Rules of Engagement


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Despite his advanced age, Lee Pung's legendary prowess (editorís note:  Lee Pung is a fictional amalgam, incorporating several accounts of masters as related by my own teachers) remained with him till the end. His teachings survived, rippling through the many philosophies that fostered the fighting styles of the Asian Dragon's head (we know it as the Chinese/Korean Peninsula).

The principles were founded on simplicity itself. This of course made them near impossible for most students to grasp.

In demonstrating his skills, Lee would send attackers helplessly rebounding through space. The old man's feigned senility added to the illusion. He played the fool as opponents dropped to the ground.

Certainly, Lee Pung was no magician. His mind, spirit and body soared unfettered. He moved so competently that time itself made way for the ebb and flow of his technique.

Generations of masters have come and gone since this legendary figure. The principles underlying his movement remain as firm footings for all modern styles originating on the Northern Peninsula.



Proper distancing from an assailant means keeping him from where he can initiate the first strike.  Protect your self defense zone.  Don't fall for the distraction!

The Threshold of Confrontation:

Even before the first lesson, Lee Pung made certain the initiate could sense an attack about to occur. The beginner meditated for months on the dynamics of confrontation. Soon, he recognized each encounter as marked by discernible signs of aggression. These signs or shadows often foretold the event to follow. With clear mind, and proper perspective, the student could see with clarity and respond with confidence.

The thread of impartial reality forever unites aggression to self defense. Occurrence of the former (Yang/aggression) usually exists in close association with occurrence of the latter (Yin). Ancient masters meditated at length on the code of aggression. Unlocking its secrets, they learned within every act of aggression was the seed of its undoing. Students after Lee Pung were taught the aggressor is always at a strategic disadvantage. Nature made it so, certain as the cycle of day and night.  Students in the internal arts learn that as an attack unfolds, multitudes of opportunities for counter appear. The response to an attack is never another attack, but rather, application of force through an opening. To reinforce this understanding, masters of old frequently took students to village matches where opponents competed for prizes of gold or recognition. There they observed, "The false objective clouds their true spirit. They enter the combat ring intending to humiliate their opponent. Their tools, limited to strength, speed and disciplined attack produce a hollow reward at best. The game exists to inflict damage in pursuit of victory. As the match runs, each reflects the exceptional skills of his counterpart, as they try to knock each other's heads off." 

The traditions of Hwa Rang Do and Hap Ki Do argue this as contrary to the fundamental reality of self defense. So much so that a student in harmony was in jeopardy to even watch. This clashing bull approach to fighting did not qualify as a martial art by their reckoning. The masters of antiquity all understood methods existed to ensure ability to maneuver safely in a confrontation, while maximizing the ability to counter. There is a Buddhist saying that no matter how thick the forest or massive the trees, the stream flows unimpeded. If you are executing a fight of aggression, the very act of closing on your opponent relinquishes all available natural defenses.

This brings us to look at the second aspect of conflict... self defense(Yin). The underlying premise of the self defense transaction is that there is no first move (except under rare preemptive circumstances). The Korean arts teach that true self defense, professing no artificial end, and free from having to issue the first attack, is strategically superior. Lee Pung would have qualified that comment, adding it was only strategically superior for the person who knew.

Understanding the Attack:

Newspapers are replete with stories of robberies at automated bank tellers, bus stops, or even traffic signals. Never assume the attacker is completely without advantage. At the least, he knows there is going to be an attack, while you do not. Furthermore, most attackers have "been there before". More than likely, you are not their first victim. Their history may include five, ten or even more successful attack encounters. The average mark is usually selected because he or she appears vulnerable to the assailant. The attacker's experienced eye will recognize your naivetť or lack of familiarity with street aggression.


The "man in your face" can attack at any time.  If reason fails to back him off, you should be prepared to move him back.  Note how the defender backs the aggressor off, using either of two hand techniques, while protecting vital targets.

So, even though Lee Pung taught defending has inherent advantages, these are offset by knowledge and experience which the average assailant has, that you do not.

Self Defense Distance :

The masters fully understood the impact of this dynamic. They taught once the attacker initiates confrontation, we are "within his dream." He has already selected the stage, dialogue, storyline and perhaps even the ending. The Lee Pung solution and the secret underlying his immensely successful career as a martial artist was to always operate within the script of his choosing. When the attack unfolded, he superimposed his own intent over the attacker's "dream script", in essence taking control.

Here, the assailant has been kept outside the self defense zone.  The hand attack can be responded to with speed and effectiveness.

Underlying this strategy was an innate understanding of proper self defense distance. This means you position yourself relative to the attacker so an attack cannot be launched before you have opportunity to avoid, block or neutralize. Definitions abound as to what constitutes proper self defense distance. Most masters agree it approximates the distance between two men, standing face to face with arms extended and fingertips touching.

This attacker throws a surprise kick.  The attack is easily avoided.  Note how defender can either avoid the kick, or deflect it to set up an effective counter.

Street attacks start with a series of distractions. The aggressor employs these devices as he broaches the self defense perimeter without triggering your reaction. Ted Bundy wore a foot cast, asking a young co-ed for assistance in loading his van. The co-ed, seeing him struggling, volunteered to assist, never realizing Bundy had set a trap. Defenses disintegrated before the intended target knew an attack had begun.

It is to avoid such catastrophes, that master instructors established the following rules of engagement:

1.) Create conditions which tell you when the attack has begun;

2.) Once these conditions are established, maintain them in effect at all times. There are no exceptions;

3.) Signal to the potential assailant that once these markers are crossed, you will interpret his actions to be a life threatening attack; and

4.) If the conditions are broached, you will react as though a life threatening attack has occurred.

The surprise knife attack loses its effect from a distance.  Here the defender avoids the thrust, then escapes.

You are waiting at the bus stop after finishing classes one winter evening. Sitting in the waiting shelter, you see a figure step forward from the shadows. You register a 30-ish male figure closing quickly toward you. Recalling the rules for engagement, you immediately call out, "Stop -- What do you want?". Your voice is louder than normal, intentionally so, hoping to draw the attention of other passers-by to the situation. The stranger sheepishly slows his forward movement, smiles, then apologizes, saying, "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to startle you ..." Your past training makes you see he is continuing to close the gap. He chatters casually to distract your attention from that fact. You exclaim, "Stay where you are, damn it! You're threatening me, I won't tell you a third time."

You have drawn the line. Only a committed attacker would cross at this point. Whether he is a committed attacker or simply reckless, your only option if he continues forward is to act as though an attack is in progress.

He responds..., "Look, I didn't mean to upset you. I lost my wallet, and I need a quarter to call home. If you can help me out, I'd appreciate it."

The request for a quarter may be reasonable, but on today's ravaged streets, you're taking a chance if you assume it is. If, for reasons of your own, you chose to give him the quarter, set it down, then step away without letting him close distance on you. The preferred response would be, "I'm sorry, I don't have a quarter." If he comes close, you might add, " I have no further words for you, except if you come any closer, I will consider it a threat on my person, and act accordingly."



 Weapons like the staff are designed to bridge self defense distance.  Failure to adjust for this will result in certain injury.  Note how defender has adjusted his distancing allowing for simple but effective response to the incoming attack.

Keep in mind the attacker is working his line, and look at what has taken place till now. Most attackers are working within a two minute script. They know all the answers for approximately two minutes. In this instance, you have removed the attacker from his habitual script, and the transaction is becoming too complex for him to continue. Most likely, he will disengage, preferring to select a more pliable target. If he elects to continue, he will have forfeited his main advantage, surprise. You have set the line in the sand, and as his attack crosses over, you are free to do whatever you chose to reasonably protect yourself. Bear in mind, that a jury, detached from the actual situation, might have a differing opinion in the aftermath.

It is here that the theory of proper distancing yields its promised dividend. Protecting your distance ensures you consciously prevent the attacker from entering your vulnerable defense zone without first drawing your firm warning. If he attacks, you act. No self doubts. Having forced the attacker to launch from the extended position, your entire focus will be on impacting effectively to be available target areas with strikes that will do nothing less than save your life and dignity.

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