Saturday, February 23, 2008

What Is A Martial Art?

By Matthew Schafer
Copyright 2007

When most people think of the martial arts they think of people running around in pajamas while punching, kicking, and yelling. While this tends to be accurate I truly believe that there is more to a martial art than this.

What inspired me to write this article was a conversation I had with someone earlier today about a "martial arts" school that is in my area. I put martial arts in quotations because I think that calling what this school teaches a "martial art" is a grave disservice to the martial arts. However, it is not my purpose to bad mouth this school, rather I intend to only define martial arts as I see them.

I have discovered that both martial artists and non-martial artists alike consider the martial arts to be little more than punching and kicking techniques. The other day I was walking through the park and I saw a boy of about 8 or 9 punching, kicking, jumping, and screaming. My first thought was that this boy was having a seizure and I took out my cell phone to call for help as I looked around for his parents. Suddenly he noticed me standing there and he stopped and turned to me and said, "Do you like my karate?"

Is that all the martial arts are? If the martial arts are nothing more than punching and kicking then we would have to include the following as martial arts: boxing, kickboxing, Tae Bo and other forms of aerobic kickboxing, kickball, soccer, hacky sack, and other childhood games such as paddy cake and bloody knuckles. I purpose that if all martial arts are is punching and kicking then soccer is a martial art, after all soccer has kicking in it.

What if we increase our definition from just punching and kicking to include throwing, takedown, choking, and joint locking/breaking techniques because many martial arts also use those techniques? Well, then the local high school wrestling team is practicing martial arts. Is a regional high school wrestling tournament really a martial arts tournament?

My personal opinion is that martial arts has very little to do with punching, kicking, throwing, etc. A drug addict who is spastically flailing his arms and legs in the air is not doing martial arts. My belief is that real martial arts are not the physical techniques but the methodologies and tactics that the martial arts employ. For example, which sounds more like martial arts: 1.) some guy just walked up to me and threw a punch at me and he missed so I hit him with a left hook, or 2.) I was being aware of my surroundings and I saw some guy walking towards me in an angry fashion. I put my hands up in a "stay back" fashion and used both my body language and my voice to establish a boundary but he ignored it and he threw a right hook at me. Luckily I was watching the center of his body and I saw his torso and right shoulder move so I knew the punch was coming, and I side stepped it letting it safely pass by me. Then I stepped into a strong forward stance and countered with a left punch and a kiai to his floating ribs.

In the above, what exactly is the "martial arts" aspect? If all the martial arts are is throwing your arms and legs in the air then both 1 and 2 were examples of martial arts because they both included punches. However, I think that the actual martial arts were knowing to be aware of your surroundings, noticing the individual's intent, establishing boundaries with body language and voice, watching the guy's torso and shoulders to see when the punch would come, the tactic of side stepping to avoid the blow, and then the methodology of hitting with proper structure and breathing, and of hitting vulnerable areas of the human body as opposed to just swinging away at general areas. In my book, the martial arts are not really what you do but how you do it.

When I teach a martial arts class I make a distinction between what is and what is not martial arts. If I see someone throwing a sloppy technique I stop them and explain to them that what they did wasn't martial arts. Anyone can throw a punch, but to do it with proper focus, intent, structure, alignment, breathing, and targeting is marital arts.

The other side of my argument is that if you take the term "martial arts" you notice that it has the word "martial" in it and that you're talking about the art of warfare. So, for an art to be a "martial" art it has to be geared for combat or at least applicable to combat or self defense. The way I look at it, the minimum requirements for an art to be an actual martial art is that it MUST teach both defenses for knives and multiple attackers. Why, because knives and multiple attackers are some of the common threats that you face, so if you are planning on walking down the street safely in today's world you'd better know how to deal with them.

Muay Thai is a great form of kickboxing but if a world champion Muay Thai kickboxer was walking down the street and two guys approached him, pulled a knife, and demanded his money he would be screwed. While Muay Thai is a great and very effective form of kickboxing it is only a sport and doesn't teach knife defenses or how to handle multiple attackers.

The same holds true for "MMA" or "mixed martial arts". For as cool as people think it is, it is not a martial art, at least not in my book. MMA, Muay Thai, Wrestling, Pankration, Sumo, Judo, many styles of Ju Jitsu, the majority of Tae Kwon Do, and boxing are not, in my book, martial arts. I do make exception for Kendo, many schools or archery, as well as combat shooting because if we dropped people skilled in those disciplines in a battlefield they may be able to hold their own for a time.

It really gets peoples' dander up when I say that Judo and some styles of Ju Jitsu and Tae Kwon Do are not martial arts and I can understand that because they do use martial art uniforms and belts so the mistake is forgivable.

Judo, it should be mentioned, was never intended to be a martial art. The founder of Judo was very open about the fact that he was creating a sport form of Ju Jitsu , and Judo is considered a sport. While some schools of Judo do teach knife defenses, I've never heard of defending against multiple attackers as part of Judo's curriculum. While I respect Judo and it does have some great self defense moves, such as wrist locks (that they took from Ju Jitsu), I consider Judo on the same level as high school wresting.

Take Judo and compare it to Krav Maga, which has in it's normal curriculum knife defense, gun disarms, multiple attackers, and ground fighting. While I'm not a big fan of Krav Maga, it makes Judo look like ballet.

Today many schools of Ju Jitsu teach nothing but sport martial arts as well. Many people have commented to me that they went to study Brazilian Ju Jitsu but left because the school was doing nothing but preparing them to compete in MMA fights.

Nearly every single Tae Kwon Do school or system that I've come across teaches nothing but punching and kicking. I have found some Tae Kwon Do instructors who do teach knife defenses, usually only to black belts, but they had to learn them from outside their Tae Kwon Do community and then add them to their curriculum. Never once have I found a Tae Kwon Do school that taught defense against multiple attackers as part of their curriculum. Therefore in my opinion, while there might be some instructors out there who do teach Tae Kwon Do as a martial art, Tae Kwon Do in general is not only not a martial art but gives martial arts a bad reputation.

I used to give various self defense seminars throughout Colorado and it would make me sad when I went into a Tae Kwon Do school to teach knife defenses, gun disarms, joint breaking, or fighting on the ground and I would walk in and see 15 or 20 black belts who looked at me like they were starving. I don't think I ever got out of there on time because everyone was pawing at me wanting more. These "black belts" had spent years doing nothing other then punching, kicking, and teaching forms to lower belts that when they had the opportunity to learn something like knife disarms you could almost see their mouths water.

Just like someone who goes to a restaurant and orders filet mignon only to have the waiter bring them burnt toast, they had signed up to learn martial arts only to have their instructor feed them the same punching and kicking techniques every week for years. These poor people had excitedly reached the rank of black belt wondering what great new things they would learn, only to find out that the only thing in store for them is a bunch more forms, maybe a new kick or two, years of teaching colored belts colored belt material, and maybe if they're lucky they get to swing nunchackus around a little. That's why so many people leave awhile after they reach black belt, there's nothing for them to do but show up to class and teach colored belt material.

The particular school that I mentioned in my area is a prime example. They teach a form of Tae Kwon Do that they made up themselves and they teach absolutely nothing other than how to flail your arms and legs in the air. I was asked to sit on the judging panel for one of their black belt testings and I saw black belts who couldn't throw a kick without falling over. I saw people who would spar and be thrown backwards whenever they hit their opponent. No balance, no focus, no being grounded or centered, nothing but swing your arms and legs in the air. I should also mention that everyone passed.

Over the years I worked out with a few of their black belts only to be shocked because I found out that some simple things that I considered to be white belt material were never taught. There was a guy who trained at the school for 3 years, was a black belt, and for the first time he was learning that if someone grabs your wrist you can go against their thumb to pull your hand out. That's self defense 101 and I thought people learned that within their first two belts! Hell, you can go to any women's self defense class and I'll bet that almost every single one teaches that within the first 30 minutes. So why doesn't a black belt with 3 years of training know it?

I know I've run a little long, but if the martial arts are to have any credibility we can't just give out belts to people who can swing their arms and legs in the air. We can't just teach someone a bunch of punches and kicks, give them a black belt, and tell them that they've learned everything they need to know. We can't have all these people walking around with the title "master", "grandmaster", "senior grandmaster", "chief grandmaster", or "eternal grandmaster" (that one still makes me roll my eyes) when all they can do is perform a bunch of punches and kicks. Of course if we raise the standards to what I suggest then 99% of martial arts schools in America would have to close their doors.

I can't blame people for not respecting us, we've done it to ourselves.

Monday, February 11, 2008

On Gun Disarming Techniques

By Matthew Schafer

Copyright 2008, All Rights Reserved

In this article I will talk a little about specific gun disarming techniques. Let me first say that pretty much any disarming technique is fine, the problem with most techniques isn't the techniques themselves but how they're applied. The number one problem with gun disarming as a whole is that everyone just wants to get the gun away from the attacker so you can turn it on them and gain control of the situation; however this is a flawed methodology.

There is a saying in the martial arts/self-defense world that, "you fight the person, not the weapon". This means that if someone attacks you, the problem that you have is not the gun or the knife that they have but their brain and their ability to make conscious decisions. If someone punches you and you block their punch, then you have successfully protected yourself from the punch but you can't stop and rest on your laurels because you still have to deal with the attacker. If someone attacks you with a knife and you disarm him, then you have successfully protected yourself from the knife but you still have an attacker to deal with. In the same way, if someone confronts you with a gun and you take the gun away from them then you have successfully protected yourself from getting shot by the gun but you still have a dangerous predator in front of you to deal with.

The notion that if you take the gun away from your attacker and turn it on them, that they will become fearful and compliant is one that is not sound. Your attacker may become instantly compliant but he may just take his gun back, after all don't think that "good guys" are the only ones who can perform gun disarms (1 out of every 7 police officers who are shot are shot with their own guns). After all, over 90% of the people who are purposely shot (non-accidentally) in their own homes are shot with their own guns. Usually how this happens is that someone wakes up hearing an intruder, gets their gun, and leaves their bedrooms to investigate. They confront their attacker telling him to freeze and threatening to shoot but instead of freezing the intruder simply puts his hands up and says something like, "it's ok, just stay calm" and then walks right over and takes the gun. Most of the criminals that you will encounter are street-smart brawlers and con men that have no problem fighting for a gun.

Something else that might happen is that you take a gun away from a criminal and order him to lay on his stomach only to have him laugh at you. Why? Because you are using his gun and he might know that the gun is not loaded, is not functional (maybe it doesn't have a firing pin), the safety is on and you haven't disengaged it, or maybe the gun is not a real firearm...maybe he attacked you with a toy gun, a water pistol, or a realistic looking Airsoft pistol. You know nothing about the gun you are taking away and you actually don't know if it will function, but your attacker probably does.

You should also take into consideration that when the police arrest an individual and search him or her it is not unusual for that individual to have on their person several guns, several knifes, or several guns and several knives. Many criminals carry multiple weapons and if you take his gun away he might just pull out another and now you're in a gun fight.

Also take into consideration that is it very unlikely that you are an expert in the tactical use of firearms. Sure, if you're a Green Beret you can probably just pick up a random gun and use it but how many of us are Green Berets? It is not logical to expect someone to be able to take a gun away from someone and instantly be able to use it, let alone use it under duress. Do you know where the safeties are one a 1911, M9, .38 special, or a Sig Sauer (some of the most common guns used by criminals)? If you don't and you end up taking one of those guns away from a criminal you may be wondering why it won't fire while your attacker is repeatedly striking you in the face.

Even if you are a Green Beret and you have no problem using a wide variety of weapons it still doesn't mean that you will be able to use your attacker's weapon against him. As stated above you know nothing about your attackers weapon and it very well could have modifications you don't know about (such as extra safeties), be unloaded, non-functional, or a water pistol.

The idea that all you have to do is take the gun away from your attacker, step back, turn the gun on him and be instantly safe is quite unrealistic and extremely dangerous. To go back to the old and true saying that, "you fight the person, not the weapon", the only logical course of action is to not only control the weapon but to also neutralize the attacker at the same time. For example, you might take the gun away and instead of stepping back and pointing it at him, you hold onto the gun in a tight fist (keeping your fingers off the trigger) and you might break his knee with a stomp, collapse his windpipe with a chop, or rupture his testicle with your shin. My preference is to take the gun away and then consider it an impact weapon (a hard blunt object you can use for striking).

What is a better scenario: 1.) someone pulls a gun on you and you execute a perfect gun disarm then step back and point the gun at him yelling, "GET DOWN! LAY DOWN ON YOUR STOMACH!" and then hope that the criminal complies or runs away, that you have the psychological ability to pull the trigger if you need to (most don't), that you have the skill to not only hit your attacker but hit him in an area that stops him (be prepared to shoot him multiple times), and finally hope that the gun fires when you pull the trigger; or, 2.) someone pulls a gun on you and you execute a perfect gun disarm then, while holding onto the gun in a tight fist, you slam the butt of the gun into his temple as you bend your knees, to drop your weight into the strike. The strike either knocks him out or makes him extremely lightheaded by disrupting his blood pressure via attacking his temporal artery, and causes him to fall to the ground and strike his head on the pavement (which could result in unconsciousness, coma, brain damage, or death). Then you run away. Which do you prefer?

Moving on to talking about techniques, as I said above there really isn't a problem with the majority of the techniques out there the problem is how they are used and applied. When it comes to disarming there are a few principles you have to follow and as long as you do then most techniques are fine. One of the main principles that should be observed is called the "push/pull principle" and what this principle means is that during a disarm you should always push on the weapon and never pull on the weapon.

This principle can be demonstrated as follows: get a partner, give them a training gun, have them stand about 4-5 feet away, and then have them point the gun at you. Tell your partner not to move and to maintain a firm grip on the gun. Then grab the gun with both hands, push it to the side so that you are off the line of fire, and then pull on it. There is a good chance that the gun will end up pointing at you. (Note: for these drills I prefer to use a toy gun at fires those rubber suction cup darts. You can find them in any toy store for less than $5.00. I like to use them because it is very obvious if and where you get shot.)

Now do the same thing but this time have your partner pull back on the gun when you pull on it to simulate wrestling for the gun. You'll notice that if you both pull on the gun at the same time what happens is that the gun ends up aligning with the center of your body, right around where your heart is. If the two of you had been wrestling over a real loaded gun and it had gone off you probably would be dead right now.

Try one more thing for me, do the drill again but this time you can do any disarming technique you want, only this time as soon as you touch the gun your partner will take a big step back and pull back on the gun. Did your technique work, or did the gun end up again pointing dead center at your chest? Well, since we live in a universe of physics I can guarantee that the gun did in fact end up pointing right about the same spot as where you keep your heart.

The truth is that if you are attempting to disarm someone and during your technique you pull on the weapon and your opponent resists and pulls on the weapon too you could end up with a bullet in the center of your chest. Now, I'm not saying that a technique that involves pulling on the weapon won't work, because it may work very well, what I am saying is that the technique won't work every time. If you do the technique against a partner who resists you and you do it 100 times you may be able to have it work without incident 98 times, but those other two can ruin your weekend. A lot of techniques "work" but the trick is finding techniques that work all the time.

The other side of this is that if you are the one who has the gun and someone grabs the gun to take it away from you, all you have to do is take a big step back, pull on the weapon so it aligns with the center of their body, and pull the trigger. By simply pulling on the weapon you can almost guarantee that you will get a center shot each time.

I said "almost guarantee" because if your opponent pushes on the gun he can force the gun up against you and no matter how strong you are as a matter of physics you won't be able to force it off. Pushing on the weapon has proven to be extremely effective technique. If you are disarming a gun all you have to do is grab the gun and push on it and keep pushing on it. Either you will end up pinning the gun against them and they won't be able to pull it off, or in resisting they will tense up and/or lose their balance and they will fall. If you keep up with them and keep pushing you can easily end up pinning the gun right underneath their chin and discharge it (assuming that it will fire).

To reintegrate, any disarming technique will more than likely work as long as you push on the gun and don't pull on the gun. If you have a gun and someone is trying to disarm you all you have to do is step back and pull on the gun and it will align dead center.

Now let's look at three of the most common gun disarming techniques that I've seen taught. Two of these techniques come from the Israeli self-defense system known as Krav Maga. I don't know the name of the first technique but I refer to it as the "Krav Maga Special" (KMS).

To perform the KMS you start with someone pointing a gun at you and you 1.) grab the barrel of the gun with one hand and push it to the side as you rotate your body out of the way, 2.) push the gun towards them at an angle which locks their wrist, and then push the gun against them so they cannot operate it, 3.) while holding the gun in place you punch the guy in the face or jaw twice with your other hand, then 4.) use both hands to pull the gun out of their hand and then step back to "safety". You can see this being demonstrated at: and

People seem to really like this disarm and I see it being widely taught, but unfortunately this technique violates the push/pull principle by making your attacker pull on the weapon. The manner in which the principle is violated is by punching your attacker while holding onto the weapon. If someone pulls a gun on me and I grab and hold onto the gun with one hand and I punch the guy in the face with the other, guess what will happen...I will impart force into my attacker and he, being a bipeds (on two legs), will be forced backwards and he may very well fall to the ground. When he gets knocked backwards or falls, his bodyweight will pull on the weapon and it will end up pointing dead center at my body.

I hate to use the UFC as an example, but what happens when one of the fighters catches a decent punch in the face, especially the jaw? The answer is that the fighter falls down. If your attacker keeps a hold on the weapon while you are knocking him backwards then it is the same as him pulling on the weapon, and you could inadvertently end up causing the weapon to end up pointing at you. Even a light punch can knock you down if it lands on your jaw and falling is a form of pulling. You never, ever hold onto the gun and hit the attacker-that's just asking to get shot.

The second disarm I wanted to address is generally referred to as the "pistol disarm" and although this disarm has been around since the 60’s it is generally credited to Krav Maga despite the fact that Krav Maga has only been in America since 1981. To perform this disarm you simply clear the weapon with one hand as you rotate your body out of the way, then you pull forwards on his wrist to pull him of balance, and then rotate the weapon out of their hands with your other hand. You can see this disarm being preformed by going to

This disarming technique is not bad but it does violate the push/pull principle by pulling on the weapon. Also it has you disarm the attacker and step back and turn the gun on them, which generally is not a dependable course of action. I teach a version of this technique but I change it by eliminating the step where you pull on the weapon, and instead of stepping back after I have the gun I proceed to cause injuries. The technique I teach looks like this:

Your attacker holds the gun in his right hand and points it at you. You step in with your left foot and rotate your body towards the weapon as you gently clear it with your left hand. You grab his wrist with your left hand and the top of the gun with your right hand, then you move your chest to the gun and pin both the gun and his hand against your chest. Then you step back with your left leg as you turn 180 degrees to the left and drop your weight in a horse stance or half horse stance. This will result in the attacker either being thrown to the ground (usually head first) or bent forewords off balance and the gun is now in your hands. If he’s on his feet you drive your forearm into his throat, and if he is one the ground you stomp on his temple.

This technique not only disarms the attacker but it also doesn’t pull on the weapon and if done at full speed it takes care of the attacker himself by throwing him headfirst into the ground.

This last technique I will quickly discuss is one that is again widely taught but I have not been able to get to work even after hours and hours of trying. I call this the “Jim Wagner Disarm” (JWD) because he is the first guy I saw demonstrate it. If you don’t know who Jim Wagner is don’t feel bad because I wouldn’t trust the guy to boil water.

To do the JWD to step off the line of fire as you grab the hand that holds the gun with both of your hands. Then you step forewords as you slam both the gun and his hands into this face once or twice, then you take the gun and step back.

Again, in this disarm you are holding onto the gun and hitting him which isn’t a good idea but beyond that this technique is defeated by the “startle reflex”. When someone gets startled, like when someone grabs the gun that they’re holding, the natural reaction is to tighten up all their muscles. So, chances are that their arm will be ridged and you won’t be able to hit them in the face.

I’ve tried this for hours with different partners and each time their arm stiffens and I can’t get it to bend so I can hit them in the face with it. I have very little respect for this technique.

I hope this article helped to shed some light on some of the nuances of firearm disarmament, and if anyone has any questions I will be happy to address them