The Five Ways of Attack

What made Bruce Lee famous was his flare, but what made him a legend in the martial arts world was his analytical mind. The allure of many martial arts is the mystery; the idea of being passed along secrets from a traceable lineage of martial artists. This secretive practice of older generations of martial artists has acted like a very long game of broken telephone, allowing for loss of information and dilution of some of the practices. Very little history has been recorded of the hundreds of years of the study of movement we call martial arts. Lucky for us, some of the masters decided to write down the theories and describe the movements of their systems to help all martial artists understand the mechanics of fighting. The Five Ways of Attack, is Bruce Lee’s concise summary of how to initiate a strike.

Though street fighting is closer to chaos than the governed environment of professional fighting, understanding the different movement patterns of initiating an attack is fundamental to bringing an element of control into the fight. Wits and reflexes win fights. If you can understand the mechanics of movement and create reflexes that are built on its tenets you will be ahead of the game when it comes time to rely on them. So let’s look at Lee’s Five Ways…

The Five Ways..

Single Direct attack (S.D.A.)

Progressive Indirect Attack (P.I.A.)

(Hand) Immobilization Attack (H.I.A.)

Attack By Combination (A.B.C.)

Attack By Drawing (A.B.D.)

S.D.A. – Is the simplest form of an attack. The jab is the most common example of a single direct attack. If your opponent is out of reach, a step or leap forward may be used to strike with the either hand or foot. In our self defense classes we often practice strike from both the lead and back hand using jump steps borrowed from Kung fu styles like Baguazhang. These quick movements allow you to stay out of reach until you choose to attack, closing the gap quickly with minimal telegraphing.

P.I.A. – This attack begins with a movement in order to create an opening for your strike. The movement can be a feint or a deceiving step, change of weight or twitch. Street fights are a mix of posturing, with chaotic flurries of punches or kicks. Instead of following suit, plan your attack, feints are handy outside of the ring too.

H.I.A. – Uses some kind of grab or hold in order to control your opponents movements so that you can strike a preffered target a little easier. An example of this would be a Muay Thai clinch, in order to follow with knees to the abdomen. A simpler and safer example would be to grab one of your opponents hands as they are covering up in defense. For instance, standing in your own defensive stance you can reach across (leading left hand to their left hand) to quickly pull down their hand in order to create an opening for your right cross. This is a safer movement as the cross grab acts to defend you against strikes from both of your opponents hands. Martial arts such as T’ai Chi and Aikido have taken this kind of striking to another level, learning to utilize physical contact with an opponent to guide their attacks. These arts use the movement and transfer of weight of their combatant against them to compound the power of their strike, or manipulation.

A.B.C. – Consists of multiple, simple attacks. One attack should follow the next with fluidity and the intention of using natural movement and power flow of the body to capitalize on potential openings. For example, after throwing a lead left jab, your waist has turned to the right, allowing for maximal rotation and power to be thrown from the right side (perhaps a right hook). The lead jab, if effective, may have also brought up the hands of your opponent, creating an opening on the side for your hook. You can add a 3rd and 4th strike if the reaction is right, but the combinations should remain simple if you want them to be effective. Changing levels as well as angles will also help with the effectiveness.

A.B.D – This is an attack set up by luring your opponent in. The idea is to leave an opening in your stance so that your opponent is compelled to focus an attack towards that opening. Knowing where they will attack gives you an idea as to how to counter strike. Counter striking is an advanced way of combat and in the words of Bruce Lee “…is the greatest art of fighting, the art of the champion”. An example of a common trap would be to drop your guard of the leading hand creating an opening for that side, waiting for their forward motion so that you may dodge their attack and counterstrike as they give you an opening to the abdomen or groin. The counter strike is a risky move in a street fight but is still worth  practicing. Non professionals will be even more likely to fall for a trap as fear and reflexes will urge them to take advantage of any openings you give them. But be weary, even the most amateur of fighters can have surprising speed and power.


It is not enough to just practice a movement. In the end, what you’re putting into practice is theory; theories that have been passed down from generation to generation for hundreds of years. There are not many things that have been studied as diligently all over the world as the movement of fighting. Take advantage of any good instructors you can find that, like Bruce Lee, who are willing to share the details of how but implore the details of why.

Joey Reid

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