Subtle things that make a difference

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What makes the difference between life and death is at times the small little things, and interesting enough, these subtleties takes the longest to develop. They can be so subtle that you may not even realize they are, or worse, doubt that they ever existed.

And to bring that point across, what are you doing now? Staring at this screen and reading the text? Were you breathing? You didn’t ask yourself that, until now. Of course you were, but not consciously. Subtle, but makes the difference between life and death. 

As the modern generation gets overly preoccupied by technology and other focuses in life, the days of the warrior now lives in literature and on theatre screens. Back a few centuries ago, that wasn’t the case. Martial artists integrated their lives with martial arts. Training at such an in-depth level had so much profound effects that people might regard them as ninja magic these days.

We hear this phrase very often, “Be careful.” The question begs, of what? Certainly we live life not anticipating pain or it will be, ironically, very painful. Back in the days martial artists developed something known as “Kan”, after years of diligence. It refers to an acute sense of threat or danger that seemingly reads in advance that the threat is approaching. To a large extent, it is a form of sixth sense that goes beyond what we could explain with precise scientific facts.


Certain martial arts still train their students on “Kan” while largely the rest of the martial arts community has succumb to the temptations of gamification and commercialisation, and this topic can be regarded near its extinction.

Specifically, “Kan” enables the individual to tell split-seconds in advance if the person in front of him or near him is about to strike. And this goes beyond seeing subtleties visually. Perhaps there are better scientific evidences that can point to having this ability but as of now, it is known that “Kan” is beyond detecting that sudden shift in shoulders or center of gravity, or that twitch in face.

While those could be part of the reason why an individual can sense the attacker’s intentions, a closer description would be having the ability to be in harmony with the environment, be in touch with the physical world.

It is easy to identify who has such abilities – or rather, who doesn’t. If at the point of attack, an individual is still thinking about how to react to a particular attack then evidently that person do not possess “Kan”.

This subtlety grants the additional reaction time in prediction to what is about to happen and we think this could be the difference between getting hit or escaping that vehemence.


“Anticipation is the Ultimate Power. Loser react. Leaders anticipate.” said world famous Success Coach Anthony Robbins. Experienced and highly skilled martial artists knew that is nothing but the truth. Your ability to anticipate your attacker’s next move can be as pivotal as 1 centimetre from the point of the blade to your ribs.

Skilled martial artists can also anticipate when is the person about to strike, where to strike and how to counter. They are able to anticipate breathing patterns and if they land a preemptive strike to the abdomen at the right moment, it could leave the attacker winded for a good amount of time.

But all these begins with training and experience. During a simple demonstration at one of our workshops, the “robber” was caught completely off guard when the defendant threw his wallet in the robber’s face. At this moment, the robber totally did not see that coming, while on the other hand, the defendant anticipated the robber’s response. To be fair, the defendant happened to be one of our instructors.


In the previous article, we mentioned how to develop quicker reflexes, and how fast you react to an incoming aggression could determine if you get hit by it. From our experience, people without martial arts background tend to be caught by surprise. On the other hand, martial arts instructors when placed under an uncoordinated, unrehearsed demonstration, may actually react to an unannounced attack just because their body are trained specifically to defend an incoming attack from a particular angle or direction.

I personally knew a relatively high ranking TKD black belt since our teens and back then his passion for martial arts already set him apart from majority of other martial artists. To test that automatic response with another friend, we were heading out casually one afternoon when I gave him a surprise attack from the side. His reflexes were true to a trained martial artist and he instantly reacted with a barrage of punches and kicks. Of course, they didn’t land as hard as they should given that he realised very quickly I was just playing around with him. Yet this clearly shows the significance of having quick reflexes.

Mental Clarity

Ever had one cup too many? Or when you were heavily under the weather? How was it different when you were clear-headed at your prime, making a dent in the world with your peak performance? And of course intoxication takes your mental clarity to another end of the spectrum, what about just a little of cloudiness? What about subtle things such as a preoccupied mind trying to problem solve or when you are stressing out over a problem as you are walking down the street? Perhaps it wouldn’t even take another human being to cause injury to you.

Whatever you are doing, be present, be in the moment. Walk with intention and choose to maintain mental clarity especially when you are in foreign grounds. Recall those tales circulating on various social media where a person woke up in a bathtub filled with ice cubes realizing he had lost his kidneys? We believe these tales were based on actual stories and even if they aren’t, they are good warnings to someone who likes abuse those night indulgences.

Observation and Awareness

Last but not least, observation skills, not being observant enough can kill. When an uniformed individual knocks at your door and requests entry, have you asked for his ID badge? Was he wearing one even? Being observant could help in many cases, even if the robber did successfully convince your life was more important than that watch you are wearing (and we totally agree to that), you could have reported to the authorities that the masked robber had an extra digit protruding from his right hand.

It would have made identification of the culprit a lot easier. A keen sense of observation may also have given you clues that someone breached your home illegally or someone has followed you for more than 2 streets back home. How about being aware of your surroundings give you advanced notice that this person had accomplices? Would your defence strategy change drastically?

Although we do not specifically train on observation skills, having good awareness of your surroundings could be the subtle difference, after all. #JustSaying.