Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Testing our Defences - Edged Weapon Solutions

We all train in martial arts for different reasons, but the underlying gaol and why everyone first starts is generally for self defence.

It’s late at night, the darkness is illuminated by a single light in the car park as you walk back to your car. Suddenly from behind another parked car a man emerges. He is dressed in black and has a hood covering his head and part of his face.

You watch him warily as he approaches. Feeling uncomfortable, you get your keys out as you were taught at that self defence course you did 2 years ago. The darkly clad man deliberately walks towards you, you are walking faster to your car now, as you go to open the door, he suddenly lunges at you pushing you into your car.

Remembering your training you throw your keys into his face, causing him to flinch away, suddenly he screams at you and hits you in the stomach. You are knocked back against your car. You start to fight back, he hits you in the stomach again, then he swings a punch at your face, it’s then that you suddenly see the light reflecting off the steel blade in his hands. Your brain now realises that you have probably been stabbed already, you instinctively raise your arms to protect your face, your adrenaline is in overdrive, you try to push your attacker away, he pushes you back against the car and tries to stab you again. You grab his hand, the hand with the knife. You struggle and wrestle, your arms are cut, the two of you are wrestling, you don’t recall falling to the ground, suddenly someone shouts in the distance, you barely hear it over the torment in your head, that’s screaming, this cant be happening, why me. Suddenly its over, the attacker has got up of you and run away.

You lie there as other voices start to register, ‘are you alright’ you hear. You go to say yes, when you look at your shaking hands, two of your fingers are missing and a third has fallen to the side, hanging by lose skin and tendon, there is blood all over your arms. You think to yourself, this can’t be happening.

This can’t happen to you, this cant be true. You trained in martial arts for 10 years.

Yes it can happen to you, this or something like it happens to hundreds of Australians every year. Has your training prepared you for this situation? You say yes. I have spoken to a lot of martial artists, from a variety of disciplines and styles, the majority are confident that firstly they can avoid this situation, and if need be a common reply is” I can look after myself” or “I know about 10 different ways to disarm someone with a knife”.

BUT, can you really?

How do you know?

Have you ever tested your responses?

Are your responses to dangerous to test?

If you have never tested your attack responses or if they are to dangerous to test, how do you know they will work?

Would you put your faith in an untested surgeon or dentist. Would you like to fly in the maiden flight of a plan that had never been tested. Untested physical responses to dangerous stimuli (situations) are just like getting on board a plane that has never been tested, it’s all theory and in many cases the theory may also be lacking in scientific grounding (ie. The plane was designed by an artist and not an engineer)

Would you rather fly in a really nice looking plane designed by an artist, or a functional looking plane designed by an engineer?

Unfortunately we as martial artists often put our faith in techniques that ’look good’ rather than are good.

This post is about how we can test our responses to dangerous situations. In particular, edged weapon attacks. Edged weapons are any thing that is sharp and or pointy that can be stuck into a persons flesh. This could be a screwdriver, broken bottle, knife or even a sword.

There are a number of things to consider when preparing your responses to an attack as described above, or in fact any edged weapon attack, these include:

Psychological responses and preparation
Physical attributes
Tactical responses

I prefer not to use the term ‘techniques’ when dealing with a life threatening situation. A technique implies a ready made solution to a problem. I like to think in terms of concepts and tactics. A concept allows for variance and is less inhibiting

What do I mean when I say have you tested your responses? No I don’t mean, go out and pick a fight in the street, or hang around near known trouble spots waiting for someone to attack or mug you. Although this is probably a great way to test your responses to edged weapon attacks (or any type of attack for that matter), problem is if it doesn’t work to well, it may be hard to work on finding a solution if you are in hospital or dead.

Testing your responses can be done in the gym or dojo.

How should you go about the testing process?

To do this I recommend breaking things down into sub sets.
Test the physical response.
Test the physical response under psychological duress.

Testing the physical response:
In the first instance you need to have a physical solution or solutions to the most common type of edged weapon attacks. In my opinion there are only really 3 common type of attack scenarios, the set up to the attack may vary, but the physical act is generally the same, these are;
Overhand stab (to the face, body, neck)
Overhand slash (to the face, body neck)
Horizontal or straight thrust to the body (generally the stomach area)

Now you need to pick a tactical response (technique if you like) to those types of attacks. Remember we are dealing with the type of edged weapon attack that is most likely to occur. Most people don’t need to worry about highly trained assassins trained as knife fighters, so let’s stick with the idea of the average thug with a sharp kitchen knife or a dirty blade stolen from the local disposals store.

In my opinion attack motions 1 & 2 are the same angle, this means that the physical motion used to affect the attack can and should be the same, so I would suggest that a single response to this physical motion would be desirable. Keep the options to a minimum, you have more time to train that option and you are more likely to effectively use that option in the moment of stress.

Now you have picked your favourite response from among the many you have most likely learnt if you have been dong martial arts for a while, how do you test it on the physical level? That’s the easy part.

You get someone to attack you with this motion, at 100% and you defend it using your chosen technique.
“But I can’t; I will seriously injure or kill my training partner”. This is a standard response I have heard numerous times when this course of action is suggested.

This is a problem, if the response is so deadly or dangerous that it can’t be tested, how do we know if it will work on the physical level, let alone on the psychological level when it’s tested under adrenal stress conditions.

This is where statistics come in again. (the first time is obviously when you train to deal with the attacks that are statistically most likely to occur).

You are going out to buy a used car, would you buy one before you test drove it. When buying a car it’s also common to get a comprehensive mechanics report, why do we do this, we want to know that the car works and that we are not getting duped. Would you trust the salesman who says, yeah mate, it goes great. Yet when you ask to test drive it he says, no way, you might wreck it, it’s to dangerous out there on the road.

You test drive a car, why can’t you test a skill that you may need to save your life.

If a technique is too dangerous to test (or even use as I have been told before), then how will you ever know if it works. If a tactic or technique is too dangerous to test, then I suggest you label it as unreliable and move on to another technique.

What about a simple punch to the head, hey I like to keep things simple myself, but how reliable is a punch to the head, will it connect?, will it cause a knockout first time?, will you even try it when you realise you have been stabbed, or will you instinctively just try to grab the arm with the knife in it to stop from being stabbed again and again and again.

OK back to the testing process. You have chosen your technique, your sucker (I mean training partner) is ready to attack you. Wait, we need equipment. I suggest some form of safety knife, not the real thing, we are testing the physical response at the moment not the, psychological response.

Look ahead at your response are you likely to need other equipment to make the testing process safer for all concerned. Other considerations would be a helmet, maybe eye protection. It’s up to you, but try to keep things as safe as possible.

Test one: you are attacked on the predetermined angle at 100%
I will start with the horizontal (thrust) stab to the body. Did you get stabbed?. If in doubt, grab some lipstick and smear it around the imitation knife you are using. Or you could just use a black felt marker pen. Either of these will leave a mark on your clothing or body that clearly indicates that you would have been cut.

Do this test at least 20 times. How often were you successful? Was your attacker going all out to stab you? Now try it again this time your attacker pretends he is a sowing machine, this means he stabs continuously at you.

I have yet to see any one leave the arm hanging in the air to be grabbed when actually stabbing someone, yet most martial artists practice their physical responses with the attacker leaving the weapon bearing limb hanging out in the air after a single stabbing motion. Remember, your attacker should be trying to stab you continuously, 5, 6 plus times, until you can stop him (or her). If you don’t physically stop the attack, the imitation weapon should actually it you.

Again, how often were you successful? You should be noting down each time you failed and each time you were successful in stopping the attack with nothing more than superficial injuries.

Now get another attacker, it is always best to pick people who are going to try to actually stab you, not people who are going to go easy on you. This often means getting people from different systems, as everyone always likes to prove that their system or style is best so you can be guaranteed that they will really try to stab you. Don’t worry it’s not really that hard to find people willing to make you and your system look bad.

If you are an instructor I recommend that you don’t use a student unless you can trust that student to really show you no respect. Remember an attacker in the street won’t be in awe of your belt colour or your ‘dan’ grade, so pick your test case attackers accordingly.

After you have tested this technique repeatedly, sit down and add up the results. What percentage were you successful?. 50%, probably less. I would wager that most techniques would be successful less than 50% of the time.

I come from a background of Filipino martial arts, arts that are recognised by many as the leaders in knife fighting, yet I found with a determined attacker I was only successful in about 50% of the attacks. The vast majority of techniques I tested rated at less than 20% effective, in particular anything that included a fancy disarm (or really any disarm) just didn’t work.

All right you have tested your technique and you’re thinking I don’t know 50% that’s not bad. Hey we are playing with your life here, let’s go back and play the percentages. Would you bet your life on the flip of a coin? NO, I certainly wouldn’t.

What next. Find another technique, in fact source techniques from a number of styles until you get something that gives you at least a 90% success rate. Remember we are still only dealing with a pre set physical response, we have not yet introduced the other elements such as unpredictability and adrenal stress, and these elements are likely to bring the success rate down even further.

Unpredictable attacks would include any attack you were not prepared for.

Unusual positions:
This part of the testing process puts you out in the real world and would include confined spaces, seated position etc. A prime example; you are sitting on the train when you are accosted by an attacker with an edged weapon, will your chosen technique work from this position?. If you are relying on a single strike, can you effectively generate the power required to disable your attacker from a seated position?

Remember not many attacks occur in boxing rings, dojo’s or in open spaces, there are usually obstacles around. Reproduce this as much as possible in your testing process.

I have heard many ‘Reality Based Self Defence’ Instructors (RBSD) denigrating grappling options for street defence. Unfortunately you may not always get a choice, an understanding of grappling, and in the case of grappling when an edged weapon is involved is very important. In many knife attack situations, due to the aggressiveness of the attacker you could be knocked of fall to the ground, if you are sitting you are also much more likely to end up wrestling for the weapon. Practice it. What works from here, does you chosen technique still work?

In fact, of the techniques I tested, the only techniques that proved to be successful on a regular basis involved some form of grappling. Usually this was related to gaining control of the weapon bearing limb. Once you get a hold of the weapon bearing limb, you are in a grappling situation.

Adrenal stress responses:

Now it gets harder. Testing a particular response under realistic conditions requires that you introduce circumstances that mimic those conditions that are likely to be felt if you are really attacked. This is likely to result in physiological responses such as
Tunnel vision
Impaired cognitive functions
Acceleration of heart and lung functions
Impairment of fine motor skills

I recommend some form of scenario based training, with a lot of people watching. Why have people watching, nerves. By adding the possibility of ridicule if it all goes wrong does help to increase the adrenal response. It will not be the same as the real thing, but a well set up scenario can provide the best and safest alternative to test your SD solutions. Having good role players is also of extreme benefit, the role players should be able to really get into character and force a physiological response from the person being tested.

Passing the results to others:
If you are an instructor, you need to add an extra step into your testing process. Can your chosen technique be readily taught to others?

As an instructor, often what you will find is that what works for you may not necessarily work for others. Remember you have most likely been training for many years; you have built skills and responses suitable for your body type and physical characteristics that may not be existent in others.

Now you need to teach your chosen responses to others, they are then tested under the same conditions listed previously. Hopefully you have done the hard work and narrowed down the field of possible options, this will save your students testing the majority of the options you have deemed unworkable. This is what they are paying you for in effect, your experience.

Test your students, ensure that the tactical options and attributes you have passed on will work just as effectively for them, if not, why teach it to them? You need to find something else that will work for them?

End result:

You now have a set of tactics to deal with an edged weapon assault. Tactics that have been thoroughly tested, and can be reliably reproduced by yourself and any others you teach these responses to. If not, keep working at finding a workable physical response. You want something that will give you at least an 90% success rate against the most determined attacker.

Most likely you will find that your end product closely resembles the same end product as most others who go through this process, this is a general result of any reality based testing process, the more fanciful techniques fall to the side and you are left with basic and most often very similar concepts to deal with life threatening situations.

Tips to achieve a working edged weapon solution:
Keep it basic
Be aggressive
Use the CASE theory (Copy and steal everything)
If it’s to dangerous to test, discard it, it probably won’t work anyway.
Don’t use a simulation in the test process (ie. If I hit you hear you will fall in this fashion, or if I grab you here, this will happen. This just does not work). If you must simulate something, even the simulation should work within the full on testing process. A prime example is the ‘shredder’ concept, this will often work even in a simulated fashion.
Keep to a minimum number of strategies and concepts to deal with the widest variety of attack options.
Make the testing process easier on yourself, seek out an instructor who has already done this, then test out what he or she has shown you.
Do not rely on a single strike to get the job done, invariably you will miss. (Damn Murphy’s law)
Your chosen concept should work in a variety of positions and within a variety of confines. A lot of edged weapon assaults happen within small bus shelters, public toilets and related enclosed spaces.
A technique/ concept that allows for you to gain control over the attackers weapon bearing limb at least stops you getting repeatedly stabbed.

Self defence, like life in general is a game of odd’s. Stack the odd’s in your favour to increase your chances of success, which in a knife assault situation may be the difference between life and death.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Kata - is it really usefull for combat/ self defence

I have been reading an interesting topic (thread) on the sportzblitz martial arts forum
http://www.sportzblitz.net/Forum/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=14977 .

This topic has come up previously in a number of formats but one constant is the fors and against the usefulness of kata.

Personally I have nothing against Kata, in fact I am keen practitioner of tai chi, which is a form of kata.

But is Kata or any form of pre set movements without a partner of use for combat training?

In my opinion, yes, but very minimal. Why?

Well to start with you need to work out what are the most important attributes required for combat (or self defence)
These attributes would include;
Distance (appreciation and awareness)

Then if you include grappling which forms an important part of real combat/ self defence you need to include all the little bits that actually makes a technique work. (more on that another day)

Starting with the striking part of combat/ self defence the two most important factors would be timing and distance. In order to actually hit the target you need an appreciation of distance. Then to hit that target (person) effectively you need the correct timing. This is the skill component

When we consider kata, does kata train either of these two attributes. NO.

There is no interaction with another person, so how can that person train 'timing' and 'distance'.

This comes down to the difference between drilling or practicing a technique and the ability to actually do the technique. So really the following applies not just to kata but to any type of drill or practice that does not include a 'resisting' opponent.

It is the unexpected movement of the resisting opponent that assists in developing a persons appreciation and use of timing and distance. If an opponent is moving in and out, changing angles, levels (height) etc, then you need timing and distance to actually hit the target.

Then of course they are likely to be hitting back which makes it even harder to anticipate the correct timing and distance required to hit your opponent.

So after someone can actually physically perform a technique, of what benefit is continued practice?

Obviously continued practice will allow the person to perfect the body mechanics of the technique, but at some point if you want to be able to perform the technique under combat conditions, you have to introduce resisting opponent's.

Any one who has trained with Ray Floro, will clearly see that he teaches you a technique (or concept) you drill it until you can perform it, then you put on the helmet and ‘do’ the technique under sparring conditions. This is when you learn how it all goes together, how to make the technique work.

When we apply this to BJJ, a person learns the technique, using an example of a basic arm bar from mount, once the basics of the physical technique have been mastered, the student is required to ‘do’ the technique with a resisting opponent. Preferably with increasing amounts of resistance, and starting from an isolated position, such as on the mount. But in the end to finally prove that you know a technique you must be able to do it against someone who does not want to let you.

Rarely does the perfect moment come to perform a technique, you have to either make the perfect moment (ie set someone up), or just work with what you have got. It is all the little bits in between, the bits that make the technique work that you only get from the doing of a technique repeatedly with someone who is resisting your efforts.

Again, applying this to the armbbar, if you wait for someone to put their arm and body in the perfect position as happens when drilling, then you could be waiting a while, a long while if your opponent is also skilled. Or in terms of FFS, we can drill the basic knife strike to the head all day, but we still need to get the distance and timing right and again if they opponent is also skilled, you also may need to fake or use some other method to get your opponent to move into the position you want in order to effectively make use of your chosen technique.

You can drill a technique (do kata) for ever, but you only really learn to apply a technique when sparring or fighting as that is when you learn how to overcome or adapt a technique to fit the requirements of a resisting opponent.

So yes, drilling or doing the kata does have its place but it is only a very small place. As soon as you can physically do (perform) the technique, you should move onto the doing (sparring). Any further drilling or kata work is simply wasted time. By all means you can come back and re drill again to re- establish a baseline technique, but again, once you can perform the movements on your own, no further effective learning can take place until you involve resisting opponents.

So how much time should you devote to real practice vs drilling (kata). In my opinion a martial artist should devote at least 60% of their time to training that involves resisting or semi resisting opponents. Anything less than that and it becomes difficult to actually apply the techniques you have practiced.

This is easier with grappling based martial arts, which is probably why arts like BJJ and wrestling have been so successful in NHB type competitions.

Therefore, you can have the best looking kata, punch, arm bar, whatever, but if you cant actually do it against a large variety of resisting opponent's, then it is just a dance, beautiful to watch but useless for real combat and self defence.

As Nike says, "Just do it"

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Ray Floro / Richard Norton Seminar

Last Sunday I made the trek up to Shepparton a country town in Northern Victoria in order to attend a seminar with 2 top class instructors being Ray Floro and Richard Norton.

2 hours with each for a total of $50.00, how could I pass that up.

And it was well worth the 3 hour drive to get there.

Even though it was hot (well over 40 degress), and there was no airconditioning there was a great turnout of about 50 people. Most from the Bob Jones Corporation (BJC) arts, but also a few from other arts.

As a contributor to the Blitz martial arts forum, I got to meet some of the people I often get to verbally spar with. Which was great.

But to the material of the seminar: WOW.

I am in instructor under Ray Floro, but yet I still managed to learn something new. Any one who has not trained in Ray Floro's system is seriously missing out. It is simply the best knife defence system out there.

When Ray was finished it was onto 2 hours of RBSD stuff from Richard Norton. I last trained with Richard Norton about 20 years ago, and he is still a marvel. He is fast and obviously dedicated. The material he showed had a lot of corolation to what I already do and was obviously influenced by Tony Blauer's SPEAR system.

It was good and it was fun. Even in the extreme heat.

Both Richard and Ray were full of energy, throughout the seminar, and answered questions freely. Both are appraochable and extremelly knowledgable.

Having trained with Ray for a number of years, I consider him a good friend and it is always a pleasure to catch up with him.

Richard Norton, even though he is a busy person who had to fly out to LA the next day, stayed back and joined many of us for a meal in town. There was none of the 'airs and graces' you would expect from a legitimate action movie star. He is one of the most down to earth people I have met. Again if the opportunity ever presents itself to train with him, I advise everyone to take the opportunity.

All in all, a great experience. A big thank you to Mick Clarke and Ben Hamilton from BJC for putting on the event and being great hosts for all who attended.