Friday, April 29, 2011

Knife Survival Series - Part VIII - Drugs and Knife Attacks

A while back J.C. over at Bujutsu: The Path asked me to touch on how to respond to substance altered attackers.  People that are high on drugs present a variety of challenges.

1.  They are less likely to respond to reason
2.  They are more likely to act erratically
3.  They are less likely to experience or react to pain
4.  They are more likely to have increased strength

I've written on the topic of pain compliance in the past.  They have a time and a place, but during a knife attack is not one of them.  You cannot and will not have enough time to determine if a person is high on drugs in formulating your response.

The key point to take away is that any survival technique you use must work on everyone, regardless of what substances they've ingested.

Now, drugs are interesting things.  They can make people do incredible things.  I can say from experience that one individual, jacked up on drugs, jumped from a balcony and ran from the police for almost half a mile before he was caught.  Why is this significant?  He had broken his leg when he jumped. Adrenaline and substance abuse had carried him.

I also once had to subdue a guy on crystal meth.  I wasn't alone, but no one could do anything with him. Distraction strikes did nothing, and he was stronger in his drug fueled state than the 3 guys trying to get him into handcuffs.  Ultimately, I was able to apply a shoulder lock, putting him face down into a couch.  This immobilized him, but he didn't feel any pain.  I found a way to immobilize him.  He had no leverage or room to resist, so he was stuck.  We could have hit him all day and I doubt it would have done anything.  I had taken him, or a part of him, out of the equation.

This same concept applies to knife survival techniques.  You have to take the individual, or the delivery system of the attack (hand, arm, shoulder etc) out of the equation.

If you are attacked with a knife, unless you can generate immediate distance and cover, you must prioritize getting control of the knife and the knife wielding limb.  With the potentially fatal nature of knife attacks, and the relatively high chance of your attacker being on some form of drug, you need to destroy whatever you get a hold of.  You need to break the arm, wrist, hand or shoulder of your attacker.  And you need to mangle it.  It sounds gruesome, but you must separate whatever part you break from whatever part it's attached to. You must make it unusable to your attacker.  This is crucial as they may not respond to the pain of the injury.  If the drugs make them immune to pain, then the part that they are using to attack must be taken out of commission. Taking the example of our broken legged friend, he could still run, but that's because his leg was still essentially held together.  Had it been broken more fully and completely severed, he would not physically be able to continue.

In the case of a knife wielding attacker, if he (or she) doesn't feel their arm break, for instance, then when they go to use it again for another attack, it must not work for this purpose.  Not to put too fine a point on it, but if their forearm is hanging down and the hand is backwards, they won't be able to hold or use the knife.

You cannot rely on anything other than the simplest, most destructive techniques to survive a knife attack.  You have no way to know what your attacker is capable of or what substances they have taken.  There are no less serious knife attacks.  Each and every one can be fatal.  Knowing this, every technique you study or learn must be effective, simple and inflict the maximum damage to you attacker.  They're nasty, but it's a matter of life or death.

Stay safe.

Monday, April 25, 2011

When does it stop being self defense? - 5th and Washington Street Fight

It's fairly rare that I comment on law enforcement related issues, and perhaps I should more often.  One question that I get asked quite a bit is how much force you can use to defend yourself.  Where is the line between self defense and assault?

The simplest answer I can give that basically applies to most laws in North America, and I assume overseas as well, is that you can use as much force as is necessary to stop the threat.  When the threat is over, or you are out of danger, or you can get out of danger, you must stop.  It's really that simple.

Take the following video that's been circulating the Internet:

Wim Demeere has an interesting break down of the video.  Here's the link.

I won't go into it too deeply, but the, I'll call him the winner, clearly steps over the line from self defense to down right assault.  There is no excuse for the kick that you see near the end.  That was purely to punish the initial aggressor for getting in his face.  The guy was down, he wasn't even trying to get up.  He was essentially helpless and the other guy kicked him in the side, probably breaking a bunch of ribs.

The threat was over when the guy went down.  The first punch put him down. I might even be convinced that the second punch when the guy was on the ground might have been justified.  After all, who knows what the initial aggressor was capable of.  He might have popped back up and the fight could have been on.  So I won't discuss the first hit when the guy was down.

I take issue with the kick.  There is no way that anyone could say there was still a threat.  I have a big problem with anyone who kicks someone when they're down.

You have a right to defend yourself, but when the threat is over and you don't walk away, it's you that's breaking the law.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Hiding in plain sight.

In one of my last posts, I mentioned that there really aren't any new techniques, yet to be discovered.

While I believe this to be true, the other night, I was reminded of just how few techniques from this existing body of knowledge that I've discovered, or more accurately, how limited my knowledge of them remains.

I've done kote gaeshi (wrist throw) thousands of times, but the other night I was shown a way to make them more effective, painful and easier.  And it was so simple.

A few nights before that I was shown a counter to a tai otoshi (body drop), that was so simple I could not believe I hadn't discovered it on my own.

These are two of my 'go to' moves that I've worked on for years, and am fairly good at them, so this took me off guard.  After my Sensei demonstrated the techniques, I felt dumb that I hadn't figured out these methods on my own.

My Sensei said it was time to refine my techniques and that this was the start of beginning to master them.  It was another humbling moment, when I realized how, even after so many years in the arts, I still have a lot to learn. It's what I love (and sometimes find daunting) about Jiu Jitsu and the martial arts.

I wonder what other martial secrets are hiding out there, right in front of my eyes...

Happy Easter to everyone who celebrates it.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Interesting blog

I've been reading some posts over at Low Tech Combat.  I enjoy the way the blog examines issues with an open mind.  I recommend you stop by.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Top 5 Martial Arts Movies

For fun, I've put together a top 5 list of martial arts movies.  I should warn you, they are not all necessarily great films, by critics standards, but for one reason or another they are significant to me. 

So, without further ado, starting at #5, here are Journeyman's top 5 martial arts movies:

#5.  Redbelt (2008) 

This movie was a surprise to me.  It combined two things that don't always go together, decent martial arts and decent acting. The story is moving, pretty well acted and the martial arts (mainly Brazilian Jiu Jitsu), is pretty solid.  The thing I liked most about it is the struggle of a man trying to live the life of a warrior, fighting to lead an honourable existence in the face of an unscrupulous world.  

#4  The Hunted (2003)  

What a great action film.  There's no real surprises with the plot, but it's a great ride.  Top notch actors in the film.  It's all about tracking a wanted man through the wilderness and the urban jungle as well.  What makes this a standout in my list is the knife fighting scenes.  They are brutal, fast and pretty realistic.  I have not seen another Hollywood film that has done this good a job with knife work.  Gritty and good.  Clearly the actors spent a long time training with someone who knows their stuff. To any fans of knife work out there, don't miss this one.  Knife work aside, it's a pretty good movie too.  Tough not to like this one if you like action.

#3.  Roadhouse (1989)  

Roadhouse hits my list as an influential film.  The martial arts action isn't on par with some of the other entries, but the film has it's good points. I imagine many a young man contemplated a career as a bouncer after this film.  It's got some 80's cheese and some big hair but it's a gem.  Many words of wisdom in the film.  They come across as silly, but there's some deeper meaning and some good advice to all the warriors out there.  The Tao of Swayze...

The good guys are good, the bad guys are really bad, the soundtrack is great. It'll always hold a spot in my heart.  Ah, the Double Deuce, good memories.

#2.  Bloodsport (1988)  

Another gem from the 80's.  This film put Van Damme on the map.  To my knowledge, it is also one of the first films to showcase a bunch of different marital arts.  Training montages, funny supporting cast, big hair, and based on a true story.  No doubt, this is one of the more influential films from this era. It paved the way for a whole bunch of martial arts movies and put them on the big screen. A must see for any martial artist, if only to say you saw it.  I still find myself watching it if it comes on t.v.

#1.  Above the Law (1988)

A relatively unknown Steven Seagal burst on to the screen in 1988, bringing with him the relatively unknown martial art of Aikido.  I've made it no secret that I think Seagal is the real deal in Aikido, but that's not the point.  In my opinion, this movie showed the most realistic portrayal of actual effective Aikido techniques, and they were done in real time.  No sped up action shots in this film!  This film has a major impact on my martial arts journey. Decades ago, this film was partially responsible for leading me to my first Sensei (who's also my Sensei today). What I loved about the film is that I remember actually being taught the same techniques from the film in my Jiu Jitsu dojo.  And as far as Aikido goes, Seagal used a fair amount of atemi (striking techniques) in the movie, an often overlooked area of study in some Aikido schools.  To this day, Above the Law boasts some of the best martial arts techniques seen in any movie.  The moves were real, and they'd work in real life.

As a bonus, there's lots of footage of Seagal doing Aikido in Japan.  A must see movie for any martial artist.  And yes, there's some 80's flair, but that's just part of it's charm.   Watch it.

There you have it.  Comments are welcome as well as any recommendations on other great (or influential) martial arts films.  


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants - Respect in the Martial Arts

I keep coming across websites and martial artists that have created their own unique new martial art.  It seems that they are popping up everywhere. So and so has created the ultimate martial art, the unstoppable martial art, the unbeatable one etc. Some even have names that I've never heard of. Some are so secret that you have to sign up for a year just to find out what it is.

The language that we use is important, If I open my own martial arts school, I haven't made a new martial art.  I haven't 'created' it.  What I've done is use existing techniques from existing martial arts systems and formed a teaching methodology.  The manner in which those techniques are taught and applied is what I've brought to the table.  That's the part that's new, that's mine.  In this way, I've created my own style, or mode of martial arts.  Well, sort of.

Style is defined as:

"1. The way in which something is said, done, expressed, or performed: a style of speech and writing. 
  2. The combination of distinctive features of literary or artistic expression, execution, or performance  characterizing a particular person, group, school, or era."

Mode is defined as:

"manner of acting or doing; method; way:"

Why am I making this distinction?

It bothers me that people out there tout themselves as the creators of a new martial art.  I find it disrespectful to their teachers and the system they were taught and practiced.  There are no new 'discoveries' to be made, no previously undiscovered techniques. The human body can only move so many ways, there are only so many strikes, kicks, locks etc.

There is a saying dating back to the 12th century and a variation of it used by Isaac Newton.  The gist is that if you can see or reach higher or further, it is because you are standing on the shoulders of giants.  Not an exact quote, but I hope you get the meaning.

The giants are those that came before us, our teachers, training partners and the founders and teachers of martial arts systems dating back many generations.  It is on their shoulders that we all stand.

I'm not suggesting you market yourself as a master or teacher of another person's martial art, or style, but I am saying to give credit where credit is due. Assuming you are in good standing with your previous teachers, I would suggest you at least make it very clear that your teachings are based on, or influenced by, another school or system.  Then you can call your style whatever you want.

I guess it all boils down to respect and honouring those that have been kind enough to pass down the gift of martial arts knowledge to you.

Food for thought, I hope.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Stress Response Training and the Flinch

John Coles from Kojutsukan blog made a comment on my post on Part VII of my knife survival series discussing the flinch response.

He said,

"A lot of these concepts are used these days to lend credibility to a way of doing things or to develop a way of doing things."

I felt this comment was worthy of a bit more discussion on my part.  I have to agree with the comment that these concepts are used to lend credibility to a way of doing things.

For the most part, I think this is born of ignorance or inexperience, not out of malice.  (John didn't suggest it was malicious, by the way).

The problem is that some of the concepts or techniques are being taught because they make sense to the person who is teaching them.  It seems logical and rational to them, so it must be true.  In reality, it's more of a 'best guess' approach from people who have rarely been in any form or combat or violent encounters.

Even for those who have actually experienced real violence once or twice, it is often a result of the natural mental process of having to make a volatile, confusing situation and/or reaction make sense.

After periods of high stress and traumatic circumstances, it is a natural part of the healing process (mentally) to break down a volatile, unpredictable, confusing situation into manageable, somewhat orderly 'chunks'.  The situation will replay over and over again and the mind needs to find solutions to the parts that did not go well, or could have gone better.  That way, eventually fear and emotion can fade away, often with the help of similar situation scenario training.

The potential shortcoming with any such training is that in extreme situations, it is often impossible to recall exactly what happened, and in what order.  The brain, as a defensive mechanism, fills in the blanks.  This has the potential for people to draw inaccurate conclusions about what they did, what they should have done, or what would have worked better.  It is here that (often well meaning) teachers authoritatively teach students about how they will respond when taken by surprise.  They teach a comprehensive course of study on potentially flawed data.  The students, many of who have not experienced true violence, can't weigh the material against real world experience, so they believe it to be accurate.  After all, it makes sense rationally.

To illustrate the mental gaps that occur under extreme stress, you just have to look at the example of police involved shootings.  Over and over again, it has been shown that the officer discharging their firearm rarely remembers how many rounds they fired.  You would think this would be an easy enough thing to do, but it's not.  And shooting a gun is a practiced skill that's drilled over and over again throughout an entire career.  If this can occur for something like this, how can you accurately judge how you reacted or would react to a surprise attack?  There are other factors such as time distortion, auditory exclusion, or selective hearing, tunnel vision, feelings of detachment and time slowing down, or speeding up.  I've barely scratched the surface on these issues but plan on writing about them in the future.

Some systems out there are researched fairly well, but as with everything, buyer beware.  To truly paint a picture of what goes on when attacked, you need to find someone who has experienced it, has viewed footage, has read studies and most importantly, in my opinion, has had the opportunity to speak to people who have experienced it (if they trust you enough to give a honest recount of upsetting events).

There's no easy way to collect enough data to make concrete conclusions.  In addition to my personal experiences, I'm lucky in the sense that I'm privy to a variety of sources or research, and a lot of people.  Another point to take away is that while there are things that are common to us all, there are also differences.  People react differently to a variety of stimuli.  This makes it important for any form of training to be fluid and flexible.

Many of the systems out there teaching flinch response training are pretty good.  Just make sure you have a critical eye when any definitive statements are made about how you are guaranteed to react in any situation.

I think I've rambled enough for now.  I encourage everyone to research the flinch response and stress response.  It's fascinating and applicable to serious martial arts training.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Threat Recognition

In Part VII of my knife survival series, I discussed the flinch response and some common misconceptions about how people react when surprised.

This post will discuss the different levels of threat recognition.  It's important to understand the various levels in order to develop realistic training.

Level #1

The true flinch response.  I explored this in more depth in Part VII.  This is your reaction to a surprise attack.  This response happens faster than your cognitive brain can process.  Not to be indelicate, but it is the equivalent to a man's ability to protect his groin from an errant baseball, soccer ball or kick.  It happens so fast that it seems that you covered up before your realized the danger.  I'm sure there is a female equivalent, but from a guy's perspective, I speak from experience.  This type of reaction also occurs for other areas of the body, and this type of rapid instinctual response is what I discussed in the last knife survival post (see link at top of post).

Level #2

The level is more in line with a lot of the current flinch response training that is out there in various reality based programs.  This level of recognition involves you knowing that a danger is present but you're not sure exactly where it's coming from, or from who.  There is fair amount of good solid training out there on this level, but often it's mislabeled as flinch response and that's not entirely accurate. At this level, you've already sensed or are aware that there is danger, you just haven't fully processed the source of it.  Often this involves certain covering up techniques that maximize your chances of avoiding injury, sort of hedging your bets, if you will.

Level #3

This is the level that we typically spend most time working on in the martial arts.  In layman's terms, you know you are in a fight.  Sure, you may not know if it'll be a punch, kick, grab or throw, but you are aware that another person means you harm.  You are also aware of who, what, and where the threat is. Prolonged study increases your chance of successfully dealing with these attacks.

It's important to understand all the levels of threat recognition and how to incorporate them into training.  This is also why it's so important to always respond to what is presented to you, what is available, when  you are attacked.  This way, you can seamlessly shift to another technique if your original response doesn't work out the way you planned.  This way, you never freeze up when something doesn't go the way you pictured it in your head. One of my training mantras is to  "Do something, anything!"

It would be far easier to always know when you are in a fight.  That way you could judge the most appropriate response.  If every attacker let you know they were going to attack, learning self defense would be a lot easier.  The reality is that most attackers will try to use some form of surprise in their attack.  For this reason, it's important to learn how you will most likely react to a surprise attack, whether you are taken completely off guard or if you have some level of precognition.

Understanding the different levels of threat recognition will make you a more complete martial artist.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Samurai lessons

I did a post a while back entitled Modern day Samurai.  I touched upon interpreting Bushido, or the Samurai code, to fit the realities of modern day life.

I am a firm believer that there are many lessons to be learned from the Samurai, their code, and their way of life.

J.C. has an excellent example of this over at Bujutsu: The Path.  He quotes some Samurai writings and interprets it through his lens.

Definitely worth reading.  Enjoy.