The most effective punch in boxing is the feint. It doesn’t cause physical damage, it doesn’t inflict pain, and it doesn’t dump your opponent onto the canvas. Its effectiveness lies in the fact that it leads to confusion in the mind of the other pugilist—and mind control is what wins the fight most of the time.

And while hand speed, footwork, stamina, a Sunday punch, and a killer instinct all help the cause, once you raise doubt in the opposition’s mind as to what is coming next—and when—the fight is all but over.

It’s called the art of deception.

From when David acted as an innocent goat herder and belted Goliath in the noggin with a high-velocity rock, to the current age of forked-tongued charlatan politicians, deception has proven to be an invaluable tool. Let’s face facts: If the jolly giant hadn’t hopped off the twig from overconfidence, and we didn’t vote blatant liars into office to subsequently legislate our lives, it wouldn’t have worked for 5,000 years.

And if you can’t figure out that something doesn’t smell right when your enemy rolls into town with a so-called gift of a gargantuan wooden horsey, maybe you deserve to be butchered.

There’s an old aphorism that “All’s fair in love and war.” If you want confirmation, ask Mata Hari and Miyamoto Musashi. She plied her nefarious trade, while he violated virtually every social grace known to man, but both were masters of deception—among other attributes—on their path to victory. And victory is the ultimate goal. It’s all well and good to say, “It’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game,” as long as it’s a football field and not a battlefield. There’ll be another Super Bowl next year—battlefields are forever.

As subterfuge and misdirection have helped to win battles since before the Dead Sea croaked, it obviously works. Examples like the Trojan Horse incident, the “invisible” ninja, Marylanders confusing night artillerymen by hanging lanterns in trees instead of their homes during the Colonial War, farmers using handheld farm implements to develop the then-illegal martial arts, inflatable dummy tanks used in World War II, hand grenades tossed with intact pins in the Falklands—they were all successful and won the day. And a study of the 36 Japanese Strategies of War mentions the use of misdirection not once but several times, starting with Number One.

Whether it’s the massive naval landing of the Allies in the Second Great War, the unexpected surprise use of trench warfare in the Boer War for the first time in three centuries, or the lone pugilist’s use of the feint when curtailed by Marquess of Queensberry rules, the trick is always the same—either fool the enemy into misconstruing what he thinks he’s seeing, or sow seeds of doubt until he can’t foretell what’s coming. In other words, if you want to win, don’t “telegraph” your punch—or your intentions.

So while skullduggery and diversion are relatively common military battle strategies, why would it concern the individual during the daily goings-on of his life? Because it could be a decisive strategic advantage in the saving of his life—that’s why.

It’s not that you’re expecting to live the life of Musashi in the 21st century. Nobody in today’s world is going to either encounter or live through dozens of one-on-one, loser-dies fights, but it doesn’t hurt to have one more trick up your sleeve in preparation for the one or two potential situations that may result in deadly force. If history repeats itself (and it always does) and we’re too dumb to read the writing on the wall, society as we know it is about to head for Hades in a hand basket.

With the current worldwide rash of terrorism, religious fanaticism, and economic and political problems, much of the world’s population is already metaphorically at each other’s throats. And once that starts, the transition from metaphoric to physical doesn’t take long. It won’t be the first time the inmates run the asylum. While you’re exhuming Musashi and Mata Hari, you may as well dig up Neville Chamberlain and have a retrospective discussion with him.

The historical rule of thumb is, if you don’t listen to what a Rhodesian is saying in 1970, you will pay the piper in 2008 Zimbabwe. And since most urban residents today panic at the sight of a cockroach, it may be as well to develop a mindset and tactics that will help in time of crisis. Historically, personal crime is directly proportional to a breakdown in society, and the higher the crime rate, the less effective law enforcement becomes. At the best of times, police officers respond after the fact. At the worst of times, nobody will be around to help. As a Man Alone attempting to survive in a society of human cockroaches, you have to accomplish three things: (1) have physical fighting abilities, (2) not look like the easiest victim in the vicinity, and (3) have a strategy that includes cunning and diversion—the boxer’s feint.

Because a modicum of physical ability is an absolute for fighting, for the purposes of this article it can be eliminated from the discussion. Similarly, effective use of the third requirement—mindset and strategy—removes the “victim” appearance. Which leaves only one: the use of misdirection to lull one’s opponent into a false sense of security (always bearing in mind the 36th Japanese strategy—run away).

How do you develop deviousness as an automatic, almost instinctual second nature? (And yes, the will to survive is an instinct.)

For one, you can change your outward appearance. For example, as a right-hander, wearing your wristwatch on your right wrist may fool an assailant into thinking that you’ll adopt a southpaw stance in a physical confrontation. While a human cockroach is a human cockroach, it doesn’t mean he’s stupid, and he may even be too intelligent for his own good—possibly to your benefit. There are no guarantees, but loading the dice in your favor in advance can’t hurt your odds of winning.

In the same vein, a square or rectangular bulge in a male’s right-side hip pocket probably means he’s right-handed—and it can be used against you, especially in a physical assault from the rear. A circular bulge in the left hip pocket probably denotes a can of chewing tobacco, as opposed to the right-sided square wallet shape—again, a right-hander.

And if you’re carrying the ubiquitous clip-attached knife on your right side, carry a second one on your left side. But bear in mind that, if the roach is sharp enough to have spotted the left-side blade, not only may you have confused him into not knowing whether you’re right- or left-handed, but you’ve also alerted him to the fact that he may be facing at least two blades.

Never forget that what works for you can also be used against you. As Martin Short said in hindsight on his failures, your eye goes to the problem, not what works.

Don’t be the stand-out-in-a-crowd Hollywooder. As the saying goes, uneasy lies the head that wears the crown. Disguising yourself as one of the little grey people is safer by far, and is less likely to draw attention as a potential target. In a village of people who limp, you don’t jog.

Wear something small, but not ostentatious, attached to your clothing—a tiepin or flag pin will do—just enough to draw attention away from that bulge under your coat. You know, the bulge that screams “concealed gun” in 16 languages.

Last on a short list of ideas (the entire list would fill a book), disconnect the automatic door and dome lights on your vehicle. Why target yourself in a dark parking lot? If you need to look for potential perverts in your car before entry, use your flashlight—which should be a permanent article of your daily carry gear anyway.

It is said that a battlefield isn’t for the faint of heart. But it is indeed the perfect setting for the feint-hearted.

[This column first appeared in the December 2008 issue of S.W.A.T.]

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