Strike with Vivacity

Studying self-defense and combat too often starts with blocks, parries or other methods of intercepting attacks. All of these techniques rely on seeing the opponent attack and choosing the appropriate movement to deal with it. The reactionary stance will keep you moving backward, looking for the next threat, and a victim of the attacker’s speed, creativity and strength.

Pure Defence Will Never Win… Surprise!

The most dangerous attack is the one you didn’t see coming. When your training consists of deflecting blows and covering targets, the surprise attack is your weakness.

This surprise may come with the initial strike, before you are aware of the potential for violence. We call that an ambush. To avoid the ambush requires only that you appear to be alert. Actually being alert and engaging with the world around you is the best solution, but the mere appearance that your eyes are picking up details will deter most ambushers. They attack when they think you’re not looking because they know the advantage of injuring a victim without a fight. If they think you see them, they won’t think an ambush will work anymore.

The more insidious surprise attack happens in the middle of combat. Your eyes are not fast enough to capture every nuance to tell you whether a punch or grab is coming. So, we anticipate based on our experience. Naturally, having a lot of experience with a lot of different fighters is great training for this, but is not perfect. The punch that lands will be the one you did not anticipate.

The pain of the hit, the surprise of it, and the adrenaline that was already present will only serve to cloud your perceptions and make you easier to hit. Many fighters lose after taking the first hit because the follow-up strikes are harder to deal with.

Combat is Risky

The first thing to recognize is that combat is risky. You risk not only temporary pain, but humiliation, disfigurement or worse from the fight itself, not to mention the reason for the attack, which may mean any number of consequences. And knowing that your excellent blocks and defensive moves will only be a stalling tactic at best until you are surprised, you are left with a high-risk situation.

Your top priority should therefore be to avoid combat altogether. If their goal is theft of a little money, let them have it. If their goal is to get you to leave, you can leave. You must fight when their goal is to harm you or others you feel responsible for.

Accepting the high-risk proposition to fight because the stakes are high enough to warrant it, there is no logic in waiting for each attack.

The Lunge

In swordplay footwork, students learn the advance before the lunge. A lunge commits the attacker to a leg position that is less easy to recover from, but reaches further and can be executed faster.

Yes, the lunge is risky. The payoff of a successful and powerful thrust is balanced against the possibility that it will miss or be parried, in which case the lunge position is a bad stance. But all combat is risk, and when an opening presents itself, the lunge must be attempted for the simple reason that multiple advances will not suffice. The defender can retreat in time with your advances. The lunge gives you the advantage if your tip can find the target.


The lunge is also a part of the pugilism of the 19th century. However anachronistic it may seem, the real lesson behind the lunge should be your focus: commit to the punch. To jab and occasionally cross while staying at a “safe” distance only emboldens your opponent. You knock-out punch must have power behind it, and cannot be successful if executed timidly.

Momentum in Jujitsu Throws

Wrist, arm and head locks are much easier to learn than the throws of jujitsu. We can imagine that a grab or a committed punch leaves the arm extended, so the jujitsuka can exploit the position and learn the hand positions slowly. However, even the simple throws require momentum.

Good falling technique and practicing your breakfalls and rolls will give you the confidence to be thrown, which is good for your partner to learn the throws, and good for you to learn to commit to your attacks.

Whatever the throw you’re working on, remember that it relies on the victim’s balance being disrupted, usually because they’ve committed to an attack or reacting to your motion. Most throws very difficult if the victim is standing upright and neutral.

And that’s a good thing, because in a real fight they won’t be standing that way either.


Many traditional fight manuals encourage vivacity in the attack. The good ones also encourage a fast recovery. Whether the topic was rapier or boxing or small sword or escrima, the fight is not finished by ducking or probing hits, but by fast and committed strikes.

The best fighters in every martial art have an explosive quality. In sport training, they call it “power generation” and it’s the ability to throw a ball or leap, not to merely lift a weight or flick your finger. Strength and speed combined become power, and you don’t want to waste that energy by bouncing around the boxing ring or standing in uncomfortable positions.

Train your ability to explode in a focused direction.

Slow Work

All this talk of momentum, surprise and vivacity may lead you to believe that I don’t advocate slow work. Actually, I’m a big fan of slow work to teach students targets and measure. Beginners do not appreciate the length of their stride and their reach, and only with controlled foot motion will they get to the correct distance.┬áMoving too fast makes targets sloppy, and many students will leave a larger gap to avoid hitting their classmates, which leads to weak elbow positions. Slow work is excellent for technical improvement.

Slow work is also a great way to build an evolving fight in which neither combatant knows what the next move will be, but avoids the instinctive high-energy clash of sparring. Each partner can choose their correct Bartitsu response to the new threat without the stress of full-contact. If you use short phrases, you should be able to remember the sequence, and use it for choreography and demonstration. Repeating your newly invented choreography with increasing speed can give you greater confidence in the combination of skills you’ve learned.


Although Bartitsu is primarily an art of self-defense (not a combat-sport) we still gain a lot from full speed sparring. Practice your commitment to attacks and vivacity in your execution with us each Friday at Open Floor from 8pm-10pm.

This Friday – the second Friday of every month – is Bartitsu focus sparring. If you’ve never tried Bartitsu, we’ll have you wrestle one of our Bartitsuka, or put a cane in your hand and try walking stick sparring.


Head of Stage Combat at Academie Duello and certified Instructor with Fight Directors Canada. Head of Bartitsu at Academie Duello, the longest continuously running Bartitsu program in the world.
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