The 3 Methods of Approach & Where Karate Fails

Let’s begin this post by reading some old news.

This happened in 2008.

It’s still relevant:

Female Karate Champion Defeats Mugger

A mugger in Italy got more than he bargained for when the woman he tried to rob turned out to be a national karate champion.

Four times Italian women’s champion Lara Liotta, 29, was on a street in broad daylight in central Rome when the man, a Romanian immigrant of no fixed abode, approached her and asked her for a cigarette.

When she told him she did not smoke he allegedly lunged for her and grabbed her around the neck.

Miss Liotta, who works as prison officer, immediately put her black belt training to good use, delivering two swift jabs to the man’s face which sent him crashing to the ground.

The karate champion was fortunate she could rely on her skills to fight off her attacker because there was no assistance from passersby, despite the attack happening shortly after rush hour on Monday.

(not the girl in the article)

“No one helped me or stopped, even though there are lots of people around at that time of the day,” she told an Italian newspaper.

After punching the man to the floor, she ran to the nearby railway station of Termini and alerted police, who caught him before he could run away. He was arrested and detained on charges of assault.

“It could have been much worse. What would have happened if this person, instead of attacking me, a karate champion who knows how to defend herself well, had attacked a young girl?

“I’m lost for words,” Miss Liotta, who competes in the under 55kg weight category, said.

By Nick Squires in Rome
Published: 2:17PM BST 10 Sep 2008

A success story.


The victim got away safely, and the assailant was put behind bars. That’s success to me.

But I don’t think that’s the most amazing part of this story.

What really is surprising and what truly makes this a success story is that a woman who trains Sport Karate managed to convert her skills, and use them successfully in self-defense, against an attack we practically never train against in the dojo.

And I’m not talking about grabs around the neck. That was just the physical part, which I hope everyone trains in the dojo.

No, I’m talking about something else.

The method of approach.

“The method of approach” is a term that refers to an offender’s way of getting close to his victims. In this case, the offender asked for a cigarette, which was his method of approach. But did he really want a cigarette?

Probably not.

It was simply his way of “breaking the ice”.

This method (asking for a cigarette or whatever) is known as the “con”, and is one of three methods of approach that is often spoken about by self-defense experts.

And since Karate is supposed to be all about self-defense, it would be foolish of us Karate people not to investigate these three methods of approach a little further.

First desribed by R.R. Hazelwood and A. W. Burgess in 1999, the three methods of approach are generally divided into the “con”, “surprise” and “blitz”. These may occur singularly, or in conjunction with each other, such as a combination of “blitz/con” or “surprise/blitz” . Though the terms are fairly self explanatory, I want to dig a little deeper.

Because I think we have a problem in Karate here.

And since we’ve already seen a little of the “con” approach, let’s begin there.

1) The “con” describes an offender who deceives or lures a victim into believing an imaginary situation exists. But the true intention is really to get the victim into a more favorable position (for the offender), or simply to lower the victim’s guard, in order to later make the “real” attack easier. This was the exact case with the female Italian Karate Champion, who would have been an easy traget if she was busy searching her handbag for cigarettes, had she smoked.

Other possible examples of this type of “con” behavior might be if an offender is posing as a delivery man, or maintenance man, to gain access to a house or keys. Or maybe posing as a cripple, injured or handicapped, using other peoples feelings of sympathy and compassion against them, before the physical attack is commenced.

2) The “surprise” method is usually characterized by an offender laying in wait for his victim, then swiftly subduing him/her. The offender might wait for certain conditions to be met (like allowing people to pass, or waiting for the victim to fall asleep). An example of the “surprise” approach would be if an offender hides in some bushes near a car park, waiting for a lone female to walk to her car. While she stands near the car, probably looking for her keys, the attacker sneaks up behind her and grabs her without her noticing his approach.

3) The “blitz” describes an approach where the offender quickly and excessively uses force to rapidly overcome the victim’s defenses, to get control of the situation. Most often used by physically stronger, or armed, offenders. The “blitz” method usually results in more extensive physical injury than “surprise” or “con”.

And usually, the “blitz” will be preceded by a “surprise” or “con” approach (as in the example in the beginning).

Okay, so that was a quick overview.

Now where do I think the problem with the majority of Karate schools lie?

I’ll tell you:

Karate, sadly, focuses almost exclusively on defending against the straight on”blitz” attack.

I mean, think about it: You drill defenses against straight punches, haymakers, frontal grabs (wrist, jacket, bear hug, throat) hour upon hour. That’s the “blitz” approach, and that’s what most people imagine when they hear “self-defense”.

But how often do you practise against the “con” or the “surprise” approach?

My guess is…


When was the last time you had somebody sneak up behind you in the dojo, attacking you without warning? When was the last time somebody in the dojo asked you “Excuse me, what time is it?” just to knee you in the gut a moment after? When was the last time your sensei and three senior black belts cornered you in the parking lot with baseball bats and chains?

All jokes aside though, the reality is we are practically ignoring two thirds of the most common approaches by offenders in self-defense situations.

And that’s not a good thing.

Let me tell you another short story to illustrate my point:

A few years ago we had a young man (brown belt) at our dojo who was participating in an advanced instructors course that we held. As a part of the course, he had to show defense against knife (tanto-dori). Okay, nothing too spectacular…

But wait.

When the time came for him to show what he had learned during the course, he did what nobody else had done before him.

Instead of standing silent in fighting stance, waiting for his opponent to attack him with the knife, he suddenly shouted “HELP! Anybody, help me! What the hell, he’s trying to kill me over here! Somebody HELP ME!” Then he tried to grab a foldable chair to defend himself with, still screaming at the top of his lungs.

I couldn’t believe my eyes.

It was amazing.

If I could, I would have given him a black belt on the spot.

The point I’m trying to make is: When reality comes knocking on the door, our misconceptions about what is, and what isn’t self-defense flies out the window. Only the truth remains. And how well prepared we are to face that truth depends entirely on how open minded (or narrow minded) we have been in our training.

Training for – and therefore expecting – 100% “blitz” style attacks might be the custom, but it’s not the reality.

It is only a part of the reality.

Again, we are reminded that self-defense might be nature’s oldest law, but we still haven’t understood it.



  • Interesting reading again! My sensei Inoue tested my reactions many times, not just when it was training, but also outside of training. For example, when we were in South Africa where I would assist him with training sessions and we were on safari. I would sleep in a hut in the middle of the jungle with my Sensei sleeping in the hut next door. When I go to the window cover to close them before I shall sleep to avoid a lot of snakes or wild animals inside the hut, I see a scary face and yelling right outside the window. I hop back reflexively, before I realize that it was my sensei who are trying to scare me! In the morning I woke up early at 6 o'clock and would go out to pee. Open the door to the hut and take a step out into the jungle but is attacked at the same moment. Reflexively defend myself before I understood that it was just my Sensei again who stood out there waiting for me to test me again! I dont know how long time he have to stay there just wait for me! Did he never sleep? When we drived around in a jeep or was walking, he could attack me anytime with his special walking stick he always bring with him and that had a sword concealed inside the cane! This meant that I was on my guard all the time and could not relax at all, but it taught me a lot about zanshin. On the training he sometimes ask someone to attack me with the nunchakus without any reason as a surprise when I was training with some other person. It is not enough to train only karate or some other martial arts to be a master to protect your self. You also need training and knowledge in mental preparation and communication with threatening situations during stress. Not only when we stand up and are on our guard, but even when we sit, eat, sleep, read, relax (on a beach) and so on. Of course training in karate and some other martial arts are better than nothing and if you are lucky it can help you to protect your self when it needs, but dont trust too much to that. It is always better to not be there somebody will fight with you or just run from that place if you can. Dont believe that somebody will help you, in the end you can only trust your self. To prevent and to be one step ahead of an attacker is always better. The most important tool you have is your brain, not your legs or arms.
  • Andi
    What kind of approach is women who act like emotionally or sexually interested just in order to steal you money, credit card, handy??? I guess it's a con derivate... Also sometimes more or less brutal foul play is used in all three kinds, isn't it??? And if someone makes preparations in order to be the one standing in the end? Happens quite often. Good topic!!!!!
  • Narda
    Good post. I was invited to participate in our town's R.A.D. program, and discovered the same omission in my training. It hasn't changed the way we practice in class, but is something I am aware of now.
  • JamesD.
    Another good post (and great point made), Jesse. Like you mentioned, there is so much more involved in self defense than just the physical act itself. Avoidance of the above mentioned situations would be easier if people simply practiced being more alert and aware of their surroundings. It's also detrimental to good self defense at training how to react/respond to those situations (I'm not talking about the physical responce, but the emotional/behavorial responce). Lot's of regular, repeated practice is required to not only ingrain a learned responce, but also necessary to override our natural responces & emotions (ie. tense up to a point of freezing due to fear) which might get us seriously hurt or killed.
  • Antonis
    Nice post. As you say many karate schools focus on the athletic part of karate and full frontal attack applications. But i must say that from my experience with traditional karate (uechi-ryu) there are applications for all three types of approach. This gets clearer if you watch an advanced kata's application like Seisan Kata BUNKAI. You may search it in YouTube to see what i mean. Karate is the way. How someone walks this way is another story. My opinion is that the more we stick to tradition the more applicable karate becomes. As Master Ryukoh Tomoyosse once said: "There is difference between knowing a kata and MASTERING a kata". Regards A.
  • Q
    "Miss Liotta, who works as prison officer," Anyone else think this might have something to do with her ability to respond? However, the headline "Prison officer defeats mugger" doesn't have the same impact.
    • You might have a point there... I didn't even think of that!
      • James Cullinane
        That was my exact thought! It does not change the validity of everything you say! But it certainly explains how she was able to react to the situation without freezing up!
  • rider waite
    Exceptional information and I like your mind-set towards enhancing standards. Thanks for putting this particular material up. This is EXACTLY what I have been looking for. Continue blogging. Getting excited about reading your following post.
  • macdj
    This is an interesting topic for young karate-ka's like me. My realization in this article is that we should always be alert all the time. Well never know what will be the attacker's first move and what kind of attack is he going to use. You need to have a sound mind and body to be able to react and be present at the present moment is the best way to do just like my sensei always told me. Thanks for posting this one Jesse. Keep it up!
  • Antonis
    So, Mr uchinanchu, what you suggest as realistic self defence is a mixture of JuJutsu, Aikido and Boxing? How far have you found your self in Karate training? Above all, had you ever been involved in a real situation of self defence? Just for the record, may I inform you that in all military camps in "hot" regions all the armies make trainings and other events together. Do you know who is the only army that always train on their own and nobody is allowed to join them? Israel army! So, could you please tell me how on earth someone could join - NOT the Israeli army, but (even further) Mossad in order to learn the "real" Kravmaga? Secondly, how many people do you know, who have the mentality and physical abilities of a secret agent or a special forces troop? Personally, I have offers to join training camps in Israel and learn the "real" Kravmaga from the "real" masters and obtain my first instructor's degree in 25 (!!!) hours! So, please let put these kravmaga, "realistic" hand to hand combat, streetfighiting martial "arts" trends, their real quality and effectiveness under serious questioning... Mastering anything, not only any art, takes time and commitment. How many years would you need to master JuJutsu, Aikido and Boxing? Is one lifetime enough? I am not sure... The real martial arts are alive and active and the basic lines of karate, and any martial art, are to preserve each style. After you evolve above this basic level nobody will stop you from adapting the basic techniques on your own personal fighting style, body and character. This stage in my humble opinion can't come earlier than 7-10 years of active training. Fighting style and techniques also change according to the situation and the environment at hand. When the "real" situation occurs, it is time for the art, and art is not a bunch of strictly executed techniques, but improvisation. Being focused and faithful to the basics is the only way to reach the perfection in any art.

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