Thursday, January 31, 2008

Two Little Gun Disarming Tricks

By Matthew Schafer
Copyright 2008, All Rights Reserved

There was a huge response to my article entitled "Can You Really Disarm Someone Who Has A Gun" so I thought that I would write another article on the same subject to expand on some information that I went over. People have emailed me a lot of questions and they seem to be about both clearing the weapon and actual disarming techniques. In this article I will deal with clearing the weapon and in another I'll talk about a few actual techniques.

Just in case someone is reading this and doesn't know what we're talking about, "clearing the weapon" means getting the gun that is pointing at you to no longer point at you, and it is the first step in any disarming technique. You have to first get the gun pointing at something other than you and then take control of both the gun and the attacker. There are three general ways of clearing the weapon: 1) Grab or touch the gun, or the hand that holds the gun, and push it to the side so that if it goes off it will not shoot you, 2.) Stepping out of the way, off the line of fire, so that if the gun goes off it will not shoot you, or 3.) Grab or touch the gun, or the hand that holds the gun, and push it one way and then step the other. Most people prefer both touching the weapon and moving it while moving your body at the same time because it allows you more lateral distance from the muzzle of the weapon and therefore the line of fire.

For most people clearing the weapon is the hardest part because they are scared that they won't be fast enough to clear the weapon without getting shot. However, as we talked about in the last article, when someone is actually assaulting you with a gun they are not going to think about you disarming them, they are going to be thinking about accomplishing their goal (getting your money or moving you to someplace else) and in almost every case they will leave themselves wide open to being disarmed. A criminal will use the gun to intimidate you and will take no action to protect his weapon, which makes it an easy target.

When talking about clearing a firearm I like to give this illustration: let's say that you had both a pencil in your hand and you had a partner standing 4-5 feet away. You want to keep your pencil but your partner wants to take it away from you. What makes more sense, holding the pencil with both your hands, tucking it into your body, and using your body to block your partner from getting it, or putting the pencil in only one hand (which is how most criminals hold their guns) and sticking it in their face? If you're holding the pencil out towards your partner then you're actually making it very easy for him to just reach out and take it. With a gun it is the same thing, if the criminal makes no effort to protect his weapon and holds it out towards you he is actually making it very easy for you to just reach out and grab it.

Clearing the weapon during an actual assault is generally not that hard because 1.) The attacker doesn't want to shoot you, at least not right now (if he did then he already would have), 2.) He is usually close to you, 3.) He is not paying attention to the weapon, 4.) He is not protecting it, 5.) He is not expecting you to do anything but submit to him and be afraid, 6.) When you don't act the way he wants it will confuse him and generally cause him to hesitate, 7.) When you suddenly become violent it generally causes the victim of such violence to freeze for a moment, and 8.) He doesn't know what you are going to do or when you are going to do it.

Also studies have shown that it takes the average person at least a quarter of a second to recognize that a threat exists before they can even come up with a course of action to counter the threat. So taking that into account, if someone points a gun at you and you move to clear the weapon you have a quarter of a second to use before he even processes the fact that something has happened, then his brain has to tell his body to pull the trigger, and then it has to do it. In my experience during my own training sessions, during a pretend assault where the attacker knows what the "defender" will do, it usually takes at least 1.5 seconds from the time the "defender" begins clearing the weapon until the attacker actually fires. One and a half seconds is not long at all but it usually takes less then a second to get off the line of fire.

What's more is that since your attacker isn't expecting you to do anything but submit he will be caught off guard when you instead do the opposite. This generally causes him to hesitate and buys you time to continue your attack. In addition is the fact that action is always faster than reaction so when you act to take control of the gun your attacker has to recognize that you are attacking, devise a counter, then counter. The attacker will be playing catch-up.

Hopefully you can see that it is possible to at very least clear the weapon that is pointed at you, so now I'll tell you about a little "trick".

The FBI has some very intelligent people working in it and those people take the studying of criminal behavior very seriously. They are constantly studying and analyzing crimes as well as interviewing criminals to try to understand what makes criminals commit their crimes, exactly how they commit them, and what is going through their minds while they commit them. In the early 90's they were studying shootings and they made an interesting discovery: in case after case, after case, after case, when a criminal pointed a gun at someone they didn't talk and shoot at the same time. In fact, they discovered that there is a weird "left brain-right brain" thing going on which results in that in nearly every single case, when a criminal is talking they aren't pulling the trigger.

What does this mean to you? It means that if an attacker pulls a gun on you and he says something to you (like "Give me your money", "don't move", "don't scream", or "don't be a hero") you should disarm him right then while he is talking.

Try this, get a gun with a moveable trigger, but please don't use a real gun-use a toy gun, and point it at a partner from a distance just beyond arm's length. Then when you're both ready I want you to say, "Give me your money" and then try to shoot your partner as they try to clear the weapon. Do it a few times and as soon as you see your partner move I want you to pull the trigger and notice what it is pointing at when it goes off.

If you're like most people you will realize is very hard to pull the trigger and shoot them while you are talking. You even know what they are going to do but there is some kind of weird delay. Now, do the drill again but this time stand about 15 feet away from your partner and when you are both ready walk up to your partner, point the gun at him from about arms length away, and then say, "give me your money" as they try to clear the weapon and you try to shoot him. You'll see that it is even harder.

While doing this it is not uncommon to have your partner actually take your gun away from you before you get around to pulling the trigger.

With some practice you can get better at it and overcome the delay you experience in pulling the trigger while talking but it does take practice and the criminals out there don't do that practice. So, when is the best time to disarm your attacker? The answer is right away, but the second best time is as soon as they say something. If your attacker opens his mouth and says something you should be attacking him because at that point there will be a delay in his response time.

This is also very useful when your attacker is standing behind you. Most people say that if the gunman is behind you, you shouldn't do anything until and unless the muzzle of the gun touches you so that you know where the gun is. This is pretty good advice because you don't want to turn around to disarm him only to find out that he is actually a distance away. However, here we have a little wiggle room.

Let's say that someone comes up behind you and points a gun at you. The gun isn't touching you so you can't tell where it is or how far he is away from you by feel, so you look around to find any shadows or reflections that can give away your attacker's position. You find none. You turn your head slightly to the side to use your peripheral vision to locate him but he tells you to look straight ahead. You don't know where the gun is or how far he is away from you, however, he is talking and we know that very seldom can people talk and pull the trigger at the same time. So you turn your feet inward to "pigeon toe" yourself to make it easier to rotate backwards and then as soon as he begins to say something you quickly rotate and penetrate towards him in one step and with your second you quickly locate the attacker and the weapon and get off the line of fire, and then with a very large third step you close distance and complete your technique.

That might not always be wise, after all if I don't know where the attacker is I also probably don't know if he is alone or has friends, but it does give you another possibility.

Here is another little trick I can share with you, one which we call "allowed movement". Very simply what this means is that since your attacker wants something from you, your money or to move you to another location (which might be only a foot away), when he tells you what he wants he immediately after creates an instance where he is allowing you to move and will not shoot you when you do so. So if I have a criminal holding me at gunpoint and I'm standing there with my hands up and he tells me to give him my wallet I now have two great opportunities to disarm him. The first opportunity comes while he is talking and we've already gone over it; the second opportunity if right after he gets done talking. He has just told me to do something and therefore when I move he is allowing me to do so in the expectation that I am complying. So right after he says, "give me your wallet" I just use that opportunity of "allowed movement" to take the weapon instead of reaching for my wallet.

This is actually very simple but there is a little trick to it. Evolution has wired us to notice fast jerky motions because we needed to notice them in order to hunt prey. We might have been standing in a forest with the leaves all blowing gently in the wind and birds flying around, but amid all that movement we had to notice when that rabbit that we had been hunting quickly darts out of it hiding place and runs away. Evolution made our brain pick up on fast jerky movements. People are amazed to discover that when fighting if they make fast jerky motions their opponent will pick them up right away, but if they make graceful and smooth motions, that aren't jerky, their opponent will have a much harder time picking them up.

The same applies here. If our attacker lets us move and we immediately make a fast, jerky play for the gun then that lessens our chances of pulling it off because he will notice it faster and perceive it as a threat. But, if instead of going hurried and fast we go calmly and smoothly then our mannerisms will hide our intent. This is one reason why dealing with intoxicated people is so dangerous, they are so relaxed that almost all their movements are smooth and fluid and it is very hard to see their attacks. There have been thousands of police officers who have been easily disarmed by intoxicated individuals and never saw it coming because their fluidity hid their movement.

No matter what you are doing, moving calmly and smoothly will not only have the benefit of being easier on your body, but it will also make your attacks much harder to notice. In shooting they have a saying, "smooth is fast" and the same applies here.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Less Than Lethal Techniques

By Matthew Schafer

Copyright 2008, All Rights Reserved

After a long day of work you stop by the store to pick up some groceries before heading home. You're tired and are looking forewords to relaxing with you feet up for a little while and going to the store is just about the last thing that you want to do. However, you do need some groceries so you stop and pick up the necessary items. As you leave the store and walk to your car with your hands full of bags you're rather taken back when you hear someone shout at you. You pause almost in disbelief and turn around and you see a young man rushing over towards you, and he doesn't look happy.

As this young man covers the distance between the two of you he starts pointing at you and shouting obscenities...something about you disrespecting him. You're totally clueless and you open your mouth to ask him what the problem is but instead you are violently grabbed by the collar and pushed up against a parked car. The young man continues to shout obscenities as he shakes you by the collar and chokes you by pressing his forearm into your throat. You're scared beyond belief and you can't breathe. You start to get tunnel vision and withdraw into yourself as you instinctively begin to fight for your life by pushing and clawing at his face. Then luck intervenes, one of your fingers finds its way into his eye and it scratches him severely enough to draw blood.

He shouts as he let's go and grabs his injured eye with both hands. Reacting on pure instinct you push him away from you and run to your car. You fumble with the keys a little but you manage to get in and drive away. Your hearts pounding as you clumsily dial 911 on your cell phone and tell the dispatcher what happened.

An hour has passed, and you're now sitting in the police station being questioned about the incident. Your hands are still shaking as you slowly drink the can of soda the detective gave you; you don't really want the soda but you’re happy to have an activity, even such a small one, to take your mind off of what happened. Then, just as you thought things couldn't get worse for you, you find out why a detective is talking to you instead of regular officer...the man that assaulted you is dead...and you killed him.

How did this happen? How did you manage to kill this man who effortlessly dominated you? It seems that when you pushed him away from you in the parking lot, he fell and hit his head on the pavement. This small action resulted in such trauma to this head that it took his life. But still you did this happen?

Every style of martial arts, self defense, or defensive tactics that I'm aware of teaches "less than lethal" techniques. "Less than lethal" techniques are simply a classification of physical techniques that are designed to either not cause injury, such as restraining techniques, or not cause death. These techniques include wrist locks, arm locks, pinning techniques, and strikes to areas of the body that do not generally result in death to a healthy individual.

The truth is that "less than lethal" techniques are nothing but a fallacy. You never know what a technique will actually do to someone or how they will respond to trauma. Some techniques can lessen the chances of serious injury or death but no technique can guarantee it.

A common "less than lethal" technique that is taught to most police officers, members of the military, as well as security personal is a strike to the solar plexus. The solar plexus is an area in the center of the body just below the sternum. Resting in this area is a large bundle of nerves that affect the diaphragm and if you strike this area it can cause the diaphragm to spasm resulting in the person having trouble breathing (getting the "wind knocked out of him") and leaving him with little fight left in him. This effect can last for seconds or minutes which makes a blow to the solar plexus a very useful technique.

The problem with this being "less than lethal" is that behind those nerves is the abdominal aorta (the largest artery in the body) as well as various other nerves such as the right vegas nerve. If the blow is powerful enough the force can affect the aorta enough to cause a sudden drop in blood pressure. This sudden drop in blood pressure can result in the person passing out or even killing him.

Even if the blow isn't hard enough to affect the aorta the person could have a genetic heart condition and the blow could be just hard enough to cause a heart attack.

Even a simple wrist lock or arm bar could end up being fatal. How? Maybe you apply the wrist lock to control the person but you apply it a little too hard, too fast, you use a wrong angle, or maybe he has horrible balance (most people do, especially if they've been drinking) and when you torque the wrist his feet come out from under him and he goes head first into the ground. Hitting your head of the ground could very easily result in unconsciousness, coma, brain damage, or death.

Perhaps you apply the wrist lock or arm bar perfectly but as you take the person to the ground it just so happens that there is a rock there you didn't see and you end up doing everything right, but still he dies from bouncing his head off of the rock. You did nothing wrong, but some things just happen.

Striking your head on the ground is extremely easy to do and transfers all or the majority of your body weight right into your head. Even if your head doesn’t hit the ground you could land in a manner that causes you to break your neck. Even a simple push, as described above, can result in serious injury or even death.

So it would be great if there really were techniques that were guaranteed to be "less than lethal" but the truth is that you just never know what happens when you put your hands on someone. Therefore, any time to put your hands on someone you need to be aware that even if you do everything perfectly someone could end up seriously injured or dead.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Can You Really Disarm Someone Who Has A Gun?

By Matthew Schafer

Copyright 2008, All Rights Reserved

When people find out that you study the martial arts or self defense usually what follows is some friendly, and sometimes not so friendly, heckling. Sometimes people are actually curious about your new endeavor but they are too self conscious to talk or question you about it openly so they resort to mocking you, and other times people just don't have any patience or it...or you.

With the discovery of your new hobby comes lots of questions. Can you kick someone in the head? Did ninjas really exist? Could you beat up Steven Seagal? Is it true that a black belt has to register their hands as deadly weapons? Is it true that Chuck Norris never ate meat? Do you wear underwear under those pajamas? What would you do if I punched you in the face? Could you beat up Bruce Lee?(sure, dig him up) What would you do if ten guys, three of whom have knives, came after you and.... These are just a few of the questions that I've been asked personally. However, hands down the two most common questions I get asked over and over are: 1.) have you ever had to use it in real life? and 2.) what would you do if someone pulled a gun/can you really take a gun away from somebody? The answer to the first question of course depends on your life experience but the second one has a far more clear cut answer.

So, can you really take a gun away from somebody? Absolutely, and there are many police officers, security guards, and other professionals who have done it and lived to tell about it. While it is true that certain situations may arise where you are have few options and the chance of your success if very slim, the simple truth is that if you can get close enough to your attacker you can disarm him.

Having a gun pointed at you is indeed scary but the gun doesn't give your attacker any magical power. In fact, the big problem that people have with gun disarms isn't the realities of the situation, it is the fear that people have when they see the gun and that fear makes them immobile. Even in training, when you point a toy gun at someone so they can practice their technique you can usually see the fear in their eyes. 9 times out of 10 the person is too scared to even twitch a muscle so they just stand there, then when they do do the technique they're so flustered that they're all over the place, and they're not even using a real gun.

The simple answer is that yes, it is very possible, and in some situations down right easy, to take a gun away from someone. So here I will address the four main elements that play into your hands and make gun disarming possible.

Reason 1. The guy with the gun doesn't want to shoot you! If someone wanted to shoot you they would just walk up to you and pull the trigger and unless you are practicing proper awareness techniques you'd never even see it coming. Since your attacker is standing near you with a gun it must mean that he or she wants something else from you and they are going to use the gun to intimidate you into giving it to them.

Firearms only have two uses: to kill something or to practice killing something. If you are using a firearm to do anything else, like using it as a tool for intimidation, then you are using it improperly.

During any type of assault if the attacker doesn't immediately use violence against you it means that they generally want you to give them something or they want to move you to someplace else. If a gun toting criminal decides that he wants your wallet and he doesn't walk up to you, shoot you, and then rob you while you're on the ground, then he's going to try to distract and intimidate you with the gun while tries to get your wallet. The important thing is that if shooting you was his goal then he'd do it, but since he didn't that must mean he doesn't want to shoot you, at least not right now.

In a situation you'll have some guy in front of you waiving a gun around making demands who actually doesn't want to shoot you! If he doesn't want to shoot you then that right there will give you the upper hand because he won't shoot you right away and then when you do perform your technique he will most likely hesitate since he wasn't planning on firing the gun right then, and you can at the very least be out of the way and be working at having control of the weapon before his brain catches up and he decides to fire.

Reason 2. Most shootings happen within 5 feet. When it comes time to disarm an attacker it is very unlikely that they will be standing on the other side of a room. Nearly all shootings happen within 5 feet and this means you'll be close enough to begin with. Often it is a matter of just reaching out and taking the weapon. Remember, if you can get close enough to him you can disarm him.

Reason 3. Very few criminals know how to properly use a gun. Most people believe that a guy with a gun is an unbeatable force of nature that you cannot hope to overcome. The truth is that there is an extremely large chance that the guy pointing the gun at you has absolutely NO training in using firearms whatsoever. In fact, it is very possible that that guy has NEVER fired a gun before.

The average criminal doesn't train for his crimes. He or she either steals or buys a gun from another criminal and when they are not using that gun to intimidate people into giving up their money, their gun is tucked carefully in their pocket or in a sock drawer. They don't go to the local gun range and practice their technique and their marksmanship; if their gun jammed on them few would know how to clear it. In the same way, most hunters never touch their rifles in between hunting seasons (then they wonder why they can't hit a buck).

It is extraordinarily seldom that a criminal learns even the most basic elements of marksmanship such as how to align the sites. They just pick up a weapon and use it to intimidate people, and when they do fire it they use a method that consists of pointing the gun in the general direction of the target and pulling the trigger, and often pumping their arm, until they hit their target or their gun runs out of bullets (these methods are known as "the innocent woman and children method" or "spray and pray"). It is not unusual for a for a criminal to fire 10 or more shots at a target from a fairly close range and never hit their target. This inability to accurately shoot is one of the reasons that about 97% of gunshot wounds are nonfatal.

Another important thing that makes untrained shooters so inaccurate with handguns is that they don't know how to hold them. The thing is that if you grab a handgun and hold it so it feels comfortable and natural in your hand it will actually be off center when you point it at your target. So when they go to shoot someone and they extend their arm, their arm will be pointed directly at their target but the gun will be pointed slightly to the left, if in their right hand, or to the right, if the gun is in their left hand. Also, criminals tend to hold their guns in various unstable positions when they shoot that often don't allow them to even see their sites.

The reason that criminals are generally so bad with firearms is because they don't really have to be good. The primary thing that they use the weapon for is to intimidate people and for that they don't even have to have it loaded. Then since nearly all shootings happen within 5 feet it is pretty hard for them to miss, especially when they shoot multiple times.

What this all boils down to is the fact that most gun toting criminals don't know how to use their weapons and would have a hard time hitting the broad side of a barn unless they emptied their entire gun. You're not trying to take the gun away from a Navy SEAL here, you're trying to take the gun away from someone who probably doesn't know how to hold it, aim it, or properly squeeze the trigger. If you try to take the gun away from a Navy SEAL they probably will be able to stop, reacquire you, and shoot you when you move to take their gun; but the criminal will probably see you move then try to repeatedly pull the trigger once you've already taken control of his weapon.

It should also be mentioned that if you get shot and the bullet doesn't hit a nerve, tear a joint, or break a bone it will not make you stop your advance. Even if you do get shot you probably won't know it until afterwards when you're adrenaline levels decline.

Reason 4. Violence deplores a static environment. What does this mean? There is two types of training: static and dynamic. Static (no movement) training means that you and your partner stand in one place and practice the technique together. Dynamic (having movement) training means that you and your partner are moving around and simulating a real attack.

When it comes to practicing gun disarming almost everyone seems content with practicing static disarms. That is, you and a partner stand about 4-5 feet away from each other and your partner holds out the training gun so you can practice your disarming technique. This is great training to learn how to do a technique but it is very poor training to learn how to apply a technique.

Some people do add a small dynamic element into their training and they do this by having the partner with the gun say "bang" or pull the trigger when he sees you move. This does add a small element of realism to the training but its one that does far more harm than good.

If you want to practice to deal with a situation then you have to model that situation under controlled circumstances and learn how to deal with it there. This static training of two people standing there, one ready to blow the other away at the slightest sign of movement, is hardly realistic. Sure you need to start with static training to learn your techniques but once you have them down then its time to start with dynamic training.

Dynamic training involves actually reenacting a violent assault. Once you have the technique down then you need to practice by first deciding on a goal for your partner to try to achieve (either taking your money or moving you to someplace else) and then have them try to accomplish that goal by having them walk up to you and then violently and suddenly pull the gun, shove it into your face, maybe grab you with the other hand and yell, "GIVE MY YOUR F%^&ING MONEY!!". Maybe you have them push you, pull you, or even choke you with their free hand. This kind of training actually models a real assault and it will quickly make you aware of two important elements of firearm disarming. (for tips on how to do dynamic training simply search for and watch videos of real assaults on the internet then reenact them during your training)

The first element is that during the course of the entire assault there are actually numerous great opportunities to disarm them. If you have your partner just stand in front of you and get ready to shoot you if you make a move then you won't be able to accomplish much, but if you pay attention during a session of dynamic training you'll see that your attacker actually gives you opportunities to relieve him of his weapon.

The difference is his focus. During static training there isn't much you can learn or do because your partner's focus is on shooting you as soon as you move, but during dynamic training your partner's focus is on getting your money or making you move someplace and while they are using the gun to intimidate you they aren't focused on the gun or on shooting you and they actually leave themselves and their weapon vulnerable throughout the encounter.

If you practice this you'll notice that the more intense you get in your training the more it seems that the "bad guy" almost wants to give you his gun.

The second element is what we call the "oh shit factor", or more precisely the "startle reflex". Namely, when you're startled, like when someone comes out of the blue and violently shoves a gun in your face, your natural reaction is to stop and tighten your muscles making your body very ridged. In other words you freeze. Criminals actually count on this and they rely on people freezing when they attack them to make their jobs easier.

As I stated above, one of the biggest things that make disarming difficult is not the techniques but the fear of having a gun pointed at you. Gun disarming is nearly impossible for a lot of people, including the "experts", because they only practice static disarms and therefore they never learned to overcome their "oh shit factor"/"startle reflex" and so when they actually get a gun pulled on them they just freeze like a deer in the headlights.

Not to badmouth anyone and I won't give any names, but I do know that there are a small of handful people who advertise themselves as the "foremost experts of firearm disarmament" in the country. These people claim to go all over the country an teach the CIA, FBI, military, SWAT, and every other unit and organization you can think of how to disarm people who have guns. They claim to be the "experts" and the "go to guys" that government agencies go to when they need to learn disarming techniques, and they also sell their how-to DVDs for $39.95.

I've attended some of their training and seen some of their videos and not one of them do any dynamic training at all. One guy, in his how-to video, gives a lecture while wearing a bullet proof vest and a motorcycle helmet as his partner stands in front of him with a revolver loaded with paint bullets. He then stands in front of his partner with his hands up and quickly slaps the gun to the side while trying not to get shot. Even this guy, the so called "foremost authority", couldn't do it 10 times in a row without getting shot somewhere. This kind of "who's faster" static training does nothing more then get people shot.

By doing dynamic training and reenacting violent assaults you learn to deal with your startle reflex and you actually teach your brain a new behavior to perform for that stimulus. You need to have someone suddenly shove a gun into your face and violently shout demands and profanities at you, and even rough you up a little, during training because that probably is how it will happen to you in real life. You need to make your training as real, violent, and scary as possible so you can train your brain to act instead of freeze.

You should even include other people, loved ones or bystanders, in your training because they can get shot while you are doing your disarm. You don't need to have your husband or wife come to class and stand there during your technique, but you should put something in their place as a marker to indicate where they are, like a chair. Then when you do your technique you need to be mindful of where they are so they don't get shot. After all if you successfully disarm and neutralize your attacker but a loved one gets shot in the process you might not have come out ahead.

If you don't overcome your startle reflex if will be nearly impossible to disarm a gun but if you do overcome the reflex you'll find that performing a disarm can even become a reflex.

With my students, I have them stand in the middle of the room and then I walk up to them at odd angles then suddenly and violently assault them with the firearm. After doing this for a few weeks they have no problem with clearing the weapon. I can walk up to them after class while they’re putting on their shoes and suddenly surprise them with the gun and on pure instinct they will clear and control the weapon before I even realize whats going on-and I'm the guy that taught them the technique. It’s just a matter of training.

(Scary? Yes, but watch it closely and you’ll see that the gun is just for intimidation and he makes no attempt to protect it. Taking his gun away would be child’s play.)