Asymmetrical Warfare
The Reality of Personal Protection
by James Bullock

Asymmetrical Warfare in Personal Protection

Photo by Larry Ventress

“All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must seem inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near.”

The above quote is from The Art of War by Sun Tzu, who is one of the most brilliant strategic military minds that has ever lived. The quote is one of the finest examples of asymmetrical warfare ever described.

Asymmetrical warfare is where opposing forces have unequal military resources and the “weaker” opponent makes use of unconventional tactics and weapons to gain an advantage and exploit vulnerabilities. The war on terror is the purest definition of asymmetrical warfare. Such tactics are often called guerilla tactics. Clausewitz, another brilliant military strategist stated in On War:

 “In war everything is uncertain, and calculations have to be made with variable quantities.”

This means that adaptability is of vital importance in any type of engagement, whether it is asymmetrical or symmetrical warfare. Our military forces have had to re-think nearly all of our military tactics due to our most recent war: You cannot deal with asymmetrical threats symmetrically.

You might be wondering why I am talking about different types of warfare while the title of this piece is about personal protection. The reason is simple: warfare is warfare, whether it is on a national, global, or inter-personal scale. When someone chooses to attack you, it will be a form of asymmetrical warfare in most cases. It is this very reason why personal protection training MUST be asymmetrical, as well.

Asymmetrical approaches to warfare or combat generally seek a psychological impact that severely affects an opponent’s will, movements, and initiative. They create shock and confusion that can impair judgment and survival capabilities. Such an approach requires an understanding of an opponent’s weaknesses and potential vulnerabilities. Non-traditional and innovative methodologies must be utilized in both strategic and tactical categories of combat or personal protection.

Much of what is taught in traditional martial arts schools and even many so called “self-defense schools” is primarily symmetrical in nature.  Adaptability is all but completely nonexistent in regards to dealing with real world violence. Adversaries that the average citizen will potentially face on the street will be able to adapt. Why? Because they have survival instincts just like you do and if your trained response doesn’t have adaptability factored in, then the possibility of failing is very high.

Traditional martial arts place a great deal of importance on perfection of technique over the course of many years, which is exactly why they are “arts.” While it is still very important to train in a manner that facilitates good technique, it is a must to realize that success in a violent altercation is measured by surviving, with minimum possible damage, in the most efficient manner possible. “Possible” is the key word in this instance.

Within the framework of asymmetrical training, combative principles are the most important; they must be taught and applied in a multitude of combative applications and scenarios.

Adaptability and a willingness to do things outside what you are accustomed to, are essential parts of learning how to protect yourself. This is the reason why principles are always more important than any specific physical movements: Combative principles always dictate physical movements, not the other way around. Functionality of movement, motion, energy, and strategy is far more important than perfect technique, when it comes to saving your own life or your loved ones.


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About the Author

James Bullock is the head coach for Irondom Performance Systems and Combative Sciences. He's written programs for athletes and non-athletes alike, including numerous world record holders in various sports. Combative Sciences was found in 1999 and is the culmination of decades of martial arts training. 

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