Thought i'd play devil's advocate on this after seeing Iain's most recent video on telegraphing. I agree with the video and think it makes some great points, however, I think there are other dimensions of "tells" that can be neglected in self defense.
In the main I agree that the kind of "telegraphing" that martial artists often worry about has little to do with self defense, however, I believe assigning tells no importance at all mayb be throwing the baby out with the bathwater a little. This is of course just based on my own experience, but here goes:
While I love and agree with the "martial map" concept, on the subject of 'tells', I think seeing them as discretely oppositional categories might be missing some importance nuances. There are places where self-defense, martial arts, and combat sport overlap and inform one another, and in this case, there are some reason to care about the overall body mechanics of "tells" in self defense. A lack of tells is not just about the kind of "chess game" reading and extended timing that goes on in sport sparring, it is also about explosiveness, and an ability to immediately trip up an opponents OODA loop, or lack thereof.
Unlike long range sport sparring, how you get off on someone initially matters quite a bit in self defense, and a lot of this depends on how you;ve been taught to move. We all know that in self-defense, finding oneself in a significantly inferior position right off the bat is a much worse proposition than being able to right the situation quickly, as the longer the encounter goes with us doing anything '"defensive", the worse off we are. resonably subtle differences such has how you use your shoulders, how you use your hips, and how directly you move forward can make a huge difference here, in my experience. it may not be quite the same animal as a "tell" in sparring, but I would argue the ability to have tight enough technique to overwhelm in some of the ways Iain talks about is in fact, a kind of work on "tells".
For example, if you are a Shorin stylist and make heavy use of hip-shifting (not all systems do), the -way- in which you do it will determine it's effectiveness as you jump into a chaotic situation. If you have been trained to pull back and load punches, you will be tactile-ly (is that a word lol), and visually "behind" someone who is coming at you with equal intensity.
If you want to play with this, it can be easily drilled: Put on body armor or gloves, decide on which targets you will allow (going all out with this kind of drill might need headgear), decide on hand positions to start from - fence, "the jack benny" etc.stand close enough that no one needs to step in and *go* the way you would for self defense training, stop when one person establishes a fairly dominant position, if you want to drill this concept. I have found that people who have worked on the subtleties of attacking more efficiently than the other person (position of centerline, hikite, head position, etc.) can comes out on top, due in part to a lack of visual and tactile "tells" in a small space of secoinds...or at least, they are what I would consider tells..."gaps" in movement and technique that gaurantee the other person is going be able to "pile on" his stuff faster than you if you have not addressed them. I have found the same thing to be true in self defense, the first few seconds of most exchanges tend to matter greatly. Someone who can truly attack effectively and prevent someone from getting to the "decide" bit of the OODA loop is in a better position than someone who cannot.
One could argue that these are not "tells" in the sense of combat sport, but if these things are not tells ( for example lack of indepdent arm movement, efficiency or lack thereof in hiklite or hip movement, and also tactile "tells" such as overusing the shoulders or struggling when in grappling contact), they are certainly somewhat important. So my question is, if things like this are not tells, what category do they belong in?
To be clear, I am addressing a set of physical skills that make it more difficult for a person to stop your attack (using both visual and tactile cues), and make you chances of overwhelming someone better. Certainly, I do not think they are everything, but I am convinced they matter in self defense enough to not be thrown out with the bathwater.