Skip to Content

Motivations for Attack and Defense

Six Categories Of Motivation For Attack And Defense

Taken from "Mastering Jujitsu" by Renzo Gracie and John Danaher

In civil settings, six types of situations usually result in a need to defend yourself. In no particular order, they are the ego fight, a robbery, an assassination, a rape, a sociopathic attack, and a professional intervention in a violent confrontation.

The Ego Fight

Without doubt, the ego fight is the main cause of physical altercations between people. We all carry around a sense of self -- our ego -- which often feels challenged by the actions and words of another person or group. In a large number of cases, people fight to preserve their sense of who they are, even if this action is totally irrational (indeed, most ego fights are characterized by the irrationality of both parties) . Our sense of pride, self-image, public image, vanity, and a host of other factors are all part of our ego, any one of which can drag us into a fight at any given time.

Whenever the ego is challenged, we typically have an emotional response that drives us toward some kind of retaliation. This reaction is matched by the other person, and a process of escalation occurs. In a short time, both parties feel so offended that neither is willing to back down. The severity of the fight is then dependent on the mental and physical toughness of the combatants and the degree to which they are prepared to go. In most cases, they begin with a fairly low level of intensity, but the process of escalation quickly takes the intensity of the two parties to higher levels, high enough to start fights and even go all the way to aggravated assault or murder.

The actual process of escalation, however, is a fascinating phenomenon to observe. In the majority of cases, people who become embroiled in ego fights begin the confrontation with no intention of physically fighting another person. What happens is that each side of the dispute feels a need to match and surpass the perceived wrong that has been done to them. We feel that by allowing someone else to have the last word in a dispute, we somehow demean ourselves, which is a situation our ego cannot tolerate. An upward spiral of insults and threats ensues. If the cycle of increasingly strong taunts, gestures, and posturing is not broken by one side's withdrawing, backing down, or by some outside intervention, the confrontation almost invariably turns physical.

The physical element of the confrontation itself comes in degrees as well. It typically begins with both sides' getting physically close to each other in an attempt at intimidation, then it progresses to pushing and shoving, then to open fighting. Each time the level of the conflict is raised by a new insult or gesture, it becomes more difficult for each participant to pull out of the cycle of violence. Ironically, the majority of ego fights begin over matters so small and insignificant that neither side would be willing to fight for them. What happens is that the dispute gains its own momentum, and the initial cause of the dispute is completely forgotten. A sense of entrapment occurs where the two protagonists feel themselves locked into the escalating dispute and unable to pull out. To do so would leave them with a sense of damage to their self-image that they would find unacceptable. As you understand how this cycle works, you can see how easy it is to avoid this type of fight. By simply withdrawing from the game of one-upmanship, you can leave your antagonist with a smug feeling of superiority that almost always allows him to walk away with a satisfied ego.


An age-old form of aggression is simple robbery. Here the threat or use of violence has a definite goal: to take your money or goods from you. Often, the attacker bears you no personal malice but launches his attack on a purely professional basis. You can take advantage of this fact to avoid physical harm easily - simply surrender the goods. If this sounds undesirable, ask yourself whether the goods you wish to defend are really worth the possible price that you may pay by defending them. You may have some kinds of property that you are simply not willing to surrender. In this case, a strong defense is in order.

A robber is usually only interested in financial gain. Fierce resistance may well be more than he is prepared to risk to gain your property. Just like ego fights, robberies come in different levels of intensity. Sometimes the robbers are amateurish and inept, and the robberies themselves offer little chance of serious harm. Other times, the robberies are carefully planned and potentially dangerous undertakings that involve weapons and a real chance of death or serious injury. Obviously, your reaction should be based on your perception of what form of robbery is taking place. It is wise, however, for you to always err on the side of caution when deciding to respond physically in a robbery. The level of violence can quickly escalate with dramatic and unwanted results.


Of all the forms of attack, the assassination is the most difficult to deal with; though, thankfully, it is the rarest. The assassin is interested in ending your life. This circumstance can happen for many reasons, political or social. Sometimes, it is simply the act of revenge from someone who bears a grudge against you. Other times, it involves the work of a professional assassin hired by some person or group who prefers the idea of a world in which you do not exist. This is a particularly tough form of attack to deal with, since your attacker is a paid professional with (presumably) expertise and a plan of action in bringing about your demise.

Defense against assassination is more a case of preparation and anticipation. You must make yourself a difficult target, which can be done by keeping an erratic schedule, a low profile, and by staying away from areas and times where a hit is likely. The idea is simply not to be there when someone comes to take your life. This strategy has little to do with the physical skills of jujitsu and much more to do with intelligent planning and forethought. Given that your life is at stake, you are clearly licensed to use all techniques at your disposal in defending yourself, including those that are potentially life-threatening (along with improvised weapons). For example, the chokes so commonly used in MMA events can obviously be used in a lethal way simply by holding on to the victim until he dies. Normally, the chokes can be released when an opponent submits or passes out, but in the case of a genuine attempt at assassination, the usual standards of behavior are typically waived .


Sexual attacks form another category. Such attacks are disturbingly common. Rape, like most forms of physical attack, comes in degrees of physical severity. Sometimes, the attack is made by a total stranger and involves a vicious assault. Other times, the people involved know each other, and the physical coercion may be quite mild. In almost all cases, however, the rapist is looking to control the body of the victim in a way that allows a sexual act to be performed. Almost always, this coercion involves taking the victim to the ground in some form of pin. This fact makes modern grappling forms of jujitsu (which strongly emphasize ground-fighting skills) one of the best ways for women to defend themselves against sexual attack.

Stated again: Grappling jujitsu is most effective in the very area where sexual attacks almost always occur, on the ground. This fact should not be overlooked by people interested in defending themselves from the various forms of rape. There are few (if any) martial arts better suited to the needs of women who seek a means of defending themselves from sexual predators. The severity of technique used to defend oneself from sexual attack can be chosen according to the severity of the attack. The public generally favors the rape victim when selfdefense technique is used, so one can err on the side of overkill without too much concern.

Sociopathic attack

Like assassination, this form of attack is relatively rare. The distinguishing characteristic of such attacks is the lack of a normal motivation. In robbery, the perpetrator seeks money; in a rape, sexual power; in an assassination, revenge or some sociological or political motivation. A sociopathic attack, however, seems to occur for the sheer sake of violence itself. Through the eyes of the attacker, the attack is a joy. Some people simply appear to enjoy the pain and suffering of others-or at least, they are just unable to feel remorse for their victims. Sociopaths engage in both planned and unplanned attacks on other people for no apparent reason other than excitement or fun. 

Sociopathic violence manifests itself in many ways. Sometimes, it is the behavior of gang members or disaffected youths who simply enjoy violent activity. Other times, it is the work of a loner looking to act out violent urges or fantasies (i.e., serial killers). Obviously, in a case such as this one (just like assassinations), you are permitted to defend yourself with all the powers at your disposal. Jujitsu offers the full range of possibilities in defense, including many techniques that can maim or kill.

Professional intervention in violent confrontation

Another scenario involves intervening in a physical fight as a neutral third party. This situation most often occurs in professions that deal specifically with this kind of altercation. For example, police officers, nightclub bouncers, professional security guards, and the like all must defuse violence where they have no personal involvement, but only a professional interest.

It can, however, happen to nonprofessionals as well. Quite often, people intervene to stop a street fight, especially if one person is being badly hurt. This form of combat is not really self-defense at all, since you are not defending yourself but another person. You are not personally involved, so you must fight "cold," insofar as you are emotionally detached from the fight. If you allow yourself to be emotionally drawn into the conflict, you will quickly find yourself locked up in an ego fight.

A distinguishing characteristic of this kind of confrontation is the need for nonviolent restraint techniques. As a professional third party who is interested in ending the dispute in a way satisfactory to both sides, you cannot be punching and kicking the protagonists and turning them into a bloody mess. Jujitsu is well suited to this kind of situation because it focuses so heavily on control and restraint. It allows you to control someone to a high degree without causing them grievous bodily harm. This is not an exhaustive list of the possible scenarios of self-defense, but it does cover the main possibilities. But enough about the broad categories of the motivations for street attacks. How should one react to these various possibilities?

We have seen that each category (with the exception of assassination) comes in degrees of severity. How you react is obviously going to be determined by the degree of severity used in the attack. However, we must now look at a general point that one must bear in mind when attempting to defend oneself. This is the issue over what constitutes a victory in a street fight. We saw earlier that the notion of victory is often defined differently in a street fight than it is in an MMA event. We need to describe this difference and explore its ramifications for self-defense.

Collaboration for a Public Resource

The wealth of content in a Wiki site depends on the participation of its visitors making incremental improvements.

Because of the contentious nature of this content, and the ubiquity of spam, until a large community of defenders of the content exists (usually past authors and other interested parties), we require contributors to create a free account here. Users can then contribute, for example:

  • Editing a page using the 'Edit' tab.
  • Creating new pages by adding a link to potential topics, using [[ ]]
  • Contributions can be point form, expanding an existing paragraph, original writing, helping correct spelling, grammar or clarity, adding wiki syntax to non-wiki content, adding links to existing internet content, etc… Additions need not be complete or even well-crafted in order to move the content building forward.
  • Discussing page concepts and content using the 'Discussion'.
  • 'Watching' pages that you've edited or topics that interest you, and correct vandalism. Conceptual disagreements should be moved to the Discussion area.