We do that too in our style

There is a commonly used phrase in martial arts and self-defense circles, one you can hear or read when practitioners from one art see a technique from another art:

We do that too in our style.

It’s right up there with phrases like:

A punch is just a punch.

or

The human body can only move in so many ways.

I disagree with all three of these phrases, but I’ll only talk about the first one here. In essence, it boils down to the “the differences are just as important as the similarities” theme you can find in all of my writing. If you see a technique and all you look at are the similarities, skipping straight ahead to the “we do this too” part, then you miss the opportunity to learn something. I feel that the better response is to focus on the differences and everything else that you don’t know about that art. The main problem is that you can only do so in a qualified manner by actually practicing¬† that art. Which is what most people don’t do. They just look at the superficial similarities, label that technique as “similar” to one of theirs and move on. That’s a shame.

 

There are two broad categories you can look at when digging for these differences: physical and abstract.

The physical category is things like body mechanics, angles, footwork, distancing, etc. In many ways, this is all relatively easy to spot, except for body mechanics. A technique may look similar to what you do, but feel radically different when you’re on the receiving end of it if the person has different body mechanics than found in your art. This is why it’s often necessary to have somebody use the technique on you before you know what’s going on.

A second trap is understanding camera angles and how you create clear instructional footage. The technique may look a certain way to you, but depending on many factors, you could be completely mistaken. I wrote a three-part series called How to Learn Techniques from Video in which I explain some of them. The main gist of it is this: the camera lies. It doesn’t tell the truth, only one part of it.

 

The abstract category is more difficult to get a hold of. It comprises of all the concepts and choices that are inherent to that specific style. Things like tactics, strategy, basic assumptions, training methodology, goals, etc. All of these, you know nothing about, unless you train in that style. So how can you confidently judge them with a trustworthy measure of accuracy?

I don’t think you can.

Which doesn’t mean you can’t form an opinion on a technique, only that you should realize upfront that your opinion is both uninformed and in need of further research. If you don’t feel the need to look further into it, that’s obviously perfectly fine. But then wouldn’t it be smarter to hold back on your judgement?

Case in point. [Read more…]

Ground fighting against a knife attack

This video of ground fighting against a knife attack is NSFW. It’s gruesome and some people will find it hard to watch, so be advised before you click on it.

That said, I don’t have a lot of information about this video, but this is what seems to be going on:

  • I appears to be shot somewhere in Brazil.
  • We don’t know what started the fight.
  • The video says the guy died after getting stabbed, but he looks to be alive when the video ends. What happened afterwards, no idea. Given the amount of times he got stabbed and where the knife punctured him, I’d say odds are good he is now dead.

If you have official information about this incident, feel free to post it in the comments section.

Here’s the video (try this link if you can’t see it):

Some thoughts:

  • Both fighters are engaging in a typical street brawl when the video starts. It’s nothing special, we’ve all seen this kind of street fight before.
  • Notice how the guy in the white shirt is not doing anything. He’s standing close by, but he doesn’t intervene.
  • Notice the number of times he could have intervened He had plenty of opportunity to surprise the guy he ends up sticking with a knife. Notice how that guy seems oblivious to white shirt’s presence. More on this later…
  • As soon as the fight goes to the ground, he moves in. He drops his bag and it looks like he’s opening a folding knife as he steps forward. It’s hard to see clearly in the video, but given as you don’t see him reaching in a pocket or under his shirt, he seems to have palmed the knife the whole time the fight goes on. Considering the previous bullet, let the implications of that sink in for a minute…
  • He stabs right away. The guy on the ground has almost no time to “surrender”, let go and get clear of the stabber’s friend or pretty much do anything before he gets stabbed. One second he’s fighting on the ground, the next he’s facing a knife attack from a second attacker. There was no way he could have escaped getting stabbed…
  • There is no fight. Ground fighting against a knife attack is a losing proposition. This isn’t ground and pound: you can’t trade blows on the ground against a guy attacking you with a knife. As you’re lying there, you can’t generate a lot of power in your strikes, let alone consistently knock the other guy out or even away from you so you can get up. What’s more, he can soak up your shots, take some damage and still continue. But the same doesn’t go for you: he can stab you once with the knife, puncture an artery or damage a vital organ, and you’re dead. So all in all, when you’re on the ground, there is no “fighting” your knife-wielding attacker: there is only trying to survive.
  • Let’s kill the Brazilian myth. There’s a myth that has been kept alive ever since Gracie Ju Jitsu became popular. Whenever you mention the dangers of ground fighting in a self-defense context, somebody brings up that in Brazil, people will not intervene when two people fight on the ground. Yeah… We just saw how that worked out…
Ground fighting against a knife attack

Ground fighting against a knife attack: a slashed wrist…

Some people will read this article and think I’m bashing BJJ or other grappling systems; I’m not. These are excellent styles in certain environments and contexts. But in others, they are not such a great idea. Knowing when and where to use them is critical. As you can see in the video, you might not get a second chance when you mess up.

In a sporting contest, secondary opponents and knives are not an issue. You can fight on the ground for rounds on end and do your thing there, that’s perfectly fine. On the street, you should assume that a second attacker and weapons can always come in at any time, especially when you least expect it. Going to the ground leaves you vulnerable to both these issues.

Does that mean that every time a fight goes to the ground in the street, there will be a knife or another attacker? No, not at all. But it is a realistic possibility, one you ignore at your own peril. In contrast, in the ring or the cage, you will never encounter them so you don’t need to take them into account in your training. You can flat out pretend they don’t exist and become a UFC champion. However, if you train for self-defense, these factors are two of the most important ones to take into consideration: they influence your training on all possible levels.

This video is a sad reminder of that.

Violence is chaos in action

An instructor once told me that violence is chaos in action and it’s your job to bring order to the chaos. I believe this is an accurate statement and would add “before it kills you” to the end of that sentence. Violence comes in many shapes and sizes and each situation can be radically different from the next, despite starting off with the same or similar parameters. Predicting how the encounter will unfold is difficult and unreliable, to put it mildly. If you’re truly honest about it, you accept this. But that truth is uncomfortable because, in general, humans don’t like chaos.

We like things to make sense.

We like black or white answers.

We want it to be easy and simple.

It rarely is.

As a result, there is a need to analyze, scrutinize and study violence to put together a system that allows you to handle it when it comes your way. Martial arts and self-defense systems are a part of that. Studying human psychology, the legal system, physics, avoidance and prevention, etc. are also part of the solution. All those together make it difficult again and we typically don’t like that. A commonly used quick solution is to make assumptions by willfully omitting factors you don’t have an answer for or relying on “common knowledge”. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t. That is why I always harp on Randy’s quote of “The differences are just as important as the similarities.”

You can take a violent situation and look at the similarities to come to certain conclusions. These conclusions can be completely accurate or completely false, depending on certain parameters you won’t know up front will be present. I covered this dynamic in the first article in my newsletter series, but when I saw these two videos, I found them to be prefect illustrations for it.

Both videos feature a man armed with a gun facing an unarmed man. These are the similarities. My point is that the differences are just as important and the chaos of violence makes it unpredictable what the outcome will be. Let’s take a look. [Read more…]

Body slam knockout in a street fight

I just saw this video of a body slam knockout in a street fight. There is some worthwhile information there and I’ll get to that here below. First, take a look at the video:

Here are some of the things I’d like to point out:

  • Lost opportunities. Notice how long it takes before there is an actual street fight? There were plenty of opportunities to walk away. White shirt seems to be posturing and isn’t immediately targeting Red shirt. He verbally engages the other men too. At this point, red shirt could have walked away.
  • She knows what’s up. The lady in black clearly doesn’t want there to be a fight; she sees it coming a mile off and does all she can to avoid it. Red shirt would have been better off following her cue…
  • Don’t punch softly. If you have to throw a punch, punch. But don’t throw a slow and sloppy punch like Red shirt did. It was telegraphed, lacked power, left him off balance and with an opponent at his back. Nothing good comes from that.
  • There are no mats in a street fight. Falling on pavement sucks, even if you manage a perfect break fall. If you get body slammed onto your head, it is a lot worse. Red shirt is knocked out immediately.
  • There is no “one-on-one” rule in a street fight. Red shirt did a good suplex: He used his body to throw the guy and managed to twist him in the air so he could fall on top of him.¬† But then he makes the mistake of staying on the ground and gets put in a (sloppy) choke hold by White shirt’s buddy. Things could have gone horrible wrong for him too, with his back exposed like that: he could have gotten punched, kicked, stabbed, clobbered, etc. The friend had all the opportunities in the world to finish it hard, but he chose a softer options. Depending on the benevolence of others is not a winning strategy. There is no rule in a street fight that says other people can’t knock you out when you’re winning as you do some ground and pound. Case in point:

  • It looks bad. I don’t know what the aftermath of this street fight was, but that body slam was nasty. Sure, it caused a knockout, but when you pause the video on impact, look at the angle his neck is at. Red shirt could be dead or gravely injured. If so, White shirt could go to jail for a long time. Both of them could have avoided this by walking away; they had plenty of opportunity to do so.
Body slam knockout in a street fight

Lots of things wrong with this picture.

All in all, this is a textbook example of both parties making one bad choice after another.

Don’t let this happen to you.

Some New Year’s Resolutions

2014 came and went, it’s now 2015. This is the moment we traditionally make plans and resolutions for the coming year, so I figured I’d share mine with you. Some of them are not new, others are. Some of them you already know of, others perhaps not. Either way, here goes:

  • Get my health back. After years of deteriorating health, I was finally diagnosed correctly and had surgery about three months ago. Since then, I’ve been doing loads of rehab and recently also solo training to fix all the problems. Progress is slow, but steady. The one thing that amazes me is how extensive the changes to my movement patterns have become in the last few years. Now that muscles that had atrophied completely are finally working again, I’m slowly teaching my body to do the most basic things like walking or standing upright correctly. Getting back to optimal physical shape will be my main focus this year.
  • Clean house. Because of the previous, a lot of direct and indirect problems arose in both my personal and professional life. It’ll take some time to get all that fixed, especially in the first few months. Once things are back on track, I’ll have more peace of mind and extra time.
  • Finish the book. Because of my health issues and then surgery/rehab, I didn’t write nearly as much as I wanted. I just didn’t have the energy for it. Now that’s behind me, I want to finish the self-defense tips book as soon as possible. If all goes well, it’ll be done around mid- February.
  • Improve writing productivity. My plan is to each time finish a “big” book, send it out for review and editing and in the mean time write a “small” one. By the time the big one comes back, the small one should be ready for review too and I can alternate working on them. The goal is to clear my head after I finish a manuscript, to help get a fresh look when it comes back to me. If this works out, it should increase my output a lot.
  • Work on my blog more. Writing was hard the last year and as a result, I didn’t publish much here on my blog. That’s going to change. I might not get back to the 2-3 posts per week like I did a few years ago, but once a week should be doable.
  • Shoot more videos. As I get in, better shape, I’ll make more videos again. They’ll probably go to my Youtube channel for the most part but I might put them on social media too. The Youtube ones usually take a lot of editing¬† and sometimes I really don’t have the time for that. But the social media ones can be done quickly, even though that means less of a finished product. Either way, you get to see more videos.
  • Try new things. I want to try out some new ideas on-line that look like fun. The first one will be a webinar where I do a Q&A session with you all. The second is starting up a podcast, probably a monthly one. I’ve looked into the technical aspects of both and it should be doable to do the webinar soon and the podcast in a month or so.

 

That’s it for the things that have a direct relevance to my on-line activities. Contrary to what some think, I do have an off-line life as well and have goals for that too:

  • Travel. So far, I’ll be in the US in a few months and in France sometime this summer. Mostly when I travel, I am either teaching seminars or private sessions. The seminars aren’t always open to the public, but when they are I’ll let you know. Also, if I have additional time and you want to set something up, I’ll mention that too. Other than that, I plan on doing some traveling to train with my teachers.
  • Visit friends. I’m unfortunate in that most of my friends live across the world from me. I don’t see them nearly as often as I’d like, so some of the traveling will be to see them again. Life is short and spending it with people you love is the best use of your time.
  • Learn more Japanese cuisine. My lovely lady lived in Japan for several years and she has been teaching me to cook, bit by bit. One of my goals this year is to improve my cooking. First and foremost because I enjoy it; Japanese food is by far my favorite cuisine. Second because my kids love it too and it gives me joy to see them dig in with enthusiasm when I put everything on the table. I already achieved that goal today, by the way, as I made onigiri for the first time. Not much of a challenge, I know, but it’s one more recipe I have under my belt now…
  • Write more fiction. I wrote some short stories last year and had a tremendous amount of fun with them. I want to do a lot more of them and then release them as a compilation. After that, I’ll start on my urban fantasy series… Featuring an MMA fighter… And vampires… And lots more…

 

All that together means there’s a lot on my plate, which is fine by me. It’s going to be a fun ride and you’re more than welcome to join me on it here or on my social media.