Category Archive: B.S. in the Martial Arts

A Bad Review

Bad Review

Bad Review

A couple of months ago someone wrote a bad/one star review of my first book, The Ultimate Guide to Unarmed Self Defense, on  There are two unfortunate aspects to this review.  First, it is entirely wrong.  And second, it caused my book sales to immediately drop by about 75%.  I’m going to address the points this person made in the review here on my blog.

You can see the bad review here.

I think the main reason he disliked the book was due to his misunderstanding regarding this sentence that he wrote: “The author’s insistence that sport based fighting form the base for real world self defense was also highly suspect.

On both my website and in my book, I explain that the foundation of unarmed physical self defense training should be what I call the MMA Base, which is simply training punches, kicks, knees, elbows, and wrestling against an uncooperative opponent.  If you do not train these most common techniques against an uncooperative opponent, then you cannot learn to defend against them.  Period.  Many martial arts practitioners do not realize this.  It should be entirely uncontroversial, but unfortunately it isn’t.  In order to learn to defend against something, you have to actually train against it!

But the MMA Base is not self defense, and I’ve never said that it is.  The MMA Base is one small part of self defense.  Self defense involves a combination of strategy, training methods, and techniques that include awareness and prevention, unarmed physical self defense, and armed physical self defense.  The MMA Base is only one part of unarmed physical self defense training and techniques.  Awareness and prevention are far more important than the MMA Base, for example.  It is for this reason that the MMA Base section of my book is in Chapter 6 and not Chapter 1.

Before I get to the MMA Base in the book, in Chapter 1 I cover the difference between self defense and martial arts, pointing to the fact that self defense and MMA/sport based fighting are not the same.  The first chapter of my book points out the opposite of what this reviewer claims I insist upon.  The second and third chapters are all about violence, avoidance, awareness, and prevention – part of the strategic side of self defense.  I write in the book that this should be all you need for 99% of self defense.  Again, this is the opposite of saying that sport based fighting should form the base for real world self defense.  Chapters 4 and 5 cover more aspects of self defense strategy, along with functional training.  In Chapter 5 one section is titled “Self Defense: Beyond the MMA Base“, which includes this:

“The techniques and systems of the MMA Base are designed primarily for one-on-one sport based fights between people in similar weight classes, in an area designed for safe fighting, where both participants know what is about to happen. There are rules that prohibit some of the most effective and damaging techniques from being used, and by removing those techniques from the equation, unique and effective footwork, perfect for self defense, is also neglected. For the most efficient and effective physical self defense, we must go beyond the MMA Base.”

I proceed to explain why sport based fighting is not enough for physical self defense.

After Chapter 6, on the MMA Base, there are chapters on Functional Self Defense, Environmental Applications, and Physical and Mental Fitness – all important components of self defense that have nothing whatsoever to do with sport based fighting.  So I’m not sure what book this reviewer read, but it doesn’t appear to be mine!

The reviewer also wrote, “I did not find any new or original material and/or insights inside this tome.”  Again, he must not have read the book.  I have hundreds of martial arts and self defense books myself, and spend time at least looking at every new book that I come across.  I can guarantee this reviewer that he has never seen some of the concepts, strategies, and techniques that are covered in my book.  There absolutely are new and original material and insights in my book.

What frustrates me about this review is not so much that this one person missed just about everything in the book, although that is frustrating, but that his misguided review has caused many people not to buy the book.  (This is most likely due to the book ranking worse because of his review, although I’m sure some people have decided not to buy it after reading what he wrote.)  And the primary reason I am frustrated about people not buying the book has nothing to do with me making money by selling it.  I made this website and wrote the books because I genuinely care about people knowing what works and what doesn’t in terms of self defense.  It is a passion of mine.  This is not what I do for a living.  I don’t need the money.

I receive emails almost every day from people who have either read my books or spent time on my website, telling me how much they have learned from the material.  Most of them have practiced other martial arts, and many are martial arts instructors.  Just as I was taught ineffective material and thought it was effective, these people have done the same.  Reading my books and training the material in them has allowed people to see what actually works and what doesn’t, to really learn self defense, and to make their training much more functional and realistic.  It frustrates me that this one bad review from someone who clearly either didn’t read my book or somehow didn’t see most of what was in it, has substantially decreased the number of people who have access to realistic, functional material.

So I have a favor to ask.  Many of you reading this have purchased my books.  Many of you have emailed me to express how much you learned from them.  If you’ve read the books, please take a minute or two to write a review on Amazon.  Doing so will help other martial artists and self defense practitioners who won’t see this material otherwise.  Thank you!

Update: Changes Ahead

I haven’t posted or sent out any emails/updates in several months now.  I’ve been very busy with a number of big changes.  At some point early next year things will settle down, and I have plans to add more videos to my website in addition to possibly offering instructional videos.  I’ll also get back to posting more on this blog.  I have a backlog of at least a couple hundred emails, and I apologize if you’ve written and I haven’t written back.  I’ll try to respond soon!

How to Learn 10x Faster

Optimize Your Training

Optimize Your Training

I recently started taking lessons with another excellent oud/music teacher, and the exercises he has been having me do in our lessons have reminded me yet again how important teaching and learning with an optimal curriculum is.  The difference in the quality and speed at which you can learn with optimal practice is incredible.  I recently played for a friend of mine who has played the oud since he was a kid, and he remarked that in the last three months I’ve made seven years of progress.  That’s probably an exaggeration, but the point is solid.  The same goes for martial arts/self defense, or anything else you may be learning.

Unfortunately, in my experience most teaching is far from ideal, and most students really don’t know how to practice to get the best results.  Even when you do know how to practice optimally, the natural temptation is to do what seems easier or what you feel you may enjoy more, and it’s easy to get off course.  Two years ago I wrote a post titled 5 Tricks to Learn Better and Faster.  Two of the most important tips in that post were to master one small thing at a time and to practice just beyond your ability rather than attempting to go too far beyond it.  Even though I wrote that post myself, in my music practice I’ve still tended to practice playing entire compositions rather than breaking them into small/difficult parts in order to improve, and I’ve often practiced material that was far beyond my ability.  I got very little benefit from such practice, and a good bit of frustration.  And this is despite my first teacher telling me to do otherwise!

I see the same thing in martial arts practice all the time.  For example, at the last school I went to I watched as an instructor had students practice a combination of techniques that nearly everyone was failing to execute.  Why?  Because most of the people in the class weren’t able to do each of the individual techniques in the combination well enough.  They couldn’t possibly remember the combination, because they were too busy failing to do the first technique in the combination correctly.  But rather than stopping and working on each technique one at a time, the instructor just watched as the students made sloppy attempts, and then he moved on to the next combination they were unable to do!  This kind of practice is not only useless, but counterproductive.  But it’s common everywhere…

My wife and I have both taken foreign language lessons.  Recently my wife was complaining that her teacher has her read whole pages out loud, where she doesn’t know a substantial number of words.  This is how her textbook is arranged.  And I had exactly the same experience in my first foreign language classes.  Our teachers simply followed the text books without thinking about how much sense the curriculum made.  It would have made far more sense to learn the vocabulary first, then to listen to the teacher read the material, and then to read through it ourselves.  Trying to read through something where you don’t know what the words mean or how to pronounce them is pointless, frustrating, and counterproductive.  Yet, many language books are structured that way.

Attempting to learn or practice like this is like teaching someone a few boxing moves and then telling them to fight.  It just doesn’t work.  Students with such sub-optimal training will end up overwhelmed and developing bad habits.  And bad habits take much longer to correct than if the material had been learned well in the first place.

The solution is simple.  You need to use what Matt Thornton called the I Method, which I have briefly written about in the training section of my website and in detail in my first book.  There are three phases to the I Method: introduction, isolation, and integration.  It doesn’t matter what you’re learning.  The concepts are the same.

Begin with a single technique.  This is the introduction phase, and it only takes a minute or two in most cases.  Then drill the technique in an easy/cooperative environment with progressive resistance and intensity.  This is the isolation phase, where the technique is learned well and pathways in the brain are really laid down.  The isolation phase can and often should always be a part of training, where you can perfect technical mechanics and increase speed and power without being interrupted.  And the final phase is the integration phase.  At this point you integrate the technique into actual performance.  And at this point it is crucial that you do not train too far above your ability!

You can start the integration phase with a single technique and a single defense with low intensity, and slowly and gradually add techniques and intensity.  The key is to train right around the edge of your skills.  Sometimes a little below them, where you can perform solidly, sometimes at the border where it’s challenging, and sometimes JUST past your level where you fail.  Once you fail, you can stop, determine why you failed, create an isolation exercise to address the failure point, and then re-integrate.

This strategy of training right past the edge of your ability, figuring out why you fail, and creating an exercise to deal exactly with that failure, will lead to very fast and efficient increases in your skills.  On the other hand, if you either get stuck in the introduction phase, which is what happens in many martial arts that primarily use solo training, or get thrown into the integration phase with too many techniques and too much intensity too soon, as is also common, you’ll end up learning very little of anything that actually works.

You can and should apply this to everything that you do or teach!  🙂

Chi Sao, Hubud, and Other Sensitivity Drills

I recently received an email asking what I think of the value of sensitivity drills and figured the topic would make a good blog post. This is somewhat controversial, as a number of traditional martial arts rely very heavily on such drills, and most sport and MMA fighters consider them to be completely ineffective.

What Are Sensitivity Drills?

For those of you who don’t know what sensitivity drills are, they are a little difficult to define.  I’m not certain about this, but I think the term may have come from Dan Inosanto or someone in the Jeet Kune Do Concepts area, where it was applied to drills like chi sao in Wing Chun, hubud in Kali, pushing hands in Tai Chi, and so on.  The drills tend to take place only at one particular range, and are designed to train reactions to different energy your partner “feeds” you.  The idea is that you become more sensitive to your partner’s energy or force, and learn to respond to it with techniques from the system you’re studying.  If you search YouTube for chi sao, hubud, or pushing hands, you’ll find many examples of such drills.

The term sensitivity drill is usually applied to drills that don’t closely resemble actual fighting.  Although a training drill that works particular counter punch responses to a jab, a cross, and a hook could also be viewed in terms of reacting to energy or techniques fed by your partner, I’ve never heard anyone call such training a sensitivity drill.  From my perspective, it’s possible that the term sensitivity drill was invented to give purpose to drills that are at least a step or two removed from actual fighting…they don’t teach you how to fight, but they increase your sensitivity or qualities that you can use in fighting.

In the JKD Concepts area a distinction is also made between “self preservation” training and “self perfection” training.  The sensitivity drills are considered to be self perfection training whereas sparring or drilling techniques in a realistic context are considered to be self preservation training.

Do Sensitivity Drills Work?

First, I trained and taught such drills for many years.  At the time I felt they were beneficial.  I learned concepts from the drills, honed techniques, and eventually applied some of them in sparring.  So can a person learn something from sensitivity drills?  Certainly.  But the question I asked myself as both a practitioner and a teacher was, are sensitivity drills the most efficient and effective way to learn whatever is supposed to be taught through them?  The answer is no, at least with respect to the drills commonly grouped under that term, and the way they are practiced.  Furthermore, most sensitivity drills also ingrain bad habits.

In my experience, using sensitivity drills to train techniques and qualities is like using a screw driver as a hammer.  You can hammer a nail in with a screw driver, but a hammer would be a much better tool for the job.  The hammer would not only be a more effective tool, but it would also be a lot faster.

Better Alternatives

Think about what it is that you’re trying to train or improve with any given sensitivity drill.  Does it actually provide benefit in a real fight or self defense situation?  If it does, then think about how you can best train it.

Most if not all sensitivity drills I have seen, practiced, and taught, include techniques or combinations of techniques that would not work against a fully resisting uncooperative opponent.  Some of the drills have almost zero resemblance to actual fighting or self defense.  If your goal is to increase skills that can be used in a real self defense situation, then your training drills should mirror what actually happens in a self defense situation as closely as possible.

If you look at how people who fight for a living train, professional fighters, you’ll see that the techniques and drills they use correlate 100% to what they and their opponent’s do in the fight itself.  But let’s look at a sensitivity drill like chi sao in Wing Chun:

Brue Lee Chi Sao

Bruce Lee Chi Sao

Does the above image look even remotely similar to what you might see in a fight?  Unless you’ve been brainwashed, you will have to admit that it does not.  This is exactly why Bruce Lee moved away from such drills and into western boxing.

You can learn techniques and concepts through chi sao that can be used in real fighting or self defense, but if you pull those techniques and concepts out of the drill you can train them exactly as they work in reality in a more efficient and effective manner.

Let’s take a look at two skills people try to increase through chi sao training: controlling and dominating the centerline, and trapping your opponent’s limbs to prevent his offensive and defense.  Both of these skills can be trained exactly as they would be used in self defense, in a scenario based context.  Both of these skills can be practiced in the context of sparring.

My goal in teaching is to provide students with the most efficient and effective path to functional skills.  Rather than learning to trap an opponent’s limbs through a drill that has no resemblance to actual fighting, why not learn to trap an opponent’s limbs in a drill or in training that exactly mirrors fighting?  I can’t think of a single good reason.  Of the two following images, which would be a more functional place to learn to trap your opponent’s arms?  Which would be more likely to lead to skills that you could actually use against an opponent?



Chi Sao

Chi Sao

Both are contrived for the purpose of training, but one is more realistic than the other.  At this point in my teaching and training, I’m fairly certain that anything that can be learned from sensitivity drills can be learned more efficiently and effectively from training methods that more closely resemble actual fighting or self defense situations.  I can get a student to be able to use trapping much faster in the context of boxing than in the context of chi sao.

I’m not implying that techniques from Wing Chun, Kali, and Tai Chi can’t work in self defense.  I use and teach trapping that can be found in Wing Chun and Kali, and techniques that can be found in Tai Chi.  My book is full of them.  But many people don’t recognize them because the context is different from the context they are traditionally taught in.  The traditional context is in my view something that slows students down rather than speeds them up.  In the context of a stylized dojo I can understand how such training could evolve.  But just because many people do it doesn’t make it ideal.

What are your thoughts on this?  Can you think of a quality or skill that would be better to learn in a sensitivity drill than in a more functional/realistic training context?  If so, please let me know in the comments.

Is Your Training Realistic?

To start, I want to make an important point.  The other day I noticed an online reference to my page on Why Most Martial Arts Don’t Work.  Someone posted a link to the page, and another person commented that my page/site couldn’t be trusted because I’m only trying to sell something.  I do sell a book that can be found on my site, but everything else on my website and blog is free, including instructional videos.  I try not to push the book, as I’m sure most of you reading this have already noticed.  I do this because I’m passionate about self defense and martial arts, I enjoy teaching, and I genuinely want other practitioners to understand what works and what doesn’t…how to train realistic, functional material.

When I mention other styles, teachers, or training methods and explain why they don’t work, the point is not to put down other systems or people, and the point isn’t for me to make money.  (I haven’t taught martial arts for a living since 2007.)  The point is for you to see examples that shed light on inefficient and ineffective training.  Why?  Because I hate to see people wasting their time, doing something they think will work, when it will likely fail in reality.  I’ve been there.  I don’t want you to be there too.  So with that said…

Is your training realistic?  Here’s an easy way to find out:  Does your sparring look like your other training?  If not, then your training probably isn’t realistic.

If you’re not sparring, then you have a problem.  Your training definitely isn’t realistic.

Many people tell me their techniques are too dangerous for sparring.  Anyone who thinks that simply doesn’t know how to spar properly.  With protective gear and/or lowering the intensity of the sparring, any technique can be used in sparring.  100%.  In BJJ chokes and arm breaks are trained.  You just don’t take them all the way.  It’s not a problem.  In my teaching/training, sparring includes eye strikes, neck hacks, neck breaks, and groin kicks.  It’s not a problem.  You simply wear protective gear and/or watch the contact and intensity.  You gradually build up in a safe and responsible manner.

What is sparring?  It’s testing your techniques against an uncooperative and fully resisting opponent.  If you’re not doing that, then you have no idea if your techniques and training methods will actually work, even if they seem to work perfectly in the training room!  Many people who train traditional martial arts do not realize what an uncooperative and fully resisting opponent means.  Here’s an important post on that.

So if you do spar, does your sparring look like your other training?  In my experience, in most schools it does not!  In most schools (outside of the sport systems), training and sparring look entirely different.  This is a serious problem.

A Popular School

I was talking to someone yesterday about a big, popular school in my city.  Some of the teachers are very good, and highly skilled.  I imagine they could handle themselves in most self defense situations.  I wouldn’t want to fight them if I could avoid it.  But most of their training is very inefficient and ineffective, it looks nothing whatsoever like their sparring, and it would not stand up to a fully resisting and uncooperative opponent!

Fortunately they do spar.  But their sparring is basically just kickboxing/MMA.  Great.  However, what is the point of all the other training they do, if they are using nearly none of it in sparring!?!?

Their training looks very cool.  It looks really impressive.  Sometimes I look at it and have to think twice before I remember that things don’t actually work that way myself!  But no one is actually applying the techniques and combinations that are used in training.

If your training partner is attacking and then standing still with his arm out in the air while you execute a combination of counter techniques, then what you are training is likely unrealistic.  If the defense you are practicing would not work if your opponent continued to attack, then it is likely unrealistic.  Unfortunately, this is how most traditional martial arts training happens.

It’s not the best video, but take a look at the following kali empty hands video I made as an example.  The first (ineffective) techniques I demonstrate require unrealistic distancing, that the attacker only attacks with one or two strikes, that he does not follow up, and that he does not resist.  The more functional applications I demonstrate (not as well as they could have been demonstrated) in the second half of the video are not like that!  Those techniques do not require a cooperative opponent.  They do not require specific attacks, and they work even if the opponent attempts to continue to attack.  Here’s the video:

Negative Conditioning

I get emails from people nearly every day who tell me that they agree with the material on my website.  Yet when they send me video links or tell me about what they are doing, it usually turns out that they are practicing ineffectively themselves.  They think that everyone else is practicing an inferior system, but their system is realistic.  Their system has been around for centuries, it has stood the test of time, it was created and used by a woman monk, it has been used on the battlefield, etc., etc..  This is really unfortunate.  Through training in a semi-cooperative environment, we humans are easily and quickly conditioned to believe that ineffective material works!  It works in the training room, so we think it will work in reality.  But what people fail to realize is that their training partners are only attacking in certain ways, that they aren’t really resisting, that they aren’t really being uncooperative.

There are two things you must do in order to make sure your training is functional.  First, when you try your techniques, tell your training partner “don’t let me do this”.  You’ll probably need to repeat it, as we naturally begin to cooperate with each other in training.  Second, make sure that when you train it is nearly indistinguishable from when you spar.  If the techniques and combinations you are training are not the same ones you’re using when you’re sparring, then there is a problem with the techniques, or a problem with how you are training them.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all!

How Fast Can You Learn Self Defense?



My last post, Advanced Class, was a response to a blog post by Rory Miller, where he wrote “everything that works can be taught to proficiency in 40 hours”.  I disagree, and I started to explain why in the last post.  I wrote the post too quickly.  I should have explained more, it could have been more comprehensive, and it was rather rambling.  I’m going to approach the discussion from another angle in this post:  How fast can you learn self defense?

There are at least two parts of that question that need to be clarified:

  • Defense against what?
  • What is your current state in terms of physical fitness and existing skills?

How fast can you learn to defend against what?  A cooperative training partner who isn’t really trying to injure or kill you?  A 40 year old man in average shape who attacks with a combination of punches?  A 20 year old guy who was a high school wrestler?  A 25 year old woman slashing at you with a knife?  A 35 year old gangster who has practiced boxing for years?  What if he has practiced MMA for years?  A gun threat?  How about multiple armed opponents?  What about a competitive MMA fighter?

Where I’m currently living, the MMA gyms are full of immigrants from relatively violent countries, and they’re responsible for the majority of the crime here.  They compete in MMA fights.  They often carry knives.  They train hard for several hours per week if not more, and they’ve been doing it for years.  Can you learn to physically defend against one of them in 40 hours?

Axe Attack

What if he has an axe?

MMA is not self defense.  But there are parallels in the sense that MMA involves striking and grappling, and unarmed self defense also involves striking and grappling.  Do you expect to be able to defend against someone with hundreds or even thousands of hours of MMA training with only 40 hours of training yourself?  Will you be using a weapon?  What if he has a weapon?  What if there are three guys like him?

What is your current state of fitness?  Physical self defense is often like an all out sprint.  Not always, but often.  Are you in good enough shape to handle that?  Are you a small woman with very little strength?  Are you an older person with a disability?  What are your existing skills?  Do you know how to make a fist, where to hit with your palm, or how to do an elbow strike?  Do you have experience with stand up or ground grappling?

I’ve taught a great variety of people all over the spectrum.  I once taught a 70 year old man with no formal training who was a building contractor.  He often got into fights, and he was tough as nails.  He would have easily beaten the majority of people who first walked in my door.  I’ve also taught men and women who had absolutely no idea how to make a fist.  They had no clue how to throw an elbow strike, and even after multiple classes/hours they continued to attempt uncoordinated strikes with the wrong parts of their bodies.  I’ve taught people who learned incredibly fast, much faster than I ever did.  And I’ve taught people who learned very slowly.

So how fast can you learn self defense?  The question is meaningless without a lot of context.

Tool Development

In  my view, self defense includes footwork, kicking, hand strikes, elbows, knees, and headbutts, and defense against them.  It includes stand up and ground grappling, which involves positional dominance and escapes, joint manipulations and chokes from the various positions (standing high tie up variations, standing low tie up variations, the mount, the guard, side mount, knee in stomach, north-south, etc.).  It involves the use of and defense against long blunt and short blunt objects, long sharp and short sharp objects, linked objects, and projectiles.

In a comment on Rory’s original blog post a guy named Jim responded to one of  my comments about this and said:

Well, let’s look at striking quickly. What do you have to do? Impact the weapon against the desired target. The power generation principles run the same, whether we’re looking at a palm, a clenched fist punch, an elbow, or baton. If taught in a principle based manner, all you have to do is change the striking implement. So, instead of an hour block on palms, an hour block on punches, an hour on elbows (OK, figure that’s really on 2+ block of “striking”) coupled with another couple of hours on “baton striking” — we have an hour or two on “power generation & impact weapons.”

This sounds great.  But there’s a serious problem with the reasoning:  The neurological connections that are required to use your hand effectively are different from those required to use your elbow effectively.  You can write using one of your hands, but probably very poorly with the other.  Try attaching a pen to your elbow and see how well you can write with it.  As I wrote previously, I’ve taught people who have had a hard time just learning how to punch or palm without hurting their hand, and who would revert back to ineffective striking repeatedly, for weeks.  “Hard wiring” the connections in your brain takes time.

Someone who can already strike with any part of their body understands that the principle is the same no matter what they’re striking with.  And to them it may seem like this is simple.  But for many people it isn’t a simple matter, even if they get it intellectually.  For some people with very little strength, even if they do strike correctly it will have very little impact unless they have the accuracy to strike someone in the eye, throat, or groin.  And, what happens when their opponent is a guy with 5 years of MMA experience and fighting, who counters that first defensive strike?

Striking should almost always be accompanied by footwork.  Let’s look at a very simple footwork example, a forward step and slide:

Forward Step and Slide

Forward Step and Slide

It looks extremely simple.  And it is.  You step forward a bit with your lead leg, and then your bring your back foot up.  As simple as this is, I don’t know that I’ve ever taught a beginner who could do it in the first few hours, under pressure…forward and/or backward.  Everyone naturally has the tendency to either leave the rear foot back and lean forward, destroying their balance and ability to continue, or to bring the rear foot too far forward, right up to the front foot, also destroying their balance.  The same is true in reverse and side to side, and it’s one reason why so many people fall down when they get attacked.

In our everyday life we often lean forward or backward.  We often bring our feet together or cross our feet.  It takes time to rewire our brains and learn not to do these things in a self defense situation.  And it takes even more time to be able to hard wire these things in, so that the mistakes don’t come out under pressure.  Even after many months of training a student, I still found myself correcting them on these very simple movements.

Anyone can intellectually learn the common denominators of striking and grappling, the core concepts.  But it takes many years of training to be able to effectively fight or defend against someone who also has many years of mixed martial arts experience, for example.  What if your opponent has trained?


What if he also has a sledge hammer?

Quality Development

Techniques are only one small part of self defense skill.  Knowing how to throw a palm strike or do an elbow break is one thing.  Being able to do it against someone who is throwing a punch at your face is another thing entirely.  Being able to do it after someone has already hit you in the face is yet another thing.  To use techniques requires an understanding of and an ability to manipulate distance, position, and timing.  These qualities are anything but natural, and they take time to develop.

Consider the difference between someone who has been boxing for 6 months and someone who has been boxing for 10 years, or a beginning boxer and an expert boxer.  Boxing has very few techniques.  The difference is primarily in their ability to manipulate distance, position, and timing.  For months of training, a beginning boxer will attempt to hit an advanced opponent when he is out of range.  And the beginning boxer will get hit because he’s too close but doesn’t realize it.  He’ll get hit because he poorly times an attack or a defense.  Because the distance, positional understanding, and timing of fighting are not natural to those without a great deal of experience with fighting, they take substantial time to build.


In the comments of Rory’s post he wrote:

Today I saw a young man with no previous training handle a simultaneous full speed attack from three people. That was with ten hours of training. Two more hours and he was putting things together.

How many people at that seminar saw the same thing, and believed that this young man with no previous training really learned how to defend against a full speed attack from three people?  I wouldn’t be surprised if all of them did.  But think about this for a moment.  If one person at the seminar learned to defend against three people, how is it that those three were “beaten” by only one?  The answer is obvious.  The three attackers were not really attacking.  Or at a minimum, they were not continuing their attack.  In the context of a seminar, where “attackers” either aren’t really attacking, or are attacking in seriously limited ways, it’s easy to believe you’re learning more than you are.  What you can do in a cooperative and limited martial arts class is very different from what you will be able to do in reality.

What Can You Learn In A Short Period?

Tough Guy

Tough Guy

Well, you probably won’t learn how to physically defend against a surprise attack by the guy in the picture to the right.  But there is a lot you can learn.  You can learn how to be aware of your surroundings and how to prevent an attack from occurring in the first place.

In terms of physical self defense, I do make things as simple as possible.  Everything you need to do can be thought of as following one simple concept: the Covered Blast.  It doesn’t matter if you’re up against a single unarmed opponent or multiple armed opponents.  The concept works just the same.

If you learn what I call the Fundamental Five and the Four Step Matrix, you’ll have a combination of extremely solid, efficient, and effective techniques that follow the Covered Blast concept.  I’ve taught the Fundamental Five to more than one person who has successfully used one of the techniques in self defense with less than 5 hours of training.  But that doesn’t mean they’ve become proficient at self defense in less than 5 hours!  It simply means they were lucky enough to have been attacked by someone where one of the techniques was the right solution even with minimal training.  If the fellow at right would have surprise attacked them with a hammer, I seriously doubt they would have done so well.

In addition to techniques you need solid training methods, a substantial investment of time, and a lot of hard work.  Learning how to use weapons, particularly something as simple as pepper spray, can go a long way.

Your size does matter.  Your strength does matter.  Your speed does matter.  If you’ve trained before, how athletic you are, how tough you are, how disciplined you are, how fast you learn…it all matters.  There is no easy answer as to how fast you can learn self defense, and the question is relatively meaningless if you consider the infinite variety of attacks you could face.  It’s not fair that a small unarmed woman with very little strength and no training is going to have a hell of a time defending against a strong man who has experience fighting.  But it’s the truth.

No absolute beginner is going to be able to train 40 hours and defend against an experienced opponent, multiple opponents, or armed opponents without a serious dose of luck.  Depending on the qualities you bring to the table, you may be able to learn a lot relatively quickly.  But learning self defense is a process that never ends.  There is always more to learn.  You cannot learn it all in 40 hours, 40 weeks, or even 40 months.

How to Fight Multiple Opponents

No one can simultaneously fight multiple opponents without getting hit or grabbed and possibly taken out.  It only works in the movies.  The key to fighting multiple opponents is to fight them one at a time.  There are a couple of ways to do that, which I’ll describe below.  But first…

Before you can successfully fight multiple opponents you need to be able to effectively fight or defend against a single opponent.  You need to have effective techniques, realistic training methods, and a solid strategy.  If you’re missing any one of those things, you may get lucky against a single individual, but it’s highly unlikely you’ll succeed against multiple opponents.  So the first step is to have solid skills.  If you haven’t already read it, read my web page on self defense training.  All of that applies equally and even more so in multiple opponent scenarios.

So how do you fight multiple opponents one at a time?

Line Them Up

No matter what technique you attempt first, you need to use footwork that causes the opponent you’re currently dealing with to block the other opponent’s path to you.  If you’re facing two opponents this isn’t that hard, however, it becomes harder and harder to maintain as time progresses and/if you get bogged down with one.  You need to train this to get accustomed to it.  A good drill to start is to face two training partners, tell one of them to try to touch you, and use the other one as a shield.  Quickly move to put the “shield” between yourself and the man trying to touch you.  You’ll see that this gets tiring very quickly, and becomes harder the more it goes on.

Progress to doing boxing style sparring against two partners, where you train to line them up so you only fight one at a time.  Then add kicking, clinch, ground, etc..  Obviously you’ll want to avoid clinch and ground against multiple opponents, but your opponents need to be able to try to grab/clinch you, and you need to be able to defend against those attempts.  My grappling defense works very well to stop a clinch/takedown attempt.

Using techniques that incorporate triangular footwork can work very well against multiple opponents, as the footwork allows you to attack and line up the opponents simultaneously.  Here is an example of a single stick triangular footwork drill in pictures.  You can see it in video on this page.  Obviously using a weapon would be a great advantage against multiple opponents (more on that soon), but the same footwork can be used with a variety of techniques.  In the pictures below I’m using triangular footwork with an eye strike and a groin slap, both great potential initial techniques to be used in a multiple opponent scenario:

Eye Strike

Eye Strike

Groin Slap

Groin Slap

Many techniques that aren’t typically done with triangular footwork can be, or you can strike and then quickly use such footwork to get you to the opponent’s outside.

Another way to line up opponents is to force them into having to line up for you.  If you’re standing near a doorway or hallway for example, you can quickly sprint through it and stop, creating a situation where the opponents can only get to you one by one.  Training to blast through a “line” of opponents, escaping to a strategic position, can also be a great training exercise.

Quickly Take One of Them Out

If you’re up against two opponents and you can quickly take one of them out, then you’ll effectively be fighting only one.  If you’re up against three and you can quickly take one out, then you can line up the other two.  This is a great strategy in theory, but unless you have the element of surprise on your side (and hopefully you set things up that way), it’s not easy to take someone out with one shot, particularly if they’re moving, defending, or attacking you at the same time.  Of course you should try to eliminate each opponent as quickly as possible, but make sure to still attempt to “line them up” in case your take-out-move fails.

Use a Weapon

Using a weapon that you’ve trained to use well can vastly increase your odds in a multiple opponent scenario.  See my weapons page for more on using weapons in self defense.  A weapon will allow you to take out your opponent’s quicker, and depending on the weapon you may be able to extend your reach, allowing you to more easily line them up.  Projectile weapons (pepper spray, a bright tactical light at night, or a gun) and long range weapons (stick, machete, etc.) are the best choices for multiple opponent scenarios.

When I first started training in traditional martial arts I had what I realize now was a misguided and silly idea, that weapons weren’t for real martial artists.  Many people who write me want to be able to use their unarmed martial art in all situations.  But that’s just not realistic.  There are many situations that would be difficult if not impossible to survive without the use of a weapon.  For that reason, I highly recommend learning to use them, and using them whenever you need to.  If you’re attacked by multiple opponents, that would certainly qualify.

Don’t Fight Multiple Opponents!

The best option if you’re facing multiple opponents is not to fight them at all.  If you can avoid fighting, then you’re guaranteed not to lose.  Remember, we’re talking about self defense here, not sports or movies.  If you follow the advice on my awareness and prevention page, 99.9% of the time you’ll never have a problem…you’ll be able to stop the fight before it even starts.  But if it’s unavoidable, then you need to use the element of surprise, take each man out as quickly as possible, ideally using a weapon, and line the opponent’s up so you can deal with them one at a time.

Questions, comments, or thoughts?  Let me know in the comments!

Two Crazy Emails, What You Can’t Control, & Blind Faith

I received more than 30 emails in response to my last blog post.  The vast majority of them were positive and useful.  But two of them were a little crazy, and even dangerous in terms of faith in systems that would likely fail in the face of a real attack.

The first one came from a wing chun instructor.  Before I post it I should mention that several of the positive emails I received were also from wing chun instructors.  As I wrote in the last blog post, there are effective techniques in wing chun, and some WC instructors (especially the ones that tend to write me) teach the techniques in a functional manner, along with other systems that train what WC is lacking.  So don’t take the email below as representative of all WC instructors.  Here it is (cursing edited out by me):

You comment on wing Chun like you know anything about it. Well if you take all the sh&@*y wing Chun teachers then you will have sh&$%y students. Someone who knows the art it looks nothing like wing Chun , anyone who knows wing Chun knows that . An there are many so called functional martial arts instructors who got their f*$#ing certification in a weak long class. So just like everything else you have people who scholdnt be teaching that are. And let me see your certifications in the arts you claim to know all about!

This email is typical of the negative emails I tend to get (which are rare).  The writing is usually terrible, even when written by a native English speaker, and there is never any actual argument against whatever point I was making that they disagree with…for obvious reasons.  But this guy really is a martial arts instructor, certified by very well known martial artists.  So he’s out there teaching people, which is scary.

What he doesn’t realize is that I’ve studied in the past with the same people and groups that he has, which makes implying that he knows wing chun but I know nothing about it rather laughable.  For the sake of being transparent, I do not have any certification in wing chun.  I was never interested in specifically teaching wing chun, and quit wearing my first black belt soon after I got it, disillusioned with rank…having seen how little it actually means.  Actual skill/ability and knowledge are important to me.  These things tend to have very little to do with certification in the majority of systems, and I’d rather people focus on ability, knowledge, and logic instead of believing in a certificate.

My point in the last post was that every style is limited by nature.  If it is a specific style, then it is not any other style, which automatically limits it.  That’s pretty hard to disagree with if you think about it with an open mind for just a moment.  But a “pure stylist” is going to have a problem with that, because he believes in his system, and this idea is going to conflict with his belief.  Rather than changing his belief when faced with contrary evidence or thinking, he resorts to a personal attack.  It’s sad, but common.

What You Cannot Control

The second email wasn’t crazy in terms of content.  But the idea within it is, and it’s something I tried to address in a previous post.  The guy who wrote it said he agreed that wing chun doesn’t work, which is not something I actually said, as wing chun techniques can work if trained and used properly, but that the reason was because it was a martial art and not actual self defense.  He then went on to explain that no martial art or fighting system works in self defense, because in self defense you cannot fight your opponent…you need to just take him out…with Combatives.

This is nice in theory.  Just take out your opponent.  But in reality, you cannot control what your opponent does!

This is a fundamental concept that is extremely important to understand.  Many martial art instructors only teach with cooperative training drills.  These drills assume that your opponent will move a certain way, respond a certain way, that your defensive technique will succeed, and so on.  But it may not go that way.  It probably won’t go that way!

When you have two or more powerful adults trying their best to hurt or kill each other, there will be chaos.  Even if you are an outstanding martial artist or a highly skilled self defense practitioner, your techniques will be dictated by the position, movement, and reactions of your opponent.  And you cannot control that.  You can control what you do, but you cannot control what your opponent will do.  This is why training against an uncooperative opponent is absolutely essential.  That’s how it’s going to be in reality.

So it’s great to say that you shouldn’t “fight” in self defense, that the MMA Base is all about fighting, and instead you should focus on just taking out your opponent with deadly techniques and unrelenting force.  But let me ask you this:  What happens when your opponent moves in an unexpected way?  What happens when your opponent counters your attack?  What happens if he has friends?  What happens if you want to take him out, but he makes it a “fight”?

I’d like to know what you think about this and if it makes sense to you.  So please let me know in the comments below.  Have you also trained in schools or with instructors who assume that their techniques are simply going to work?  Why is it so difficult to understand that an opponent is going to resist, and you need to be prepared for that?

The Problem With Wing Chun (and every other martial art)

Wing chun has one of the same problems that every martial art has.  And if you’re only studying wing chun, or any other art, then this problem could cause you to be seriously hurt in a real self defense situation or fight.  (I’m using wing chun as an example because I receive more questions about it than any other system.)

What It Is, and What It Isn’t

Wing chun has a specific style.  It utilizes specific techniques, training methods, and concepts.  Anyone with just a little knowledge of various martial arts would never confuse a wing chun practitioner’s movements with those of karate, tae kwan do, or boxing.  Each of those styles, and many more, is specific and easily identifiable.

Wing chun is not karate, tae kwan do, boxing, Brazilian jiu jitsu, western wrestling, Thai boxing, kali, and so on.  There is much, much more that wing chun is not than what it is.  This is the nature of any specific style.  It is necessarily limited by what it is.  What it is defines its boundaries.  What it is determines what it is not.

This is a serious problem.

In a self defense situation or fight there are no standards or rules.  In a wing chun class your partner will only throw wing chun style punches at you.  You’ll learn how to block wing chun style punches.  But outside of a wing chun school, an attacker isn’t going to attack with a wing chun punch.

Theoretically, the same “lines of attack” or “angles of attack” apply.  Theoretically, wing chun defense should be able to work against any punch.  But in reality, if you haven’t trained against something, it’s highly unlikely you’ll be able to adapt to deal with it in time.

There was a story on NPR about a year ago that discussed studies demonstrating how professional baseball players did very poorly when attempting to hit a ball thrown by women using an underhand pitch.  Although professional players can hit balls thrown at extremely high speeds, they become accustomed to exactly how the ball is thrown.  And when it’s thrown just a bit differently, they can no longer hit it.  Surprising as it may sound, their ability to hit an underhanded pitch is no greater than that of the average person.  Their specific skill is not transferable to another pitching style.

The same goes for martial arts.  If you only train in a wing chun school, in a relatively short period of time you’re going to become conditioned to defending against wing chun attacks.  And, you will not be conditioned to defend against attacks thrown by the average person.

In addition to the stylistic elements of the techniques included in a system, there is the larger problem of techniques that are not included in a given system.  Wing chun is primarily a close range system.  The majority of training does not take place in the range that tae kwan do, judo, or Brazilian jiu jitsu takes place in.  Practitioners do not learn to defend against techniques from tae kwan do, judo, or BJJ, because they don’t know how to do them in the first place.  And, you cannot learn to defend against something that you cannot do well yourself.

A Fancy Mess

Bruce Lee used the phrase “a fancy mess” to describe what many traditional martial arts have become.  It’s an accurate description.  People who practice a single style like wing chun not only practice techniques in a certain stylized (unnatural) fashion and leave out techniques that are not part of their chosen style, but they also develop a fancy mess as a result.  One practitioner uses a wing chun attack, another uses a wing chun defense, and the initial attacker develops a wing chun counter to the wing chun defense.  Evolution happens, and you end up with a fancy collection or series of offensive and defensive techniques and training methods that look nothing whatsoever like an actual attack on the street!

There is a common training drill in wing chun called chi sao, which is a great example of this.  Take a look at the following picture:

Bruce Lee Chi Sao

Bruce Lee & Yip Man doing chi sao

Have you ever seen anyone fight like this???  Of course not.

Now, I understand that chi sao is not a fight.  I understand it’s a drill designed to train wing chun techniques, skills, and strategies.  I practiced and taught it myself for many years.  So I know first hand that although there are some valuable techniques and concepts in the exercise, there are also a host of problems with it.  It has largely become what Bruce Lee declared, a fancy mess.  It bears very little resemblance to a real fight or self defense situation.  There are better ways to train the effective techniques and principles used in wing chun.  But it’s natural that in a school that is limited to a particular style, a fancy mess of techniques and training methods will evolve.

Fixing the Problem

No single style is sufficient for self defense, because by definition every style has particular stylized movement, excludes what is not a part of the style, and over time evolves to become a fancy mess.  But, many styles do have valuable techniques, training methods, and strategies.

The key is to do exactly what Bruce Lee, arguably the most famous wing chun practitioner ever, said: “Take what is useful, and discard what it useless.”  Unfortunately the system he created, jeet kune do, which was supposed to be a system with no system, has become as much of a stylized fancy mess as any other style.

It is for this reason that I call what I teach “functional self defense”.  It is not a system or a style.  It is simply a collection of the most efficient and effective techniques, training methods, and strategies from wherever they may come.  Some of them come from wing chun.  Some come from boxing.  And so on.

The key is to avoid practicing or creating a structured, limited style.  Learn to use and defend against the most common attacks.  This is what I call the “MMA Base”…boxing, kickboxing, and wrestling…the most natural and common techniques of fighting.  Add modern weapons to the mix.  Add the most efficient and effective techniques, training methods, and strategies.

It’s ok to study wing chun or any other specific martial art.  But if you want to learn how to defend yourself, it’s not ok to limit yourself to any particular style or teacher.  Keep an open mind.  Explore different things.  It’s the only way you’ll avoid limitations and fancy messes.

Where’s The Beef?

The physical version of my book, The Ultimate Guide to Unarmed Self Defense, is finally out!  You can see it here on Amazon.  For all of you who don’t live in the US, it’s also available on the European versions of Amazon.  The digital version is available for immediate download, for anyone, anywhere, here.

Darrin Cook, from, did a nice review of it here.  Darrin’s blog is one of the few in my blog roll (at right), because I find the majority of his posts to be valuable and interesting.  I just noticed that a couple of days ago he did another post referencing an old Pekiti Tirsia video I made, and I want to comment on something he said.  Here’s the video he was writing about:

The quality of the video is rather poor and there are a few things I don’t like about it, but I made it more than 6 years ago…and the material is solid.  So Darrin wrote:

If you take a look at Instructor David’s other videos, you see he is offering a lot of “meat,” really good techniques that other teachers would have held back.

Hiding The Meat

I thought about what he said for a while.  And it’s true.  But why would teachers “hide the meat”?  Don’t they want their students to be as skilled as possible?

I think there are a variety of reasons, most of which do not involve bad intentions.  Most martial arts I’ve practiced hide the meat.  And the meat is often hidden in a large pile of inedible material.  Honestly, I don’t think most teachers even realize it.  They teach what they were taught.  Especially if they don’t test their material, they may not even know the difference between the meat and all the other stuff.  Many of them think that it’s all meat, so they’re not purposefully hiding it.

A Shooting In 1997…

I was hanging out with my sister and a good friend.  All three of us were instructors at the same martial art school.  We had already been branching out and trying to find the best material we could, but we were all still only teaching that one style (which was self defense focused).  It was around midnight, and my friend was just opening the front door to leave.  Right as he opened it we heard BAM! BAM! BAM!, and then tires screeching.  A guy had just been shot walking in front of my house, an innocent guy in a robbery attempt.

We talked about it.  What would have happened if my friend had walked out just a couple of minutes earlier?  Would he have tried one of our gun threat defenses?  One of the ones that we taught?  Would it have worked?  Would he be alive or dead if he had walked out just a couple of minutes earlier?

Very shortly after that incident the three of us quit teaching at the school we had been teaching at.  The material wasn’t bad.  It worked for many people who used it in self defense.  But we knew it could be better.  We decided to make “efficiency and effectiveness” the core concept of our training and teaching.  We needed to.

The “problem” in my experience, is that most traditional martial arts teachers don’t need their material to work.  It’s different for martial sports/combat athletics.  Since their practitioners compete they do need the material to work, and it does work for what it’s designed for.

Use It Or Lose It

When the meaning of a thing changes, when you use it for something else, it’s easy to lose sight of the original purpose.  For most people teaching and practicing traditional martial arts, they don’t need them to work.  They practice for other reasons…for fun, for exercise, for a sense of belonging.  So they don’t realize the difference between what works and what doesn’t, what is meat and what is not.  Because for them, it is all meat.  It is all fun.  It is all good.  And it all looks like it works, because it works in the training room, in a cooperative environment, in a conditioned environment.

When you’re doing or teaching something for fun you can come up with all sorts of fun/cool techniques and drills that really have nothing to do with functional self defense.  Again, on the surface though, they appear to.

Using A Hat For Self Defense

A week or two ago, a former student, cop, and friend of mine sent me a video from a popular Filipino martial arts instructor showing how to use a baseball cap/hat as a weapon.  A couple of the techniques were fine…throwing the hat at an opponent to distract him before nailing him, etc.  And the instructor did make a comment about “having fun”, about training for fun, so maybe the rest of the techniques were more for fun than anything else.  Nevertheless, the rest of the techniques were very ineffective and a waste at best, if not downright dangerous to even try in self defense.

I wrote back something along the lines of, “Just because you can use something doesn’t mean you should.”.  But it looks cool.  It looks fun.  It probably is fun to practice!  However, it’s not functional for self defense.  It’s just that most people don’t think enough about these things, because they don’t need to.

Back To Pekiti Tirsia

I was fortunate to have a Pekiti Tirsia instructor who was ok with teaching me whatever I wanted to work on…just the meat.  But when I went to Pekiti seminars, I felt 16 hours were spent going over relatively ineffective variations of core techniques and concepts that could have been taught in 1 hour, and then trained for 15 more.  Instead, in my opinion, most students came away with a TON of memorized combinations, many of which were ineffective.  Why?  Why invent all these combinations for students to learn?  I can’t say for sure, in the case of Pekiti.  You could argue that each combination has a principle or concept embedded.  But, just teach the concept in its purest form!  Then, it can be applied to anything.  That is, if the concept is functional.

Holding Back

Regarding teachers purposefully holding material back, in this day and age I would hope that’s a minority of teachers.  That’s just a disservice to students, and to me, a sign that they don’t really know what they’re doing, that all they have are a few tricks.

I started practicing martial arts for self defense, and my goal has always been to teach functional self defense rather than material that looks cool, takes a long time to learn, etc..  I want my students to be able to defend themselves as quickly as possible.  So it makes sense to “offer a lot of meat”.  What’s equally important to realize, is that the vegetables and fruit are even more important than the meat!  You need all three to achieve a healthy balance, and then everything becomes clear.

Resistance vs. Uncooperativeness

In order to learn physical self defense, you must train against uncooperative opponents.  It’s not enough to practice alone.  It’s not enough to practice prearranged drills with a cooperative partner.  And it’s also not enough to train against a partner who only resists.

Unfortunately, many people don’t get the difference between resistance and “uncooperativeness”, so I’m going to take a few pictures from the training section of my book and post them here as an illustration:

Elbow Lock

Beginning an Elbow Lock

Cooperative Partner

Cooperative Partner

In the images above, my partner does not resist the elbow lock, and he is entirely cooperative.  He lets me get the lock, and pressure him down.  Now, here is an example of resistance:

Resisint an Elbow Lock

Resisting an Elbow Lock

In the image above, when I try to get the elbow lock on my partner, he resists.  He bends his elbow and changes the angle, making it difficult for me to get the lock.  But this is not the same as being entirely uncooperative.  Here is one example of being entirely uncooperative:

Uncooperative Partner

Uncooperative Partner

This time, when I attempt the elbow lock, my partner not only resists the lock, but he also turns and punches me in the face.

In a real physical self defense situation, your opponent is going to both resist and be uncooperative.  He may punch you, shove you, attempt to run away, or do something completely unexpected.  But he will not allow you to do what you want with him.

Whatever system you train, if you want to be able to use it against a real opponent, you must make sure your partner is both resisting and uncooperative.  If you’re working on a technique or combination of techniques, tell your partner: don’t let me do this.  Tell him/her to do whatever it takes to stop you from succeeding.  Otherwise, you won’t be prepared to deal with a real opponent.

For people who practice sport based styles or MMA, this post will be completely unnecessary, since sport based styles always train with both resistance and uncooperativeness.  But for many traditional martial artists, the images above should be eye opening.

Note: All training doesn’t need to be, and shouldn’t be, uncooperative.  When a new technique is being learned, or when a practitioner is drilling a technique for repetition to increase some skill or quality (speed, power, structure, timing, etc.), it’s necessary to train in a cooperative environment.  But, every technique must also be trained against an uncooperative partner, in order to learn to realistically apply it.

For more on functional training, see my training page here.

EDIT: After one of the comments below, I thought I’d add this video, with a similar message: