Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Kicking a knife-holding hand

Following my article "Dealing with knife attacks", I want to make an admission:

I once thought that it was a good idea to kick knives out of people's hands.  Now I didn't actually teach this: I don't think I have ever held a class where we practised this as a "technique".

But I did use this scenario in a couple of demonstrations many years ago.  Why?  I suppose that at the time I thought it created a bit of atmosphere.  Bring out a knife and the audience perks up.

I also suppose I had in the back of my mind that it might work tolerably well:  I'd seen it demonstrated so many times over decades of training that it was just "part of the furniture": kicking a knife-holding hand seemed quite plausible.  Of course, you'd never do it with a bare foot - but then again, when are we bare foot?  On the beach?  Generally we wear shoes in daily life.  And I suppose a part of me thought: "Yeah -  thick rubber and leather are going to be far safer contact points against a knife than my bare hands... or my body/face!"

But if I had been honest with myself, I'd have realised that there was a reason why I'd never taught this in class:
I think I knew intuitively that it almost certainly wouldn't work against a real attack.
Okay - it might work: but only if someone were showing me his knife in the most obvious manner, giving me plenty of time and room to act.  In that instance, at the right range, I might manage to kick a hand holding the knife.  After all, strong shoes are a reasonable match for even the sharpest blade.  But even then the tactic would be risky.  Why?  Consider:
What if, despite all the ideal circumstances, I missed?
What if I landed the kick, but failed to dislodge the knife (will the attacker really be holding the knife so poorly that a crescent kick will necessarily make him/her let go)?
In both instances I might suffer a nasty cut to my shin/thigh.  I might also be left with an attacker who is going to lunge in and start stabbing, hacking and slashing me to pieces - all while I'm recovering my balance after just having had one foot off the ground.

Another crescent kick vs. knife defence. The best part of the video is the "give him your money" and "run away" advice.  The rest?  Not so much.

So, assuming an attacker was stupid enough to show me his knife in an obvious manner that permitted a kick, what would I do?  Well I suppose I might be tempted to kick his knife hand.  I can't discount this possibility.

This is clearly illustrated in the video below: a person "shows" a knife in order to rob a storekeeper.  Another customer intervenes and successfully kicks the knife out of the robber's hand.

Sure -  it worked in this instance.  But look at how the robber "showed" the knife; how it was being held at an ideal height and angle; how poor his grip was (meaning the kick dislodged it); how amateurish the whole affair was.
This is not a "knife attack".  
While the kick worked this particular time, I suggest it only did so because the defender was presented with someone who wasn't serious about using the knife.  (The scenario is not unlike my demonstration illustrated at the outset - the main difference being that I used an inside, rather than outside, crescent kick!)

Faced with such an "attacker", I might try something like this.  But, to be honest, my first preference would be to run away (at least out of range to where I could start throwing bottles and cans at the guy)!  Failing that option, I don't know if I'd be all that fussed about doing what he asked (within certain bounds, of course) and otherwise staying on alert.

Why?  Because you can never be sure whether someone holding a knife is really prepared - and able - to use it.

Sure, in my professional experience, most people who "show" you their knife don't mean to attack you: they just mean to threaten you in order to obtain something (eg. your money).  But you can't gamble on that:  you have no idea what they will do if the threat fails.  In those circumstances, I think your safest bet is to assume someone threatening you is prepared to use it if "push comes to shove".

Now personally, I'd pay good money to avoid a  real knife attack because even in the best-case scenario such an attack is likely be messy.  I can assure you that when a knife is involved in physical violence, people tend to get cut.  Again, I can't recall any prosecution involving an actual knife attack (as opposed to a mere threat) that didn't involve some sort of wounding with that knife.  Handling the tattered blood-stained exhibits leaves quite an indelible impression.

By contrast, offences of threatening with a knife are a different story: they're dime a dozen (eg. hold-ups at a convenience store, petrol station, pharmacy etc.).  People want something, so they pull a knife and threaten you with it.  Their primary goal isn't attack - it is to seek your compliance.

But let's move on from the amateur who has little intention of using a knife and is just "showing" it to you as a threat (at the ideal height, distance and grip to allow dislodgement by kick):  Let's focus instead on a knife wielder who is actually attacking you.

What's wrong with using your feet to kick the knife hand?  Apart from the fact that you mightn't dislodge the knife at all, the answer is, simply this:
Your feet are much too slow.
Don't believe me?  Get a partner to don gloves and start sparring.  Try to kick your partner's punches.  If you connect as you planned, even once, call me.  You'll very likely be the first person to achieve this in the history of humanity.

The problem is that your hands are "wired" for fine motor skills - skills which utilise both dexterity and speed over short (one metre/yard or less) distances.  Your feet are, by comparison, big, clumsy, lumbering objects primarily adapted to enable standing and locomotion.  Unless you're a person with a disability who has trained your feet for painting etc. they won't have much fine motor skill at all (and even if you do, this will still pale in comparison with hand dexterity and speed).

Gollum: what you'd look like if your
proportions matched sensitivity.
Sensitivity in your feet is nothing like that of your hands.  If your body had to be proportioned in terms of neural sensitivity, you'd look something like the adjacent picture.  Note that your feet would be smaller than your tongue!

So foot sensitivity to changes in movement is relatively poor.  And while feet/legs are great at "macro task" speeds (like running) they take a while to get up to those speeds: their acceleration isn't all that good over smaller distances (eg. one metre/yard).

In other words, when we're talking smaller/detailed/dexterous tasks, your feet/legs basically suck.  They are powerful and can carry great momentum.  But using them in a contest against hands at close range is pure folly.

And the folly is even greater if your opponent's hands happen to be holding a knife.  In that instance, your opponent doesn't even have to use much force to do damage: a simple flick of the wrist can slice you open (assuming a sharp blade, anyway).

When would you use a kick against a knife wielding attacker?  To keep him or her at distance.  This is demonstrated (albeit not terribly well) in the video1 below.

But in that event, I wouldn't be trying to kick the knife: I'd be kicking the opponent's "slow moving parts" - ie. his or her torso, hips etc. - trying to keep him or her at a safer distance, knowing that I might get cut/stabbed on my leg.

I might try this - but only if I absolutely had no other choice.  I might try to close the gap and stop the "slow moving parts" (including the shoulders) with my own hands.
But I'd rather not be in the fight at all.
Unarmed vs. knife is a very bad idea.  It is only marginally better than unarmed vs. gun.  Be sure to understand this the next time you see a "crescent kick against a knife" defence.


1.  I think the "grappling knife defence" the last video is criticising is this one:

I don't think the suggested "alternative" (kicking using a wall for balance) is any "better" for similar reasons to that discussed in the video (imagine a determined attacker slipping your kick and rushing you with multiple stabs!).  If anything, I'd prefer the Gracie approach shown above to the suggested "kicking" one (although, as I've said above, I don't discount the possibility of kicks keeping an attacker at a distance - at least temporarily).  

Having said the above, I'd really prefer to avoid grappling in a knife fight.  Instead, I'd concentrate on stopping the slow moving parts, followed by a quick counter.  So, for example, my own "taijiquan" counterpart to the Gracie defence in the video below at 4:04 uses similar angles but doesn't go for a "hold" or "lock" - and it doesn't try to manipulate the elbow, preferring to work at the slowest moving part of the arm, ie. the shoulder.  (For more, see my article "Dealing with knife attacks".)

Copyright © 2013 Dejan Djurdjevic

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The danger of a single punch

[Warning: this article contains footage of violence: viewer discretion advised.]

It seems that in just my State, every single year nets a couple of one punch deaths.  There are many more where people are severely injured or disabled.  And many, many more where people suffer less serious, but still significant, injuries.  Somehow the message doesn't seem to be getting through to people:
One punch can kill.
Young men around the world continue to think that they can settle their differences via a "fight"; that "male hierarchy" can be determined relatively harmlessly via a "test of physical strength".

It's as if young men persist in believing the movie fight myth: that a whole lot of punching will, at worst,cause a bit of bruising and a trickle of blood coming out of one corner of your lips (in a "glamorous" kind of way).

This myth is partly perpetuated by the rising popularity of modern MMA.  People see professional fighters lasting 3-5 rounds of bruising battle without being killed or seriously injured.  If they can do this, how bad can an "amateur punch-up" be?

But this sort of analysis ignores the following reality:
Fights "in the street" involve very different parameters.
If nothing else, the surface on which "street" fights take place is far less forgiving.  In fact, of all the "one punch deaths" I've seen (dating from my prosecution days) the majority seem to have been caused not by the punch, but by the victim striking his/her head on the ground/kerb.

Consider the rather shocking video below: You'll see a man punching two victims and knocking them out.  Both fall hard onto the concrete.  The first falls in such a violent way that his head whiplashes onto the ground taking the full force of the impact.  The second doesn't fall quite so badly, but still smacks his head into the ground in a very ugly way (remember, viewer discretion is advised!).

I am generally opposed to posting videos of this nature: they horrify me as much as they should horrify most people.  And yet, I feel so strongly about the dangers of "one punch" that I felt I simply had to post this as a warning: there is no "safe" way to punch someone in order to "settle a dispute" or "assert dominance".

I don't know what happened to the two young men who were punched in this video.  I sincerely hope that they are okay.  But the truth is that either or both of them could very easily have died - primarily from their heads impacting the ground.

Leaving aside the surface on which you fight, what are the other variables that might distinguish this from a "relatively safe" MMA bout?  

Firstly, it seems that in both cases the young men were knocked out by a "sucker punch".  Okay, the second man should have known something was coming - but he clearly didn't.  It looked like he'd run up to remonstrate with the puncher - not fight him.  I expect that the first man was similarly knocked out after a bit of verbal confrontation - without expecting a sudden punch.  In other words, no one said: "Okay boys, I want a good, clean fight: ready... set... go!"

(Time and time again, I have spoken of the "surprise" attack.  This would be an example of one.  You don't need to be attacked from behind to be "surprised" by sudden violence.)

Secondly, the young men who were knocked out were probably affected by alcohol.  With dulled senses, their defensive capacity was almost certainly compromised.

Thirdly, the young men don't appear to have been conditioned for any sort of fighting - never mind taking blows.  By contrast, professional fighters develop such conditioning gradually.  Moreover they get selected over time by natural pressures:  Some people can take a punch much better than others.  Those who can't don't "stay in the game" for very long.  Consider also that combat sports fighters generally don't go into a match unless they've been through thousands of hours of hard sparring, during which they get conditioned and their coaches get to know whether they're both physically suited to, and prepared for, ring/cage fighting. 

Fourthly, your opponent in a sports match is generally going to be matched to you both by way of weight and experience.  Combat sports are highly regulated in this way to minimise injury.  (I remember one of my co-hosts on the Combat Sports Show on 91.3 SportFM who was a heavyweight cage fighter complaining that he couldn't get a fight - because promoters had a tough time matching him with an appropriate opponent!)

Fifthly (and most importantly), the young men seem completely untrained.  In particular, I'd venture that neither of the victims had any defensive skill at all.  They were basically "sitting ducks" for those punches.  You can tell this from the second punch in the video:

The victim fails to read the obvious signs of danger (ie. his unconscious companion on the ground, the obvious menacing intent of the perpetrator and the generally highly charged, aggressive and unstable atmosphere).  Instead, he runs straight up to the attacker.

Once there, he doesn't move - at all - while the puncher winds up for a massive swing...
He doesn't even twitch.  
Not only does he fail to "block" the punch or otherwise evade it: it's as if he has no idea it is coming - even as the arm is chambered to the side.  There is virtually no movement on his part: he might as well be frozen stiff.  (If you want to see an animated gif of the punch, go here - but again, viewer discretion is advised).

Now I know is probably part of the "flight or fight or freeze" response.  Regardless, it is an untrained response.  It is the response you get when you haven't grooved a suitable situational reflex.

You'll notice from the link embedded in the term "situational reflex" that I use this term quite deliberately.  Others speak of "situational awareness" - but I'm not talking about that.  The latter is about reading cues and understanding potential danger: this is definitely something the young man lacked.  (It is such a lack of situational awareness that lures young me play the "chest bumping" or "monkey dance" game in the first place: they don't realise that they are one step away from disaster...)

But situational reflex is a very different thing: it is your trained, subconscious reflex response to a particular stimulus - in this case, a threat.  I've previously discussed this at length and I invite you to consider my article on this subject rather than have me recap it here.  All I will add is this:
Unless and until you have sufficient training that gives you some sort of reasonable reflex for a situation like this, you shouldn't dream of putting yourself into such a dangerous position.  
In fact, even if you have sufficient training, it is a stupid gamble.  If you have little or none, it is positively moronic!

I know that young men somehow think that an ability to "fight" should be "natural" and "ingrained": that testing this "ingrained ability" is a kind of "test of their manhood".

But when you think of it, skill in fighting is a skill like any other.  You have to develop skills.

Even if you're lucky, you won't be born with anything other than a natural aptitude.  And, like it or not, you might actually have no natural aptitude for "fighting".

Take note: if you aren't born a "natural fighter" this is no more a "measure of your manhood" than whether or not you are a natural tennis, golf or snooker player - or, for that matter, surfer, guitar player or artist.  Your status as a "man" isn't determined by some sort of "natural aptitude".  Nor should your sense of self-worth.

Fighting is a skill.  If you don't have it, add it to a long list of skills you don't have.  Because no matter who you are, there are umpteen things you cannot do, and will probably never be able to do!  For example, I can't fly a helicopter, windsurf, abseil, play bridge... the list is endless.  Skill in "fighting" (or "defence" - which is subtly, but significantly, different) is just one which we can choose to develop - whether or not we have a natural aptitude for it.

In that context, choosing to "test" a skill you've most likely never bothered to develop is, in the case of fighting, not only dangerous, but potentially life-changing - or life-ending.  Fighting isn't a game.  It isn't a "test" of "manhood".  It should only ever be a last resort - a regrettable necessity.

Remember: one punch can kill.  Don't let bravado make you either the victim - or perpetrator - of tragedy.

Copyright © 2013 Dejan Djurdjevic

Monday, September 9, 2013

Dealing with knife attacks

[Warning: this article contains a graphic image which might distress some readers.]


In modern times it has become fashionable to regard the traditional martial arts as ineffective against knife attacks. And yet if you look at the techniques in traditional forms, I believe you will find plenty of realistic knife defences.

This should not be surprising: traditional fighting arts are, after all, principally civilian defence systems.

And throughout history, in every culture, knife and dagger attacks have remained relatively common in civilian society - precisely because knives (or similar bladed tools) are so ubiquitous: We have used them in our daily lives for thousands of years, be it in hunting, skinning/scaling and gutting, cooking as well as general utility.  (There is a reason that the Swiss Army Knife is first and foremost a knife - not a screwdriver, saw or file etc.)

At the same time, the knife has enormous advantages as an instrument of civilian (not military) attack: it is small and portable, can be easily concealed and it is the next most deadly civilian weapon after a firearm (as I discuss later).

So I believe the traditional martial arts have evolved very much with knife attacks in mind.

The problems we see with traditional knife defences don't lie with the traditional technology - but rather with the way this technology has been interpreted in a modern age when it is relatively rarely needed and applied.

Before we look at specific, traditional knife defences, it is appropriate that we look briefly at what knife attacks really look like.

What you can realistically expect in a knife attack

Many years ago I was involved in at least 3 knife attack prosecutions which included surveillance footage evidence (I was involved in many more that did not have such footage).  I can confirm that what most people still practise as "knife attack scenarios" in the traditional arts are woefully inaccurate and that knife attacks typically take a form much more like the one below:

Let's look at the features of the above attack scenario:

The full step zombie attack vs reality

Your attacker won't take a full step and pause like some sort of zombie, giving you time to control the arm holding the knife, disarm your opponent and inflict a counter.

Your attacker is very unlikely to allow you to lead his/her momentum as you often see in aikido demonstrations.

Rather, I think it is most likely that the attacker will, after closing the gap, lunge at you with repeated short stabs (and maybe hacks and slashes - see below).

These movements will be fast and continuous.  They might be straight, but given most people's instinct to cover their centre line, they will probably move around your guard (eg. roundhouse stabs to the kidneys).

The "Psycho" hack and the "slash"

I think the "Psycho" attack using the downward hack, while certainly possible, isn't nearly as prevalent as people seem to think.

The "Psycho" attack - it's not very realistic!

While the Jim Carrey video above is just a parody, it is self-evident that many schools of traditional martial arts teach the downward "hack" (in zombie mode!) as the principle attack one can expect to face.  Yes, you could well be attacked with a downward hack.  But in my view this possibility comes second to the more common straight or round stab - executed with a fast retraction.  

You would not think this if you went by what many people in traditional schools (even highly reputable and esteemed ones) demonstrate as their first "defence against a knife attack".

From what I've seen and prosecuted, most attackers (certainly in Western countries) don't bother much with slashes either (unless the attack is specifically intended to scar victims - eg. what is known as the "Glasgow smile" - a very different sort of attack from the type I'm considering here).

Certainly I cannot remember a single knife prosecution which involved slash wounds to any appreciable extent.

Yes, experienced Filipino martial arts fighters use slashes and hacks extensively (see Guro Dan Inosanto below).  But this does not appear to be the case in most "non blade" cultures.

It is important to note that even when a hack or slash is employed instead of a stab, the same principles apply - to both the attack and defence.  You can expect a frenzied rush - and a very mobile, fast, knife-wielding hand.  You certainly won't face a "Jim Carrey" attack.  

This greatly influences what you should and shouldn't do.

What you shouldn't do

Given the above, whatever you do, you shouldn't aim to grab your opponent's knife hand - particularly as it is heading out to you.  This is just plain daft.

First, the hand will be travelling too fast.  Grabbing a moving hand at speed is a big ask - even with a punch, as Bas Rutten points out below:

Consider for a moment that if a punch is hard to "catch" in its outward phase, a knife stab is going to be even harder.  Why?

Punches are really far more likely to be launched with committed momentum than knife attacks.  A knife doesn't require anywhere near the commitment and momentum to do damage.  Moreover, the attacker will be very wary of having his main weapon caught and immobilised.

In other words, there is a greater premium than ever on keeping the attacking hand mobile when it is holding a knife.

Accordingly, if you try to grab a stabbing hand straight off the bat, you'll almost certainly miss.  What else will happen?  You'll probably get cut - severely.  Putting your hand near a fast moving blade is a very bad idea, as Guy Mezger found out when he tried to "block" a knife attack by raising his hand.  All the usual "blocking" principles that might work for boxing, MMA etc., in particular using the palm to deflect attacks, go out the window.

You just can't afford to use your hand against your opponent's fastest moving part - his/her hand - particularly when there is a very sharp blade in it!  You'll fail to get any sort of control and you will almost certainly get cut.

(Despite getting your hand in the way of the blade, you might, like Guy Mezger, still succeed in taking out your opponent.  But whichever way it goes, trying to grab the knife hand from the outset scarcely makes for an intelligent tactic - not that this was what Guy was trying to do).

While "grabbing the knife hand" isn't a great idea, you would likely get the opposite impression if you looked at most martial arts demonstrations of knife defences.

The traditional arts I've already shown above (karate and aikido) aren't the only ones who do this: you'll see it as far afield as Russian Systema.  Take a look below at one of Systema's teachers instructing a class on knife defences/disarms.

Sure, it  looks good.  But note the speed at which they are moving - a speed that disguises the difficulty of avoiding contact with the blade.  Look also at the nature of the attacks.  Compare this with the more realistic (in my view) attack scenario shown in the first video (stabbing, retracting the hand, etc.).

Please note: I am not saying that the Systema approach shown above wouldn't work well with "unbladed" fighting.  My own experience of Systema suggests that it is highly functional.  Such slow practise is also highly valuable in learning how to move smoothly and efficiently in relation to an attack.

However I hold it to be manifest that what is shown in the above video simply isn't appropriate for knife fighting.  As with many other schools/systems, the instructor seems to have fallen into the same trap: an unquestioned adoption of "unbladed" tactics in a bladed environment.  You can't do a simple swap: it just doesn't work.

What you should do

Okay, so what should you do?  You should do what I believe most traditional systems actually teach in their forms (as opposed to how they are interpreted).

The very first of these is quite simple:
Stop the slow moving parts first!
This is a basic principle of knife fighting.  Don't go for the fast moving hands: go for the shoulders and the forearm - preferably both at the same time.  Why?  Because even if you do nothing else, when you control these parts (ie. "cut the supply lines" as Marc MacYoung calls it), the best the knife can do is make a relatively shallow graze or cut.  It can't stab deeply.  You don't need tremendous force to stab, but you do need enough.  Having your shoulder and forearm jammed and controlled makes it very difficult to generate enough force.

When I was prosecuting, I noted that people who were stabbed deeply had the potential of dying quite quickly.  Major organs could be badly damaged, breathing could be interrupted and there was a whole lot more chance of bleeding from major arteries and veins.  Superficial slashes and cuts, while painful and sometimes nasty, just didn't compare in terms of mortality.

The vital issue of range

In order to stop the slow moving parts, you need to move in towards your opponent.  You can't do anything from a distance.  You have to be well inside the melee range.  Either that, or you should stay well outside the melee range.  Anything in between is "no man's land" and it is functionally useless, as well as being highly dangerous.

In other words, you must be inside the fast hand speed range or outside it - not in the middle of it!

Some traditional techniques: taijiquan

So let's consider some techniques from traditional arts.  Somewhat counter intuitively, I'm going to focus on the Chinese internal art of taijiquan - an art not normally thought of as containing defences against knife attacks:

First, let us examine the technique known as  "fair lady works at shuttles".  It is often interpreted as an interception and strike to the face.  But if your opponent is armed with a knife, it can be equally employed as an interception of your opponent's forearm and simultaneous jam of his/her shoulder.

Indeed, this is precisely the principle used in the Filipino martial arts of arnis/escrima/kali.  The adjacent picture is taken of me in taiji class, but it might just as well come from a Filipino martial arts class because it demonstrates the same basic principle:
Stop the slow moving parts first.

You'll note that the lead hand jams the shoulder, while rear hand jams the forearm in what I like to call the "Goldilocks zone".

Okay, I know this technique is against a "Psycho" type hack, and I know I said it wasn't the most common means of knife attack.  But such attacks are still quite possible.  Moreover, I've started with this example because it illustrates the essential principle very clearly: stop the slow moving parts first.  Then, and only then, do you attempt to counter and/or control your opponent's knife hand.

The need for a quick counter

Desmond Lawrence Sensei - one of my
esteemed seniors and teachers
In terms of "controlling the knife hand", my senior Sensei Des gave me the advice that rather than attempt to control the knife hand, it is often better simply to counter immediately.

This is what he did when attacked by 3 knife attackers on the docks in Cape Town.  He sustained 9 stab wounds (I've seen the scars).  But he knocked out 2 of his assailants while the other ran away.

Des then dragged himself to hospital.  He lost a lot of blood, but he survived.  The way he described it, the attack was simultaneous and frenzied.  He could do nothing but "wear" the stabs, punching each opponent as he came into range.

Indeed, Des' tactic wasn't dissimilar to that of Guy Mezger who took out his opponent by punching him: it's just that Des didn't even bother trying to stop the attacks.  He told me he would have tried to do so, but with 3 men attacking simultaneously this simply wasn't an option.

Controlling the knife hand after "cutting the supply lines"

However, it is certainly okay to attempt to control the knife hand if you are able to do so and if it is appropriate in the circumstances.  The important thing is to remember to stop the slow moving parts first!  Once you do so, two things happen:

1. You thwart the initial attack at its source by "cutting the supply lines", buying valuable time to respond.
2. You establish a kinaesthetic "link" - providing feedback as to your opponent's position in time and space.

Armed with the kinaesthetic data provided by the initial contact, and by the fact that you've interrupted your opponent's momentum momentarily, you now have a far better chance of grabbing his or her attacking arm safely - assuming it is necessary or prudent to do so.

Alternately you might throw a disabling counter - or just run away!

I discuss all of the above in my video below concerning two other taijiquan defences against knife attacks:

What taijiquan doesn't advise

If you search Google or Youtube with the terms "taijiquan" and "knife defense" you'll find many examples that contravene the basic principles to which I've referred above.  Some of these are from highly esteemed, greatly knowledgeable masters of the internal arts.

That you would get such results is hardly surprising: as esteemed as these masters might be, when it comes to knife fighting most of them are working largely, if not entirely, off theory alone.

This is not a criticism of these masters: thankfully, very few people per capita in the developed world have ever faced, or will ever face, a knife attack.  However it does mean that, in respect of knife fighting, the value of the information available is not particularly reliable.

This stands in contrast to the knowledge of our ancestors - who created the traditional forms during a time when knife fighting (indeed, any violence of an elemental, hand-to-hand kind) was far more likely to intrude into daily life.

As I've noted before, theory that is perfectly fine for unarmed fighting makes a very poor transition to bladed fighting.  Yet, time and time again, I see this manifesting in "knife defence" demonstrations from the traditional arts.  This is quite common and understandable.  I know that I've been guilty of it over the years.

Consider for a moment the adjacent series of pictures taken from the video below.  What do you notice?

First, there is a "zombie" attack, launched with a full step from out of range.  Even with the full step, the knife would barely reach the target: there would certainly be very little penetration.  To have any penetration, the attacker's arm would have to be fully extended.  This is simply unrealistic.  (Compare in my video my invitation to my student to come in closer when attacking).

Second, the defender's first response is to catch the defender's bladed hand.  As I note above, this is simply not feasible against any knife attack you're actually likely to face.  Even if you succeed in grabbing hold of the knife in such an application, very little awareness seems to exist in the traditional martial arts world of how easily the knife can be twisted on its axis to cut your grabbing hand.

Third, the advice offered in this video is to stay out of range.  As I've noted above, this is good advice.  But if you want to stay out of range, don't dive into "no man's land" to tackle the knife where it is travelling its fastest.  Just avoid it altogether!

Put another way: why intercept something that is going to miss you anyway - particularly if that thing is sharp and dangerous and you're intercepting the thing with your bare hand?  Look carefully at the above pictures and you'll notice that once the teacher steps back out of range, the knife is at least an arm's length away from him.  In that circumstance, why would you put your arm out into the path of the knife?

Even when the range is correct and the knife is controlled, very little attention is given to the fact that likely resistance and adjusted trajectory will have to be considered carefully.  Sure, you might have grabbed the knife hand - but this doesn't mean you're safe!

Consider the adjacent picture and note the paused position during the counter.  The attacker might not be able to reverse the knife trajectory or pull it back towards him.  But what stops him from changing the trajectory so that it continues downwards and sideways into the defender's groin or the inside of her thigh?  Not much, I think.  The defender is in a very weak position as regards that particular trajectory, yet she seems totally oblivious to this.


Knife fighting is very dangerous business.  While studying criminology we learned that knives were the next most deadly offensive weapon after the firearm.  Forget batons, nunchakus, knuckle dusters, baseball bats, broken bottles, half bricks, etc: after the firearm, the knife is the next most likely to result in death.

Because of the unique features of the knife, the tactics of knife fighting differ greatly from unarmed fighting or fighting with other "unbladed" weapons.

Most people reading this no doubt live in  modern world where, despite impressions they might get of rates of violent crime, their chances of being involved in an attack are statistically small - and their chances of facing a knife attack are even smaller.

This means that even well-intentioned, highly knowledgeable martial arts teachers are likely to "get it wrong" when it comes to knives.  This includes me. Even though I've seen and analysed knife fights in my professional career, I have no direct experience of being attacked with a knife (thankfully).  My seniors like Sensei Des (and even my brother) have, but I haven't.  So while I invite you to consider my opinion, I advise you not to take it uncritically as "truth".

Most of us are working from "theory".  I would like to think my theory is based on evidence, particularly evidence relevant to the society in which I live.  But I might be wrong.  This is why I haven't tried to deal with knife fighting as a subject before and why I approach it now with great caution, even after detailed study (including training in Filipino arnis/escrima) and careful consideration over many years.

In the end, the above internal arts teacher's advice is certainly spot-on in this respect:
Avoid knife fighting as much as possible!  
As to the rest, take most knife defence advice, including mine, with a very liberal pinch of salt...

Copyright © 2013 Dejan Djurdjevic

Friday, September 6, 2013

A textbook example of the most effective defence

Many of my recent articles have concerned the topic of defence: why it is important, and how it is to be used - together with a connected, appropriate counter.

Well I recently came across an example of "textbook" defence: a response that typifies everything I've been writing about.

To some readers it might seem odd that it concerns firearms and not "hand to hand combat".  I don't find it odd at all: the principles of effective defence are universally applicable.  They are part of the Daoist concept of wu-wei.

Consider this video:

In it, you'll see a store clerk being held-up by a man armed with a handgun: only the robber doesn't realise he's up against a highly trained, combat-experienced Iraq war veteran.

It doesn't go well for the robber.  You can read a detailed textual account here.

What's the first thing you notice from the video?  Fantastic situational reflex by the veteran: As the robber starts to bring out his firearm, the veteran's hand goes out and jams it down to the robber's hip.  This reflex is clearly one he has developed through both training and combat experience.  Where most people would have stood there like stunned mullets, the veteran acted instantly.  This is not a testament to his "fast reaction timing": he is an older man and we can be sure from basic human biology that his reaction timing isn't what it was in his 20s or 30s.  Rather, this is a testament to a specific, productive reflex he developed - one that was situationally appropriate - indeed optimal.

That he was able to do so is a function of two things: effective motor learning (or, if you prefer, kinaesthesia/proprioception) and an ability (gained through relevant training/experience) to link this motor learning to non-verbal cues (ie. setting up the situational reflex).

What's the next thing you notice?  He started with defence.  Yes - all the "Ymar Sakar's" of this world (long-term readers will recall his "novellas" on this topic in my comments section), take note: 
He didn't respond to the threat by pulling his gun out quicker than his attacker (and then shooting him).  
He first intercepted the attack.  Then, he pulled out his own gun.  
Because of the realities of reaction time.  Telling me you know how to "read cues" etc. is all very well: this veteran could read gun cues better than most of us - yet he was still forced into defence.  Why?  Because this is about the best you can expect.  It's the unavoidable element of surprise.

You can see that it's a bit like the instruction you always get on airplanes: put on your own oxygen mask before you attend to others.  In other words, ensure your safety first.  "Target focused" training totally ignores this vital aspect.  It assumes you are always going to "strike first" - and that somehow learning to "strike harder and better" is the most important thing.  

That's a bit like saying that the best sort of training for this scenario is target shooting at a range.  No, it isn't.  Target shooting is important - but it won't do diddly squat in this situation unless you can first stop the gun being pointed at your head.  

This is also where the "arming all civilians is the solution" argument is manifestly flawed: most civilians don't have any defence training - even if they have shooting range training.  They have learned to shoot things - not how to deal with or thwart someone who is trying to shoot them.

Okay, so what's the last thing you notice?  A proportionate response.  The veteran pulls his gun out after intercepting and thwarting his opponent's attack.  But he doesn't pull the trigger.  As he notes in his interview:
“If I had seen the actual barrel of the gun, I would have pulled the trigger,” he said. “My life wasn’t threatened.”
He did what was regrettably necessary - and no more.  He even let the man escape.  He certainly didn't try to be a hero and "restrain the attacker" or "teach him a lesson": he understood that you can't "swat all the mosquitoes at a barbecue".

How does this relate to unarmed fighting or fighting with non-firearm weapons?  In every way.  The principles are exactly the same - as you can see from my recent article where I discussed the high school bully video: you need to be able to stop that first attack.  This necessitates an ability to intercept attacks and negate them.  

This is not a function of having "inadequate attack skills" or a philosophy of "standing around waiting for an attack".  It is simple logistical reality.  Nor does it manifest as some sort of "block without counter" tactic.  This is strawman nonsense, peddled by those who have never acquired defensive skill and doggedly refuse to consider doing so out of cognitive dissonance.  It is what you expect from ideologues and nutters (or slick salesmen peddling a "system" via a series of seminars, books and DVDs).

So your first priority in civilian defence is to negate the initial (usually surprise) attack.  It should be self-evident that after that initial attack, you can, and should, seize the initiative.  And it is only then that your "attack skills" become primarily relevant.  Before that, your defensive ones come first.

But remember: even after "seizing the initiative" you still need proportionality in your counter attacks.  Acknowledging this is not a sign of weakness or "pacifism".  It is just common sense.

The veteran in this video showed mastery of all of the above - in one quick exchange.  I have filled this page with words, and yet his video speaks many, many volumes.  To understand just how profound and eloquent these "volumes" are, you need to know how to read them. But more than that, you need to know not to read-in your own pre-set dogma.  I know that many in the "self defence industry" won't be able to resist the temptation to do the latter.  That's their loss.  Sadly, it's also their students'.

[An addendum: I encourage you t read the following excellent blog entry by R William Ayres: Real world self defense with guns.  It says a whole lot that I wish I'd said!]

Copyright © 2013 Dejan Djurdjevic