Saturday, February 26, 2011

Knife Survival Series - Part V - Stress

Learning to survive a knife attack involves realistic training.  You must take into account the stress response. There is lots of information on stress, adrenaline and the fight or flight response often experienced during combat.

Most of what you'll read will deal with what you, as the intended victim, will experience when attacked.  It may be loss of fine motor skills, tunnel vision, auditory exclusion, shaking, or an altered perception of time and events.  This is all really important stuff to know, and your training methods must reflect factors that come into play in a life or death situation.  'Reality' type training tries to mimic some of these factors by 'jacking' up the trainee prior to the attack, using a variety of methods.

What often isn't covered, or even considered for that matter, is the effect stress has on the attacker.  This is a mistake.  All those stress related factors that affect your response also apply to your attacker.

In Part IV of this series, I touched upon the most common forms of knife attacks someone is likely to encounter.  The first two categories were big slashing and big stabbing movements.  One of the reasons that these are more common is due to the stress response on the attacker.

Attacking someone with a knife is a stressful event.  Untrained knife attackers (the non-psychopathic ones, at least), experience many of the same chemical changes that the intended victim does.  Most do not really know what the outcome of the attack will be.  Will it work?  Will their victim fall to the ground like on t.v. or in the movies?  Many have to 'psych' themselves up just to initiate the attack.

This stress response, and the accompanying loss of fine motor skills, is what makes this type of attack more likely.  The attacker loses the ability and/or the confidence to execute complex attacks.  The stress, adrenaline dump, and the shaking of the arms and legs all make the most likely form of attack to be big, 'gross motor skills' based movements.  This is why big slashes and big stabs are common forms of attack with knives.  I would like to reiterate that I'm referring to the most likely form of attack from the most likely form of attacker. There are exceptions to every rule.

I've seen reality training that spends lots of time getting a trainee all worked up prior to encountering a heavily padded attacker.  What I've not seen very often is the attacker taking the time to attack in a realistic fashion.  This is a big problem.  If the majority of training is designed to deal with unlikely or unrealistic attacks, what good is it?

In survival training, it's extremely important to understand what you will be going through during combat.  To properly prepare, it's just as important to understand the physiology and the psychology of your attacker.  Without this understanding, your training is limited, at best.

"If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.  If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat.  If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you sill succumb in every battle"
- Sun Tzu (The Art of War, Special Edition)

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A thought provoking post

I just finished reading a post over at Bujutsu: the Path.  It talks about the paradoxical nature of martial arts study.  J.C. discusses the point that often those who abhor the nature of violence the most are the ones who study it the closest.

I recommend you read the post.  It got me thinking about the deeper reasons that I've chosen to dedicate most of my adult life to the study of the martial arts.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Pressure Point Training

My style of Jiu Jitsu incorporates pressure point training. My Sensei has been studying the internal arts for several decades, and is skilled in acupressure, acupuncture and various forms or hands-on healing.  He has a scary knowledge of the body's pressure points.  We receive the benefit of pressure point training.

There are many naysayers out there. There are lots of videos touting one touch knock outs, paralyzing techniques and the like.  Some say the 'masters' are frauds, doing rehearsed demonstration with students who are just acting.   I used to be a one of these doubters. Now I have no doubt.

I am very much a "prove it" kind of guy. My Sensei has now nearly knocked me out from a pressure point strike, and had temporarily made my legs and my arms useless while doing technique. 

Key Points:

1.  Not everyone reacts the same way.  People with closed off channels and poor Qi are less susceptible to many techniques.  Don't assume a dramatic reaction from anyone.

2.  They can be dangerous.  One night a particularly nasty technique was done on my wrist, between the tendons.  I believe this is the heart channel, or maybe my lung.  If I have this wrong, forgive me, I've learned where the points are but have yet to learn what they're associated to according to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM).  

Anyway, the pressure sent a shock wave up my arm and my head went all wonky (no other way to describe it).  I recovered and continued on.  In the middle of the night I woke up sitting bolt upright.  I had spasms in my chest and temporarily could not catch my breath.  This was followed by deep coughing.  Within a minute or so it passed (and no, it wasn't a heart attack, I checked)

Now I can't scientifically prove that it was as a direct result of the pressure point manipulation (that particular one isn't supposed to be stimulated after 9 p.m, by the way), but I can't help but think that there's a connection.  Not sure I'd go so far as believing in the old "5 finger, 3 day later exploding heart technique", but there's definitely something to this pressure point stuff.  So proceed with caution and under a qualified practitioner.

3.  They should never be the main focus of the techniques.  I like to think of them as assisting techniques.  This is perhaps most important.  The technique you are executing must be able to work without the addition of pressure point manipulation.  In my training, if I grab a hand to manipulate the wrist, I now try to land on a pressure point when I grip.  If I'm striking the opponent, I try to land it on another point and so on.  Don't ever rely solely on a pressure point. If it doesn't work, you're wide open to an attack.

Adding pressure points into your training can be fun and challenging.  The nice part is eventually it becomes second nature and makes every technique that much better.  It also adds yet another layer to your study.  In my style of Jiu Jitsu, many techniques rely on distraction, re-direction and the application of pain.  Pressure points are a great way to do this.  As with most worthwhile pursuits, I believe it's transferable to a variety of techniques and styles.

Have any of you had any experience with pressure points?  Do you incorporate pressure point work in your training?  

Train safely and with an open mind.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Knife Survival Series - The teacher becomes the student...

Well, the weekend seminar was a success.  I believe that every new experience is a chance to learn, and this was no exception.

Overall, the concepts and techniques we presented were well received.  It was an interesting mix of students from a variety of clubs and different styles, from white belt to black.

My goal is to develop and ultimately deliver a system that can incorporate both instinctive responses to surprise attacks and effective measures for anticipated ones.

Some interesting observations:

1.  Most of the experienced martial artists were very receptive to the concepts, but some of them struggled a bit with the physical skills.  Not that the physical techniques were hard, actually they are quite the opposite.  The issue was with their programming.  Many of them had been doing knife defense technique for years, and under stress tended to revert to them.  This is one of the benefits of consistent training, but only if the techniques themselves are effective.

Many of the ingrained techniques that I observed were lacking.  Too many are taught without any consideration or what happens next.  Some end with a block.  Some deflect but don't consider the blade coming back towards them. And most end up too far from their attacker to realistically gain control of the blade (if disengaging is not a viable option).  Understanding the dynamics of a knife attack seems to be missing from most people's training.

2.  The newer students actually struggled less with the physical aspects and more with the concepts.  Clearly some of the material was new to them.

3.  Most people have not taken their knife defense training as seriously as they may think.  This was evidenced by the introduction of a live blade when we demonstrated some of the techniques (obviously live blades were not used by any of the attendees).  Even the most confident in the group took a moment or two to think about their previous training.

4.  A seminar works best when the floor is open to questions.  There were some really well thought out questions.  It really showed people were analyzing the material.  This type of training, in my opinion, needs this process.  When people understood and agreed with the concepts, it was far easier for them to do the physical techniques.

5.  Time flies by when you have an engaged crowd.  It was over before I knew it.

I've got a bit of work to do.  I'm very happy that most of the material can be picked up quite quickly by just about anyone.  I'm going to spend a bit more time working on the issue of how to seamlessly integrate the techniques and concepts into the arsenal of experienced artists who have pre-programmed responses to set attacks based on years of repetition in training.

I also need to spend as much time, if not more, on the concepts of knife survival, awareness, avoidance, legal considerations, adrenaline, gross vs. fine motor skills, the effects of stress, time, distance and cover, tactical considerations, environment etc.  If knife techniques exist in isolation, they are of very limited value.  A holistic approach is needed to truly prepare people to survive a knife attack.

To sum up, it was a great success.  It seems the teacher learned just as much as the students.  And that's just what I'd hoped. 

Be safe

Friday, February 11, 2011

From page to practice

I've spent a lot of time working on developing realistic, effective techniques and strategies for dealing with, and surviving, knife attacks.  I've started a series on this (see my previous few points if you're interested). 

Over the next few days, I'll be putting my ideas to the test.  Obviously, I've worked on doing the techniques myself over and over again, together with my Sensei and a couple of senior students.  

I know that my techniques will work, and I know that they're effective. Now I need to discover how easily they can be taught, well, actually, how easily they can be learned.  

I'm attending a knife seminar with my Sensei.  I'll be presenting my ideas and techniques to students from a variety of different schools and experience levels.  

Just as important as the techniques themselves, is the ability to learn and apply them.  If people from different walks of life can't pick up the material quickly and apply them under stress, then I haven't achieved what I hope to; a realistic approach to knife survival for the majority of people.  Of course, it'll also tell me something about my teaching style.  Can I make it all make sense?  

Wish me luck, I'll report back with the results.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Knife Survival Series - Part IV - Q&A, Goals and Background

Sue C at My Journey to Black Belt made a comment on my last post and asked an interesting question.  To paraphrase, she mentioned that her Jiu Jitsu Sensei had told her about how some knife fighters will try to cut your forehead, so the blood that runs down you face gets in your eyes.  She also inquired about the most common type of knife attack.

To the first comment, yes, this is one of the strategies that some knife fighters employ.  It can work but takes quite a bit of timing and skill.  Sue also speculated that most knife attackers are not professional knife fighters.  Sue is correct.

Expert knife fighters employ lots and lots of nasty stuff.  Their blades are only part of their attack strategies and knife retention is always on their minds. Many will distract, fillet, use multiple cuts to overwhelm you and lot of other techniques to win a battle.  

That's why I'd never knife fight with a knife fighter.  Simple as that.  I'd run away, search for an improvised weapon of another type of barrier to create time and space.  Knife fighters do the bulk of their training engaged in combat with another opponent, usually face to face.  While still deadly, most knife fighters are not practiced in chasing after an opponent.  This forces a level of commitment to the attack, which may offer an opportunity to respond, survive, and get away.  

Bottom line, it is unlikely that you will get attacked with a knife by an expert knife fighter.  The same is true that it is unlikely you will be attacked by any master of a martial discipline.    

This series is not aimed at training people to deal with expert knife fighters, nor is it aimed at assisting expert knife fighters.  Some of the material can definitely be used by either, but that is not the focus.

What's the most common type of knife attack?  Opinions vary greatly.      

The material, theories, strategies and conclusions in this series, and this blog, are my opinions.  Any reader is free to disagree or question any of the material found here.  On a topic as important as knife survival, my hope is that everyone evaluates and examines whatever training they do to make sure it would realistically work for them.  If this series accomplishes nothing more than that, I'll be very happy.  

I have, and will, make some strong statements.  To understand how I've come to arrive at my conclusions, and where my opinions and strategies come from, I'll share the following:

I've been lucky enough to have cross-trained with a true master of Kali, and with several other high level knife fighters.  I've learned a great deal from them, and some of my content on knife survival has definitely been influenced by this training.

While this has proved invaluable, the bulk of my material is as a result of real world application or observation, mostly from my work experience.  I am also part of a larger group which analyses any use of force by law enforcement agencies.  I am privy to the nature of violence towards police and the public and measure and evaluate the effectiveness of the response to it.  As such, I am involved in the ongoing process of developing training methods and methodologies to respond to the realities of policing in major urban centers. The remainder of my opinions stem from ongoing research - from books, blogs, training, experimentation, interviews and seminars.

Realistic knife survival training must accurately reflect and respond to not only the most likely form of attack, but the most likely kind of attacker (more on this part in a later piece).  This series is aimed at the majority of martial artists, or anyone that wants realistic, effective strategies to survive real world knife attacks.

So, to respond to Sue's question, I will break down the most likely, or common, forms of knife attacks into 4 broad categories:

1.  Big slashing movements -  More common when the attacker is unsure of what effect it will have on his/her intended victim.  Up, down, or diagonal, stomach, chest, or face.

2.  Big stabbing movements - Also common with those less sure of effect. Usually straight in to your torso as a power move or a downwards stab towards your head or neck.

3.  Rapid short stabbing movement - This type of attack is characterized by multiple in-close stabbing motions.  I also refer to this as similar in style to the 'shanking' you seen in prison movies.

4.  Static knife holds - This is when the attacker holds the knife against some part of your body or close to it.  Normally accompanied by some sort of threat of demand.  (Think, give me your wallet...)

Future installments will delve into each category.  Topics covered will be why they are the most common, the traits associated to the attacker and the attacks, the mental aspect and strategies and techniques for dealing with each type.

Train with a critical eye.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Knife Survival Series - Part III

In my last post in this series, I listed some realities, or truths, about edged weapons attacks and how to survive them.  The first truth I listed was:

You are going to get cut

That's a pretty bold statement.  In actuality, it is possible that you won't get cut. It's highly unlikely that you won't get cut, but it is possible.

So why do I boldly say it's a truth?  There are some important reasons.

1.  Mental preparedness.  You must be prepared to be cut.  You must enter into your training with a clear understanding that you will likely see blood, probably your own, and maybe lots of it.  Seeing your own blood or seeing an injury can be very unsettling.  It can cause some people to panic or freeze up. If you are not prepared to deal with the mental and emotional impact of this stimuli, you may not be able effectively fight through it.

2.  You need to tailor your training to the most likely set of circumstances.  The vast majority of people who are attacked with a knife get cut.  Therefore, training should take this into account.  Simply put, you may as well train for the most likely scenario.  Accepting the probability is far better than assuming you'll avoid any injury.

3.  Physical considerations.  Blood makes things slippery.  You may have a hard time controlling your attackers limbs or the knife.  Conversely, your attacker may have trouble holding on to the knife.  The handles of many combat/fighting knives are constructed in such a way as to prevent the hand from sliding off when wet.  Also, as gruesome as it is, you may be able to use your blood offensively.  Say your arm gets cut and is bleeding, you might be able to wipe it into the eyes of your attacker, temporarily blinding them. Not a nice thought, but this is survival we're talking about.

4.  Knives are so easily concealed that it's quite possible you've already been cut by the time you realize a weapon is involved.  We all train to be aware of our surroundings, but things happen in the real world. It may be dark, you may be in a crowd or there could be multiple attackers.

These are a few of the reasons you should accept this as a reality/truth.  This is not defeatist thinking by any stretch, it is a method of approaching your training in the most realistic way possible.

Train safely.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Knife Survival Series - Part II

In today's post, I'd like to cover some realities, or truths, about knife fighting, knife attacks and knife survival.  While I am numbering the posts in this series, I cannot guarantee that all of them will follow a logical progression.  I will endeavor to do so, but from time to time a new topic will pop up that I may jump into while it's fresh in my mind.

In my first post, I said:

"I no longer refer to techniques as being knife defenses.  You don't strive and train to defend against a knife attack, you train to survive a knife attack.  This distinction is very important, and one I'll discuss in greater depth in future posts in this series."

Reality/Truth #1: You are going to get cut.

Accept this reality.  Prepare yourself mentally for this.  It's upsetting and unsettling to see your own blood.  Blood is slippery.  Incorporate this knowledge into your training.  The only way to avoid being cut is to run away, which leads to...

Reality/Truth #2: The best strategy is to run away.

This is always the best survival strategy.  It's time to put away illusions of masterfully avoiding multiple strikes, slashes and stabs while deftly removing your attackers' blade and causing no injury.  Save it for the movies.  A knife is just as deadly as a gun, minus the range.  Not many people would argue that running away from a gun wielding attacker is a bad strategy.  A knife is no different.

Reality/Truth #3: You may not see the knife.  You may not know you've been cut or stabbed.

Many people don't realize they've been cut until well after the fact.  It is quite common for a stabbing victim, or survivor, to think they've been punched or slapped instead of cut or stabbed.  For this reason, it is important to identify the types of behaviors a knife wielding attacker displays before, during, (and sometimes after) an attack.  Most knife attackers have idiosyncrasies that, once identified or understood, can assist in developing an effective survival strategy.  This will be examined more in-depth in the future.  Too many knife fighting courses and seminars operate on the assumption that you know your attacker has a knife prior to the attack being initiated.

If you cannot run away (truth #2), the best course of action to survive a knife attack is:

Get control of the knife, cause serious injury to your attacker, and then run away.

There are important physical skills to be learned, but even more important is preparing yourself mentally.  You must enter into the process of learning how to survive a knife attack with a proper mindset.

Future posts in this series will discuss each of the realities/truths in far more detail.  Some other topics that will be explored are:

- The psychology of combat and the attacker vs. prey mentality
- Shifting the balance of power, mental unbalancing
- Visualization techniques
- Training strategies
- Physical skills
- Awareness
- Fight vs. flight, adrenaline, gross and fine motor skills considerations
- Fighting while injured
- Types of knives
- Weapon based systems
- Common knowledge and misconceptions about knife attacks.

This is by no means a complete list of topics to be discussed.

Some of my opinions and strategies will conflict with widely accepted theories on knife fighting or knife techniques.  On my journey, I have discovered that I disagree with some of material that is widely and commercially available, and I disagree with some of the experts in the field.  Some of the information is fantastic, and some may get you killed.

I welcome discussion and questions on the topic of knife survival.  I'd also be happy to consider  suggestions on topics to be explored and discussed.

Be safe