Trickery is, in terms of the general population, viewed as either a humorous or negative practice. Tricking someone can be funny (at least to any observers). It can be awe-inspiring when done as a fantastic magical demonstration. It can also be used to take advantage of a person socially, financially, or physically.
There are innumerable types of trickery that might be employed in the martial arts. We will cover a small set of them, though you should always be on the lookout both for trickery that is being used against you, and new ideas you might benefit from in the future.
These deceptions can be quite beneficial when you find yourself in a self-defense situation. Many can also be very useful when you are sparring. A person seldom falls for the same trick twice, so it helps to develop a vast set of these skills that you can randomly employ with a variety of training partners.
In Tensoku Ryu we strive to be very accomplished tricksters. We believe anything that gives you an advantage, no matter how slight, is worth utilizing in a conflict situation. It is quite beneficial to have a confused, mistaken, or disoriented opponent. Anything we can do to guide opponents toward these deluded mental states is of significant benefit to us.
We have discussed elsewhere how it can be beneficial to convey, through body posture, that you are somewhere that you are not. Leaning is one primary way by which this can be accomplished. Keeping your hips back while leaning to the right may make an adversary believe you are positioned where your head is positioned, rather than where your hips are positioned. You have, in effect, provided the opponent with a false target to pursue.
The old movie standby of using a pebble to suggest movement in some other part of a darkened room could be of benefit in some situations, especially if you are being confronted outdoors at night. Even if you cannot mask your true location from an opponent standing in front of you, discretely tossing some object into adjacent weeds may cause a momentary distraction for the opponent.
It is also possible to use stances to make you appear to be closer to or further from your opponent. If you appear to be six inches further away than you really are, your opponent will want to step further forward to strike you. When you move to angle three or four you will be immediately adjacent to the person as they attack.
The martial arts are full of deceptive movements. Feinting, changing speed, stepping patterns, false exits, redirected strikes and kicks, and false charges are all examples of deceptive movements. You will fall for many of these deceptions when you first begin sparring. You will be enticed by far fewer of them as you gain experience. Whenever you fall for such trickery you will want to put that trick in your toolbox. You may find a use for it later.
Many of these movement deceptions work well in a potential conflict situation. Not all of them work well once a conflict has begun. In the initial stages of a conflict, they can be useful to momentarily confuse or create a moment of hesitation on the part of your opponent. Employing a feint, stepping pattern, or redirected strike can give you a momentary advantage during the initial attack from an opponent. Once a conflict is underway then false charges, false exits, and speed changes can be quite effective, particularly against a somewhat less skilled opponent.
Deceiving someone about your intent is also quite common, but it takes more effort and planning than other trickery. You might set this up by performing some pattern of movement for a period of time so the opponent learns to expect this behavior, then begin a similar movement but conclude with a completely different strategy in mind. This often fools people who have not become accustomed to this type of deceptive practice.
Facial expression can be used to convey a false sense of purpose. The eyes are especially useful for suggesting an area where you might strike. Of course, you will then strike somewhere else. A smile, a grimace, or an intense glare can all be used to suggest a purpose that you have no intention of seeing come to fruition.
Suggesting that you are trying to set someone up for a specific action can also be used to falsely convey your intent. Prominently displaying your back hand while delivering a series of jabs might suggest to your opponent that you will soon follow-up with a Gyaku Tsuki. You might then kick them instead.
You might step forward and slightly raise your back leg but then quickly return it to the floor again. If done repeatedly the opponent may come to believe you are trying to find an opportunity in which you can employ the back leg as a kick. Now you raise and lower your back leg then use the back leg to initiate Tsugi Ashi Mae Ashi Geri.
These deceptions are used to generate some form of distraction or involuntary action on the part of your opponent. These deceptions are more useful and practical in a self-defense situation than in sparring, but you could find a use for them at times while sparring as well. Here are some common distraction deceptions you might employ:
- Throw an object such as car keys or a bag of groceries directly at the person’s face. He or she will now need to dodge the object, block or attempt to grab it or flinch in an attempt to brace for the impact. This should give you more than enough time to do something useful.
- Raise your hand as if to frantically wave and yell, “Officer!”
- If your car is nearby, set off your car alarm.
- Use pepper spray or throw a hot or cold drink directed toward the person’s face.
- Drop something just forward and to the side of the other person. Your wallet or something that might be perceived as valuable or dangerous can cause the person to pay attention to the object rather than you.
- Quickly reach for your pocket as though you are trying to retrieve something, but then quickly change direction and, as the situation warrants, escape or attack instead.
- Simultaneously drop whatever you have in your hands and raise both arms upward briskly as though in fright – now lower the boom.
- Expectorate directly in the person’s face. Yes – spit into his or her eyes.
- Begin to cough immediately as though you are having some form of a panic attack. Then, well, attack (or escape, as the situation warrants).
- Pretend you have stubbed your toe, sprained your ankle, and impacted your shin. While your foot is in the air…
You are limited in what you can do when you are sparring. You cannot pretend to have an injury. You cannot throw things at your opponent. These things will likely result in your disqualification.
But you might use your eyes and expression to suggest the referee is inquiring about something. You can look at your gloves for a moment as though there is some type of problem with them. These are simply eye distractions. If you do it repeatedly you may raise the suspicions of the judges, but you might be able to employ such simple actions at various times during a match. These work well if you notice your opponent is focused too intently on your face. They seldom work on an opponent who has a panoramic viewpoint.
But surprising or unexpected movements on your part can work on nearly anyone. Stopping and lowering your guard for a split second might cause the other person to do the same. Wildly throwing both hands in the air as you move oddly may momentarily freeze or stun your opponent. Turning and doing two or three high stepping movements to your left may give you an opportunity to cut across the circle and strike as you move quickly in front of your opponent.
You will obviously want to use such tactics quite sparingly. I remember watching a video in which one sparring participant began performing a long series of handstands, backflips, and summersaults. His opponent watch for perhaps twenty seconds, then step forward with an Oi Tsuki. Match over. As I said, you can take distractions too far. But, there can be times when you simply need to move your opponent to a different mindset.
In a self-defense scenario in which you are suddenly confronted, you might quickly adopt a submissive, weak, and retreating pattern of behavior. Your goal is to make your opponent feel overconfident. There may be little reason to let your opponent know your level of skill and experience. Let them assume you are relatively incapable.
You might also appear to be nervous, fumbling, slow, uncertain, and fearful. These again lead to an overconfident assailant. The moment they begin to take your behavior for granted you act in a decisive and direct manner in clear violation of the persons’ assumptions.
You might also work to mask other advantages you might possess. For example, you could mask your reach advantage by keeping your arms in close initially. You might crouch somewhat to hide your height advantage. Crouching and pulling your shoulders forward might visually disguise musculature. Squinting might suggest a vision problem or suggest some nervous condition.
You could work in the opposite direction as well. You could appear to be extremely confident, large, and capable. In some ways, this is a bluff intended to get the opponent to back down and depart quickly. But what if they don’t. Now you have no element of surprise and must rely solely on your skills. While your skills might be formidable, your opponent knows or suspects that to be the case. Now you have a contest of skills and wills.
If you plan to be deceptive it is better to imply something that is largely untrue rather than to point out something that is largely true. Usually, this will provide you with more options.
There are times when it is clear your opponent is about to attack you. The only question is, when? Happily, we get to decide when. Simply sticking out your tongue, issuing a derisive laugh, pretending to walk away, or pretending to beg for forgiveness can all be used to induce an immediate attack. An attack that we have already prepared to disrupt.
It should be noted that we do not condone using these methods to induce someone to fight who was not already planning an attack. That is tantamount to bullying and assault. We do not support those behaviors. If someone is going to attack you and you can define the timing for the attack then that is fine – though it is still preferred that you find some method for escaping the conflict altogether. If someone is not planning to attack you, leave them alone.
It is possible to induce specific movements from individuals even in the middle of a conflict. If you are on the opponent’s face side you might move your head so it is forward of the opponent’s near-side shoulder. This may induce them to strike you with the opposite hand, something you can easily check using his or her near-side arm. You might also swing the near side arm wide, causing the opponent’s center to rotate toward you. They will likely strike with the back arm. Simply stepping across the opponent’s center will cause their strike to miss, allowing you to now attack them from their opposite ear side.
When dealing with an aggressive opponent you can usually cause them to move forward simply by stepping (or pretending) to step back toward angle two. Naturally, you should have a plan to immediately move to some other angle or interrupt the attack as the opponent comes forward. With practice, you can often predict which leg the opponent will use to step forward by deciding which leg you will use to step back. Try to pay attention to which leg an opponent uses to step forward in various situations. There are no guarantees that any individual will move a specific leg at a specific moment, but with practice, you can notice some tendencies.
This is perhaps the largest classification of deceptions. The possibilities are limited only by your imagination and creativity. We’ll cover a few to get you started.
One of the oldest tricks in the book is to look slightly to the side and behind a potential opponent. This is to suggest you have a friend, ready to pounce, immediately behind your potential attacker. This is so common it may not fool your attacker in the slightest. But it often works too.
Your body language, posture, and bearing are all key psychological weapons. Standing with confidence can dissuade some attackers – but it might induce others who think you need to be brought down a “peg or two”. Looking sheepish and apologetic may cause a potential attacker to decide you are not worth their effort. Others may decide you are an easy target and your sheepish demeanor may entice them to attack. Note that in both these cases the psychological effort might be used to either dissuade or induce an opponent. Sometimes you can tell which will occur. At other times you need to simply assume they will attack.
Some forms of babble might also be useful at times. If there is a pre-fight exchange of words then you might elect to use nonsensical phrases to cause momentary confusion or perhaps even derision on the part of the opponent. Saying something like, “I think I see your point but I think you’ll agree that staying dry is more important than using water that is not yet wet.” The first part of the sentence is designed to be coherent and seem natural. If the opponent is still listening at all, they will follow you up to this point. The end of the sentence is designed to cause mental confusion.
Using psychology to create a specific mood in an opponent is a time-honored way of gaining an advantage. An extremely angry opponent will over-commit themselves, leading to extreme vulnerability. Laughing opponents may find it hard, physically or psychologically, to attack you. Fearful opponents will only attack if you corner them. Some emotions are easier to induce in an opponent than others, but it never hurts to experiment or study how you might accomplish this with some reliability.
Psychological barriers can also be effective at dissuading an opponent. “Accidentally” spilling a drink on the floor between yourself and the potential attacker may form a mental barrier he or she is unwilling to cross, either for fear of slipping during an attack or because they simply do not want to get their shoes wet (people can be weird). A sudden foul body odor could have a dissuading effect on an opponent. Moving such that another person is between yourself and the attacker may also provide a psychological barrier. Stepping through a doorway so you are on one side and the opponent is on the other might have a similar effect. Of course, drawing the proverbial “line in the sand” is an effective inducement practice.
Redirecting attention elsewhere can work in some situations. Suddenly exclaiming, “Jim!”, and walking toward some random person in the room might be a way to ease the tension in the area (you’ll still want to keep an eye on your potential assailant).
Pretending to take an urgent phone call could work in a similar manner. Anything that diverts the current attention to focus elsewhere can be useful in dissolving a tense situation.
In many ways what we do before a fight has begun is more important and better determines the outcome than anything we might do during a physical exchange. Explore every opportunity you encounter to learn new methods of deception. Practice as many of these as is practical – but clearly do not use them to initiate fights.