Thursday, August 14, 2014

Why You Need A Qualified Instructor aka Choking vs. Strangling

By Matthew Schafer
Copyright 2014, All Rights Reserved

A few minutes ago a student of mine sent me a link to a youtube video where two girls are playing around with a choking technique. Apparently, one of the girls, the one being choked, is an amateur stuntwoman or sorts and as numerous videos of herself doing dangerous things sort of like the “Jack Ass” TV show.

This video is a great example of a couple of things like stupidity, natural selection, and of course the fact that if you film fairly attractive girls doing something people will stick around and watch it until the end. In this video on girl is going to render the other unconscious using a “rear naked choke.” The problem is that they don’t know what they’re doing and the one girl ends up choking the other girl until she coughs or flail her arms and then the first girls lets her go and after a pause they start over. This goes on for 12 minutes and the girl never does pass out. The video can be seen here:

Here is the first issue I’d like to highlight, the girl being choked is named Rachel Star and from quickly browsing her videos on youtube it does appear that she has some degree of actual martial arts training. There are videos of her using the nunchacku, possessing various other pieces of martial arts equipment, and doing some kickboxing. This girl has most likely received some degree of training in some art form.

So, either her instructor wasn’t good enough to impress upon her that these techniques are dangerous and shouldn’t be played around with or they did impress that upon her but she thought she was capable of doing so anyway. The fact that the technique was applied wrong and that she couldn’t quickly discern that proves that she is not qualified to be doing that technique.

While you should always practice your techniques at home, the parts where you actually inflict trauma to another person should only be done under the careful supervision of a qualified instructor. To do otherwise is to invite serious injury.

The second issue I’d like to highlight is one of my pet peeves when it comes to marital art terms because when people engage in these it shows a lack of understanding that they should have. My first pet peeve is when talking about firearms and someone calls a magazine a “clip.” While minor, this bothers most shooters because it signals that the person is engaging in a very dangerous activity without receiving the proper training. The second is when people don’t know the difference between a “choke” and a “strangle.”

The technique in questions is very very old. I learned it as the “Thugee Stranglehold.” One of the first mentions of this technique is from records of the Thugee who were a group of murderous bandits that worked along the silk trail in Asia. They would stalk a caravan of merchants, sneak into their camp at night, silently kill everyone using the Thugee Stranglehold or strangling them with lengths of silk. Then they would dump their bodies in pre-dug graves and make off with all the goods causing the caravan to simply disappear. This group is where we get the term “thug” from today.

The Thugee Stranglehold is one of the first known names of the technique. When the US Marines first learned it they called it the “Japanese Stranglehold” and after a while it became known as the “Marine Stranglehold.” However, the name that has lasted the longest is the name from Judo. Judo calls this technique the “Rear Naked Choke.” “Rear” because you’re doing it from behind, “naked” because you aren’t using clothing or any tool to do it, just your own body, and “Choke” because…I really don’t know why.

The Japanese call this type of technique “Shime-Waza” which translates into “Constriction Technique.” I’ve spoken with several people skilled in Judo, Jujitsu, and Aikijitsu and some tell me that the Japanese did make a distinction between choking and strangling and other tell me they did not, they have 36 techniques that were “shime-waza” and they didn’t make that distinction. So, I simply don’t know if the Japanese referred to this technique as a “choke” due to ignorance, non-distinction, or it was mistranslated and never corrected.

[NOTE: I was just recently told in Jujitsu this technique’s original name was "Hadaka Jime" which means “naked strangle” but when the sport of Judo came about it was switched to rear naked choke. I can’t vouch for this being true, however.]

There is a difference and as martial artists the difference is very important to know. Simply, a choking technique compresses the windpipe causing the person have difficulty breathing. From there they will choke, panic, and eventually pass out. Choking is horrible. Depending on the amount of pressure on the windpipe it can take several minutes for them to pass out and they will be left with a very sore throat afterwards. When they wake up it will hurt to talk or swallow and they will often have a headache. Before the pass out they will panic, flail their arms, and can be very dangerous. Not being able to breathe is the scariest thing for the human brain.

A strangle, or strangulation technique, leaves the windpipe alone and instead compresses alongside the windpipe to seal off one or both carotid arteries. The carotid arteries deliver blood and oxygen to the brain and when that gets cut off the person begins to feel light headed and weak. If the restriction is great enough the person will pass out. A solid strangulation technique like the Thugee Strangle Hold can render a person unconscious in about 5 or 6 seconds and can be fatal if applied for longer than 2 minutes.

After a person passes out they start to convulse and sometimes even snore. If you’re intention is to just knock them out that is the best time to let them go. If you let them go when their body goes limp it could be a trick to get out of the hold but it is very hard to fake the convulsions convincingly. The strategy is to let them go limp and then wait for a change in their breathing and the start of convulsions before you let them go.

Typically, a person is unconscious for a few seconds and as long as a minute and when they wake up they may have a little headache or feel a little weak but that soon goes away when they start to move around.

The difference between the two are huge; a choke hold causes a person to cough, panic, flail their arms and fight back so it takes time, makes noise, triggers the “fight or flight” instinct and when a person wakes up they are in a good deal of pain. Strangulation causes a person to get light headed and weak and then just passes out very quickly. It is quick, silent, and if you wanted to kill someone you could just throw it on a person for 2 to 3 minutes or, what probably happened far more often, just long enough for them to pass out and once they were out use a tool like a knife to finish the job.

Choking techniques and strangling techniques do two different jobs and result in two different outcomes.

From the screen cap of the video I placed here you can clearly see how most of the force is going on the girl’s windpipe which is why she choked and was in pain instead of simply passing out.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

“Fear Does Not Exist In This Dojo”…The Real Life Sensei Kreese?

By Matthew Schafer
Copyright 2014, All Rights Reserved

The movie the “Karate Kid” really only had one villain. Johnny, the blonde antagonist of Daniel LaRusso is a punk kid that can’t be held totally responsible for his actions because he’s following the tutelage of the real villain Sensei John Kreese. The Kobra Kai Dojo, under Kreese’s leadership, instructed young kids to be bullies and to prey on the weaker members of society. It is quite possible that a true life John Kreese has just stepped forwards.

This video entitled “Kenpo Karate Street Fight - Sensei JC”, which can be seen at, may have captured a man who is not only extremely lucky but also perhaps the true leader of the Kobra Kai. In this video the man states that he is in his karate school and he sees two kids hanging around his car so he confronts them. He politely tells them to leave his car alone as one kid holds a spark plug in his hand. He then gets within distance of the kid who is standing by his car and that kid puts his hands up in a fighting stance and his friend starts to flank him from the side. Bravely, he takes the offense and attacks first which sends the first kid reeling backwards and making the other kid stop his advance and “flee like a coward.” He manages to fight off the kid who then flees and the sensei and his car are now safe like true champions.

That is how Sensei Kreese saw the events and how he narrated the video. The problem is you can clearly see that what happened was not exactly what was described. What really happens is he assaulted one young kid and then stole the other kids bicycle. Only by seeing the world through the eyes of someone like the Kobra Kai’s Sensei Kreese does this man see himself as someone who acted bravely and is setting an example of responsibility.

The video is really an example of how to get killed or end up in jail and I will be using it in my classes to teach my students how not to handle a potential dangerous situation.

To break down what actually goes on, first the guy puts himself in a stupid situation. He is in the relative safety of his school when he sees two kids in the parking lot getting a little too close to his car for his own comfort. He doesn’t know if these kids have guns, if they have 10 friends standing on the other side of the parking lot, or if they’re sociopaths who have no problem with killing him. I assume he has insurance on his car and pays tax money to support the police so why didn’t he just stick his head out the door and yell, “Get away from my car or I’ll call the police!”? He had a camera recording what went on in the parking lot so he could have even pointed to the camera and yelled, “Hey, you’re on camera. Get away from my car or I’ll call the police!”

Leaving the relative safety of the school to confront those two is pretty much everything a responsible martial artist should be teaching their students not to do. Self-defense starts with being smart enough to recognize stupid situations and not put yourself in them. BUT…not for Kreese because fear does not exist in this dojo!

Then he approaches the kid and you can’t see if he has anything in his hand and you cannot tell what they did or didn’t say to each other, but you can tell that the kid did not do anything aggressive that warranted being attacked! He didn’t throw a punch and he didn’t get into a fighting stance first. Even during Kreese’s narration he stumbles when he says that the kid got into a stance because he’s watching the video and can see that it isn’t true. There is no reason to attack that kid, unless you’re John Kreese and you know that the enemy deserves no mercy! I’m sure that as he was hitting that kid the music was playing in his brain…”you’re the best around…nothing’s going to ever keep you down!”

The second kid that is supposedly flanking him does no such thing. As soon as he starts to assault the first kid the second drops his bike and runs away. Surely, he is freighted by the awesomeness of the Koba Kai technique and not running for help because some crazy adult is beating up his underage friend. After that you see how the first kid gets hit repeatedly and offers zero resistance! Old Kreese there talks about being a responsible martial artists and using only necessary force but then why does he not immediately disengage when the much smaller kid doesn’t fight back? Why does he chase him around the car? Luckily, pain does not exist in this dojo so the kid is ok.

After all of that Sensei John Kreese steals the second kids bicycle! I don’t know about you but I don’t know a better way to top of the Kobra Kai ice cream sunday of assault and battery than to add a nice cherry of theft.

Don’t get me wrong, from what I saw in the video I absolutely think the kid planned on keying the guy’s car. I’m sure he was/is a young punk and perhaps the beating was beneficial for him. However, this lesson on responsibility this guy decided to share with the world is anything but and he is very lucky someone didn’t pull a gun and kill him right there in his own parking lot.

Once the very lucky “hero” is finished he has to take his stolen bicycle back in the dojo like a true hero to wipe his brow and get back to work instructing the next generation in the fine art of sweeping the leg. Here’s to you Kreese! Now watch out because they might come back with the Cuban version of Mr. Miyagi (or a lawyer).

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Knife to Throat, A Misconception

By Matthew Schafer
Copyright 2014, All Rights Reserved

A classic method of intimidation, both in movies and in real life, is for someone to put a knife to your throat. Feeling the sharp sting of the metal blade as it digs into your flesh definitely bring to the forefront of your mind the fact that you are merely mortal. For the most part criminals with weapons like to get as close to you as they can with those weapons because the natural instinct is that the closer they are the more control they have. Therefore, guns, knives, and many other weapons are often held very close to the victim so that there is no mistaking the grave situation they’ve found themselves in.

In as many ways as there are to hold a weapon to someone there are probably several hundred times more techniques to deal with the same situation. Whether it is moving out of the way, pivoting, pinning the weapon, controlling the arm, or the myriad of other tactics, the martial arts are full of answers to these situations.

One thing that I’ve noticed over the years is how people have gotten into almost mysticism when it comes to knives. The methods of using blades have nearly become almost dogmatic verging on cultish. Once person says, “the only way to stop a knife attack is this way!” and other person counters with the opposite and each guru has their hoard of followers. However, no matter how sure these knife experts are of their idea that “this” is what a knife attack looks like and “this” is how you defend against it, most of them can be disproven by watching a few hours of video footage of stabbings happen inside prisons. Prisons, of course, are where criminals learn how to be better criminals.

Earlier this morning, I watched a martial arts class held by a young man who was a black belt in some style of Karate that I’m not familiar with. This kid was surprisingly knowledgeable for someone who probably wasn’t old enough to graduate college and I enjoyed watching his class quite a bit. The only thing that really made me cringe a little was when he was showing self-defense techniques against a knife held to this throat.

The techniques he taught themselves were good; they were aggressive and straight to the point, I have no doubt they would have worked. However, he spent a great deal of time talking about the “fact” that once a knife is against your throat all your attacker has to do is make a little move and his knife will slice your jugular vein which will open up, start spraying blood, and you’ll die. This is where medicine and martial arts part ways.

I don’t know where the idea came from that a knife could easily slice through a human body but it starts to get ridiculous. Do you know why the US military stopped teaching soldiers to slice their enemy’s throats? The answer is because it is actually quite hard.

First, you need a very sharp knife…VERY sharp. Who knows what kind of knife is being held to your throat or how sharp it is. The skin of your neck is so soft even a fairly dull knife can feel like a razor. Most people treat knives very poorly so chances are that unless the knife is relatively new and still has a factory edge on it that it is hardly a razor.

Most people have carved a turkey before. Think about that; your cutting into skin and muscle, how easy is it to just go right through? Yes I know you’re cutting through the breast where the muscle is thickest, but if you didn’t slice across the breast to cut off a piece to eat and instead slashed at it how deep do you think you’d get? Now, how about it you held the blade right up to the turkey and then made a quickly slash like you were trying to cut the throat, how deep do you think you’d get?

I’ll bet the carving knife you use at Thanksgiving is a lot sharper then the knife some punk places against your throat. A knife isn’t magic, if you want the skin to open up you’re going to have to work for it.

When you cut the throat you really want the carotid artery not the jugular. The carotid artery comes directly from the heart and with ever heartbeat it delivers load after load of blood to your head and brain; the jugular vein carries that blood away from the head and back to the heart. Cutting a jugular vein can kill you it just takes longer. The blood will flow instead of pump out and it is easier to stop with pressure. The survivability of a cut or severed jugular vein is higher than a carotid artery.

NOTE: In this image from Gray's Anatomy the Sternocleidomastoid Muscle can be clearly seen along with the Jugular. The carotid artery is in back and colored red.

The problem is the carotid artery lies about an inch and a half inside the neck! First you have to get through the skin and down to the muscle. The muscles of the neck are quite thick and even with a doctor’s scalpel a quick slice won’t cut through them, especially the Sternocleidomastoid Muscle. This is the big muscle you can fell on both sides of your windpipe when you turn your head. This muscle runs in front of the jugular vein which sits in front of the carotid artery.

So, if you want to cut someone carotid artery you have to get through and inch and a half of skin, muscle tissue, and other bodily components. Anyone who has every butchered an animal or even cut into a rotisserie chicken that you buy at the supermarket should be able to tell you that flesh has a bit of resistance to it.

There are people walking around all over the work with scars on their necks from having their necks slashed and throats cut, and the reason they’re walking around is because those injuries are often perfectly survivable. Due to watching movies most people think that all you need to do is to take a little swipe at the throat and it will open right up and their victim will be dead in a matter of seconds but it doesn’t work like that.

If a criminal does put a knife to your throat and then go to cut you they’ll have instant resistance and almost no acceleration to get through it. I’ve seen many pictures of people who have had exactly that done to them and most have a nasty looking wound but it is just deep enough to get to the fat under the skin. Someone holding a katana sword to your throat may be able to severe your head with a quick movement of the sword, but some street punk with a knife is probably going to give you a perfectly survivable wound if they have the presence of mind to cut you when you make your first movement (which isn’t to say that they won’t stab you to death a few seconds after that).

Lastly, most people don’t understand how knives cut. A knife cuts by being drawn back and forth across the skin and not by merely pressing down. A lot of criminals merely press the knife into the skin and wonder why they don’t see blood.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Beyond Fight or Flight

By Matthew Schafer
Copyright 2014, All Rights Reserved

It is commonly taught that when an organism is threatened it will respond with one of two instinctive reactions: fight or flight. In other words, when an animal or a person is threatened it will instinctively stand its ground and fight or it will run away.

I’ve never bought into this thinking. Fight or flight is hogwash and I realized that when I was 7 years old and I was in a car with my mother when we hit a deer at night. The deer saw us coming and it didn’t run away nor did it attack, but rather it stood there like the quintessential deer in the headlights.

There are actually 3 different responses an animal can give and a human is capable of at least 5. An animal will instinctively fight, run away, or freeze in fear and be killed. A human will either fight, run away, freeze, surrender, or comply.

Fight and flight are pretty easy to understand so let’s look at the others.

When a person gets attacked it is usually by surprise and they simply don’t know what to do. While those trained in self-protection will have a plan for when an attack occurs and will have rehearsed their response numerous times in a controlled environment, the average person will not have a clue of how to respond. First their mind will try to wrap itself around the situation; they will think things like: is this really happening? Am I really being attacked? Maybe this is a joke? Maybe there are cameras around and that Ashton Kutcher guy will jump out? Next their thoughts will progress to accepting the situation is happening but not knowing if they are in real danger; they will think thoughts like: is he really going to hurt me? Things like this don’t happen to me, they happen to people you see on the news. What is he going to do to do me? He can’t kill me because I have to give that presentation to the PTO next week. After that they will try to think of appropriate responses and debate with themselves whether they should resist.

While they do all of this the attacker will have a frozen victim to do with what they see fit. Often an attacker will rob a victim and flee before their victim fully realizes what just happened. A criminal knows that if he attacks correctly his victim will most likely freeze rather than resist and that is what most criminals count on.

Next you have surrender. Let’s say a masked gunman runs into a bank full of people and orders everyone to lie on their stomach. While there might be an initial reaction to freeze, most people will go right into a response of surrender. They realize the threat and their thought process says, “ok, if I just do exactly what he wants he won’t hurt me.” That person immediately abandons all notion of resistance and their life now solely in the hands of the gunman. Whatever the gunman says they will do and if a debate of whether to resist or not was to come up by the other hostages they will normally take the side of the gunman in hopes of not being hurt.

Lastly you have comply; in that very same bank all the customers were ordered to lie down on their stomach when the gunman rushed through the door. While some responded by freezing and most responded by surrendering, one or two people had some training and they responded by complying with the gunman. The difference is that man with training assessed the situation and made the decision that it was too dangerous at that time do confront the gunman so he makes the decision to be compliant and do what he is told. However, while the surrendering individuals basically stare at the floor or shut their eyes and hope for the best, the man who complies does what he is told but also observes the situation and waits for an opening to act.

Another example of compliance is that you’re coming home from work and you get out of your car when suddenly you’re grabbed from behind, pushed against your car, and the muzzle of a gun is shoved in your face. They tell you not to make a sound and then they turn you around and you see two men both pointing guns at you. You assess the situation and you don’t feel there is anything you can do at the moment. They push you to your front door and take you to the living room. While you walk in you carefully watch their shadows to try to determine where they are and listen to what they say. Now you’re standing in the living room and you can hear a man standing behind you but then you also hear someone run down the hall towards your bedroom. You now know they have split up and you glace over and catch a reflection in a window and see that the gunman behind you is looking around the room trying to decide what is valuable enough to steel. You quickly turn around, disarm the gunman, knock him down, and then run out the front door towards a neighbor’s house where you lock the door and call the police. If you had surrendered you wouldn’t have even known they had split up.

Pre-Assault Body Language Indicators

By Matthew Schafer
Copyright 2014, All Rights Reserved

Violence has been thoroughly studied by the FBI and other groups and what has been found out is that most violence attacks don’t happen out of the blue, but rather there predictable things that happen before hand. If we know what things tend to happen before an assault occurs we can notice them and act at that point to prevent the situation from developing into violence.

Here is a list of eight things that a person tends to do right before they attack.

Walking with their arms out of sync with their feet. A normal person will not only swing their arms when they walk, but they’ll coordinate their arm with the opposite leg. So, if they stepped with their left foot they’d swing their right arm forwards and vice versa. A normal relaxed opposite hand-foot stride in the natural way to walk and keeps us in balance. A person who is planning on attacking someone will often lose this coordination and end up either moving their feet while keeping their hands and arms frozen in place (no swinging of the arms at all) or they will tend to walk by moving the foot and arm of the same side.

Lowering of their body. Before a lion or other predator attacks their prey they will lower their body and drop their heads to get more stable; someone about to be violent will often do this as well. Typically they will slightly lower their chin, lean forwards slightly to move their shoulders over their toes, and bend their knees slightly. If you see someone do this as they come up to you it is almost a certainty that they will attack.

Evasive eye contact. Someone who is planning on attacking you will almost always want to look you over first. People who do this tend not to turn their head completely towards you but rather move their eyes to look out the corners. If you notice someone looking at you in this manner, especially continually, be aware. If every time you look at them and they look away quickly that is an indicator that you caught them doing something that they didn’t want you to see.

Rapid or heavy breathing. When someone decides to attack someone else their body prepares for this by increasing heart rate and releasing adrenaline into the blood stream. A person breathing heavily or rapids but not doing anything physical at the moment is either sick, in very poor physical condition, or getting ready to do something.

Effects of adrenaline. As stated above, a person planning on committing a violent act will release adrenaline into their bloodstream beforehand in order to get ready for the crime. If you notice the effects of adrenaline you can spot this before anything violent occurs. Be on lookout for someone who isn’t physically exerting himself but starts to breathe heavily or rapidly, sweat, or fidget. In most people their hands (especially their non-dominate hand) and their knees will begin to shake. They may also fidget, “pump” their hands open and closed, and repeatedly touch their face, hair, and body as if they’re nervous.

Something that deserves special attention is if you see someone lifting their heels and lifting up on the balls of their feet. This is a very common fidgeting maneuver by people getting ready do something physical. This is often seen done by athletes just prior to performance. Another effect of adrenaline that deserves special attention is pacing. Quite often a person will pace back and forth before suddenly turning and throwing a punch or attacking with a weapon. This pacing is another way a person will try to burn off adrenaline before they do something physical. If you notice someone starts to pace back off and give them a lot of room so if they do attack you can see it coming.

Someone “Quartering Off.” Quartering off basically means aligning their lower body in sort of a fighting stance. A lot of the time people will have natural tendency to put one foot slightly in front of the other and turn slightly to the side before they attack. This is not a traditional fighting stance as most people with their hands up, but rather a relaxed slight turn of their body and placement of their feet. If someone is confronting you and you see them start to assume a quartered stance this is probably a subconscious way of them telling you that they are about to attack. You should either move in and attack first or back up and give yourself more room and reaction time.

Raised, hidden, or busy hands. While you should never watch a person’s hands to see when they are going to attack, you should be aware of what their hands are doing while they are at a distance because if they are going to attack you chances are it will be by using their hands. If you can’t see their hands because they are in their pockets, behind their back, just not visible this can mean they are grabbing, or are already holding onto, a weapon. A person with busy hands either digging in their pockets or playing with the bottom of their shirt or jacket could be accessing a weapon. A person who is planning on throwing a punch will often raise their hand first, not in a fighting stance but in a relaxed ready position. If a person nears you and they have their hands in front of their body and you see them start to slide their arms up the front of their body above the height of their belly button that is a good indicator they are getting their arms ready to throw a punch. This also includes crossing their arms because this also puts the arms above the belly button. You may also see clenched fists or someone may quickly open and close their hands as if they’re getting ready to make a tight fist.

Playing out the attack beforehand in their head. Something that often happens before a person attacks is they play the situation out in their head beforehand, even going through a conversation they may have with you. You can often see them looking down at the ground fully engaged in their mental activity and often you will see their lips moving and maybe even their head shaking “yes” or “no” as they play out the conversation. As they do this you may notice their hand move slightly as they mentally punch or you may see them touch their clothing where a weapon is kept. This mental rehearsal might be a very subtle thing or they might be psyching themselves up and their moving may be dramatic. A lot of times you can see this behavior in fighters right before a boxing or wrestleboxing match. If you notice this behavior it is a good idea to leave the area.

What Martial Art Style Do I Recommend?

By Matthew Schafer
Copyright 2014, All Rights Reserved

Most of my teaching now is done by seminars so one thing that I get very often is afterwards people tend to come up to me and ask questions like, “this has made me want to start taking martial arts lessons, what style or school do I recommend?” I get asked for recommendations on martial arts schools and styles quite often and I have two responses that I typically give.

The first response is I ask the person what they want to get out of their martial arts training. That should only make sense. Martial arts not only teach self-defense but they provide a social outlet, an opportunity to study a different culture, a way to compete and win trophies, fitness and flexibility, mental wellbeing and stress management, and of course a way to social climb by earing belts.

Once they know what they want it gets easier to make a recommendation. If they want to earn trophies I might recommend Taekwondo and if they want stress management and to develop inner calm I might recommend Tai Ji Chuan. If they want to further their study in self-defense I make a little different recommendation.

I tell that that any teacher, school, or style can be great. However, when it comes to defending yourself principles are more important than techniques; the principles that have proven themselves over and over again is that when you are faced with someone who wants to seriously injure or kill you it is best to go right at them, fight back as aggressively as possible, and focus on striking the vulnerable areas of the human body. As long as you do that there is a good chance you’ll come out ok.

My recommendation, therefore, is that is doesn’t matter so much what style you study. Just find an instructor who teaches that approach. Find someone who teaches you to lower your head and aggressively go in and cause as much damage as possible and it doesn’t matter if you’re doing it with sidekicks, palm strikes, elbows, or a tiger claw; this approach is what works so just call your local schools and talk to the instructor and pick out a few to visit and then watch a class or two. Talk to the instructor and maybe some students and if this is the approach the instructor teaches you’ll probably do just fine.

Why You Need Permission to Defend Yourself

By Matthew Schafer
Copyright 2014, All Rights Reserved

In all my years teaching one thing that I see over and over again is that women (girls included) often hesitate before responding to being attacked. Sure, guys do it too, but I’ve noticed that guys do it less and when they do hesitate they get over it much faster. It used to really bug me until I sat down as talked to a bunch of girls and asked them why they were so hesitant to attack someone who was trying to hurt them. It all became clear when one woman said, “Well, you’re not supposed to hit people, it’s against the rules.”

When we’re little we have rules ingrained in us and we all learn that certain things are just not done. We don’t hit each other, we don’t take things that are not ours, we don’t break things on purpose, and we don’t yell or make too much noise. Now, for a boy it is a little different. Sure we learn these rules too but some of these are natural behaviors for boys. Fighting, for instance, is a natural part of development for a boy. A human is a predator and every predator fights with their siblings and other males growing up, nothing is more natural. Boys accept the rules in front of the parents but then go off get in fights and scream and yell and that is exactly what they should be doing (in my opinion at least) but for girls it is not the same.

I think that is why men tend to hesitate less, because growing up they were more involved with fighting and they learned that in certain situation it was ok. Girls on the other hands tend not to learn the same thing so I’ve learned that they have to be told.

When I work with a class that has women in it, or a class of kids, I take the time to give this speech:

“I want everyone to realize that it is very important to follow the rules that society has set down for us. They keep us safe and make sure that people don’t harm us or take things from us. However, there are certain times when it is ok to break the rules. Any time someone is trying to hurt you or take you someone by force it is ok to break AS MANY RULES AS YOU NEED TO in order to stop them. If that happens, you have permission to break the rules. You have permission to yell as loud as you can, swear, bite, punch, kick, and hit as much as you want. You have permission to hit them in the groin, poke them in the eye, and hit them in the throat. If you’re being taken somewhere against your will it you have permission to steel things if it will help you get away or will draw attention to you. You have permission to grab the steering will and drive into parked cars. You have permission to break whatever you need to, to do whatever you need to, to get away and keep yourself same. I promise you that is someone is trying to harm you and you break the rules and do anything that I’ve just mentioned that nobody will be mad at you and you won’t be in any trouble. In fact, people will probably be proud of you. Does that make sense?”

What I have found is that when I say that at the beginning of a class people’s hesitation goes away and they just let themselves go. They yell louder, hit pads MUCH harder, and are much more aggressive than before. Many people just have be told that it is ok to break the rules in certain situations and by doing so I’ve notice kids, women, and even men acting much more positively during the class.

Monday, January 27, 2014

The Self-Defense Seminar Industry

By Matthew Schafer
Copyright 2014, All Rights Reserved

A large portion of my income comes from conducting seminars and it has been for over 10 years. For me conducting seminars is a love/hate kind of thing. It is primarily a "love" kind of thing in that I love the teaching, I love meeting the people, I enjoy the travel, but hands down the number one reason is that I truly feel I'm helping people. Where the "hate" aspect comes in is the perception a lot of other people have of what I do, or perhaps even more the perception that most people have of my industry. Most of the seminars I do are self-defense seminars and when people find out what I do for a living they automatically mentally lump me in with a large portion of the industry that isn't focused on helping people and brush me off with a platitude.

Over the 25 plus years I have been in the martial arts I have found that the industry of self-defense seminars isn't fully respected by either martial artists or by the general public. The reason for this is that self-defense seminars have been around forever and most people have had a mediocre to poor experience with them. When I ask people about their experience with them what I hear over and over is that they're too expensive, they're too cheap so they can't be any good, they're too short and you can't learn anything in an hour or so, the instructor wasn't competent (they either weren't knowledgeable, didn't answer their questions, or they couldn't preform what they taught and made themselves look bad), and by far the most common complaint is that they didn't learn anything... or at least anything useful. I understand every one of these complaints and I have seen them firsthand. When I was a teenager I went to more than one self-defense seminar in my area and they were laughable at best.

The way I see it there are two main problems with self-defense seminars, and the first is that most instructors aren't qualified to teach them. Most of the seminars I've seen over the last 25 plus years were taught by some guy who has a black belt. Contrary to popular belief having a black belt doesn't necessarily qualify you to teach self-defense. One of my black belts is in Songham Taekwondo (ATA style); based solely on what I learned from the ATA I would never dream of teaching someone self-defense. Most instructors with the limited knowledge gained in "just" having a black belt end up teaching a karate class instead of a self-defense class, with techniques ranging from white to yellow belt level. Walking down the floor doing high blocks, reverse punches, and front snap kicks is not self-defense.

I think a a key problem is that people in the martial arts confuse the martial arts with self-defense and see them as one and the same. The thing is that they're not; most martial arts schools teach their art as an art-form and focus on teaching a student their art-form instead of teaching their student to best ways to defend themselves. I, for example, have three black belts, I'm a "master instructor", and the main art I study focuses on self-defense and pretty much nothing in it is appropriate for tournaments... yet most of what I teach during a self-defense seminar I learned outside of my martial arts training.

People need to know a lot more than simply how to punch and kick, they need to know how criminals pick their targets, how they commit their crimes, where the most dangerous areas are and what the most dangerous situations are, and exactly how they should be aware. What is going to be of most benefit to people, especially people who don't intend on committing to regular training, is to be educated on who criminals are, how they work, how to spot them, how to establish boundaries and deal with someone trying to get too close to you, and then how to cause the most injury to the body with the least amount of effort. I've spent years and thousands of dollars studying this and I don't know any traditional martial arts school that teaches it. Knowing how to do a high block and throw a really good side kick doesn't qualify you to teach someone how to defend themselves.

The other big problem is that, from what I've seen, probably about 95% of self-defense seminars are actually not designed to teach people to defend themselves. Most self-defense seminars are actually taught for marketing purposes. Many martial arts schools offer free or low cost seminars to introduce people to their style of martial arts and then pitch them on enrolling in their regular classes. These seminars are marketed as a means for an average person to learn to defend themselves but in reality putting on a quality seminar isn't their intent. I have friends who charge $25 for a one and a half hour seminar and they spend most of their preparation time looking in the mirror and working on their sales pitch. As a fellow professional martial artist I absolutely understand thins, however, this does a huge disservice to the general public, the martial arts, and yourself in the long run. If that is the kind of seminar you're going to hold then that is fine but don't tell people you are going to teach them to defend themselves, be honest with them and call it an "introductory martial arts seminar" or something like that.

Another problem is some people hold seminars that are just all over the place. I saw someone get interviewed on TV who was pitching a three hour long women's self-defense seminar she was holding. When asked for specifics she said the first hour was actually all about fitness and would be a fitness boot camp, the second hour would be self-defense, and the third hour would be about mind/body experience so they would be doing yoga. That is not a three hour long self-defense seminar and shame on her for pitching it as such.

While there are people out there actually providing a public service, trying to teach people usable information, and actually caring about the well-being of their clients this is only a very small percentage of the instructors out there who are holding self-defense seminars. When I design a seminar I say to myself, "OK, my teenage daughter is coming to me for an afternoon of training and right after she is going to be violently assaulted. What does she need to know right now?" and then put pen to paper.

I understand the difficulty of making a living teaching martial arts and marketing a martial arts school in general. It is not easy and there is a lot of competition. Most instructors set out wanting to share their wonderful art-form with the world and end up being a glorified day care center until they have to start dipping into their savings account to pay the rent of their school. Despite this we need to honest with both our students and ourselves.

I don't blame people for not holding the industry of self-defense seminars in high respect. In my experience I don't hold them in high regard either. The world is full of fly-by-night pepper spray salesmen conning college girls with expired products and "rape whistle jockeys" saying, "Scream 'NO!', kick them in the groin, and blow your whistle. That will be $30."

Saturday, January 11, 2014

A Slight Turn Could Save Your Life

By Matthew Schafer
Copyright 2014, All Rights Reserved

Anyone that has any training in any self-protection discipline knows that when it comes to survival awareness is king. Some people take this further than others; I know several people who have developed a great relaxed attitude and their mantra is “keep your head on a swivel” and as they go through life they just calmly keep looking around and keep track of what is around them. I know others that have gotten paranoid.

I have a couple friends that can only sit certain places. If they walk into a restaurant they look around and find a table, never a booth, where they have a wall to their back, a clear view of the main entrance, and are fairly close to an emergency exit. They will go as far as to stop the hostess and tell them, “I’m sitting here” and then mess up their flow on a busy Friday night and piss off the staff.

I understand this mindset perfectly although I don’t advocate it. If the restaurant is empty I’ll politely ask if I can sit in a table (always a table) in a certain area but I’m never pushy and I try to never inconvenience the staff. Having an armed robbery or an active shooter situation at the restaurant while you’re there is fairly unlikely while the hostess letting the kitchen staff know it is ok to mess with your food because you’re a “problem customer” happens all the time. Never piss off someone who handles your food.

Anyway, awareness skills are great and it is a mindset that can save your life. The important thing is to embrace awareness training while not making family and friends feel uncomfortable or paranoid around you. To that end I have four simple awareness exercises that will give you great awareness skills and you can do them without freaking anyone out.

The first is a great exercise that is practiced by everyone from police officers and security personnel to special operations forces, it is called the “what would you do game.” The great thing about this game is that you can play with yourself or with another person. I play this game occasionally with my wife while in the car and I’ve also played it with some younger family members to start getting them to think about their own safety.

The game is simple, as you go about your life you come up with a scenario and ask yourself, or someone else, what would you do? A great thing about this game is that while there are some answers that are better than others there really are no wrong answers. For example, you’re sitting at a stop light waiting patiently and you say to yourself, “ok, the guy in front of me gets out of his car with a crowbar and walks over to me to kill me. What do I do?” Then you think through what you would do right then. There are a lot of situations:

While driving down the road a car tries to run you off the road, what do you do?
While walking down the street you notice someone following you, what do you do?
While in a restaurant a fight breaks out, what do you do?
While on your couch watching TV the front door smashes open and two men enter your house, what do you do?
While sitting in your office you hear a scream and then gunshots, what do you do?

After a while you’ll see that it can be a lot of fun because really it is a mental exercise sort of like a crossword puzzle. You’ll also notice you’ll start to be more aware of your surroundings naturally without having to try and you’ll think about your safety more. Due to this game these are some of the small changes I have naturally made in my life:

I noticed my ice scraper looks like a bad ass escrima stick with an edge so I keep in by the passenger seat year round so I can grab it if I need it.
When stopping in behind a car I always make sure I can see the road behind their rear tires, that way I know that if something happens I have room to drive around them.
I have a couple cans of pepper spray hidden throughout my house in key areas so I can grab them if I need them.
I’ve taken up running because quite often you’ll see that is a real solution to a lot of problems.

The second awareness skill you can practice is simply finding one secondary exit from any room or building you walk into. If you enter a restaurant while you are being seated take notice of where at least one of the emergency exits are. If the kitchen is closest that is fine because they will have a back door. Now if something happens and you need to leave and the main entrance is blocked you will immediately know how to get out. If you enter an office building take a quick look at the fire exits. If you’re in room with only one door is there another way for you to get out? Find one alternate exit in any location you go into. You can even make this into a game with kids, whoever can tell you where the closest fire exit is gets to pick the radio station on the way home.

The third awareness skill is called the “Two Second Rule.” Simply, anytime you go from one area to another you stop and observe the area for two seconds looking for anything out of place. When you walk out of your front door in the morning stop and look at your driveway and take two quick seconds and then before you get into your car stop and take another two quick seconds (anyone/anything around your car or in the back seat?). When you get to work take two seconds to look around before you get out, before you walk around the parking lot, before entering the building, before entering the deserted stairway, etc. This is a great lifesaving skill and you can do it without anyone really knowing you’re doing anything. Basically all you’re doing is instead of just walking into an area and finding out what is there by being there, you stop and look BEFORE you enter and then ask yourself, “is there anything out of place?”

Any place that is an ancillary area where crimes happen you should just stop and look before you go; parking lots/garages, bathrooms, elevators, stairwells, and always before you get to your car and before you get out.

The last awareness skill isn’t really a skill, I guess it is more of a technique. The technique is: keep your body at an angle. How many times have you been in line for an ATM and the guy at the ATM has his body pressed against it like he’s making love to it? That guy is totally unaware of what is behind him. If he just stood at a 45 degree angle to the ATM he could still interact with the machine (and hide his pin number) while being able to simply turn his head and look around him. If he wanted to look the other way he simple adopts the opposite 45 degree angle by facing the other way and now he can see that way.

How about at the urinal? Crimes happen in public bathrooms. By standing at a 45 degree angle you can use the urinal while being able to see the room. At a restaurant one reason why I always want a table is because not only can I move freely if I want but I can turn my chain 45 degrees and still eat and be social but also see the rest of the room.

If you’re standing at a counter at a convenience store paying for gas you could again be at a 45 degree angle and interact with the clerk while seeing behind you. How about while you use the gas pump?

If you’re standing in line at a movie theatre with your spouse are you standing facing the front of the line oblivious to what is behind you? Stand at a 45 and you can still see the front of the line, interact with your spouse, and be aware of what is behind you.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

What Does A Killer Look Like?

By Matthew Schafer
Copyright 2014, All Rights Reserved

When you think of a killer most people think of someone like this:

However most serial killers look like every day normal people. While young black males in the bad neighborhoods of big cities are responsible for the most violent crime, the typical serial killer is a white male. Here I will put up the pictures of some of the most notorious serial killers in America to drive this point home.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Going Predator: How to Know When It Is Time to Use Force

By Matthew Schafer
Copyright 2014, All Rights Reserved

One of the most common questions I get asked is how do you know when to use force and how do you know how much force to use. These are perfectly good questions in our civil and litigious society. Most people in our society are so removed from violence they know it is something to be avoided but they also don’t know when it is appropriate to engage in it.

Most people are so focused on being civil and not wanting to risk doing the wrong thing they don’t know when it’s time to use force and they end up trying to reason with their attacker while their attacker is busy killing them. The same is true even with military and police officers. Many times a police officer is dealing with a suspect and they don’t realize when that person makes the jump “person to predator” or from “social to asocial” and they end up getting seriously injured or killed because of it.

In the military they teach you to develop a “kinetic trigger” or a “visual kinetic.” What these are is a trigger that you train your brain to recognize and when your brain sees it, just like the dog in Pavlov’s experiment, you know it’s time put all your social skills aside and engage in violence. What we are going to be talking about in this article is what “predator” or “asocial” is and how to turn them into a kinetic trigger.

I have found the easiest way to put forth these ideas is to first think of a large silver back gorilla fighting with another male. The gorilla will stand tall, make big motions such as flailing his arms, yell loudly, and making a big display of his teeth. This gorilla’s purpose is to show his strength in hopes of scaring off a rival and in doing so maintaining his status in his troop. The gorilla doesn’t really want to fight because that would risk both losing and also getting injured. If the gorilla does fight he doesn’t try to kill his rival but rather run him off. A fight between gorillas will often end with one walking off to sulk perhaps nursing some bruises and maybe bleeding but fights are not commonly fatal.

Now, think of a lion hunting for dinner. The lion creeps into an area he knows his prey is likely to be and he waits until he finds a prey he thinks is vulnerable to be taken. Then, he waits; he waits until just the right minute. He lowers his body and keeps his head low to the ground. His eyes are fixed on one thing and one thing only. He approaches trying not to spook his intended prey. He tries to move carefully with no unnecessary movement or noise. As he approaches there is no emotion to be had, no communication with his prey to be done. Finally he is ready to spring the trap and he charges giving 100% off his effort and catches his prey by surprise. The lion succeeds first through surprise and then by overwhelming and overpowering his prey. Throughout the encounter the lion is not concerned at all with what his prey will do; rather his complete focus is on what he will do to his prey. He never thinks about getting kicked or being on the wrong side of a horn because his focus is single minded on his task.

The two examples above describe the two paradigms of violence, “posturing/social” and “predatory/asocial.”

When people think about “fighting” what most people think about is “social violence.” Social violence is doing violence with the goal not being the violence itself but rather socializing and communication. Social violence can be broken into two categories: sporting and posturing. Boxing, kickboxing, wrestling, and other forms of organized fighting would fit under “sporting.” Here the goal isn’t to kill or seriously injure their opponent but rather best them in an evenly matched contest and improve their social standing.

Posturing occurs when someone wants to intimidate through a show of force. Here there is no sporting aspect but the aggressor isn’t trying to kill or seriously injure the other person but rather make them back down, run them off their turf, or make submit in some way. If physical violence does happen here the goal is not to kill but to “beat up” the other guy and send them home with a black eye, bloody lip, and loss of face.

Social violence is completely avoidable. You can avoid going into certain places, leave places when you feel something is about to happen, decide not to engage in the conflict, and of course comply or submit to someone else if necessary.

Asocial violence is the complete opposite of the above. Asocial is the lion stalking the prey. The goal is not to communicate something or to improve their social standing, rather the goal is to seriously injure or kill their prey. That is very important to realize. If someone is acting like the gorilla you are dealing with posturing, social violence, and the person (at least at that point in time) isn’t trying to seriously injure or kill you but rather communicate something with you. In this situation you should rely on social skills to get out of the situation because your aggressor wants a social response from you.

However, if someone is acting more like the lion then they are “going predator” and engaging in asocial violence. At that point social skills are useless because the other person wants to hurt you. Trying to reason with someone that is trying to stab you to death isn’t going to work. The only way to survive asocial violence is to engage in it yourself because it really is a fight for your life. Once someone “goes predator” you need to kill them or at the very least disable them before they kill you.

It is imperative that you learn how to recognize asocial behavior because if you don’t you will be caught off guard and you’ll be using social methods to deal with the person who is trying to kill you, which is like a gazelle trying to talk the lion out of killing him.

Fortunately if you’re paying attention to you can spot their body language. Before we get into the exact body language let’s talk about the two profiles you’ll probably encounter.

You can tell a lot about a person’s intentions by how they stand. If a person is in front of you in sort of a “ready stance” posture (focused on you and probably talking to you but they have one side forwards and their hands are up, not necessarily in fists but making motions while they talk) then that person is most likely in a defensive mode. They probably do not want anything to happen but if it does their first response will probably be defensive. A person standing in that posture tends to have a defensive mindset and may even have a competitive mindset where if he was forced into action he would abide by the rules of whatever combative sport he practices. A person standing like this will be harder to hit but less likely to attack because they are focused on being attacked.

A person standing like mentioned above is focused on being attacked so a person doing the opposite (standing with their shoulders squared off to you) is focused on attacking. Someone who is standing with their shoulders totally squared off is not ready for anything; they are decided if or when to attack. There is nothing about standing in front of someone and exposing your entire body that is defensive, so someone doing this is more dangerous. They don’t have sporting mindset they won’t follow a set of rules and may, even if unintentionally, seriously injure you. They are usually quite easy to hit because while they are focusing on when or if they should attack you they are not focused on being attacked themselves. This is why it is important to get distance, at least 5 or 6 feet, between you and him because distance buys you reaction time.

Now, how do you recognize asocial? It is often not too hard. Are they a gorilla or a lion?

A gorilla tries to appear as big as possible because he’s trying to intimidate you while a lion tries to appear small as possible because they are trying to go unnoticed until it is too late.

A gorilla looks you in the eyes and makes scary faces because he’s trying to intimidate you while a lion looks through you because you’re just a piece of meat to tear apart.

A gorilla tries standing tall to appear bigger or taller than you; they may also raise their chin so they have to look down at you, because he’s trying to intimidate you while a lion does the opposite. A lion lowers his weight so he is stable and he lowers his chin to protect his throat.

A gorilla makes faces and is loud because he’s trying to intimidate you while a lion is perfectly silent because he is not trying to communicate with you and his face is blank because he is concentrating on his task at hand.

That is how you tell them apart and it is vital that you do. Someone who is posturing and trying to intimidate you is not trying to kill you so you should use social skills to deal with the situation; while someone who is exhibiting asocial traits should be dealt with with violence right away because they are trying to kill you and not intimidate you.

Earlier we talked about a kinetic trigger. I have two such triggers. The first one is if I get hit; not just hit lightly but hit with intent. If I’m minding my own business and suddenly I get hit I’ll turn to face what hit me and my body weight will lower, my chin will go down, and my mindset is “Ok, who is going to the hospital?” The reason I developed this one is because criminals like to attack by surprise and quite often a situation will start with you being hit, shot, or stabbed. So as soon as that happens by brain instantly says “Ok, this is an asocial situation, it is me or you, and I’m going to try to make it you.”

My second kinetic trigger is seeing someone “go predator” or recognizing asocial. A person might start out being perfectly social but as the altercation progresses you can see them change, suddenly their face goes blank and you can see that focus and right there all social responses are no longer appropriate. When I see that change to asocial then that person has my attention.

If someone is posturing and they put their hands on me depending on how much of a threat I feel I might use a joint lock or a pressure point to try to restrain them; but if I detect asocial body language then all restraining goes right out the window because he is going lethal right away so if I want to survive I have to go lethal right away too.

All over the internet you can see videos from police dashboard cameras as they make traffic stops and then get attacked and sometimes murdered. In many of those videos if you watch closely you can see the officer’s screw up. He’ll start talking to a guy who is perfectly social and then the guy will start posturing and may start to resist the officer and so the officer tries to restrain the individual and then suddenly you see the guy’s body language change and the officer isn’t trained to notice it. Suddenly they “go predator” and now it is an asocial situation where they guy is trying to kill the officer and the officer is still not responding with deadly force. The officer continues to use a lesser level of force and ends up dead. If the officer would have recognized it right away and responded in kind they probably would be alive now.

So the final question is, now that you know what asocial is and how to spot it how do you make it to be a kinetic trigger? The answer is simple: you train it. If you want to have a trigger being hit unexpectedly then first make a conscious decision where that is a trigger and then practice where a partner hits you with something from behind and you immediately turn and go into him. Do it over and over all sorts of different ways until your brain realizes “Ok, when this happens I respond with this.”

To recognize asocial and have that be a trigger just get used to seeing it in your training environment. That means take being social out of the classroom. In my classes as soon as a class starts there is no socializing. If I’m addressing the class and someone has a funny comment then that is fine, but when I pair them up and say “go” you could hear a pin drop. No one talks and no one smiles or tries to communicate with their partner. Anyone caught smiling or communicate immediately has to apologize to their partner for interfering with their training and has to do 20 knuckle pushups and ask to rejoin the class. It is very odd at first and people are uncomfortable but when you explain to them that this just could save their lives they start to embrace it. By the time they’ve been in my school a couple months doing anything else just seems odd.

When we take a break or when they walk off the mat they socialize all they want, but by being asocial during training their brain learns to recognize the signs of asocial and it starts to learn that asocial equals me going into action.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Military Training Not Always Ideal For Civilians

By Matthew Schafer
Copyright 2014, All Rights Reserved

Being someone that is into martial training I want the best training possible. Before I go to an instructor or sign up for a seminar I want to know what the instructor’s credentials are and I, like most other people, are impressed by someone who is a former SEAL or from the 75th Rangers or what have you. These guys get some of the best training in the world and there is a vast amount of great information that they can share with you that just could save your life.

Something that I learned a long time ago was that when you teach the military it is a little different then teaching civilians. With the military you have to look at their rules of engagement and plan your curriculum around that; you also have to look at the group’s specific mission and modify your curriculum to that too. I can teach a civilian anything I want but if I teach a room full of military police officers or infantrymen I have to be kind of choosy.

It didn’t dawn on my until a few years ago but the same is true in reverse. You could get a notice that “Mr. X” is coming to town to do a seminar and he is a former Navy SEAL with 146 combat missions under his belt and you get really excited since a guy like that must know some great stuff. It’s true that our fictional “Mr. X” probably knows some great stuff but you also have to take into consideration that he was trained by the military for military purposes. His training is molded to his unique rules of engagement and his unit’s unique mission.

In other words, while he can teach some great stuff it may not be the best information for the average civilian. It could even get the average civilian killed in the right situation.

Consider this, in the military their main weapon is a rifle which is meant to kill at a distance. Also, many military groups including the SEALs zero their rifles at 100 meters. Right there that tells you that the military knows that if a soldier has to respond to a threat it is probably not going to be close in. Most engagements for the average infantry soldier are probably from 25 meters to maybe 200 meters (educated guess). Soldiers with different jobs would face different distances.

As a civilian if we have a threat to respond to it is more than likely going to be anywhere from 0 to just 5 feet away from us. That is a big difference right there.

In the military a soldier is first taught hand-to-hand combat for the purposes of learning to be aggressive. The military doesn’t care about the hand-to-hand skill of a basic infantryman or whether they know the best techniques, rather they know that if the infantryman loses his rifle and is aggressive enough he can probably overpower his enemy long enough to get to another weapon. The military knows aggression is key.

Going beyond a basic infantryman to advanced training the military now cares if the techniques you know work or not but your training is focused on fighting to a weapon. If you are too close to use your rifle you fight until you can get enough distance to use your rifle. If you lose your rifle you fight until you can get to your side arm or a knife. Everything is based on the practice of getting you to a weapon.

As a civilian you don’t have a bunch of weapons on you to fight to. If you did you probably wouldn’t be fighting to get enough time and distance to get to a rifle but rather a pocket knife or maybe some pepper spray. A civilian has to focus more on empty handed skills then their military counterpart.

You might see “Mr. X” teach a great empty handed technique and think it’s great and then ask him why he did what he did and the conversation might go like this:

“That’s a cool technique, but why did you make that big movement there?”

“Because that way my right arm is clear and I can access my sidearm or knife.”

“What if you didn’t have any other weapons?”

“Well, in that case I probably wouldn’t have done that motion. I probably would have struck him with my arm instead.”

Or maybe he’d say that he did the technique in that manner because in Iraq their rules of engagement required a very narrow response, but given freedom of choice he may have chosen to do something else altogether.

Take using a pistol for example; in the military you’re taught to draw your pistol and go from position 1 to position 4 where you present you weapon, put your finger on the trigger, and focus on the front site. That is great training…when your target is at least 7ft away.

If a civilian is confronted at the statistical 5ft and they draw their pistol and present it they are holding it out and are basically begging for their attacker to take it away from them. It is better for a civilian to learn to point shoot from position 2 and 3 so their pistol is close in and protected and then go to position 4 if distance allows. Effectively point shooting from 5ft is very doable.

When a soldier goes into battle they are well armed, have team mates to watch their backs, and will most likely encounter threats from a distance and work to close that distance. A civilian will most likely not be well armed (even if you carry a gun you’re probably not as well armed as a modern soldier), is probably alone or with others who are not trained to watch their back, and when they encounter a threat it will be extremely close in and they will have to fight through it or engage it close in and then work to getting distance. Two very different paradigms.

That is two very big differences that need to be taken into account. When I used to teach the military all the time I had to change my training to fit their needs and military instructors need to do the same for civilians. This is something important to keep in mind when selecting an instructor or choosing a curriculum to teach if you’re an instructor.

As a last example, if a soldier was on the battlefield and they spotted a new threat in the middle of a magazine change they would immediately transition to their side arm, present it to the target, focus on the front site, and most likely engage the target while walking either towards it or at a 45 degree angle.

If I had a firearm concealed on me under my jacket and I’m out with my wife and suddenly a man comes out of the shadows while we’re approaching our car I’m going to judge my response by our distance, what he’s doing with his hands, if he’s alone, and if I detect asocial behavior. If he comes out of nowhere and he is standing at arm’s length threatening me with a knife I’m not going to go right to my gun and end up getting stabbed to death while it is halfway out of the holster. I might wait until he says the next word and then knock his arm out of the way while I step in deep and punch him in the throat using my bodyweight and every bit of strength I can muster. As he stumbles back a few feet and falls to the ground I’m going to move with him and be right there with a stomp to the groin or maybe a kick to the head, but I’m going to do something while he is on the ground. Once I put a hard stomp or two into him I’m then going to turn and scan for more threats while I draw my gun at the same time. Why did I not draw my gun sooner? I was too close and I didn’t have time.

Scanning For Multiple Attackers

By Matthew Schafer
Copyright 2014, All Rights Reserved

When I first started learning martial arts I learned a lot of things that I later found out other people didn’t. My primary instructor was a man in his late 50’s who I would call Master Martinez. Master Martinez was a small Mexican man that still had a thick accent even though he was born in America. Growing up his father told him to tell people he was Spanish because they were more socially accepted by whites then Mexicans, and for the rest of his life he insisted he was Spanish unless he really knew you. He spent three tours of duty in Vietnam while a member of the Army Special Forces before finishing out his enlistment in a training position and moving back home.

His teachings were very molded by his experiences. He spoke a lot of keeping a positive attitude in the face of adversity, being big enough to walk away from people taunting you into a fight, how to survive getting jumped, and he was a very big fan of neck breaking techniques. One of the things he had me do after every technique was to stop and look around to scan the area for more attackers. A technique may start by a punch being thrown and you’d respond with a series of strikes, maybe a throw or a takedown, a few finishing shots while they were on the ground, and then you’d quickly look around to see if there were any other threats you had to deal with.

I never saw this in any other martial arts school and having been taught it from the start of my martial arts career it didn’t make sense to not do it. It was always drilled into my head to always assume the person I was dealing with was bigger, faster, stronger, more skilled, armed, and not alone, therefore I had to be smart, strike first even if he moved first, finish him fast, be brutal, make sure he couldn’t continue, and then expect to have someone else there when I turned around. This is the way I have always trained and it is the way I train my students.

What has changed over the years is the way that I scan for more threats. What I was taught was to look around really quick by moving my head, not much of a technique but a great practice. My technique changed in perhaps 2002 when I had to chance to train with some members of Delta Force. The name “Delta Force” is a civilian term of course and they wouldn’t really respond when I asked them what they did but it wasn’t too hard to figure out. Anyway, I worked out with these guys during our free time for about a week and a half and they had some really interested ways of doing things. I quickly noticed everything they did was integrated; their hand-to-hand skills flowed right into their shooting skills and vice versa.

The clearing technique they taught me is the one I practice today. After you put down a threat you look up and take one step forwards visually clearing what is in front of you, then you take a second step forwards and turn 180 degrees clockwise or counter clockwise (depending on what foot you were stepping with) and clear the other 180 degrees. The foot that is now in front after you’ve turned is moved to the side to put you in a stable stance.

When I do this I keep moving making it harder for someone to hit me. If someone is getting ready to hit or stab me while I’m finishing on his friend those two steps I take suddenly put me out of range. The when I turn I take whatever elbow is on that side and I raise it up and I lead with it so if something is coming hopefully my elbow will catch it.

Another clearing technique if someone is approaching you and you feel they may attack you is to turn to the side. Many times one threat will approach you from the front while another sneaks up behind you. Therefore, if someone approaches you from the front you should keep distance but turn your body 90 degrees to the side and slowly back up to put him in front of you while you quickly turn head 180 degrees to see if anyone is behind you. By doing this you keep your eye on the guy in front but instead of being in between two guys you go to the side and force them to be in front of you.

Of course it is important to know what you’re backing in to, but this clearing technique can be done in about a second and can keep you from getting caught by surprise. If you find you have one guy in front of you and two or more sneaking up behind you it is best to try to escape laterally (if confronted on a sidewalk you’d run across the street and away or the other direction if it was open) but if neither possibility worked is it best to run towards the single threat, running through him and knocking him over. Even if you don’t escape from the multiple attackers behind you, you will at least separate them by running.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Using Keys For Self-Defense

By Matthew Schafer
Copyright 2014, All Rights Reserved

For my first article of 2014 I decided to revisit something I wrote about first in 2009 but have talked about during seminars hundreds of times, it is the subject of using your keys as self-defense weapons.

In my prior article I stated that this is a very common teaching and I am asked about this all the time. Usually it is by a woman who raises her hand during the Q&A portion of training and says she puts her keys in between her fingers before she walks to her car at night, and really I think most of them are looking for me to give them a pat on the back rather than bring this up as an actual discussion.

When this happens I’ll look at her with a little smile and say, “Great! I can tell your thinking about your own protection and you have a plan. Great stuff. You’re keys really are not really the best weapon to use, but it is great that your mind is in the right place.” I learned a long time ago that when someone brings something up about what “they do” you always respond with “hey, that’s great” and then keep moving on. That way they get their approval and you can keep moving on with the class.

During classes I’ll mention that there are better weapons than your keys and I show the ones experience has taught me are better, but I usually don’t go into why keys are not a very good weapon unless we have extra time. However, lately more and more people want me to talk about using keys as a weapon because there are self-defense products on the market now to help you use your keys as weapons more effectively.

In my previous article (“A Common Self-Defense Misconception”) I gave five reasons why it is not a good idea to use your keys as weapons, so now I’ll briefly go over them and then I’ll discuss how I would use keys as a weapon if I were going to.

Reason #1: You can damage or lose your keys and now you may not be able to access your car or home for safety.

Reason #2: If you are close enough to punch them with your keys you are close enough to do something that creates a bigger net effect in the situation. A well placed shin to the groin or forearm to the throat can cause a disabling injury while the keys probably won’t.

Reason #3: You’re still punching him. Most of the people that would do this are untrained and if you are not properly trained to throw a punch and spent a good deal of time driving your fist into something hard (a punching bag is ok but a makiwara or iron palm bag is better) then you will probably hurt yourself more than them.

Reason #4: Anyone who advocates this has never put keys in between their fingers and punched something as hard as they can. I did once; only once. What happens is the keys jam back in your hand and start to twist. The keys jamming back in your hand can cause an unexpected shot of pain that can make your hand start to relax putting your hand and wrist at risk. Plus the twisting keys in your fingers are not only painful but tore my skin enough to make me bleed.

Reason #5: You’ll be without your keys. If everything goes as planned and you survive to call the police they will have to take your keys as evidence and they’ll sit on a shelf until the legal matters are settled. Hope you have copies you can get a hold of right now.

Now there are products available to help you turn your keys into swinging weapons, sort of a modern “morning star,” and there are a few on the market. None of these products are necessary.

If you want to use your keys as a swinging weapon first I would go buy extra keys. That way you could keep your keys in your pocket and have some extra keys that you can use as weapons. You can even buy a heavy clip to add weight and bulk by adding something like a carabiner quick link, or spring snap (various metal key clips you can find at any hardware dept.) and put it on a lanyard. Now just grab a hold of the end of your lanyard and swing your extra set of keys at your target. If you want more reach tack on another lanyard. Not the best weapon but certainly not the worst.

The other option I’d suggest is to take a bigger key, like a modern car key, and grasp it tightly in between your thumb and index finger and use it to stab with. With decent force it will go through both clothing and skin. You really need about 4 inches of penetration into really do immediate damage so this is mostly just distracting and causing pain unless you target the eyes, neck, and groin. I wouldn’t really suggest that unless you had no other options, just because better things are available, but if an armed robber was herding me and a bunch of other shoppers into the back room of a store and I thought he was going to kill us, and then I notice a car key on a desk and his carotid artery just jumped right out at me and looked accessible I just might put two and two together.