How to turn the tables on your attacker – 3 components of effectively counter attacking

One of the main components that Choi Kwang Do teaches its students to help them defend themselves is to counter attack.  This is officially introduced at gold belt level in our defence drill, 1 attack 5 counters, although if you have experience in another martial art the practices in this article are transferable.  Over the years I have seen countless students make some basic mistakes which can lead to their defence being messy and lead to their chances of effective self defence being reduced.  With some practice these mistakes can be rectified quite quickly and make you far better at counter attacking.  Here are 3 common sense tips to help improve your chances of counter attacking effectively.

Prepare your counter attack:  If you are attacked do you have a plan on how you are going to counter attack?  A lot of students when they first start practising counter attacks, block and then pause for a brief second, before launching into a counter attack.  The whole point of counter attacking is to catch your opponent by surprise especially when out on the street and not matched up in a sporting competition.  They are usually expecting an easy opponent and not someone who knows how to defend themselves, so the element of surprise is an important ally to us and so we need to learn to attack quickly.  We also need to ensure that the counter attack comes from the right place.  Say you are blocking , generally you are going to want to counter off of your opposite hand, which is best set up for a swift and powerful hand strike, or your front leg.  The rear leg has to travel further and therefore takes longer to reach its destination, giving your opponent some extra time to react.  Also, if someone is close enough for you to block, the chances are that they are also too close for your rear kicks to be effective.  Obviously there are exceptions to that rule, depending on your size but I feel your initial counter attack should not be a rear leg kick due to the slower speed.

If you look at the Choi Kwang Do patterns you will see that they follow the principles above.  The majority of them start with a block and either a punch off of the other hand or kick off of the front leg followed up by more techniques. The only real exception to this rule is where you use an inward block or back forearm inward block and counter attack with a strike such as side fist or knife hand.

So how can you plan what counter attacks you are going to use?  If you are by yourself then imagine you have an opponent in front of you and they are punching or kicking to a certain area.  You chose the appropriate block and then chose a rear hand technique, or front leg kick to counter attack.  Start off slow and get a feel for it and then start practising faster until you minimise the time between your block and attack.  This is obviously easier to practice with a real life partner so when you get a chance in class have them start off slow and light and throw a single technique, block it and start to counter with one or two techniques.  Pretty soon you will start to get a good feel for what techniques work best for you and will be blocking and countering quicker.  You will be training your nervous system to pick effective counter attacks when under pressure.  Which leads me on to the second tip.

Learn to counter attack openings:  You can be blindingly fast at counter attacking, however if you throw every single punch and kick at your opponents guard then its not going to be effective.  I have done this myself in classes in the past and I have seen many students do it over the years.  You want to make each one of your attacks count otherwise you are in a world of trouble.  The biggest problem for a lot of us is that we get so excited and enthusiastic about our training that we rush it.  Slow it down, and start off methodically.  Have your partner come in slowly with an attack and block it and then both pause.  Where is your opponents hands now?  Is there anywhere on their body that you can see open to a counter attack.  There is almost always one.  So pick that spot and counter attack with one technique.  Then build it up some more.  Have your partner attack you slowly, pause, look for the opening and use a suitable counter attack.  Have your partner react the way they think they would if the attack had landed with power and venom.  Where would their hands be now?  Coming up? Down?  This is going to create an opening for your second attack so go for it.

When you have started getting a feel for it then start picking up the speed and intensity.  You will now start blocking and counter attacking not only with speed, but your brain will be looking for openings for the counter attacks.  With practice you should easily be able to land 2-4 unanswered counter attacks.  You can also practice this at home by yourself without a partner, just use your imagination, start off slow and imagine the attacker and how they will react and where the openings will be.   Visualising is a powerful tool that can help you improve your performance if used correctly.  There are numerous studies on its effect.  One of the ones that sticks out in my mind is where a basketball coach broke his class into 3 groups.  1 group practised 3 point throws one hour a day for 30 days.  One group would visualise themselves throwing 3 pointers and the third group did nothing.  The group that did nothing didn’t improve at all.  The group that practised an hour a day improved by about 24%.  The group that visualised themselves throwing successful 3 pointers improved around 23% without touching a ball.  I have seen quite a lot of similar research on the effect of visualisation so don’t be afraid to incorporate it into your own personal training.

Which leaves me with the third tip to counter attacking

Angle Off:  Angling off is a very simple technique which when practiced correctly leaves your opponent exposed to your counter attacks and takes you out of danger.  Rather than staying square on to your attacking opponent try and move across away from them and block so that after throwing their attack you are now no longer in front of them and you have their side and back to hit.  This also means they have to re adjust and turn around to face you before they can use their full range of attacks, limiting them to only a few possible techniques to attack you with.

Again the key is to start slow, with or without a partner.  Have your partner come forward attacking you with one technique and for them to put their body weight behind it or imagine an attacker doing so.  It is important if you are partnered up with someone that they don’t suddenly develop heat seeking hands or feet that veer off to where they know you will be moving while you practice.  They should be aiming for where you are before you move not where you will be. As they step into you with a punch or a kick sidestep and block.  You should now find that they are side on to you or even turned around with their back to you depending on how you deflected them and the momentum that carried them.  Look to counter with one or two appropriate attacks and then reset.  When countering to the back, bear in mind not to train yourself to punch to the back of the head as you are likely to injure your hand in a fighting situation.  I tend to aim my counters for the ribs, kidneys or use low side kicks or swing kicks to the knees and back of the legs to take my opponent out.  Never underestimate the effectiveness of a powerful low kick the the legs.  It can take your opponent down with one shot.  Even if they are in full Redman body armour.

One little thing to bear in mind with angling off though is to make sure that your movement isn’t too large.  You don’t want to take such a big sidestep that you are out of range for counter attacking your opponent.  This gives them time to recover and lets them know that you know how to block and move and therefore you lose your element of surprise for the next time they come at you.

I hope you enjoy this article.  If you are interested in Choi Kwang Do self defence classes for your child, family member or yourself and are in the Bristol or Trowbridge area then please go to my web site at for more information on our Choi Kwang Do classes that are great for teaching you self defence, self-confidence and also keeping you fit and healthy no matter your age.  We offer 2 FREE lessons to all who sign up via the web site.

If you don’t live in my area and are interested in Choi Kwang Do then please visit where you can find the nearest location to you.  Most of the classes offer some sort of free lessons so please take a look.

If you are already an instructor in another Martial Art and you would be interested in converting to Choi Kwang Do please go to or contact them by email at and let them know you found them through Master Millers blog.


Dale Miller

Master Instructor of Choi Kwang Do.






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