“Do not repeat the tactics which have gained you one victory, but let your methods be regulated by the infinite variety of circumstances.” – Sun Tzu, The Art of War
I am often asked the same question in varying contexts. It usually starts out with “What is the best defense, strike or counter to…” insert combat scenario of choice.
This question is almost impossible to answer as there are no “guaranteed tactics” that can be universally applied to every combat scenario. Strategy can be a guide towards the application of tactics, however, many students who begin to learn martial arts tend to gravitate towards what they believe is a guaranteed tactic. In fact, this can also be seen in many professional fights. You’ve likely seen the inevitable outcome from a competition where one fighter is determined to effectively land a certain strike or submit their opponent with a single tactic. The continuous battle for the success of a tactic that has already been exposed reveals not only how effective one is at execution but also gives the opponent a clearer view of one’s strategy (if one even exists).
Sun Tzu (quoted above) put it very simply when he advised that one’s tactics must be regulated by the infinite variety of circumstances. This is one of the most difficult concepts to learn in martial arts and as such it is also one of the strongest factors for success.
The practical application of martial arts teaches one the tactics that are possible for specific scenarios but only one’s ability to observe the circumstances of a confrontation will allow one to adapt to the approach of the opponent.
To base a strategy on hypothetical scenarios alone is a kin to walking into a fight with a blindfold on. The most experienced fighters do not rely on mystical intuition or simply the knowledge of past experiences when engaging in a confrontation. Rather they have developed their skills for quick observation and response to such a degree of efficiency that in many cases the slightest shift in their opponents posture in response to a prior movement can provide insight into a much more specific set of possible tactics that they should execute or defend against. Even this, however, is never a guarantee, thus the experienced fighter keeps their eyes open and continuously observes and adapts to the “infinite variety of circumstances”.