Three Letters Re: Self-Defense Advice

Mr. Rawles, 
Reading your blog on Thursday, I was interested in the Self-Defense Advice posts. I absolutely agree that unless you have mastered the basics and developed the muscle memory that comes with it, learning Self-Defense from a book or from a video or from an online program is difficult to near impossible. That said, if you have the muscle memory and skills that come from training for a number of years, and you have someone of equal or greater skill level to work with you, it might be possible to obtain information from a book or video, but it is important to remember that a novice cannot learn the material needed from a book. A novice or beginner needs direct, physical, in class training. Grandmaster John Pellegrini and Master Yeager are both very fond of saying, “To see is to be deceived, to feel is to believe.”

I was very fortunate to train under Master Yeager (affiliated with Grandmaster Pellegrini and Combat Hapkido) when I was younger and I first trained in Tang Soo Do (for the sake of brevity consider it a variant of Tae Kwon Do), then when I was old enough I joined the Combat Hapkido classes (adult’s only at the time). Here I feel it important to note that Combat Hapkido is specifically designed for the purpose of self-defense. It covers a great deal of situations from empty hand defense against grabs, holds, thrown techniques, stick, gun, knife, defense against multiple attackers, and situations where you might be incapacitated by space, where your back might literally be against a wall, where you might be in the isle of an airplane and unable to move out of the way, or in a situation where you find yourself on the ground with your attacker in a dominant position. Combat Hapkido also stresses the importance of incapacitating your attacker(s), and if you attend a seminar you will probably receive a great deal of legal information since many techniques are very damaging physically when executed at full speed. Our school also required us to learn how to defend ourselves with the Escrima stick or Arnis sticks. We would also work on drills that used a knife, or cane, or improvisational weapons (rolled up newspapers, a pen, keys, or a CD case) to defend ourselves. Combat Hapkido is very much a street oriented self-defense style designed to get you out of a confrontation as quickly and safely as possible, our school’s mantra on night we trained self-defense was, “I am going home”. I have attended several seminars with Grandmaster Pellegrini, and other instructors in the Combat Hapkido system and can attest to the effectiveness of the style in a self-defense situation, so if it is an option I would highly recommend without reservations at least checking out Combat Hapkido.

However, Combat Hapkido may not be a possibility for everyone, in which case my recommendation differs little from Mr. Rawles or F.P.’s, Tae Kwon Do or Tang Soo Do, are excellent traditional styles that will teach you basics on kicking and punching and will often help with strength and conditioning. However, for the complete novice without any training in self-defense or martial arts whatsoever, I would recommend finding a martial arts “dojo” of any style that does not focus on competition. If it is a competition school the chances are that it is concerned about trophies and titles and not about preparing someone to use the techniques against a determined attacker on the street who isn’t going to play by tournament rules. Ask to watch classes, talk to the instructor about their school’s focus, the style and purpose of the style that they train in, and I would also recommend leaning toward styles that focus on empty hand fighting rather than styles that are geared toward weapon’s fighting like Kendo. And if all else fails find a boxing gym or a mixed martial arts studio.

Ultimately on the topic of self-defense is is a matter or developing the attitude and fortitude necessary to use the information that you learn. You can know all the techniques in the world, but unless you have trained yourself to the point of being able to react without thinking to threats, and to literally have the will to break and arm or a knee then all the training in the world will do you know good. This is where good instruction and good classmates come in handy, they will drill you repeatedly till you can do the techniques in your sleep, and they will provide you with the most realistic training possible so that when something does happen for real you will not be unprepared. So take your time selecting a dojo, and stay away from “belt factories”, find a school that is difficult to rank in, because chances are they require the dedication necessary to make you capable of defending yourself. Regards, – Coastal Texas Prepper

Captain Rawles:
I fully agree that you can not learn self defense by reading a book or watching a video. However, when I think of paying $100 a month each for eight kids to attend a dojo I know that reader must be crestfallen. I know there is no substitute for a good instructor to give you hands on instruction, but in the past I have trained regularly at home with a partner using the following instructional dvd’s:

Gracie Combatives: If you are going against a single opponent without a chance of someone else coming up and knocking you on your head, this course on the fundamentals of ground combat can’t be beat. Royce and Renner Gracie have put out a first rate lesson plan with moves clearly explained and demonstrated, action drills, then they lace them together in simulated combat drills. They focus on the moves that win the highest percentage of fights and the basic moves that they say if practiced according to their plan will have you ready to defeat an unarmed and untrained street opponent of literally any size when you can pass their blue belt qualification test at the end (and I believe them). Because small guys rarely pick fights with bigger guys, and a bigger guy has a good chance of getting on top of you if the fight goes to the ground (and statistically, 80% of fights end up on the ground), the first few lessons teach you how to turn the tables from the bottom: Whether the opponent is mounted on you, or, preferably, if you are able to attain the guard position (opponent on top, but with your legs wrapped around his waist – actually a very strong position with a plethora of attack options, after practicing these moves you might actually pull an opponent on top of you if there is no other way to get him to your territory. They also offer the option to film yourself and a training partner performing the moves, send it in for evaluation, and if upon their evaluation they decide you’ve done them properly and in the proper  time and order they will award you a Gracie Jiu-Jitsu blue belt, without ever having to step into a dojo!) I know this sounds like a sales pitch, but I’m not affiliated with them in any way. If I could choose only two methods of self defense this would be one of them.

If I could choose only one instructional set to train with, and I only had six months to train, I would choose a system called the F.I.G.H.T. System of Haganah. I would make this my primary choice because there is no guarantee that you will never be in a situation where it is two (or more) against one, and the last thing you need is some guy to clobber you on the head as you are on the ground winning a fight with his friend. This training takes from the Israeli systems of Krav Maga, Kapap, Lotar and Saldud. Krav Maga is the best known Israeli defense system, which was developed for the IDF to defend against every day attacks by disenfranchised Palestinians who were either unarmed, or armed but too close to draw and shoot when they begin their attack. Kapap [which stands for Krav Panim El Panim which means “face to face combat”] is their knife defense. Saldud is the sport martial art. The instructor demonstrates defensive strategies and tactics for virtually any situation you are likely to encounter. He teaches stacking for multiple opponents, attack in retreat,  realistic knife defense for a few angles of attack, and more. Another thing I like about the system is it teaches you to go from any unpredictable attack situation and end up in one of a couple of basic positions that inhibit your opponent’s ability to harm you while you finish him off by either a takedown or snapping his neck (this set is not recommended for those who can’t control their temper — if they are dead set on studying martial arts they should realize that the only chance they have of avoiding life in prison is to find a good instructor  and listen to him when he lectures about power and responsibility. If he doesn’t give the occasional short lecture, and the attendant attention to fits of temper or signs of insecurity change schools because that one will not serve you).  In my humble and limited opinion there is no better system that, if you train with a partner, will have you up and ready quickly. Starting from zero and each training for only six months, I’d bet every time on a student of this system against an equal student of any other system (besides a ground grappler, but this system also teaches defense against the common takedowns, and as of a couple of years ago they had plans for supplemental dvd’s addressing ground defense)

A nice addition to this set if you can swing it, would be Combat Survival Commando Krav Maga. The instructor Avi Monik is one tough hombre who was in the thick of it in Israel, and even tells us about his experience helping Imi Lichtenfeld create the Krav Maga system. This system has a ton of useful techniques, and even touches on some training drills. The section on Ground Defense is no joke, you’ll learn a couple of techniques the Gracies won’t teach you and that would get you thrown out of a tournament, but that’s Krav Maga: it means Combat Contact and it’s not for sport or people who can’t control their tempers. There is actually way more content in this set, but I recommend the FIGHT system over it because their system is simpler to learn, more integrated, with a feel of completeness that Combat Survival’s sometimes seemingly (to me) disjointed system lacks. However, this is a very close second.

Above you have my recommendations for down and dirty, basically street defense ready in six months if you practice four hours a week with a partner and a little intelligence.

I may be doing Krav Maga a disservice due to not really having a lot of experience with the system besides a few months training from the videotapes from a friend, but I will state the following: In six months I’d bet on the Krav Maga student. In six (or sixteen) years, I’d probably bet on a dedicated student of one of the more traditional martial arts. All physical, mental, and dedication attributes of the students starting equally, Tae Kwon Do is one that could have a fair chance to take on Krav Maga some time after six months, all things being equal (and depending on what a particular instructor focuses on in the first six months). Tae Kwon Do is a fighting art that doesn’t mess around. It was originally developed from a need for unarmed peasants to knock mongols from their horses and kill them (hence the amazing high kicks) but it doesn’t stop there. I have no videos to recommend for this art though.

Wing Chun Kung Fu is the first art Bruce Lee trained in, and in spite of his later disavowal of systems, forms (katas), and the like, in my opinion the incomparable Mr. Lee would not have achieved his legendary level without a firm foundation of thousands of hours practicing those forms he later appears to have disavowed and training on the wooden dummy. Wing Chun (Called Gangster Fist in the back alleys of Hong Kong, I’m told) is an art that was designed specifically for a small person to defeat a larger opponent, and if you are a dedicated practitioner you will succeed in that endeavor. I know of one Kickboxing champion who switched to Wing Chun after discovering the system. The sixteen disc set by Randy Williams is the best of the two I own. He demonstrates everything you’d need to know to develop proficiency in the art, starting from basic single sticky hands, to the basic forms of the art, to partner drills, etc. If I ever get the time to dedicate myself to learning a new art, Wing Chun is the art and Sifu Williams DVDs will be the ones I use.

Other noteworthy members of my instructional collection, some which I’ve spent a lot of time training with, and some just watching, include:

Caesar Gracie Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.  After finally watching (on disc) Royce Gracie carry away the first several UFCs where the only rules were no biting and no eye gouging, period, and not being in a position to go to a dojo and learn a new art (the seemingly undefeatable art of ground grappling), this was my first set of instructional DVDs. For about a year I trained separately with two other men almost exclusively in the techniques that Caesar Gracie teaches here. If Gracie Combatives had not superceded it, this would have been up on top instead. If you can get this set used, and can’t afford the $100 for Gracie Combatives, get it! It’s almost as good, but without all the same moves (For example, Caesar teaches the ulma plata, a move where, from the guard position (on bottom) you use your leg to twist your opponents arm up behind his back and towards his head, which is a great move if the opportunity presents itself and you can swing it, but leaving it out of Gracie Combatives detracts nothing in my opinion)

Small Circle Jiu-Jitsu. Professor Wally Jay has modified traditional Jiu-Jitsu in a way that he says allows a small, weak person to defeat a much larger and stronger opponent (even more so than traditional Jiu-Jitsu) by focusing on the weak points of the body and the nerve centers. I actually spent a lot of time with this and I like much of his technique, but without confidence built up by years of training, the adrenaline will kick in and destroy someone’s fine motor skills, making pressure point fighting impractical — however, aside from that, there is a lot of great training, and if you come across it, you could do worse than training with these techniques.

Self Defense Encyclopedia. Sang H. Kim has put out a lot of Tae kwon do videos which I have not had the fortune to view. This one, however, is a single 36 minute video with a worthy overview of self defense techniques. If it’s all you can get, and you practice these techniques, it will not be a waste of your time.

Vee Arnis Jitsu is a small set put out by Espy TV which has a dynamic instructor who teaches some realistic defenses for numerous practical street fight situations. Watching this guy inspired me to learn to flow from joint lock to joint lock.

I should add that unless some guy just made up his own style, any style of martial art has survived the test of time and can be valuable to train in. My opinions above are a result of my limited knowledge and reflect only on the video training materials I have viewed, not on any particular school or individual instructors abilities.  I hope you find some value in this. – Al in California

I just had to write a response to this letter. Martial arts training is very good for building discipline, and self confidence. Its also excellent physical training/ exercise, but lets look at this from an extreme survival situation.  empty hands wont save you every time.
Any one who is smart enough to see what the potential future of this country might be, should be willing to consider this advice: Learn how to fight with a knife.
Not one of those cheap gas station lock blades, but a real quality knife that is built to last. Your fighting knife will never need to be reloaded, it will never misfire. And unless your opponent has a loaded gun, there is no good defense against it.
I have spent more than five years in Afghanistan and Iraq, and learned some hard lessons in that time  period.  Please take my advice, and you can avoid a hard lesson in the future. – Casey B.