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.

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