Assumption is the Mother of All Failures... and Can Get You Killed.

Assumption, as the old saying goes, is the mother of all failures.

Quite often when we look at things that don’t line up with our world view or beliefs, the first port of call should be to review our own assumptions… ‘should’ being the operative word in that sentence. Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen always. Or even often.

One of my mentors, Master Mannie de Matos, always talks of the ABC of security – Assume nothing, Believe no one, Check everything.

Words to live by!

It doesn’t mean that you should live in a state of paranoia, but that you should always look at things with a critical mind.

Let’s apply of this to some assumptions we see in the self-defence world fairly often…

Let me start with a hypothetical situation:

A mugger is putting a knife to your throat demanding your wallet. What do you do?

  1. Give him your wallet
  2. Do whatever technique you’ve been taught
  3. Throw your wallet on the ground behind him so that he is forced to turn around and pick it up, and that gives you the opportunity to attack when his back is turned

Before I go on to give you my thoughts on this, let me give a disclaimer; every situation is different and there are a lot of variables to consider when making such a decision (and in an instant!). Each of these might be appropriate based on the situation and the variables. The idea of using blanket approaches for self-defence is another topic for another time. For now, let’s go with a tip which I’ve seen thrown around a lot, and seems to make sense, but actually ignores much of the complexities of violence, and more importantly of human nature, by making some silly assumptions.

If you’re wondering, that’s option 3.

What assumptions does it make?

  1. Your attacker has no intelligence, skill or experience:
    All attacks, and I mean ALL attacks, start with some process of surveillance. The more experienced the perpetrator, the better and less conspicuous the surveillance, as well as their approach.
    If you find yourself in such a situation, then chances are you have been selected because your attacker thinks you are a suitable target. And you obviously did not notice their surveillance or approach until it was too late, which is a testimony to their skill and experience, your lack of skill and experience or both.
    So, someone has managed to conduct surveillance upon you, closed the distance and put a knife to you throat. Let’s assume they mean business and know what they are doing.
    Do you really think that if you throw your wallet, they’ll just blindly turn around and start fishing for it? And this leads us to the next one…

  2. Your attacker is a robot with no emotions or ego:
    I’ll keep this one short and sweet. Someone who presumably has some skill and experience in doing bad things has managed to get close enough to you, in an environment where they think they won’t get caught, to put a knife to your throat. And your solution is to do something that in all likelihood is going to piss them off or make them look like an idiot?! Now is not the time to challenge their ego or confidence. 
    Don’t forget that we are all human. If someone is out to do you harm and is in a position of obvious dominance, and you are deliberately trying to make them look silly, you are putting yourself in a situation where they might harm you just to teach you a lesson! 

  3. Your attacker will respond how you want them to respond:
    You throwing your wallet down on the ground may escalate whatever he was going to do to you anyway, which may result in a spontaneous decision to harm you. Even if somehow your little trick works, don’t assume that his response will be the one you expect. What if instead of turning around to grab the wallet, he drags you with him, knife still to your throat, to get the wallet? What if he doesn’t even flinch? Even if his eyes look away for a split second and you do something, you are putting yourself at grave risk when (not ‘if’) something doesn’t go according to your plan.
  1. You have justification to do whatever you want:
    Let’s say that by some miracle your trick works; your assailant turns around to grab the wallet and you immediately attack when his back is turned. Maybe you’re even lucky enough to fully neutralise him without getting stabbed in the process.
    Now here’s a nasty surprise for you – if you had an opportunity to escape and instead you decided to attack you may find yourself in a hot legal mess. You’d have to convince the court that you had no other option but to do what you did, to the extent that you did it. And even then, you’d still have to go through the expensive, stressful process of a trial. 
    This example aside, it is silly to assume that just because you think you are the wronged party that you will be able to dispense righteous justice upon your attacker… but more on this in another blog.


This mugging example is but one of a million. Unfortunately, martial artists have a tendency to try and fit reality into their training paradigms rather than the other way around.

The assumptions above, which are dangerous ones to make, are ones that are common to martial arts training (and martial arts are not the same as self defence... more on this here)

We should review our own assumptions on a regular basis. This means that as we are exposed to new data and information, we should incorporate it to form better assumptions. If we see footage of real violence, or are exposed to new (and dare I say ‘better’) ways of training, we should objectively evaluate our training to see if it accurately reflects the reality of what we see.

In the age of memes, Facebook news and YouTube black belts, the ability to critically analyse our own assumptions is becoming a rare ability, and taking things for granted and as absolutes is becoming more and more common. 

I invite you to take some time to review your training and assumptions, and do so regularly. You’d be amazed how much better you’d become!

Stay safe, stay tuned.


Last modified on Sunday, 02 February 2020 19:06
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Ron Amram

Co-Founder and Co-Director of Combat Arts Institute of Australia. Nidan Gendai Ryu Krav Maga & Jujitsu, Shodan Danzan Ryu Jujutsu, Brown Belt Dennis Hisardut, Krav Maga Instructor, Cert IV Training & Assessment

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