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Posted by on April 12, 2019

In his fascinating book, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, Malcolm Gladwell explores how people can make immediate assessments or “snap judgments” without consciously knowing why they know what they know. He cites numerous examples including,


• In basketball, the player who can take in and comprehend all that is happening around him is said to have court sense.
• World-renowned tennis coach Vic Braden who can predict a double fault (tennis players have two chances to hit a serve, missing the second is a double fault) almost without fail.
• Art experts who can spot a fake piece of art without being able to immediately explain why.

In these cases, there are an overwhelming number of variables but these people somehow make accurate assessments without consciously considering most of these variables. He refers to this phenomenon as “thin-slicing”, “the ability of our unconscious to find patterns in situations and behaviour based on very narrow slices of experience.” (p.23)

This rapid cognition allows a basketball player like Lebron James to sort through the movements of ten players moving in various directions and speeds then placing a perfect pass to their teammate. He does not consciously identify every variable (the movements of every player) but he somehow makes a high percentage of precision passes.

The implications for self-defense are intriguing. In essence, we can learn how to make better snap judgments to avoid, prevent and defend against violent situations. Similar to the basketball player who rapidly processes the fast moving around him or her, we can learn to make better snaps judgments to defend against strikes, holds, grabs and other.

This already happens during our training sessions. Students are presented with various problems – incoming strikes, various holds and grabs, weapon assaults – and learn to assess and act in the “blink” of an eye. Of course, this doesn’t happen immediately. New students will process more slowly. With consistent training, however, their assessments become instant and their actions more effective.

For the basketball or hockey player, it is about making the right pass to the right teammate at the right time. For those who find themselves in potential or real danger, it is about personal safety.

Malcolm Gladwell, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking.  New York: Little, Brown, and Company, 2005. 

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