Friday, February 27, 2009

Grabbing A Gun

By Matthew Schafer

Copyright 2009, All Rights Reserved

Hands down my favorite area of self-defense is handgun disarmament. I enjoy practicing it, I enjoy teaching it, and I've even done it in real life. I'm not exactly sure why that is but for as long as I can remember I wanted to not only know how to take guns away from people but to also understand exactly what goes on during that altercation from both a physical and psychological standpoint. Over the last 22 years I've made a point to go to every firearm disarmament seminar, read every book, and watch every video I could get my hands on...and looking back I have to say that there is some real crap being taught out there.

Over the years I've seen a lot of gun disarming techniques and most of them look pretty good at first glance. However, most of them share a few flaws and the interesting thing is that most of these flaws actually come from the fact that people are just trying to be safe. No one wants to practice with a real loaded gun so we practice with a wooden or rubber one, and if we feel like spending a little money we practice with an airsoft pistol.

The problem with practicing with a non-firing weapon is that after awhile we start to forget about the things that actually occur when the gun goes off. Sure, we all know that when a gun fires a bullet flies out of the muzzle but because we practice with toy guns we forget about things like the movement of the slide, recoil, and muzzle flash. What this all results in is techniques that work when done with either a rubber gun or a real gun that doesn't go off, but if done with a real gun that does go off they fail miserably.

What I'm going to do in this article is talk about what actually occurs when a gun goes off, how that applies to gun disarming techniques, and the four big problems that most techniques have in this context.

Problem #1: Most gun disarming techniques don't have you immediately get behind the muzzle.

Something I've noticed about people, even people who teach gun disarming, is that they know that when a gun fires a bullet flies out but they don't seem to understand that the gun has parts that move and that a controlled explosion is taking place. When the trigger gets pulled it sends the firing pin forewords and that hits the "primer" (the butt of the bullet cartridge) and that primer causes the gunpowder in the cartridge to explode. The explosion on its own isn't all that powerful but in a gun it gets channeled through a small pipe with only one way out and that causes the force of the explosion to become focused. The force of the explosion causes the bullet to shoot out the barrel but then the bullet is followed by the other repercussions of the explosion: muzzle flash, sound, shockwave, hot gas, and unburned gunpowder.

It is very important to remember that the bullet isn't the only thing that comes out of the muzzle. I see a lot of people just slap the gun to the side or even just move it an inch or two one way while they lean their body to the other and this just makes me roll my eyes. If you just move the muzzle to the side then the bullet won't hit you but everything else spraying out of the muzzle will. Chances are that when you clear the gun it will go off and if you're not behind the muzzle then you will most likely get a face full of hot gas and an eyeful of unburned gunpowder. The hot gas being blown into your face isn't going to feel very good but the small grains of gunpowder being blown into your eyes can very well be immediately debilitating. There is a good chance that if your initial move doesn't get you behind the muzzle then when the gun goes off you'll go blind and then you'll be shot.

It should also be mentioned then when startled the natural reaction is to inhale. So if you clear the gun and it goes off you could very well inhale the hot gas and gunpowder into your lungs and find yourself in pain and unable to breathe properly.

Problem #2: The magazine

Just in case anyone reading this doesn't know, the magazine (often incorrectly called the "clip") is the small metal thing that you put the bullets into. Once the magazine is full you stick it in the handle of the gun, then when you pull back on the slide and let it come forewords it picks the top bullet out of the magazine and puts it in the firing chamber. When the gun is fired the explosion forces the slide back and opens the top of the "ejection port" which allows the recently fired bullet cartridge to fly out, then a spring forces the slide back to the front and it then picks up the next bullet in the magazine.

The thing about the magazine that people who train with training guns don't seem to remember is that the magazine falls out very easily and when it does it takes your bullets with it. There is a small button by the trigger called the "magazine release" and when you press it, it allows the magazine to fall out; the problem is that it is very easy to hit that button.

When I teach a class on handgun disarmament and I'm walking around while people practice techniques every few minutes I usually hear a "plop". That "plop" is a magazine hitting the mat. When two people are touching a gun it is very easy for one of them to hit the magazine release and then suddenly you’re either handling a gun with only one bullet in it (in the firing chamber ready to go off) or with zero bullets in it. You could very easily clear the gun, grab it and cause the magazine to fall on the floor, cause the gun to fire, and then take it away and turn an empty gun on your attacker.

It’s kind of funny that during class I've seen some people do just that and then freak out. The cleaver ones quickly push their attacker out of the way, grab the magazine off the ground, and then reload the gun. In any case I'm usually standing there chuckling.

Problem #3: Trying to step back and shoot them with the gun.

Nearly every single gun disarming technique that I've seen has you grab the gun, take it away, and then step back and turn the gun on your attacker thus ending the situation. Personally I fail to see how holding a violent criminal at gunpoint is the end of the situation. Come on people...REALLY?? Do I have to say anything about this? Do you think that you can just take some strange gun away from some criminal and then immediately use it on them? The gun could very easily be unloaded, non-functional, or even be a toy and then you're standing there trying to shoot a violent criminal as he laughs and then attacks you again.

If I was going to rob someone I'd use a toy gun. Chances are that my victim wouldn't know the difference and if I was caught I couldn't be charged with "assault with a deadly weapon". In the legal system there is a big difference between threatening someone with a real gun and threatening them with a toy.

Even if the gun is functional and loaded, if I pick up some strange gun I don't know where all the safeties are or if it has been given additional safety features. I've been in the military and had quite a bit of firearms training but I don't think for a second that I could just pick up some strange gun and use it, especially in just a few seconds while under extreme duress.

Problem #4: Grabbing the gun

For years I thought that I had firearm disarmament figured out. I had some great instructors, paid lots of money to attend seminars, and had police officers write me thank you letters because what I taught them had worked. If you wanted to learn firearm disarmament from me there was a waiting list and it would cost you at least $375. Then awhile back I worked with a combat shooting instructor and came to the realization that everything I had been teaching over the years on the subject was garbage.

The problem is, and what he showed me was, that you can't reliably grab a gun and hold onto it while it goes off. Most every disarming technique consists of redirecting the gun so that you're off the line of fire, then grabbing the gun and using it as a lever to twist it out of your attacker's grip. This works great with toy guns, rubber guns, airsoft guns, other types of training guns, and unloaded guns but if that gun that you're holding onto goes off the chance of you being able to hold onto it is slim to none.

If the gun is a semi-automatic then when it fires the slide will move back and forth and cut your hand. Some people say that you can pin the slide down so the gun won't fire but that is basically b.s. The movement of the slide is powered by a focused explosion and your hand isn't strong enough to resist that. Even if it were, what happens if you're tired, sweaty, the gun was just cleaned and it's oily, it's raining, really cold, or you're wearing gloves? If you're grabbing a gun and it goes off the slide will move in your hand and the sides might cut your hand but the front site definitely will. If you're grabbing their hand around the thumb then the slide will give you a particularly nasty cut when it flies back.

In addition to the movement of the slide, when the ejection port opens hot gas and unburned gunpowder will come shooting out into your brand new cuts. Consider also that when the gun fires the recoil will jerk the gun up and to the right and the result is an extremely small chance that you'll be able to hold onto it. Add to all of this the possibility that the gun might go off multiple times and the likely hood is that when it goes off you'll end up jerking your hand off of it.

It your attacker pulls a revolver on you then you're really screwed if you plan on grabbing the gun. In a semi-automatic the explosion is contained in the barrel but in a revolver the cylinder is open and the explosion is shot out the sides as well. If you grab a revolver that hot gas and unburned gunpowder will be shot directly into your hand, the shockwave has been described as "rattling the bone", and the recoil will nearly give your wrist whiplash. Because a revolver directly exposes your hand to the explosion there is about a 0% chance that you can hold onto a revolver when it goes off. That particular instructor said that in the past he had given a demonstration of this to some police department and when he grabbed a .38 as it went off he said it was "ungodly painful" and when he grabbed a .357 he said it nearly tore his hand off.

Not only can you not hold onto a revolver when it goes off but most criminal attacks in the US that involve guns happen with revolvers. Revolvers are cheaper, easier to maintain, and easier to use than semi-automatics so they are preferred by the criminal element. Chances are that if you are attacked by a gun-wielding criminal in the US they will have a revolver and if you are planning on grabbing a hold of that revolver and using it as a lever to twist it out of their grip you'd better hope it doesn't go off because if it does you'll end up jerking your hand off of it

Now at this point some people say, "Well, if I can't grab it then how am I supposed to take it away?" The answer it just don't grab it. While the elimination of actually grabbing the gun eliminates a large number of techniques a lot of others can be modified to work fine. All you can't do is wrap your hand around the gun, so just take that part out of your technique.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Wagner Proves That Even A Blind Squirrel Can Find A Nut Now And Then

By Matthew Schafer

Copyright 2009, All Rights Reserved

For me reading “Black Belt Magazine” is a guilty pleasure, kind of like how most people feel about reading the “Enquirer” or “Star Magazine”. However, I generally find myself buying it if I see it on the shelves and then once I get home I flip through it once to read any article that interests me, again to look at the ads, and twenty minutes after I open it it either goes in my recycling pile or in a duffle bag to be used during improvised weapons training.

Most things in there are either about “mixed martial arts” or other sporting applications but there is one section that is supposed to be about “reality-based self-defense” and that is the “High Risk” article written by Jim Wagner. Jim Wagner is a former police officer, corrections officer, SWAT team member, soldier, air marshal, mouseketeer, unarmed combat instructor, wrote most of the scripts for “Seinfeld”, was the inspiration for Chuck Norris’s character on “Walker: Texas Ranger”, and I’m pretty sure that he would have had the lead in “Pretty Woman” except he had to go save the world so Julia Roberts stepped in.

My view on Jim Wagner is that he’s basically a little kid who wants everyone to like him. In nearly every article he tells a story that describes what a bad ass he is, what a great instructor he is, or how he is saving America.

He told a story awhile ago about how after September 11th, 2001 everyone freaked out and some big meeting was held in the Pentagon, or someplace, and the Secretary of Defense, or someone, asked if anyone had any counter terrorism training. Everyone looked around in a panicked manner until good old Jim Wagner standing in the back of the room raised his hand…and thus single handedly saved America.

99% of his articles are ridiculous but every once and awhile he gets something right and that is what happened in his last article “Somebody’s Watching Me” (April 2009). In this article he talks about a widely used situational awareness technique called “deflection”, “the look away”, “hiding eyes”, “the look down”, or a dozen other names. I learned this technique about 6 years ago and I’ve been using and teaching it since then but I thought that I’d cover it here also.

The basic principle of this technique is that it is not appropriate to stare at people and when we’re caught doing so we get embarrassed, quickly look away, and try to pretend that we were never looking at them in the first place. So if we are at a restaurant and there is a lull in the conversation, we’d probably start looking around at other people in the restaurant. We’d see someone at another table, look at them for awhile, perhaps for no particular reason, and suddenly they “feel” our eyes and look back at us. We quickly divert our eyes and try to look innocent because we were caught.

We use this principle in situational awareness. If I’m walking down the street I want to do three things. First, I want to be constantly looking around me and using any windows that I pass to check reflections. I want to look in front of me, to the side, behind me, and across the street. Second, I want to walk in the middle of the sidewalk and go through the middle of any doorway or opening. Contrary to what they show on TV, you don’t want to hug a wall when you walk down a hallway or road; you want to way stay away from walls, cars, and doorways. The reason is that someone could be hiding in a doorway, alley, or behind a parked car and if you are walking next to these then it is very easy for them to just reach out, grab you, and take you by surprise. However, if you walk in the middle of any path or doorway or just keep 5 or 6 feet between you and the wall, door, corner, car, alley etc. then it is harder for someone to just reach out and take you by surprise. If you keep 5 or 6 feet between you and the object of concealment then at least you’ll have time to react if they jump out.

Also, in the movies it shows people going through buildings with guns and they’re hugging the walls and doorways. This is ridiculous. First, it doesn’t really give you any more concealment then walking in the middle of the hallway. Second, if you’re by the wall then you’re in prime position to be hit by a ricocheting bullet that bounces off the wall if someone was to shoot at you. Third, most walls are made of plaster and sheet rock and any bullet will go right through it and when it does it will spray plaster and sheet rock through the air. So if you’re standing by the wall and someone shoots at you, you stand a good chance of getting plaster and sheet rock in your eyes and lungs. Fourth, being so close to an object of concealment makes it very easy for someone to hide around a corner and then jump out and take you by surprise.

The third situational technique that you should use is to casually try to make eye contact with everyone around you. Criminals want to take you by surprise and if you make eye contact with them they usually feel that the element of surprise is lost so they pick someone else. Also, if you look someone in the eye and they quickly look away like they’re acting as if they were never looking at you in the first place then that is a pretty big sign that they’re up to something that involves you.

I don’t do security work very often anymore but when I do this is one of the main things I use, and its something a lot of other professional security personnel do. Look around, try to make eye contact with as many people as possible, and if someone does the “look away” you go talk to them because they’re probably up to something.

If you’re out and about having a good time and you do see someone do the “look away” when you look at them then you should take notice. They might be a criminal who has targeted you.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Modern Karate

By Matthew Schafer

Copyright 2009, All Rights Reserved

In some of my writings I have made reference to “modern karate” and some people have inquired as to what I meant. Basically, modern karate is what passes for karate today. Most people don’t realize how karate, which I’m using as a generic term for martial arts, has changed over the years.

Originally all martial arts were simply methods of combat and the number one reason that people studied them was to learn how to seriously injure or kill someone who was trying to do the same thing to you. Karate started out as incredibly brutal and “dirty”. If you go back 150 years and prior you’d see karate being taught and practiced very differently. The focus of everything was to cause injuries to people. You didn’t throw a punch for exercise or recreation, you threw it because you wanted to use your first to drive your bodyweight through someone’s head because they were trying to injure or kill you and you wanted to stop them by injuring or killing them first.

Then, if you go to the late 1800’s to around 1950 or so you’d see karate change quite a bit because of three things: 1.) More efficient social order was imposed in most areas of the orient as well as the US which meant that your skills in karate where a little less important to day-to-day survival, 2.) Firearms became a lot more available so other self-defense methods took a backseat in a large parts of the world, and 3.) Because of the first two reasons those that made a living teaching karate had to start marketing it a little differently. Social order meant that violence was down so people were less concerned with hand-to-hand skills and since guns could be purchased, although at this time only by those with money, people who were really concerned about violence could now carry a pistol. Karate schools had to go from a marketing campaign built on survival to one built on recreation, spiritual development, and in quite a few cases gaining magic powers.

Karate in a survival environment need to be incredibly brutal and lethal but in an environment where most people practice it for recreation suddenly strikes to the eyes and throat become not as acceptable. Because of this, techniques that were more flashy became the focus and the study of anatomy became less important.

Going forwards from 1950 to present you’ll see that karate has become more and more soft, non-lethal, less contact is being made, and to many people it is just an activity to entertain children. You go into a karate school today is like a children’s game of tag. Today the basic techniques of karate are still there but the teachings of how to use them are all but gone.

I recall reading an article years ago about an old karate instructor from Okinawa who came to the US for some karate related reason. In the interview that he did with the magazine (I think it was either “Karate Illustrated” or “Budo”) he said that he yet see any real karate in this country. He said that in Okinawa karate was much more about the principles involved with how you do things but here in the US as long as someone’s arm shoots out in the air we call that a punch. In Okinawa one of the foundational principles of karate is called the “double whip” (as well as a bunch of other names) that when properly used adds a great deal of speed and power to your blows as well as makes them harder to see by your opponent, but he never saw that while in the US and I have still to see it in the over 20 years that I’ve been practicing. In the US we have the “throw your arms and legs in the air” part but because things have become so soft, commercialized, and politically correct we’ve lost the real combative principles that make karate “work”.

Tournaments became such a big deal that most styles of karate pretty much stopped teaching things that didn’t apply to competition. Punches and backfists are taught but how to correctly use a spearhand isn’t. A spearhand is another one of my pet peeves. You cannot take a traditional spearhand strike and make it work unless you spend years devolving your finger tips, hand, and writs to make them impact resistant. If you throw a spearhand to someone’s lower throat you can cause them to choke and you just might take them out of the fight but you can easily jam a finger or bend a finger back and break it.

If you actually want to use a spearhand strike you’d better grab your bucket of rice and start driving your fingers to the bottom 100 times a day, yet, karate schools still teach it…sort of.

In most schools any technique that is not applicable and legal in competition is not covered, at least not in depth, and often those techniques have been abandoned long ago. The study of anatomy in karate is all but gone. In older times karate and medicine when virtuously hand in hand because you needed to know medicine in case you hurt someone with you techniques, and in a large way to learn one it to learn the other. Personally I don’t think any martial art can be learned without a functional knowledge of anatomy.

When I started learning karate I was very fortunate because I was taught what I consider to be traditional karate. All those weird fists and finger strikes that you see in karate textbooks were the largest part of my training. Today they’re not taught because you cannot use them in competition but 150 years ago, or so, they were the primary weapons of the martial arts. My instructor had a human shaped punching bag that he made out of couch cushions, sand bags, and duct tape and I’d have to spend hours standing there hitting it in various targets with finger strikes, tiger claws, eagle claws, leopard fists, one knuckle strikes, four knuckle strikes, and others.

After studying karate for a year or two I was surprised as hell the first time I saw a Taekwondo class. I can remember standing there at about 8 years old and thinking, “What the hell?” I learned karate, not necessarily in the way but in the manner which karate was learned for the vast majority of its existence. For me karate was very “dirty”, brutal, and vicious and it worked like a charm but everyone else seemed to be doing it in a way that looked more like ballet. I considered, and I still do, that karate is digging my thumb into someone eye, not standing 6 feet away from someone and throwing a punch or a kick

So when I talk about “modern karate” that is what I mean. There is nothing necessarily wrong with modern karate but it is not what I choose to study.

Women's Self-Defense

By Matthew Schafer

Copyright 2009, All Rights Reserved

Every now and then the subject of teaching a women's self-defense class comes up. People ask me about them, voice their opinions about them, and I do teach them occasionally, although solely for promotional reasons. If I teach a "self-defense class" then I may get mixed results, as far as turnout goes, but if I go after a niche audience like "women's self-defense" then I'll often have a room full of people.

I don't really understand the concept of "women's self-defense". How is defending yourself different for women then it is for men? It takes about 12 lbs of pressure to break a properly set up elbow joint so does it really matter what sex delivers that 12 lbs? The truth is that "women’s' self-defense" is a marketing ploy. Women want special things and for things to be made especially for them so why shouldn't they have their very own self-defense techniques and classes?

A big part of the marketing ploy is that most women can be easily intimidated and they don't want to hurt or embarrass themselves by working out with men or trying to do self-defense techniques with men. If you tell women that the class is for women only and it will be just them in a room full of other women then they feel "safe". This creates a problem in that they only do their techniques against other women and that leads to a false sense of security. A woman can go up to another woman who has little to no training and do all the joint locks they want on them and it will be relatively easy, but if they tried the same technique on a guy who didn't feel like being cooperative then it might not work. It takes very little strength to do most techniques on women but it will take quite a bit more strength to do the same techniques on men. Plus a man being bigger makes it harder to do a lot of techniques. I've seen women that have no problem doing a wrist lock on another woman during a self-defense class but taking the size of hands into account, they'd have a hard time even grabbing a hold of my wrist if they tried to do that technique on me.

The whole premise of a woman's self-defense class is that you're teaching smaller weaker people to protect themselves from larger stronger people...but isn't that just plain old self-defense?? In any self-defense technique you want to assume that your attacker is always bigger than you are, stronger than you are, faster than you are, more skilled than you are, armed, and has friends waiting to jump in at a moments notice.

If a technique "works", not just once or twice but repeatedly, then it doesn't matter who does it. I don't care if you have a penis or a vagina, or if you weigh 200 lbs or 90 lbs, if you punch someone in the throat or jam your fingers into their eyes (not touch or poke but drive your fingers through in an attempt to destroy the eye) then you're going to get a hell of a result out of your attacker. The real issue isn't "men's self-defense" or that men do self-defense "this" way, or "women's self-defense" and that women do self-defense "that" way, it's that women want to feel special, don't feel comfortable doing self-defense techniques on guys, and the techniques taught in 99% of women's self-defense classes suck. Also, in my experience and the experience of other instructors I know, it seems that 99% of self-defense instructors are not qualified and don't know what they’re doing.

I used to live in the Colorado area and there was a woman who taught self-defense there. This woman's heart was in the right place but she had no business teaching people to defend themselves. She had a 2nd degree black belt in some karate style and for some reason she thought that that qualified her to teach self-defense. The problem is that self-defense and martial arts are not the same things. In martial arts you punch, kick, do joint locks, throws, kata, etc., but in a self-defense situation someone tries to seriously injure you, rape you, forcibly rob you, or kill you and you have to stop them. I don't know of any karate school that teaches you situational awareness methods, how to identify criminal behavior, how to counter the criminal method, and all the other dozen things you have to know before you even think about throwing a punch.

This woman was making a pretty good living teaching people “modern karate solutions" (modern karate is a seriously pussified version to what was taught even 50 years ago) to serious violent problems. Some punk walks up to you with a knife behind his back and asks you what time it is, then gets ready to run up and stab you the second you look at your watch...and you're training in point sparring is supposed to protect you? Give me a break. Karate contains some self-defense and self-defense contains some karate but they are not one and the same.

The idea that punching and kicking IS self-defense baffles me. Sure, in my self-defense classes I teach people how to punch and kick but we don’t focus on that because self-defense isn’t about punching and kicking; self-defense is about deciding not to become a victim, educating and preparing yourself to defend yourself and your loved ones, learning how criminals commit their crimes and how to counter it, being aware of who an what is around you and being on the lookout for criminal behavior, knowing de-escalation skills and “verbal boundary” skills, and then only after these do we deal with self-defense techniques and the use of improvised and commercially available weapons. However, when we talk about techniques I tell them to not get caught up in them because there is only one way to hit someone: as hard as you can!

The physical side of self-defense is not about doing this technique or that technique, it is about causing injuries. In my class if I teach a technique and someone has a hard time with it then I tell them to forget about it. This has brought actual gasps from martial artists who think that you should never abandon a technique but rather you should spend years and years practicing it over and over until you perfect it. The problem is that that is focusing on techniques and self-defense is not about techniques. If someone is trying to hurt you then a technique will not save you, causing an injury will. A technique is simply a means to an end but it is not the end.

A few weeks ago I was teaching a simple arm breaking technique but there was a girl in the back of the class who for the life of her just couldn’t get it. I explained the technique again but still she couldn’t do it. I explained exactly how it worked because often an in depth explanation of the physics of a technique can give people an understanding enough for them to be able to do it, but she still couldn’t do it. About 5 minutes or so into it she couldn’t do it so I said, “I’ll tell you what, this technique isn’t important. It’s all about causing injures, it doesn’t matter if it’s this one or anther one, all that matters is that you injure him. See his ankle? The ankle breaks very easily from the inside or the outside so I want you to stomp on it as hard as you can.” After that she was breaking people’s ankles and became a very happy camper.

If someone in my class can’t seem to get certain technique within about 5 minutes or so I tell them to forget about it and I show them another way to cause an injury in the same situation.