven’t been training for very long or you’re not that good yet it’s usually better to hit, preferably to stun him and leave but if you can’t just keep hitting him until he’s no longer a threat. In my opinion that’s what should be taught to the lower belts, escapes, basic punches and strikes, basic defenses against those strikes and nothing else. Training for the lower belts should consist of very basic, simple and effective kickboxing modified for streetfightting. That way they’ll learn effective self-defense right from the beginning and it’ll give them a solid base for the more advanced stuff. It’s absolutely necessary to develop good weapons first and to be able to properly time your defenses and atemi, if you don’t you’ll never be able to enter and execute locks, throws… The aikido-approach of using nothing but tai-sabaki and slight pushes to unbalance and throw the attacker only works if you have a willing opponent or a very inexperienced one. Most people will not come in charging blindly and if you’re up against a boxer (which will be difficult in any case) he’ll never overextend far enough to unbalance and there’s no chance in hell you’ll be able to grab his wrist (at least not without getting clocked by his other fist).

  6. Anyway, back to the topic. In fighting there are two dimensions or fundamental positions you start from, either you were surprised and the attacker is already committed or you had time to prepare and now you’re both feeling eachother out. The first stage is called goshin or self-defense in the Japanese MA, the second is jissen or fighting. In goshin feints are not very important and usually are not used (what’s the point of first getting your attention before a committed attack?). In jissen (also in sparring) they are of vital importance and may very well decide the outcome of the fight. A good fighter leaves no openings in his defense, you’ll have to create them by acting and making him think you’ll go for a certain target (get his guard up or down) only to land a blow somewhere else. This is so in both single combat and fights between groups or even nations. ‘All warfare is based on deception’ (Sun-tzu). The strike you do not see coming is that one that will knock you out, the main reason the Blitzkrieg was so successful was because of the high mobility of the German Panzerdivisions the enemy would always be guessing where they’d strike next.

    I’d better get back to studying.


    PS, if I have time maybe I’ll write some more later on.

  7. As for personal experience, I believe I already told you about the time I used a 1-2 boxing-combination, followed by a shin kick and a high hook to down an attacker. That was about the only time I ever used a distraction but then again I have fairly little actual combat-experience, a fact of which I’m actually pretty proud. It’s easy to start fights or get into them and against most people I should be able to win with what I know but that’s just not who I am and besides it would be highly immoral (iniation of force without any justification). Besides it would be insulting and dishonourable towards my teachers and that in itself is reason enough as far as I’m concerned. MA, regardless of origin or style, should be about self-preservation and self-development and not about random, selfish or cheap violence. What you do should be effective of course but it should also be an artform and an ethical system in the broad sense of the word.

    John’s story was pretty impressive, imo what he did was a) humane and b) smart. Every fight is one that you could potentially lose and even if you win you might have caused serious injuries which could come back to haunt you later on. In John’s case there was a third factor that could have made for a potential disaster, anytime you fight more than one opponent you are clearly at a disadvantage no matter how good you are. I must say my opinion or impression on bouncers was always rather negative, they always struck me as rough, rather stupid, overly macho body-builder types who’re keen on violence and roughing people up (this is not entirely baseless, I have heard quite a lot of stories about people beaten up for no apparent reason, a lot of it racially motivated). It’s good to hear there are decent and intelligent people working in that business too.

  8. To end this comment I’d like to recount a story I read a while ago, its setting is feudal Japan and it’s actually quite similar to John’s tale. One day (most of these stories are notoriously vague, they are recounted so many times they become legends) a great swordmaster and sensei called Tsukahura Bokuden was aboard a ferry when a rather arrogant samurai also boarded and wanted to impress people with grand stories of his achievements and fame as a swordsman. Of course the common folk were easily impressed but no so Bokuden. The youthful samurai, noticing this, approached him and tried to entice him into either a favourable reaction or an opportunity for a duel. Bokuden looked at the young man and told him he wasn’t the least impressed with his boasting. ‘My way’ he said ‘is different from yours, my way consists not of winning but in avoiding defeat’. ‘My way is the way of unarmed combat’. Greatly offended the samurai challenged him to a duel which Bokuden accepted on the condition the duel would not be fought on the mainland but on one of the islands in order not to attract any unwanted attention. The man agreed, ordered the ferryman to steer the boat to the nearest island and jumped onto land, eager to fight. Bokuden pretended going ashore, took the oar of the ferryman and pushed off leaving the stranded man behind. ‘See’, he shouted, ‘my way is the way of winning without fighting’.

    This is very wise, someone that wise more than likely would have won against the young hothead but he chose not to. Imo to spare him and to teach him a lesson (pride before the fall) but also because it offered the least danger (none) to himself. There is an old ju-jutsu saying that states ‘a fight avoided is a fight won’ and this is very true. The single best way to avoid defeat is not to fight in the first place, this is not cowardly (as the simpleminded would say) but smart and the supreme strategy. If you are not there even the best fighter in the world will not be able to harm you, if you can defend yourself by means of words, a ruse, intimidation or humility by all means do so. The willow bends but does not break whereas a heavy branch breaks when too much snow falls upon it. The best option in solving difficulties is not getting caught up in them in the first place and life is difficult enough as it is.



  9. I fully agree with you about John, Zara. I've read that Samurai story before and have always liked the message. I also really like that Jiu-jitsu quote. Thanks again for you myriad insights! 🙂

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