It’s a warm summer evening. Your children have been begging you all day to take them to that new cartoon playing at the theater. It’s a Saturday, and you don’t have to be at church until noon the next morning. You give in to those little “pretty pleases” they’ve been charming you with all day. The movie is over around 11:00pm, and two tired but content children follow you out to your truck. There are very few people in the parking lot, and you are 15 feet from your vehicle when the hair on the back of your neck stands at attention. You’ve felt this before and know to listen to your senses, but it’s too late. Suddenly you are slammed to the ground from behind. A large man sits on your chest, while delivering blow after blow to your head and face. The weight of your attacker forces the air out of you, and his strikes feel like someone is slamming you with an anvil. You can hear the screams of your children as another man drags them toward a van you hadn’t even noticed parked by your truck. Now your fight has just begun. Are you ready?
I would guess the answer to my previous question is “no”. These days there are a lot of misconceptions about training for real violence. We sit in our recliners and watch our favorite action hero fight off assassin after assassin, and we think that this is how a real fight would play out. He sucks up more punishment than superman could endure, and right when he is about to be finished off he rises up and defeats his enemy. As entertaining as these films may be, this couldn’t be further from reality. On the contrary, real violence is much less poetic. It is fast. It is ruthless, and it will never come when you are ready for it. So what do we do? How can we prepare for an attack that will be hidden until the last second? Let’s begin with the human condition.
Every human is unique in their thoughts, experiences, beliefs, and abilities, all of which influence the way we will respond to a stressful life or death encounter. A large proportion of society walk through life thinking of violence as something they see only on the news or in the theater. It is not something they wish to address, and it is always something that happens to someone else, until it happens to them. If you count yourself among this group, then it is time to change your thought process. Violence is something that happens daily. According to the FBI website 1,203,564 violent crimes were committed in the U.S. in 2011! Your odds of being involved in a violent encounter are around one in 300. There are predators in this world that, if given the chance, will attack, beat, rape, or murder you and your loved ones without hesitation. If you are okay with rolling the dice, then stop reading here. Those of you reading this who want to develop the tools and the mindset of a survivor should continue reading.
I have been involved in martial arts for the past 16 year. I am also a Tactical Medic for our county SWAT team and have spent the past six years as a medic on a 911 ambulance and in a rural Emergency Room. I have studied many different arts, such as Tae Kwan Do, Muay Thai Kickboxing, Western Boxing, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Filipino Martial arts, and Jeet Kune Do concepts. After years of training, teaching, and application (not to mention years of providing medical treatment to victims of beatings, stabbing, and shootings), my ideas have shifted about training in hand-to-hand combat. I now prefer to teach less technique and instead help my students develop their attributes. It is our attributes that separate a warrior from a fighter, but for the sake of this article I will cover some basic techniques as well.
A good fighting stance should be simple. Feet shoulder width apart with your lead foot, roughly a half step ahead of your rear foot. If you are too spread out your mobility is limited; if your feet are too close together you will be easily toppled. Adopt a solid stance, similar to your shooting stance but shifting your weight back and forth on the balls of your feet. Keep your hands up in front of your face with knuckles about the height of your eyebrows (but not in front of your eyes) and hands relaxed. Your body should be relaxed, not tense, or you will limit the speed and power you can deliver. Now practice moving in all directions. If you wish to move right then your right foot moves first, if you wish to move left then your left foot moves first. The same concept applies to moving forward, backward, and diagonal. Now that you look like a fighter, it’s time to train like one.
There are five ranges that we teach in empty hand fighting. These ranges are: street fight, kicking, punching, trapping, and grappling. Street fight range is where you are safe; your attacker can’t touch you with any body part or weapon. Kicking, punching, and grappling range are pretty straight forward, but trapping is something most people are unfamiliar with. Trapping range is between punching and grappling range. Most people have punched or wrestled before, so when they find themselves in trapping range they want to step back to punch or close the gap to grab you. They are unfamiliar with this range but this is where you can inflict the most punishment. Headbutts, knees, elbows, and thumbing the eyes are the tools for this range. Not that being on the ground is a range, but train to get off the ground fast. Being stuck on the ground is a death sentence. “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.” -Sun Tzu
Choose practical tools to put in your tool box. Knees and elbows are strikes that bring maximum force with minimal risk to you. The skull is what nature designed to protect your body’s super computer. It is hard for a reason. There are 27 small bones in the hand. Smashing a sack of fragile bones (a fist) into the skull is a great way to fracture a metacarpal, rendering you combat ineffective. An eye gouge will work on anyone, no matter how tough they are. It’s hard to fight when you’ve lost your sight. The same goes for a kick to the groin. Anyone can do it, and 99 times out of 100 it will yield better results than a spinning hook kick. To quote Bruce Lee, “It is merely simplicity; the ability to express the utmost with the minimum.”
Being aware of what is going on around us is difficult these days. We seem to be in a constant rush, and we tune out things that are happening all around us. Awareness is what will keep us out of a deadly conflict; it’s that awareness and our inner voice telling us that something feels wrong. Have you ever felt the hair stand up on the back of your neck and you dismissed it. Your senses were trying to tell you something that you weren’t picking up on. Here is a simple drill you can do anywhere: Sit with your eyes closed and try to count how many sounds you hear. You’ll be amazed at what you’ve been tuning out. Now, plug your ears and look all around at the things you ignore and the things behind those things. Get the idea? “Intuition is always right in at least two important ways, it is always in response to something and it always has your best interest at heart.” – Gavin de Becker, The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals That Protect Us from Violence
Commit to your training so that it is not a thought but a response. I was 20 when I had my first “real” fight. There were four of them and two of us. I had just become an apprentice instructor in JKD/FMA************* and had trained five days a week to do so. We were significantly inebriated, and these guys figured they’d have an easy fight on their hands. Once the fight was over, they were packing each other away. I don’t remember the entire ordeal because once the adrenaline hit me, brought on by my body’s natural stress response and a whole lot of liquor, I blacked out. I do know that they threw the first punch and I threw the final elbow that put my attacker down hard. I regained my conscious thought and vision instantly after, and we took off. (A fight is like an ambush; you fight hard and fast and then escape because you don’t stick around for more of them to show up.) My body and mind worked together without my conscious thought and carried me through what could have been a trip to the ER or the morgue. Lt. Col. Dave Grossman said it best, “You do not rise to the occasion, you fall to your highest level of training.”
Best sure to test your training and constantly revise. The last place you want to find out that something doesn’t work is in the heat of the moment. This is why we train countless hours, honing our mind and body to a razors edge. We can afford to make mistakes in the gym but not in a real situation. “Making no mistakes is what establishes the certainty of victory, for it means conquering an enemy that is already defeated.” -Sun Tzu
This goes for physical condition as well as environmental. Train sick. Train tired. Train hung over or intoxicated. Train angry; train sad; train happy. Train in the rain; train in the snow. Train on slopes and slippery surfaces. Train for any type of condition– mental, physical, and geographic. You will never be attacked when it is ideal for you. “It is not enough that we do our best, sometimes we must do what is required.” -Winston Churchill
Attributes are the most important thing you can train, period. Attributes include speed, timing, endurance, reaction, strength, accuracy, explosiveness, flexibility, mental toughness, killer Instinct, combat breathing, and pain tolerance. This is just a small list of critical attributes that can help you overcome a high stress critical incident. Your skills will never be 100% without a superior mind and body. What if you saw a loved one in immediate danger, and you had to sprint 300 yards to get to them. Would you have enough endurance to do that and then fight off three hardened street thugs with your bare hands? It’s said “The firstest with the mostest is the bestest” (a modified quote from Nathan Bedford Forrest). Train your attributes.
In terms of a hand-to-hand combat high stress encounter, victory goes to the violent. Understand that when your life or your loved one’s is on the line, there is no such thing as excessive force. In the real world, it’s win or lose, live or die. You must be able to go from a loving and compassionate soul to a merciless storm of controlled violence. This takes practice for most people. Throw a raw chuck roast into a t-shirt and set a timer for 10 seconds, have your training partner do the same. Close your eyes and think of the most calming, happy thoughts you can. Have your partner start the timer. Then, you tear into your roast using only your canines. (If you bite with all of your teeth it will only bruise, but the canines are designed to rip flesh. Hence the term biting off more than you can chew.) Race your partner to see who can chew their roast up faster. This is a twofold exercise because you can practice a very aggressive defense– your bite– and you and your partner will know what it is like to chew into raw, bloody flesh. (Do not swallow; wash your mouth out thoroughly afterward with a disinfectant.) Disgusting right? Most people would laugh if you told them that this is how you train biting and develop killer instinct, but it will surprise you the mental edge you will develop. “You see things; and you say ‘Why?’ but I dream things that never were; and I say ‘Why not?'” – George Bernard Shaw. Think outside the box!
I used to teach kids martial arts classes, and two of my students happened to be the sons of our local *******LEO’s K9 trainer. I somehow found my way into a bite suit, which was an experience to say the least. Having seven trained German Shepherds and Belgium Malinois waiting to take turns tearing your arm off is a great way to inoculate yourself with stress. Being afraid of something and trying to avoid it is normal for all living beings. Consciously make the decision to put yourself in uncomfortable situations, so that when your body is slammed with adrenaline in preparation for fight or flight, it is not foreign to you. It is just another feeling like hunger or thirst– uncomfortable but not uncommon. “It is not stress that kills us, it is our reaction to it.” -Hans Selye
You can spend your life reading about a subject, but until you put the knowledge into action it will only be a thought. Take the tools and concepts above and incorporate them into your training. Remember, you have to train for your body type, age, gender, disability, strength, and so forth. What works for everyone else may have no use to you. Above all, right now, this very second, you must ask yourself how far am I willing to go? Make up your mind where your limitations lie. Determine what line will you absolutely not cross. There is no limit to what I will do to save my life or that of my loved ones, but you are not me, and I am not you. Regardless, the time to figure this out is now, because in the heat of the moment you will not have time to hash out your moral dilemmas.
Let us return to the beginning “Suddenly you are slammed to the ground from behind and a large man sits on your chest while delivering blow after blow to your head and face. The weight of your attacker forces the air out of you and his strikes feel like someone is slamming you with an anvil. You can hear the screams of your children as another man drags them toward a van you hadn’t even noticed parked by your truck. For a split second the pain is unbearable, but then your training takes over. You thrust your hips up driving your attacker’s chest toward your face. Grabbing him around his back, you pull him in tight and begin tearing pieces of flesh out of his chest as if someone were flicking a scalpel against his skin. He screams out in pain, and you roll him over, pinning his shoulders to the ground you smash his nose with a powerful headbutt and deliver three fast strikes to his groin. Before your mind can catch up to your body, you have smashed his face with a heal stomp. He is out of the fight. You’re sprinting now, like a lion chasing a gazelle. The other man has no clue his friend is lying in a puddle of blood, motionless, and you are on him before he can open the sliding door of his van. He turns just in time to meet your elbow strike, which was intended for his spine, crushing his trachea. He folds at the waist gasping for air as you drive your knee into his jaw, like a 12-gauge slug. The would-be kidnapper crumples to the pavement, and the attack is over. Because of your dedication and resolve, you have turned a murder/kidnapping into a triumph over evil and possibly prevented this from happening to another family. Your children will go home safe tonight and live long happy lives. Well, what are you waiting for? Hit the gym. You’re wasting time!