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.