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 wonder...how 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.