Category Archive: Updates

Knife Defense

I’ve recently added the video above to my knife page, covering common knife vs. knife techniques and training drills, why many of them won’t work in reality, and functional unarmed defense against knife attacks.  In addition to the specific techniques and training methods shown in the video, it demonstrates a number of important concepts that can and should be taken into account in all self defense training.

Why Most Knife Training Doesn’t Work

Common knife training isn’t unique in that it doesn’t apply well in reality.  Most martial arts don’t work in self defense.  So it shouldn’t be surprising that styles that focus on or include weapons training are any different.  In fact, the inclusion of weapons often makes systems worse, since it’s even harder to train realistically with deadly weapons.  When you can’t slash or stab your partner with a real knife, for example, it’s easy to make something up that may sound good, but turn out to be inaccurate.  The inability to train with live weapons also causes people to do things they’d never actually do if the weapons were real.  Those issues combined with the usual ineffective training due to low levels of resistance, cooperative training partners, and martial arts group-think, are particularly problematic.

Instant Kills

Many people are taught and/or assume that getting slashed or stabbed with a knife will stop an opponent immediately.  It rarely will.  I’ve known a few people who were stabbed, and read about many more, who didn’t even realize they were stabbed until after the encounter was over.  I was with a guy once who was shot next to me.  We ran a couple of blocks and then stopped for a moment, before he realize there was a hole blown straight through his hand.

Lots of knife training drills, from long range sparring to “defang the snake” patterns, are based on the opponent being immediately disabled with a single unattached technique.  Aside from this unlikely possibility, what if you miss?  What if your opponent is wearing thick clothing?  If you’re going knife vs. knife and you either miss or your opponent isn’t instantly disabled, what position will you be in?  Will your failed action be an opportunity for your opponent?  In many common knife drills, it will.  Underestimating the extreme chaos and pressure of a real knife attack can be a serious, deadly mistake.

Fantasy Techniques and Knife Disarms

When your training partner is cooperating with you, even if he is resisting (there is an important difference between resisting and being uncooperative), anything can work.  Because most training isn’t taken to an uncooperative level, countless fantasy techniques and disarms have arisen.  I’ve watched highly regarded instructors do completely unrealistic disarms one after another, as their cooperative partner pulls 10+ knives off his belt and gets repeatedly and instantly disarmed with each attack.

On my self defense training page, I mention the I Method for realistic training.  After a practitioner is introduced to a technique, which should only take a few minutes, he should then move to the isolation phase, where the technique is drilled with progressive resistance.  Eventually, in the integration phase, the technique should be trained against an uncooperative partner.  In armed and unarmed training, it’s extremely important that the practitioner progresses to the level where he tells his partner, “don’t let me do this”.

All of the fantasy knife techniques and crazy disarms would cease to exist if the attacker was told and honestly followed that one simple phrase: Don’t let me do this.

How to Get Control

Knife Defense

Knife Defense Control Position

In knife defense, the primary goal is not to get cut.  The only way to avoid getting cut is to control your opponent.  You can control your opponent via striking/slashing/stabbing/blocking…through unattached methods.  But if you haven’t taken your opponent out, it will be a continuous battle in chaos, and the longer it goes on, the more likely it becomes that you’ll get cut.  One of the quickest and simplest ways to get full control of your opponent’s knife bearing limb, is to grab his arm with two hands (as demonstrated in the video at the top of this post).  Once you’ve got control of the knife, there are a great variety of ways to take out and/or disarm the attacker, that work under full, uncooperative resistance.

It’s counterintuitive that unarmed knife defense can be safer than using a knife of your own, but putting something in your hand can limit the use of your hand as much as it can help, and when you need as much control as you can get, the limitations can outweigh the benefits.

Give your partner a fake knife, tell him not to let you make your defense work, to slash and stab you like his life depends on it.  Try getting the two-handed control, and I’m fairly certain you’ll find it works better than the vast majority of close range alternatives.


New Pictures

New Pictures

It’s been more than a month since my last post.  I’ve been really busy with work, traveling, and getting pictures taken for two FSD books (more than 2,500 pictures done so far).  I’m hoping the first book is finished in 3-4 months, but these things generally tend to take longer than planned.

FSD Books

The first book is going to be on functional, unarmed self defense…from awareness and prevention to techniques, training, and strategy.  It’s going to be a very comprehensive book, with everything a person needs to learn unarmed self defense, and I’m excited about finishing it.

The second book is going to be on functional, armed self defense.  It’s going to cover using and defending against weapons…sticks, knives, machetes, palm sticks, everyday objects, projectiles, gun threats, and more.

If you’d like to know when the books are available, you can subscribe to my blog by clicking here, and/or leave your name and email address here to get free self defense material and updates.

Eventually I’d like to make instructional videos available too, but I haven’t decided if I’m going to do more books first or videos first that go with the two books above.  If you’ve got a preference, feel free to let me know either in the comments or via email.  The books are going to be available in physical form.  Would you also like them to be downloadable as an e-book?

A Bit On Awareness

Recently there have been a couple of attacks where people have told me there was nothing that could have been done to stop them…that the victims were assaulted all of a sudden, out of nowhere.  This never happens.  No attack happens all of a sudden, out of nowhere.  There are always causes, lead ups, pre-attack indicators, and/or signs of trouble.  Some attacks seem to happen out of nowhere, only to those who didn’t notice the lead up.  In the vast majority of cases (aside from crazy people committing mass attacks or similar), the lead up is visible to the victim(s) before the physical assault.  The key to seeing it is understanding violence and being aware enough to notice it.

I’ve stressed how important awareness and prevention are, a lot.  99% of the time that will be enough to stop a physical assault.  Next time you hear someone say an attack was unpreventable, or that it came out of nowhere, think about the causes, lead ups, and pre-attack indicators.  How did the attacker get close enough to the victim to make it seem like it came out of nowhere?  How could the lead up have been stopped?  What would have happened if the victim noticed the lead up and prevented it?

More Coming Soon

I should be back to posting more frequently now, so stay tuned for a lot more.  I’ve got 3 new items I’d like to post reviews on, a new camera to capture great footage for more free self defense videos, and a number of topics I plan on posting on.

The Dangers of Cooperative Training and ‘Group-Think’ in Martial Arts

I’ve written before about BS in the martial arts, but after some recent interactions, I’d like to address the issue again.

Every page on my main site has an email sign up form. When people sign up, the first questions I ask them are why they signed up, what they’re looking for, and what they’d like to see on my site. A number of people have responded and requested information on self defense techniques they can use that won’t injure their opponent.

When considering this request, aikido came to mind. Aikido is a Japanese martial art that aims to do exactly that…to stop an attacker without injury.  I took aikido for a couple of years in college, eventually quitting after realizing what I was learning had no chance of working in self defense. I’ll briefly describe how that happened…and how I had fallen for the illusions created by cooperative training + group-think.

It’s Easy to Fall For

The first thing an aikido practitioner learns is how to respond to aikido techniques. They learn how to fall and roll when a throw or joint lock is applied on them. Due to this training, aikido practitioners rarely if ever try their techniques on a person who has not been taught how to respond to them. This is the ultimate in cooperative training, where attackers not only have predefined ways to attack, but predefined ways to respond to defenses. But even as an instructor in a karate-based style at the time, I didn’t realize the extent to which I was being conditioned. I thought the techniques were working when I applied them on my classmates.

I wouldn’t say I had completely fallen for the group-think, but it was definitely there. Most members of my class, from the instructor on down, had experienced the same type of training. All of them thought the techniques were realistic, and most of them thought what they were doing was superior to what other martial artists were doing. When I so much as mentioned the other style I taught, it was blasted as being inferior. I disagreed, but still kept on with the training.

An Outsider Comes In

But one day a new student joined the class, and he arrived in the second hour of practice, after we were done warming up and practicing falls and rolls. We were working on techniques to use in randori (so called sparring in most aikido schools, against multiple opponents), were we’d take turns throwing an opponent who was running at us with a two handed grabbing/pushing type attack that’s typically used in aikido randori. When the new student joined in, we were all running at and attempting to push or grab the instructor. When he’d manipulate our arms, we’d flip to the ground as we were conditioned to do.

So the new guy goes up to the instructor to push him, the instructor does the technique, and it has no effect on the new guy other than to twist his arms a bit. The instructor tells him, you need to push harder. He does, and again nothing happens to him when the instructor attempts to throw him. Then the instructor says, you’re supposed to roll when I do this to you, to avoid injury. So the new guy does it again and makes a very poor attempt at a roll…completely unnecessarily. That was the last aikido class I attended.

Seeing the Conditioning

As soon as I saw what happened to the new guy, or better yet, what didn’t happen, I realized I had been conditioned to react in a way that was entirely unnatural. Many of the techniques we were practicing were completely ineffective and would have no self defense value against a real attacker. I brought this up to my instructor, who told me the new guy just wasn’t attacking like a real attacker would.

This was a great lesson for me on the problems with cooperative training, group-think, and absolute respect or even submission to any instructor or style. It’s EASY to become conditioned, to think what you’re doing actually works…only because it works in training against partners who have also been conditioned. It’s a lesson that a great many martial arts practitioners have never learned, partially because they’ve never stepped out of their boxes, and partially because even when they do and ask questions, their instructors put them back in their place.

It’s More Common Than You Think

This type of conditioning is common in the majority of martial art styles. As Bruce Lee once said (paraphrasing)…there are no real styles in a sense. There isn’t a Japanese way of fighting, a Chinese way of fighting, or an American way of fighting. For us humans, there is only a human way of fighting. It doesn’t matter what country we were born in. We’ve got two arms and two legs. We can strike and grapple. And in reality, we all do it very similarly. Fighting is fighting. And no matter who you are or where you come from, if you really practice fighting, you’ll come to the same conclusions as every other person who practices fighting. You’ll end up with the same techniques.

Most stylized fighting is exactly that…stylized. It’s artificial.

Are there different tactics and strategies that can be used in fighting? Certainly. Is there a difference between fighting with a long sword and a short stick? Of course. Does a fighter who concentrates on striking fight differently than a fighter who concentrates on grappling?  Yes.

But when you break it down, the underlying principles of striking, grappling, stand up, ground, and weapons are the same. The use of distance, position, timing, speed, power, deception, etc. are all the same. Most of the fancy material and drills you find in the majority of martial arts are exactly what Bruce Lee called them…”a fancy mess”. Unfortunately, most martial artists are caught up in the stylized fancy mess due to the conditioning that occurs with cooperative training, combined with the human tendency to fall for group-think.

It Cuts Both Ways

You might think that because fighting is so universal, a majority of fighters would have discovered everything that works. But it’s not quite so simple. Two guys who get together and practice wrestling aren’t going to invent all that is Brazilian jiu jitsu on their own. Two guys who get together and practice fighting with only punches probably won’t even invent boxing, simple as it is. Martial arts have evolved over time. Techniques, tactics, and strategies have gotten more effective as they’ve been passed down from generation to generation, improved a little bit each time. So although humans can only realistically fight in so many ways, there are a variety of functional martial arts that focus on different areas of fighting and different training methods to increase skills.

Some techniques that are included in the fancy mess can work very well if they’re trained realistically. And many of these techniques have been overlooked by real fighters, who only see them being used in an unrealistic context. Aikido fits in this category.

I went from training ineffective applications to realizing they were ineffective, and giving up on the techniques themselves in the process. But it wasn’t the techniques that were flawed, it was the way they were being applied. A significant number of aikido techniques, not to mention the fundamental concepts, can be very effective and useful in self defense. It took me years to come to that realization.

So when I created a new page on Functional Aikido, I thought aikido practitioners would be interested. Most of those I’ve corresponded with since, stuck in their boxes, can’t see the fact that the way they’re applying their techniques is flawed due to cooperative training. And they’re so deep in their group-think that they’re unable to see the logic of what I’m presenting. If it’s not what they’ve been taught aikido is…it’s not aikido to them. It’s unfortunate.

A tree is more important than any particular branch or piece of fruit. If you cut down the fruit, new fruit will grow. But if you cut down the tree, you’ll have nothing left. In the case of aikido, both the majority of aikido practitioners and functional martial artists don’t get it. The problems that result from only cooperative training cut both ways. Those who practice in such a way are unable to apply the techniques in reality. And those who see the practice ignore the techniques due to the non-functional application.

Make sure your training follows these concepts…that it includes practice against a completely uncooperative opponent who is fully resisting and fighting back. But don’t get stuck in that group either! Look at everything with an open mind. There is a difference between techniques, training methods, and the application of those techniques.


Wing Chun & Eskrima Stick and Sword Videos

Most of my blog posts recently have been about updates to my site, and this one is no exception. The new video above details the fundamental FSD progression for stick and sword work. I’ve posted the video on this page, where can you also read much more about FSD stick and sword training. Even if you’re not interested in stick fighting, learning to use blunt and sharp weapons is very important in self defense. See my weapons page for more on that.

You’ll notice on my home page and every other page of my site that’s not part of the blog, I’ve got email sign up forms. When a visitor signs up, they get a series of emails with self defense tips and info. A number of my subscribers have asked me to add more wing chun content to my site, so yesterday I added this video to the wing chun section:

It demonstrates both ineffective and functional wing chun techniques and training methods. In the near future, I’ll be adding more techniques from wing chun to my site.

Subscribers have also requested that I add techniques that allow a person to defend themselves without injuring their attacker. So that’s also one of the next things on my list. If you have any special requests for what you’d like to see, feel free to leave your requests in the comments here, subscribe to my site, or contact me here.

New Boxing Video & Pages

Another update here…

I’ve added a video of the basic boxing progression I teach, both above and to my boxing page. Along with the video I’ve added pages with pictures and descriptions of a few boxing techniques:

As mentioned on the boxing page, I made the video with a friend of mine during our third practice together. It’s a great example of how quickly a person can learn basic boxing techniques. Lots of people who practice traditional martial arts with little to no sparring feel hesitant to jump into a sparring based style like boxing. But if you follow the progression above and then move to low intensity sparring with those techniques, you’ll see how easy and fun it actually is.

To see where and why boxing fits into self defense training, see my training page.

Random Flow Video

Just a quick update here. I’ve added the above video to my site along with a new page on random flowing as a training method. Check it out!

Solo Drill For Conditioned Responses

The video above demonstrates a solo form or drill made of 5 default responses that can be used against threats, punching attacks, and grappling attacks.  These 5 responses are what I call the Fundamental Five.  You can read more about the purpose of default/conditioned responses and the F5 on my self defense techniques and training pages.

I would never recommend training solo forms or drills when a partner is available.  And, even when alone, my preference is to drill techniques and combinations outside of prearranged patterns.  However, there is some value in having prearranged forms as a catalog of techniques and for the purpose of repetition in situations where you don’t have a training partner.  Putting a series of related techniques or combinations together ensures the practitioner remembers and trains them all, and it’s an easy way to pass them along.

The Fundamental Five form above is a condensed form that can be done in very small spaces.  I do it from time to time in hotel rooms as a way to wake up or warm up before heading out, and to keep the default responses fresh in my mind if I’ve been unable to train for a while. For more on when you should and shouldn’t use solo forms, see this page.

4-Step Matrix For Stick & Sword

This video, which I’ve just added to my page on stick and sword training, demonstrates a couple of the countless combinations that can be derived from the 4-Step Matrix for stick and sword, done both solo and with a partner. My partner, Dragan, and I begin with the attacking strikes/blocks entries, using reverse triangle and sidestep footwork, and close range covered exits (primarily to stay within range of the camera). We then demonstrate using the fake to draw entry with the same footwork.

The attacking strikes entry is used to cause your opponent to block (ideally), allowing you to target his arm and head based on how he has chosen to block. When one practitioner drills attacking strikes, the other can imagine doing the same, or imagine doing the attacking blocks entry. These two entries match up nicely for partner drilling for repetition.

Note: No one is going to stand with their stick out in the air, motionless, like you see in the application example in this video. The clip is included only to show the theory/purpose of the sequence and what COULD happen if your opponent was hit. In the future we’ll show examples in sparring.

The fake to draw entry begins with either a fake angle 1 or a fake angle 2 (in the video above), followed by a reverse swing that targets the opponent’s arm and head based on the way he attempted to block (ideally) the fake attack. One practitioner uses the fake entry, and the other imagines falling for the fake, and recovering to block the reverse shot.

You can learn more about the 4-Step Matrix on the stick and sword page.

New Name, New Site


Welcome to the Functional Self Defense blog.  This is the first post on what hopefully becomes a much more active blog and website.  The previous posts have been merged from my old site,, which is now being redirected into this one.  Self defense/martial arts have been my passion for many years.  I trained and taught full-time until hurricane Katrina washed me onto a new path in 2005, and I haven’t taught classes since 2007.  But I’ve still been training and coming up with lots of new material, and now it’s time to kick it up a notch.

Hertao to Functional Self Defense


I started teaching in 1993, and in 1997 I named the system Hertao.  It means “way of harmony” in Chinese, and the idea was that a practitioner should be in harmony with themselves and their environment, rather than conforming to a particular style, curriculum, or way of thinking.  Every practitioner must be free to experiment on their own, and find out what works for them through realistic, honest training.

When I came up with the name, much of my thinking had been informed by Chinese philosophical ideas from Ch’an Buddhism (more commonly known by the Japanese name, Zen).  One of the most important concepts of Zen, if there can be said to be any, is the importance of the absence of dogma.  In Zen there is no dogma, no rituals, no hocus pocus.  Everything in Zen is based on personal experience.  Or, that’s the way it’s supposed to be.  Unfortunately it seldom is in practice.

Martial arts are largely the same.  They often preach realism, the importance of an open or empty mind, and a simple search for the truth.  But in practice most martial arts are loaded with woo-woo, various levels of guru/sensei/sifu worship, ineffective techniques and training methods, or at least very limited in scope by constrictive curricula.  I decided to teach my own system, Hertao, because even the systems that were supposed to be free from BS, Jeet Kune Do for example, were full of it, and the self defense styles I looked at just didn’t work.

Phnom Penh

Both before and especially since I quit teaching for a living, I’ve done a lot of traveling, much of it in Asia.  Most of what I’ve read regarding eastern philosophy, the grounded material on Zen, other forms of Buddhism, and Taoism, is horribly perverted throughout Asia.  In poor countries it’s used by both regular people and leaders to keep them poor, ignorant, and resigned to their unfortunate fate.  In more well-off countries it’s nearly identical to religion in the west…systematic superstition at best.

Local, traditional martial arts are nearly non-existent in mainland Southeast Asia (with the exception of Thailand).  They’ve been perverted, possibly even worse than eastern philosophy, in China.  And they’re largely surrounded by an impenetrable and unquestionable wall of ritual and hierarchy in Japan, not to mention outdated attacks and ineffective defense.

It’s really no different in the west.  People have a tendency to pervert everything, especially when it comes to philosophy and religion.  Although I still love traveling in Asia, my disillusionment with the state of Asian martial arts and philosophy (not to mention quality of life for most people there) has turned me off on the use of a name like Hertao.

I train and teach self defense that works.  It’s functional self defense, compared to most of the non-functional self defense and martial arts you’ll find in the vast majority of schools today.  So the name Functional Self Defense seems more appropriate.  It’s also a uniquely American/New Orleanian style in that it’s a melting pot of this and that, performed more like jazz…alive, flowing with the moment, and real.

New Website

Along with the new name, I’ve redesigned the site.  Nearly all the text has been updated or completely re-written, especially the sections on violence and prevention.  I’ve also added several new articles, The Intersection of Martial Arts and Religion and Why Most Martial Arts Don’t Work, are two important examples.

I’m going to try to post regularly on this blog (so go ahead and subscribe!), add new pictures and videos to the technique, training, and martial arts sections on a somewhat regular basis, and have books and DVDs planned for the not too distant future.

If you’ve got any requests or suggestions, I’d love to hear them, so feel free to contact me here.  I hope you enjoy the new site and blog, and find them useful!

The Covered Blast

Covered Entry

Covered Entry

In the image above you see the beginning of a defense against a left hook, using a palm stick (flashlight in this case) to crash in and ram the attacker in the face with the edge of the light.  This is a covered entry that works against any punching attack.  It doesn’t matter whether the attacker throws a left jab, right cross, left hook, right hook, etc.  Exactly the same covered entry still works, because my attacking motion simultaneously deflects or covers the attack while ramming the opponent in the face.  You can see the same principle in the smack and hack, low jab intercept, and crash, as additional examples.

Each of the attacks and defenses above include a “covered entry” followed by a blast until the opponent is no longer able to attack.  In the past I’ve used the phrase zone theory to describe the simultaneous use of distance and position with trapping/checking/blocking/covering and attacking to minimize your opponent’s options while maximizing yours.  In my self defense book I cover zone theory in much greater detail, and it can come across as rather complex.  In order to use the concept in fighting, it needs to be simple.   To simplify it, the application of the concept I call zone theory can be summed up with the phrase: covered blast.  No matter what your opponent does, you launch a covered blast.

Unarmed vs. unarmed, single vs. multiple opponents, unarmed vs. knife, stick vs. stick…it doesn’t matter.  Launch a covered blast.

I recently updated my single stick page with a new training matrix I call the 4-step.  The four steps include a covered entry, follow ups, and a covered exit.  Again, this is a covered blast.  It can be helpful in training to identify various ways of using distance and position combined with attacking, trapping, jamming, checking, blocking, covering, and controlling to make an entry that limits your openings, followed by various combinations of attack, followed by various types of safe or covered exits. But you should aim to make this one thing, not many.  It should be a single feeling, a covered blast.