Category Archive: On the Web

Throwsticks

Throwsticks

Throwsticks

My friend Benjamin Scott recently launched his website on throwsticks. He describes throwsticks as “a primal hunting/survival/multi-tool dating back from ancient civilizations on at least five continents.” Ben makes nearly indestructible replicas of the Australian Aboriginal version called the kylie, arguably the best made hand thrown objects in the world. He has them for sale on his site: www.throwsticks.com

Ben sent me one of his throwsticks in the middle of last year. I tested it, loved it, and have been meaning to write about it ever since. I also wanted to make a video demonstrating it, but over the last 6 months I’ve been so busy traveling/moving that I haven’t had time to write a single post on this site, much less make a video. Until I do have time to make a video, this post will have to suffice.

The throwsticks or kylie that Ben is making are awesome survival tools. They’re designed to fly straight and level, and you can throw them a solid 85 meters if not farther. The Australian Aborigines used them primarily for hunting, but they also doubled as close range striking weapons, and you could use them as a close range throwing weapon too.

My favorite thing about Ben’s throwsticks is how fun they are to throw. When I first got mine, my brother and I spent a couple of days throwing it back and forth at great distances on a deserted beach. The way they fly, and the way they feel to throw, is amazing.

Throwing Objects In Self Defense

In addition to the throwsticks being a great deal of fun, I think learning to throw objects in self defense is seriously undervalued. It’s unlikely that you’re going to take someone out completely by throwing something at them, although if you nailed someone in the face or knee with one of Ben’s throwsticks that would certainly do the job! But throwing things at an opponent is an excellent idea, and the more accurate and harder you can do it, the better. In most natural environments there will be something you can throw at your opponent, and if you accurately hum something at your opponent’s face you will always get some kind of reaction, putting your opponent on defense. Either your opponent will get hit in the face, or he will be forced to move and/or block. Any of these options will create openings for you to exploit.

In my book on weapon use and defense I demonstrate at least a couple of examples of throwing objects at an opponent in self defense – using a backpack and a book. One of my favorite combinations is to throw something at an opponent’s face and follow with an immediate kick to the groin, etc.. You can do this with almost anything. As I sit here typing this post, my laptop, a vase in front of me, and a magazine next to me could all be used for such a purpose. If someone knocked down my front door my first move would be to grab whatever is next to me and throw it at them, putting them on defense and buying me a bit more time to get an advantage. In order to be as effective as possible with such a tactic, actually practicing throwing objects at targets makes sense. This is another reason I really love Ben’s throwsticks. They’re fun, useful for self defense training, and for anyone into outdoor survival they’re an excellent tool for a variety of purposes.

Whether you’re interested in buying one or not, I highly recommend you check out Ben’s website. He has numerous videos there showing how they work, along with very interesting information on their history and use.

Note: I am not profiting in any way if you buy a throwstick from Ben. I’ve written this post only because I think Ben has a great product that I think you’ll enjoy owning and practicing with. 🙂

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 Amazon.com.  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 Many Reps Should You Do?

I’d like to share an idea I read about on another blog this morning that I find very useful.  How many good vs. bad repetitions do you need to practice in order for whatever you’re doing to stick correctly?

When you’re learning something new you’re not going to do it exactly right the first time around.  Let’s say it takes you 20 attempts to do it more or less correctly.  You got it “wrong” 19 times but right on 20.  According to what Noa (a sports/performance psychologist) wrote on the post Adequate Learning vs. Overlearning, the optimal number is around 20 more correct reps, or 100% more correct reps.  This makes a great deal of sense to me.

Whatever we learn is stored in pathways in our brains.  Incorrect repetitions create incorrect pathways.  So if you’ve practiced something wrong 19 times and right only once, you’ve trained your brain to do whatever it is you’re doing wrong.

Of course it’s not quite so simple.  It may be that each repetition was better and better, so instead of ingraining a bad pathway 19 times you were actually modifying/changing one from wrong to right.  Nevertheless, what you really want to ingrain in your brain is the best pathway.  So it makes sense that you’d want to do at least as many correct/perfect/ideal repetitions as incorrect or sub-optimal reps.

In my own practice and teaching I probably don’t do enough correct reps after learning a new technique or skill.  This leads to coming back the next day and doing worse than I did at the end of the previous day.  Then I wonder why I “got it” the day before, but lost it the next day.  Based on Noa’s post and the corresponding research, the reason makes sense.  I did it wrong more than I did it right, so the right path wasn’t optimally ingrained.

I’m definitely going to try to integrate this concept into my practice, and I think you should too.  I also highly recommend subscribing to Noa’s blog.  Although it’s related to music, most of his posts are about learning or performance, have excellent insights, and apply equally to any performance art.

What to Do About Paris

ISIS Beheading for Blasphemy

ISIS Beheading for Blasphemy

As all of you know, there were horrific terrorist attacks in Paris this past Friday.  Having recently lost my mom I feel even worse about these attacks, having some idea how the families of victims will be suffering.  Some of you may not realize that more than 40 people were also killed by a terrorist attack in Beirut the day before.

What should we do about these attacks?  Before we can answer that question we need to be able to see and speak the truth regarding one of the most fundamental aspects of the attacks.  These attacks were carried out by Islamic extremists.  There is no doubt that these terrorists are absolute nut-cases.  But crazy and barbaric as they are, what they are doing comes straight from Islamic doctrine.  Many so-called liberals, including politicians like President Obama, refuse to call these terrorists what they are.  They refuse to acknowledge that a direct line can be drawn between Islamic doctrine and these attacks, that what the Islamic State is doing can be traced directly to the Quran and Hadith.

I am not by any means suggesting that all Muslims are bad people or terrorists.  Two of my best friends are a Muslim couple from Iraq, I have a good friend from Afghanistan who is a Muslim, and I spend an hour or two every day playing the oud, a Middle Eastern instrument.  But when President Obama says “ISIL speaks for no religion” and “ISIL is not Islamic”, he is delusional.  What the Islamic State and other Islamic terrorists are doing around the world comes directly from Islamic doctrine, from barbaric ideas in the Quran and Hadith about infidels, jihad, and martyrdom.  There is a reason the terrorists are screaming Allahu Akbar as they carry out their attacks.

Most Muslims fortunately ignore the violence in their doctrine, and Muslims are suffering far more from Islamic terrorism than non-Muslims are.  But in order to deal with the root of this problem, this Islamic extremism, we have to call it what it is and address it at its source.  There must be an Islamic reformation, a rethinking of the ideas of Islamic doctrine, in order to decrease or stop the conversion of nominal or moderate Muslims into Islamic extremists.  There needs to be a conversation on the subject that what was written in the 7th century must be taken in that context, and amended to fit secular and modern values.  Without that conversation, without honestly talking about the root of the problem, there can be no hope that it will be solved.  Without that conversation, young people hearing hateful rhetoric from crazy preachers will not have the intellectual tools to question it.

I continuously hear so-called liberals shutting down any conversation about the validity of Islamic doctrine, calling it bigotry or racism.  This is not only wrong, but counterproductive.  It is not bigoted or racist to question the validity and usefulness of ideas.  It is a necessary pursuit.  Questioning inhumane practices, sharia law, sub-human treatment of women, and so on, is essential.

I am not suggesting that US and European foreign policy hasn’t played a role in these attacks.  We may be better off staying out of Islamic countries entirely, not supporting military dictators, and not supporting Saudi Arabia, a country little better than the Islamic State.  We’d certainly be better off denouncing Israel’s illegal occupation and continued theft of Palestinian land.  And I’m also not suggesting that poverty and disenfranchisement aren’t contributing to these attacks.  But the core problem is fundamentalist Islamic ideology.  That is what motivates terrorist groups like the Islamic State and Al Qaeda.

We’re not going to be able to completely stop terrorist attacks in the near future.  But if we want to have a chance at stopping them for our children and grandchildren, we need to find a way to change the ideas that lead to the attacks.  The only way to do that is to be honest about the ideas in the first place.  Here is an excellent podcast on this subject from Sam Harris, who says it much better than I do.  Please take the time to listen:

I realize that this conversation must take place in Muslim communities.  Coming from the west, it’s probably not going to go over well.  But the more the truth is told, the more likely it is to take hold with reasonable people everywhere in the world.  Every good person needs to denounce brutality, especially if that brutality is a fundamental part of one of the world’s major religions.  Hiding behind political correctness or trying not to offend those who hold offensive beliefs, by any humane standards, is unlikely to produce positive results.

EDIT:  Only 8 hours and I’ve gotten a load of emails about this, along with a number of people unsubscribing.  I guess that is to be expected.  But I want to clarify one thing and reiterate another:

  • I’m independent of any grouping, but in general I tend to be very liberal on most issues.  I used the term “so-called liberals”, because the people who are not standing up for everyone suffering under the weight of fundamentalist Islamic doctrine are not real liberals.
  • Again, I am not implying that all Muslims are bad.  I have nothing whatsoever against Muslims.  My problem is with fundamentalist Islamists.  I fully realize that most Muslims are not fundamentalists, not terrorists, and are good people.  What I am saying is that a conversation needs to be had about what is actually in the doctrine regarding infidels, jihad, martyrdom, etc.

How to Avoid a Beating

Wim Demeere recently wrote an excellent post with an embedded YouTube video I’m going to share here.  I’ll comment on the video myself, but please read Wim’s post too.  The video appears to show black shirt trying to start a fight with no shirtNo shirt seems to be trying to avoid the fight, but black shirt continues and eventually hits no shirt and the fight is on.  Although black shirt appears to have been the aggressor, no shirt turns the tables and gives black shirt a very serious beating.  Here’s the video:

Wim writes about how dangerous a street fight can be. The person or people you get involved with may be willing and able to take things much further than you were willing to go. It doesn’t matter what side you are on, whether you are the aggressor or the defender. If you get into a physical conflict with another person, you have no way of knowing how far it will go. This point is extremely important and you need to remember it.  I’ll relate two stories that illustrate this point.

My former boxing coach, a friend of mine, was taking a walk when someone bumped into him.  The situation escalated, and if I remember correctly the other guy attempted to hit him.  My friend ducked, hit the guy with a cross to the solar plexus, and knocked him down with a hook to the jaw.  The guy fell, and my friend bent over him to hit him again.  But then my friend woke up with a variety of injuries.  Apparently someone hit him from behind, knocked him out, and then gave him a beating while he was unconscious.

Another friend of mine, who I wrote about in my book, was sitting in his car with his fiancée at a drive up ATM machine.  Someone approached them and demanded my friend give him money.  My friend was a cop.  He pulled his gun, but before he had pointed it at the robber, he was shot in the head and killed.

In both of those situations, my boxing coach and my police officer friend thought they had the upper hand.  But you just don’t know how skillful the person standing in front of you is.  You don’t know if they have friends you don’t see, or weapons you don’t see.  This is why it is so important to avoid a physical confrontation no matter what it takes.  If you want to survive, the absolute best way to do it is to avoid getting into a fight in the first place.

My boxing coach friend could have continued walking instead of allowing the situation to escalate.  He could have evaded the punch and escaped.  My police officer friend could have given up his money and then called for back up.  It might have hurt their pride, but they would certainly have been better off.

Again, I want to direct you do my awareness and prevention page.  If you haven’t read it, please read it.  If you have read it, please read it again.

Last night my wife and I were having dinner with friends and discussed getting aggravated with drivers who are assholes.  It’s temping to yell at them and/or give them the middle finger.  But if you do that to the wrong person, you may end up with a lot more than you bargain for.  When I was a kid and first got my driver’s license, I was driving on the highway with a friend of mine as a passenger.  Someone behind us was driving like a manic, coming extremely close to the back of my car.  My friend gave him the middle finger, and we both thought it was funny.  But a moment later the guy had pulled up to the side of my car with a gun pointed at us.  As soon as I saw the gun coming up I yelled for my friend to get down and I slammed on the brakes.  I didn’t realize that I nearly caused another car that was behind us to crash into us.  So shortly afterwards the guy that nearly crashed into us drove up to the side of my car screaming that he was going to “kick my ass”.  You just don’t know how these things will end up.  Again, the best thing you can do is avoid a conflict.

Evasive Techniques

One reason I start new students with boxing on the first day of training is because boxing defense includes a great deal of evasive techniques that do not require you to make contact with your opponent.  If you fail to avoid trouble, are unable to maintain a safe distance, and unable to deescalate a situation, then you may be able to use boxing style evasions to evade an attack and escape without a serious physical confrontation.

I know numerous people who have been “jumped”…quickly punched or attacked by strangers on the street, where the attacker(s) strike once or twice and then keep walking, or even running.  In these situations and in others, evading the attack may be more effective than counterattacking.  Evading the attack may end it, whereas counterattacking is likely to escalate it, particularly if there is more than one attacker.  It may not always be possible, but in some situations an initial evasion can be all it takes to end an attack.  The aggressor will see that his initial attack has failed, that you are not an easy target, and if nothing else he will have lost the element of surprise.

Here’s a video from my boxing page, of a basic boxing progression I use with new students.  My partner in the video is a friend of mine who had only practiced three times.  Notice how the catch allows you to avoid getting hit with a simple backward step.  The shoulder roll, starting at 44 seconds, is also an excellent evasive technique.  And the cover, starting at 2:03, is a great technique that can be used with an evasion followed by an escape, rather than the counter punching seen in the video.

The key point here is to avoid a physical confrontation at all costs.  Even if you are attacked, evading the attack and escaping may be a better option than counterattacking.  You just don’t know how far your opponents are willing to take things.  And in addition to the immediate situation, revenge and law suites are another consideration.  Physical self defense training is great exercise and great fun, and it’s possible you may need it some day.  It’s possible that it can save your life.  But it should always be an absolute last resort!

How Fast Can You Learn Self Defense?

Fight

Fight

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?

Kimbo

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.

Qualifications

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.

Advanced Class

Today I read a blog post by Rory Miller, Advanced Class. Rory has very interesting and insightful material on violence, among other things, and I link to his blog in my blogroll. So this post isn’t meant to imply that I disagree with all of his material. In fact, his material on violence led me to realize that I wasn’t putting enough emphasis on awareness and prevention in my own teaching, at least on my website, and that I tended to take it for granted rather than vocalizing it. Anyway, I disagree with nearly every aspect of his post, left a comment there, and want to expand on it here.

The premise of Rory’s post, as I see it, is that “everything that works can be taught to proficiency in forty hours.” He does write that “years spent practicing would hone the skills”, but then writes, “but in the end, this isn’t hard”. I very much disagree with this, and I suspect that with more thought on the matter Rory will also.

Concepts or Techniques

Rory is explaining that he teaches concepts, that everything boils down to manipulating skeletons (our skeletal structure and the skeletal structure of our opponents). He uses joint manipulations as an example, writing that there are thousands of techniques, but only eight underlying concepts. So if you know the eight concepts, you have the thousands of techniques available right away.

First, every method of categorization and teaching has problems. There are problems with breaking joint manipulations into thousands of techniques, and there are also problems with breaking them into eight principles or eight categories. If you teach someone thousands of joint manipulations, it’s going to take a very long time, many of them will be ineffective, and it will take the practitioner an unnecessarily long time to really get the substance of joint manipulations…how to APPLY them in reality, under pressure. But if you teach them eight principles they can use to break or lock a joint, they may not even discover the best techniques in any given situation. They may train the techniques they discover in an unrealistic scenario, with unrealistic levels of force, cooperation, and resistance (which is also a problem with the thousands of techniques approach), and so on. You cannot give a student a long list of techniques or a handful of concepts and expect them to be able to apply either, especially not in 40 hours.

No method is perfect. Every method has advantages and disadvantages. But even more importantly, you can’t give a student a handful of new techniques, concepts, or even training methods, and expect them to be proficient in any period of time. First, they need it all, in combination. Second, they need guidance to keep them on the right track. That guidance can theoretically come through their own feedback if they are using effective training methods, but without giving them the best techniques, they may never discover them.

A friend, cop, and former student of mine wrote in the comments of another post: “The best decision is the right decision, the second best decision is the wrong decision.” Similarly, there is a “best” technique for any given person in any given situation. I’m talking about physics paired with physiology here. There is a single best technique, and every other technique is not the best technique. That doesn’t mean a sub-optimal technique won’t work. But it also doesn’t mean that sub-optimal techniques are ideal, or that giving a group of students a hand full of concepts and telling them to discover what works best is an ideal approach.

People learn and discover many, many things, if not most, that are not efficient, effective, ideal, or even true. That’s why you not only need to give them concepts, but also techniques. That’s why you can’t expect a student will learn all they need to learn in 40 hours, and then the rest of their time can be spent honing those skills/techniques/concepts. They need the guidance of an expert teacher to keep them on the most efficient and effective path. Otherwise, the easiest thing is to get off of that path without even realizing it.

Hard Work, Time, and Adjustment

40 hours is *nothing* in terms of really learning the fundamental concepts of any living/changing/interactive “art”. It’s not even enough time to get a basic understanding. I started playing a new musical instrument about 2 years ago. I take private lessons and practice for at least 2 hours every day. I’ve read numerous books on the instrument, the music, and the music theory. I listen to the music for at least another hour or two each day in addition to my practice. And I’m just beginning to have basic understanding of the full range of the instrument. I’m at the very beginning of understanding the music. Sure, I intellectually knew about the instrument and the music in a relatively short period, but I had zero ability or deep/personal understanding.

It’s no different with learning a language. It’s no different with learning to dance. Any interactive, live art will take a great deal of hard work and time to learn. Without expert guidance, you will not follow a straight or efficient path to solid ability, unless by unlikely chance.

Rory writes: “Do you have to teach a dog pack dynamics or an ape how to live in a troop? Hell no. So with humans you just have to point out what they already know.” This is incorrect, and the implications even more so. A dog learns “pack dynamics” through being raised in a pack. The dog is taught pack dynamics through the experience of living in a pack. An ape learns how to live in a troop by growing up in a troop from birth, through experience. It does have to be taught.

The human mind and body is incredibly adaptive. If we’re born and raised in an environment with no violence or hostility, we will not understand or be able to deal with violence and hostility. If we are raised in a violent environment, we will adapt (or not!) and learn how to survive in it. But the majority of people reading Rory’s post, and this one, did not grow up fighting. They did not grow up surrounded by real violence. Most people reading these posts do not instinctively have an effective response to being attacked by another human. These responses are most definitely learned, and just like any other living and interactive art, they take a great deal of time and experience to learn.

Concepts are not enough. Techniques are not enough. Training methods are not enough. You need all of them, AND you need to put in the work and time. To progress at a decent pace, you need a teacher to provide guidance, to adjust your path when you move off of it.

When I had my school, I taught the crash to almost every new student on day one. I explained the concepts behind it. I explained that using specific defensive techniques that must be matched to specific offensive techniques is likely to fail in the face of an unexpected attack. You don’t know what your opponent is going to attack with. You don’t know if it’s the right hand or the left hand, a straight punch or a hook. Is the first move a fake? You don’t know. So having a single “punching defense” that works against all high-line attacks is a more effective option. Everyone I taught understood this on day one. Yet none of the martial artists I taught had ever learned or discovered such a technique, despite many of them having practiced and/or taught for years. And despite everyone understanding this, no one REALLY got the significance of it until they had practiced for a long time…much more than 40 hours. One student came to class a year or two after he had started, and as I opened the door he said, “I finally get the crash!”. These things are not natural.

Rory’s point is that there is no “advanced class”. There are the fundamental concepts, and then there is practicing them. But there is much more than that. There are numerous techniques to learn that do require time and guidance. At the introductory level practitioners will learn them at an introductory level! The material practiced in an “advanced class” may not be different from the material practiced in beginning classes, but the level at which it should be practiced will indeed be very different, as will the subtlety with which it is practiced. And that will be greatly enhanced, more efficiently learned, with the guidance of an instructor.

NOTE: I’ve expanded/updated this topic here: How Fast Can You Learn Self Defense?

Vigilant Personal Alarms

Personal Alarm

Vigilant Personal Alarm

I was not paid to do this post.  And I don’t ever review or recommend products that I haven’t tried myself and found to be functional/effective.  With that out of the way, Vigilant PPS (Personal Protection Systems) contacted me and asked if they could send me one of their personal alarms to test and review.  I’ve never bought, owned, or even seen a personal alarm before, and hadn’t thought much about them, but I found the idea interesting, and agreed to give one a try.  Here’s a link to the unit they sent me, on their website (also pictured at right).  This particular unit is a special addition in partnership with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, where Vigilant donates $1 to the center for each unit sold.

I tried making a video for this review, but my laptop automatically and drastically decreased the volume when the alarm sounded, making it seem less effective than it is, so I decided only to post about it instead.  In the picture above, the same image displayed on Vigilant’s site, the unit may look slightly smaller than it is.  Here are a couple of pictures so you can accurately see the size of the unit:

Personal Alarm

Personal Alarm (Click for bigger image)

Although it’s slightly wider than my hand, it’s very light, thin, and would easily fit in a pant pocket.  The round “circle” is the “speaker”, and not a button.  And the orange button is used to activate an LED light that sticks out right below where the lanyard attaches to the device.  To make the alarm go off, you simply pull the lanyard off of the device, or pull the device off of the lanyard.  I think this is a smart design, as it would be easier to use under stress than having to find and press a button, and keep it pressed.  To silence the alarm you have to put the “pin”/lanyard back into the device.

The alarm is VERY loud, and it’s surprising that such a small device can produce such a loud sound.  It’s actually painful to my ears, and extremely annoying.  I have no doubt that the alarm would surprise an attacker, particularly indoors.  Although the alarm is extremely loud, it doesn’t travel well through walls or closed doors, so I wouldn’t rely on it to alert someone who is a wall/door or two away from you.  They may hear it, but I would assume that many people would just wonder what the noise was.  I’m also not sure you’d get much attention from people indoors if you used it outdoors, especially considering how many car alarms go off accidentally, and how few people pay attention to them.  However, an attacker isn’t going to know that.  He/she is just going to hear an extremely loud alarm go off.  If the attacker doesn’t want attention drawn to the scene, the use of this alarm could definitely cause him or her to flee.

It Doesn’t Replace Awareness and Prevention

No weapon replaces the need to be aware and to do what you can to prevent an attack before it occurs, and the owners of Vigilant said the same in an email to me.  In order to use this device you need to have it or the lanyard in your hand, or very quickly accessible, and you need to see the threat coming.  Again, that’s true not only for this personal alarm, but also for a gun, knife, pepper spray, etc.

When to Use It

I just received this alarm and have never used one before, so my thoughts on this are relatively fresh.  If anyone disagrees with me here, please let me know/discuss in the comments.

My thinking is that this alarm would not be ideally suited for a robbery, where an attacker threatens you with a weapon and demands your money, purse, etc.  Such robberies tend to be quick, the attacker can still grab what he wants, and I wouldn’t risk angering an attacker with an alarm in such a situation, particularly since the alarm isn’t going to do anything to stop the attacker from stabbing/shooting/assaulting you.

But I do think that in situations where bodily harm is the goal of the attack (from kidnapping/abduction to physical assault), this alarm could be valuable.  It’s far easier and quicker for an attacker to get an object you’re carrying than to rape or abduct you, and an attacker who wants you can’t get you if they simply run away.  They can’t run away with you.  Because more time is generally needed for rape or abduction, a loud alarm that draws attention may dissuade an attacker from continuing, increasing the chance that he gets exposed or caught.  So my initial thoughts are that this alarm would be ideal when bodily harm is threatened (or even beginning) and bringing attention to the attacker may cause him to flee.

I don’t see this as an effective tool for men in most situations.  Men are far less likely to be abducted or raped, and “fights” that men get into (which are almost always avoidable) often happen in crowded places anyway, where attention is already on the participants.

However, I do think it could be an effective self defense tool for women (particularly those who don’t want to carry pepper spray) and children.  Giving children pepper spray probably isn’t a good idea, but this alarm is something they could carry 24/7, anywhere.  It’s something they could easily learn to use, and something they wouldn’t have to feel bad about using even if they used it in error.  Unlike with pepper spray and other weapons, using a personal alarm cannot injure someone mistaken for an attacker.  There is zero downside to giving this alarm to a child, and considering it could save the child’s life, it’s hard for me to imagine why a child shouldn’t have one.  They’re also very inexpensive.

The key with any self defense tool is understanding when it should be used, and when it shouldn’t.  No weapon works in all situations.  No weapon is perfect.  For adults willing to put in the training time, I highly recommend learning to use and defend against weapons.  Weapons use dramatically increases your odds, and the training can be great fun.  But especially for women who are unwilling to learn to use a weapon (or unarmed self defense for that matter), and most definitely for children, I think this alarm could be an excellent self defense tool.

Let me know what you think in the comments…

Note: Vigilant also sells pepper spray, and they happen to carry my favorite keyring unit.

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 BigStickCombat.com, 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.

5 Years In Prison For A Single Punch

Just a short warning post here, based on an article in the New Orleans Times Picayune:

Aaron Ullrich

Aaron Ullrich Gets 5 Years

Aaron Ullrich, in the picture above, got in a fight over a pool table in a bar, punched a man in the face once, and killed him.  The article doesn’t say if the victim died from the punch, or from hitting his head on the ground (a common cause of death in single punch death cases).  I don’t know Aaron, but based on the story, it’s unlikely he tried to kill the victim.  He was facing 40 years in jail for manslaughter, but ended up with 5 for negligent homicide.

This is one of many reasons you should avoid fighting.  You never know how it’s going to turn out.  Prevention is always #1.  Physical self defense must always be a last resort, and you better be able to legally justify it.