What if someone attacked you right now, while you were reading this post? Are you sitting in front of your computer? Are you at home or in the office? You might be walking down the street, reading this on your phone. Watch out for traffic. Regardless of your circumstances, if you had to react to an attack, right now, what would your first move be?

Instinctive. Your first movement would be something you do without thought. This is the case for everyone, of all ages, with or without training. We’ve been instinctively protecting ourselves since we were toddlers. Your body attempts to defend itself and your brain tries desperately to catch up with what is going on. The catch here is that the untrained body does not apply strategy to its movement. So, whereas curling up into a fetal position protects the vital organs from the first punch/kick, it does not leave us in very good shape for whatever is coming next.

This is all hardly a revelation. For many of us, this is a reason why we train. We want to be able to defend ourselves and protect the lives of those we care about. But, when you think carefully about the movements that are really instinctive for you, there aren’t actually that many. Be honest… there aren’t that many. We all throw our hands out in front of us. Most of us step backwards. Some of us drop our weight. Some of us remember to protect parts other than our heads. This is not about what you would like to do, or might do some of the time, but what you would do every time without thinking.

Your body will never choose a complex movement, no matter how much training you have done. So why do we spend years working on lengthy kata, full of complex combinations and minute details? Why not just practice one good block endlessly? Part of the answer for that goes back to strategy. One good block is a lot like the fetal position. It deals with the initial attack and provides very little protection from the follow-up.

But what is more interesting to me is the idea of developing simple out of complicated. There are many kata moves you do well today which were hard to learn in the beginning. Can you now break them down even more? Can you find a version of them that is as simple as throwing your arms out in front of you? Can you see the similarities as opposed to the differences? If you can, you can expand your arsenal of true self-defense techniques because, as they get simpler and more natural, they become more instinctive. The body begins to see these similarities so that choosing between moves is hardly a choice.

Your homework is to pick a movement that you would be unlikely start with in a self-defense situation. Break it down and see where it matches up to other, more natural moves. Play with it in the manner suggested by one of my readers, Gerry; “I do “1 second karate training” in the stairwell where I work. As I walk up or down the stairs I’ll throw a technique or two on the landings – it’s amazing how going full throttle for literally a second or two can increase your heart rate and temperature!”

Remember that the goal is not to successfully do something complicated but to simplify something complicated so that the body can do it all by itself. It goes without saying that tons of repetition and years of practice are necessary to make any movement instinctive. But, the more you break moves down, and practice their common components, the more these “choices” become simply subtle versions of the same natural reaction.