Montie’s Law of Self-Defense

A while ago I posted a video on my Facebook page and gave a short explanation of the dynamics involved. One of the things I mentioned is “Montie’s Law”, which is:

It’s never the other guy’s turn.

This needs some explaining, so here goes.

Montie is a LEO friend of mine, who I interviewed for my podcast a while ago. He’s done different kinds of work in law enforcement and is now involved in counter-terrorism. He is well-trained, experienced, smart and we have a matching sense of humor. As a result, we get along famously and getting together means copious amounts of alcohol are consumed… In short, I would trust him at my back any time.

Back on track: a long time ago, he explained his strategy for fighting and spoke the words I now call Montie’s law.

“It’s never the other guy’s turn. He doesn’t get a turn. It’s always my turn.”

He swarms his opponents with constant attacks and uses overwhelming force to get the job done. If the opponent is lucky, he might get in a first shot, but after that, it’s never his turn again. I liked that a lot and expanded that idea into what I use it for now.

Montie's Law of self defense

Montie’s Law is one of the biggest disconnects between traditional martial arts or combat sports training and real-life attacks: the level of violence doesn’t necessarily get cranked up slowly and gradually. It can go from zero to 100% in a fraction of a second.

That doesn’t always happen, but the possibility for it is always there, which is the biggest issue you need to be aware of.

Look at the video again. As soon as that first punch lands, the victim is groggy and has a hard time standing up. He isn’t knocked out, but – and this is the critical point – he is no longer able to defend against the next attack. When that next attack comes, it doesn’t matter if it is less effective than that first blow because it still does enough damage to lower the capabilities of the victim. This progressively diminishes his ability to stop the aggressor and so each next blow lands as well. The result is a vicious circle the victim can’t get out of.

It’s never his turn…

The moment he starts to go down, he is incapable of doing anything other than taking more damage. A few seconds later, he is unconscious and the stomping begins. All this, from getting hit by that first punch.

 

When I explain this to people, I often get a response of “yeah, yeah, we know.” Then they proceed to train as if this isn’t an issue they need to handle. This in turn leads to unrealistic training or training that depends entirely on being able to avoid getting hit. Or worse, knowing they can get hit but pretending they can take that punishment without consequences. I call this the “Street Fighter mindset.”

Many years ago, there was a video game that became extremely popular, Street Fighter. They still make new versions of it today and there are hundreds of similar games. They have a basic set up:

Street Fighter Self-Defense

  • Two characters fight each other.
  • They both have “health bars” and you decrease the energy in it each time you land an attack on the other character. When his bar becomes empty, you win.
  • Regardless of how full or empty your health bar is, your punches and kicks always have the same speed and power. The same goes for your ability to block attacks and use footwork.

As a simulation of a real fight, it’s not a bad analogy: if you hit somebody long enough, they eventually go down. But it’s the last point that has the disconnect I mentioned above. In the game, getting hit doesn’t change how well you can fight; in real life it does. That is why Montie’s law is so effective: if your opponent never gets a turn, his “health bar” empties out with each successful attack you land. That leaves him less and less able to defend himself against the next one. This continues until he is down and out.

The key point is  that just one successful attack can put you at a disadvantage you can never recover from.

Train with this concept in mind, always.

 

But what about!

Does that mean you can never get out of a bad spot when somebody surprises you and gets the first hit in? No, not at all. Training recovery techniques should be an integral part of your curriculum, similar to failure drills in firearms and other weapons training:

  • What do you do when the gun malfunctions? You practice how to clear it.
  • What do you when you stab with a knife and the opponent evades the attack? You practice following up with recovery techniques or secondary attacks.

At no point should your training involve a mindset of “Well, my awesome technique just missed, so I have to give up and die now.” On the contrary: you always train to survive, to escape, to overcome. However, you also have to acknowledge the realities of violence: if an aggressor gets the first shot in and it’s a good one, the odds of you making it out in one piece drop dramatically. They don’t necessarily go all the way down to zero, but they sure don’t look good. Try your utmost to get out of that pickle, but accept that things are looking mighty bleak for our hero…

That is the negative side to Montie’s Law: if your attacker gets the drop on you, you might never get a turn. In the video, you can see an example of how bad things can get. Just so you know, there is far worse than what happened to that man…

 

How do you train with Montie’s Law?

The positive side of Montie’s Law is this: if you train correctly, you can stack the deck in your favor so it is never the other guy’s turn. There are different ways you can do that:

  • Preemptive attack. The most effective way to end a fight is not being there to begin with. The second most effective way is to attack first. Now most of you will already know this so let me add some nuances I think are important: attack first, making sure your technique lands with sufficient power to knock your opponent out or down, break his balance and structure, injure him, switch his mindset from offense to defense and buy you the time to land your next attack. Or any combination of the above, preferably all of them simultaneously. If you fail to do so, that first hit you land risks merely pissing him off. This forces you to face an opponent who is now hellbent on (at best) beating you up. Attacking first isn’t enough; you need to make it count too.
  • Overwhelming, continuous attack. This concept is illustrated well in the video I mentioned in the beginning. Obviously, I don’t justify this attacker’s actions. I only use them as an example of how overwhelming, continuous attack is an effective strategy and how it can be used in real life. Here’s how he applied it:

After landing that first sucker punch, he throws a barrage of wild punches that overwhelm his victim. In the space of a few seconds, he throws about twenty non-stop punches. It doesn’t look like many of them land cleanly, but that is not important at that point. His victim keeps on receiving hard percussive impacts, each one shaking up his already scrambled brain a bit more. The punches also drive him to the ground, where he is both unable to escape or defend himself effectively and stomping is the logical and instinctive next step for the attacker.

  • Tactical progression. Every martial art and combat sport uses this concept. Some do so only in a limited way, others dig extremely deep into this concept. I will stick to self-defense as this is the topic at hand but know that the subject is much broader than this.

In short: each technique sets up the next one. Like a good pool player sinks one ball and lines up the next one with the same shot, each move you make sets up your next technique. When used correctly, each subsequent move places your opponent in an even worse position, hurts him some more (or in a different way), takes away his weapons and pushes him closer to defeat (whatever “defeat” may be…).

This can be as simple as throwing a quick eye jab with the lead arm to line up a power punch with the rear arm. Or it can be as complex as the Kuntao I learned from my late teacher Bob Orlando. For an example of that, look at this video of him slapping me around. If you slow it down, you can see that each movement not only sets up the next one, but it also uses instinctive reactions his attacks trigger: the slap to the groin tends to make people’s heads come down. The following upward strike then comes in at a head-on collision and raises the head again. It also places Bob’s right arm in the perfect position to swing my arm through, which in turn whips my head forward into his incoming elbow strike. And so on, until I am down and out.

For the record, this is Bob going slow and stopping long enough at each point so the camera picks it all up. He was more than capable of going faster, hitting harder and chaining it all together into a fluid combination.

The most effective martial arts and combat systems I know combine all these elements, simply because they yield consistent results. Which brings me to another nuance I need to add.

 

In a comment to my original posting of this video, Marc wrote the following:

I think that the other guy never gets a turn problematic as it can lead to excessive force. If for instance, a smaller female was being pestered by a guy in a secluded location and was breaking the boundaries that were being set by the female then I would definitely give her the benefit of the doubt in such circumstances such as in she reported it and the guy was found unconscious or badly injured where she said she was feeling unsafe due to what I described and due to a probable size and weight difference.

However if two guys going at it near a bar and one is beaten to a pulp and no weapons are involved then the victor would in my mind be under suspicion of using excessive force.

The idea of using minimum force necessary to deal with a situation for self defence does not seem compatible with the other guy never gets a turn as for me self defence is to resolve a situation not dish out a revenge beating.

I’m going to paraphrase my response to him here:

The one does not exclude the other. Simply put: you hit until there is no longer a reason to hit him. You stop when it’s time to stop and train for that.

 

When is it time to stop?

When there is no longer a threat or when you can safely exit, which is often the same thing.

How many times you hit him before that happens is irrelevant in that regard; hit him until he is no longer a threat. If it’s only once, that would be awesome, but you already have all your ducks in a row should you need to follow-up. Montie’s law means you are always positioned in such a way that you can deal out that second, third, fourth, etc. technique if necessary. You don’t have to rearrange your weapons, reposition yourself, etc. to do so; all that was already taken care of with each previous attack.
So minimum force is the default, but you train to have plan B, C, D and so on ready to go. Montie’s Law means the other guy never gets another shot at you. That is your goal and your tactics should take this into account.

 

Conclusion

Implementing Montie’s law in your training takes some time and effort. It’s a continuous process instead of a one-time goal. Most of all, it’s a mindset: you train for it and expect attackers to use it against you as well.

 

This article was originally published in my Patreon Newsletter of July 2017. If you would like to receive it too, join me here at Orange Belt level or above.

 

How to make a fist: the myths, the truths and everything in-between

A few years ago I wrote an article here called Open hand or closed fist striking, which is best? and it got a lot of feedback. A little while ago, I posted something on facebook about how to make a fist and it triggered some responses too. As a result, I just created a discussion on Patreon on how to make a fist. You can join us there for loads more details and information.

It’s with that discussion in mind that I made this video. I wanted to illustrate that there is lots of misinformation and dogmatic thinking when instructors give advice on how to make a fist. They claim only one specific way of making a fist is correct and the rest is not. As always, the truth is more nuanced and it depends on so much more than you see at first glance.

So watch this video with that in mind:

This video is just an example, a proof of concept if you will. Obviously, the “Shaka fist” is nonsense: I made it up just to make my point. I would never advise anybody to punch like that. But the proof is now in front of your eyes that you can use that kind of fist and hit pretty hard with it. If you are to believe what so many instructors claim as an absolute best way to make a fist, I should have sprained my wrists, broken knuckles or hurt myself in a variety of ways when I was punching my heavy bag like that. I was supposed to lack all kinds of structure and stability in my hand; it wasn’t supposed to work.

But it did…

 

Conclusion

There are tons of considerations when training how to make a fist and there is no easy, one-stop-shop answer. On my Patreon page, we are going to dig deep into those factors so you can make informed decisions on which way to go, so feel free to join us there.

To help you get started, here is a more detailed picture of the two main ways I made a fist in the video.

How to make a fist

How to make a fist

Good luck with your training!

Chronic exertional compartment syndrome in martial arts, an update

Four years ago, I woke up in a hospital and when I looked down, I saw this:

I dsitinctly remember thinking “So that’s what it feels like to not constantly be in pain anymore…”

That feeling wasn’t to last as I was still on an IV with pain killers but it was proof of concept: my body was still capable of functioning without pain.

So there was hope.

Hope was an emotion I hadn’t felt for a long time, as I had slowly been becoming a cripple for years. I wrote about that process here: Chronic exertional compartment syndrome in martial arts.

It’s been years since then and I’m still clawing my way back to a full recovery. In an ideal world, I would have taken a year off from working and spent it on full-time rehab. That would have cost a small fortune, which I don’t have. So in this world, I was working on crutches one week after surgery. The joys of being self-employed…

After the surgery, I had a few months of rehab with a physical therapist but that is expensive too so it had to end well before I was recovered. So I kept doing the exercises he showed and never stopped. As my body began re-knitting itself together again, I spent most of each day in a significant amount of pain. Nights were worse, because when I would lie down to sleep, my connective tissue would start working, hard, and keep me up for hours. Sleep-deprivation sucks, but there wasn’t much I could do about it.

Most of all, the constant pain turned out to be an enormous psychological and emotional war of attrition. I’d go to sleep with pain and wake up with it. Sometimes it would be my back, then my shoulders. My forearms and fingers had become rigid and hard to use, my knees also hurt on and off for inexplicable reasons. But most of all, it hurt to stand on my feet, if only for a minute or two. I had to constantly shift my weight from one leg to the other and contract postural muscles to avoid nerves getting pinched. You can get used to a lot, so that’s what I did.

Fast forward to three weeks ago:

I went to bed and realized I hadn’t really been in pain during the day while standing on my feet.

I still had to manage my posture constantly and it wasn’t comfortable by any stretch of the imagination, but there hadn’t been the grinding pain I’ve felt for almost four years. That was a bit of a surprise, so I was happy about it but also prepared for it not to last. Turned out I was wrong; I can now stand without pain, all day. As Borat would say, “Great success!”

 

Why talk about this now?

For a variety of reasons.

  • Over the years, I received lots of requests for follow ups of my instructional videos.  I wouldn’t have been able to do a good job due to all the physical problems I had. Now that I am closing in on being back to normal, I can train better again. This then will allow me to make videos that have me showing things to a standard I can live with. So stay tuned for more in the coming months and years.
  • It is never smart to reveal all your weaknesses and injuries. So I didn’t give all that many details in the past few years and just worked on getting better. Now that most of the big problems have gone away, I’m comfortable discussing things more openly. See the next point.
  • I loathe the macho culture that seems to still be a big part of the martial arts and self-defense community. I know what broken fists and bones and ripped-off muscles feels like; it hurts, a lot. Pretending it doesn’t is stupid. You don’t have to make a big deal about it, but it is a load of crap to go on as if you are made of steel. Because it sets an impossible standard to follow for those who look up to you, whether you want that or not. As a result, they make the same mistakes you made that got you all banged up and they pay the same price. Stupid. Especially if you are in a position to give the advice you would have wanted to give your younger self. So here’s my uncalled for advice for those who are young and at the start of their martial arts journey:

Treat your body well, because it’s the only one you’ll ever get.

It doesn’t un-break if you mess it up beyond repair. Train hard, enjoy that stuff like I did, but let yourself heal from all the injuries you get that way before you resume the hard training. It sucks, I know, but do it anyway. I’m 46 and have mileage on me worth two decades more. It is too late to do anything about that. It’s not too late for you though.

So focus just as much on rest and recovery as you do on training like a maniac.

You’ll be happy you did so when you get older.

Podcast episode 21: Martial arts as systems

In this episode, I talk about something that has been on my mind a lot these last few years: how martial arts work as systems. They all have specific components, a structure and an internal logic, which can differ wildly from one art to the next. I dig into this a bit to explain why a lot of discussions about martial arts and self-defense systems go wrong all too often.

Enjoy!

Show notes:

1. Intro:

2. Martial arts as systems:

 

Thanks for listening!

Please like, share and leave a review!

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How to never stop improving in your martial arts training: Randy’s Law

I’ve often written “The differences are just as important than the similarities.”  It is a core principle of how I view martial arts, how I train to keep on improving and teach others to do the same. I don’t think I ever really explained where I got that from, so here goes.

About twenty years ago, there was a discussion on Marc MacYoung’s email list. I forgot the exact topic but I think it was about Filipino martial arts. One of the members, Randy, said something fundamental that I have to give you some background on first:

In many Filipino systems (Kali, Arnis, etc.) you learn weapons before learning unarmed techniques. Often, the stick is the weapon you start with (though lately it seems the knife is used a lot as well) and when you are proficient with it, then you learn the same techniques with other weapons and also how they translate into unarmed techniques. The idea is that you have the same movements in all of your techniques, regardless of which weapon you find yourself with, or when you lose your weapon.

There is a lot of validity to this approach. It makes for a structured and consistent learning experience, which speeds up your progress immensely. It also tends to avoid conflicts between the different parts of your brain when you are under adrenal stress, because you basically do the same thing all the time. So that’s the good news.

The bad news is that there is an inherent trap in this method.

You can avoid it if you train correctly and your teacher drills this into you, but Randy noticed this was getting lost. What he explained was that the stick is used as a “universal weapon” as it has the most similarities with the other weapons in the Filipino systems, like knife, machete, sword, axe, etc. You can indeed quickly learn to wield all of them by focusing on the similarities they share with the stick. As the stick is easier to control and more tolerant of mistakes, it makes sense to train with it first. However…

Randy then wrote what I use every day in my own training:

The differences between those weapons are just as important as the similarities.

This was an eye-opener for me and I’ve been working for decades to increase my understanding of how this concept applies to almost everything.  Let’s first look closer at Filipino arts and then expand from there. Here is a picture of the kind of stick typically used in those arts:

Here’s a compilation of other weapons used in the Filipino styles:

How to never stop improving in your martial arts training: Randy's Law

How to never stop improving in your martial arts training: Randy's Law

One of the ways in which Filipino systems teach is by using numbered angles of attack. I covered that in part in my video on knife basics. If you practice those angles with a stick at first, you can quickly develop clean lines of attack. When you then transition to the small knife, things overall remain the same, but some aspects change:

  • You now have a point that penetrates the opponent’s body when stabbing with it.
  • You have an edge that can cut both you and your opponent.
  • Your range is shorter than with the stick.

These are the main differences I want to focus on, though there are others. So let’s look at them in more detail.

  1. You can stab with a stick and it can hurt, but that’s nothing compared to using a knife that way. One knife stab to a vital target can end the fight quickly; not so much with a stick. Suddenly, stabbing becomes just as important as slashing and perhaps even more so. Remember that even as far back as the Romans it was already said: use the edge to wound and the point to kill.
  2. A stick is primarily an impact weapon, so you need to develop striking power for your techniques to be effective. With a sharp knife, you don’t need the same amount of power; the blade only needs to touch the target to cuts. With a bit of precision, you don’t even have to cut deep to deliver a lethal wound. So speed and precision tend to be more useful with the knife than raw striking power.
  3. A second consideration is that the knife can cut you too. How you retract it, how you use your live hand (the empty one) is now slightly different than with stick techniques.
  4. You can “play tag” from a relatively long distance with a stick. Using a knife, you have to come closer, mostly into the striking range of your opponent. Yes, I know about Largo Mano, but humor me: my point holds when you compare it to the stick, which is the whole reason I’m writing this article.

Here’s the thing: despite these points, the techniques largely look the same.  There are still more similarities than there are differences. But those differences are just as important to use each individual weapon correctly and most effectively.

 

There’s more…

Randy’s Law, as I like to call it, applies in more ways than this. For instance, when you fight stick against stick, you can pretty much hit any way you like because sticks are usually round and bounce off each other on impact.  When you have a stick but your opponent has a machete or sword, there are still mostly similarities between both weapons. There is one huge difference though: a metal edge will “bite” into wood.

If you block an angle #1 strike from a machete with your stick the way you block one from another stick, it can lead to a disarm. The blade can bite deeply enough into your stick so you can’t retract it quickly enough, or he can twist it out of your hands. If your opponent also has a stick, those techniques aren’t possible and you can ignore them.

The only way you know about this difference is if your teacher tells you or if you try it out.

Most practitioners don’t try it, so that’s not a realistic option. If your teacher doesn’t show you the relevance, it can get lost and leave the system. This creates a set of blind spots in your training you won’t address until it’s either too late or somebody else points it out to you. Given as we’re talking about using lethal force (fighting against a machete qualifies as such), I’d say this is kind of important information…

It gets worse though.

Just because you know about it, doesn’t mean you understand all the implications of this difference between a machete and a stick. Nor how to compensate for them with the many subtleties you don’t learn when using only the stick. The best way to truly get this understanding and the skill that goes with it is to practice. Which is a can of worms because you need somebody skillful and trustworthy, along with strict limitations on how to train or you’ll end up dead or mutilated. All of a sudden, some of the very codified training you sometimes see in weapon arts starts making sense… Not only does it allows you to practice full-speed and full-power with many techniques, it forces you to incorporate those differences I mentioned above because they are part of a strictly regulated form (kata, taolu, juru, use whatever terminology you like.)

Training in a codified way also helps you avoid debilitating injuries, as even a small mistake with a practice weapon can have lasting consequences. So, all in all, it’s a very effective and useful method of training, but it has been criticized a lot in the last few decades, mostly by people who don’t understand it. Sometimes rightfully so, but in those cases, it is often an issue of the system losing the relevant information for such codified training. Once that information is lost, the students practice an empty tradition: they do it because they always did it that way, not because they know why it is done as such.

My Kuntao teacher, the late Bob Orlando, made an excellent point about that:

There is nothing wrong with tradition, as long as it is a living tradition in which the reasons why you do certain things are explained to you correctly.

Specific details are there for a reason and the goal is that you shouldn’t have to discover those from scratch by going out and fighting. You’re supposed to use the knowledge of those who survived previous battles so you don’t get killed before you can learn them. Then you have to find a way to drill and ingrain them safely without injuring or killing yourself or your partner (codified training). Eventually, you get to the point where you can work more freely and perhaps spar.

What Randy pointed out is that in many Kali schools, those details were getting lost. The result was that practitioners tended to be very impressive in training, but had trouble using their techniques in an actual fight or when sparring all out. They no longer knew the differences and focused too much on the similarities.

A group that tried to address this in part is the Dog Brothers. Their motto, “higher consciousness through harder contact” guided them to full contact sparring with numerous weapons, testing what worked and what did not. They left out bladed weapons of course, so what they found is not exactly what was originally there, but I would definitely recommend checking them out.

There’s still more…

Another aspect is how different weapons can trigger different biomechanics, even if you don’t want to. For instance, there is a technique called “abanico”, which is a fan like movement. The way this instructor does it, it works great with a stick.

But imagine doing that with one of the heavier swords or axes pictured earlier: the leverage would be all wrong and it would be very difficult to pull off even once.

Now look at what this instructor explains. His body mechanics are radically different and more apt to move a weapon around that has more weight and a different balance than a wooden stick.

Unless you train with both weapons, you can get away with what the first instructor does and feel good about your technique. If nobody corrects your form, you will never be able to move like the second instructor, which means you won’t be able to use abanico well with a (relatively) heavy weapon.

This is one example of how focusing too much on the stick as a universal weapon, costs you knowledge and stops you from improving your martial arts skill.

 

I’ve talked mostly about Filipino systems to explain my point, but Randy’s law applies to other styles as well. In the Tai Chi Chuan style I teach, we have both sabre and sword techniques. The sabre is heavy and is often used to chop, which means you have to develop mechanics that use the entire body instead of just your arm. If you don’t, you have a weak strike and fatigue quickly in a fight because your arm will cramp up. Despite me saying this explicitly and repeatedly, I still have students mess it up when we practice techniques with wooden sabers for safety. Those are lighter, which means they can get away with using their arm and wrist for power. They often do just that.

I clearly tell them not to, and they still do it.

Often unconsciously, because the lightness of the wooden sabre allows them to do so. As a result, they tweak the technique because they can do it faster than with a real weapon. This ingrains bad habits that fail once they have that real weapon in hand.

So just because your teacher tells you this kind of stuff, doesn’t mean you are safe from making these mistakes…

How to never stop improving your martial arts skill: Randy's Law

Conclusion

I often get a comment on a technique in one of my videos along the lines of “That looks like X from style Y.” or “We have that too in our style.” Invariably, I’m reminded of Randy’s law when I read those. People usually mean well, but they focus on the similarities and then are done with it. They file away the technique as “I already know this” and move on. If they had looked more closely at the differences, there would have been an opportunity to learn something new by contrasting their version with the technique in the video. Every time you see a technique you “know” expressed in a different art, it’s a chance to keep on learning more about your own art.

I firmly believe that compare and contrast is a powerful method, as long as you do the contrasting well. What’s more, I’d dare to say that true learning is all too often only found in the contrasting differences.

So as you practice, read and study, try to keep Randy’s Law in mind: look at the differences and figure out why they are there. Ask the teacher if you don’t know right away or if it isn’t clear. But do try to look deeper than the surface, you’ll be amazed what you can find. In the end, you’ll follow the advice a Chinese martial arts teacher once gave when asked about learning different syles:

Don’t learn the same thing twice.

Understanding the differences helps you do just that.

 

P.S.: This article originally appeared in my Patreon Newsletter last year. I edited it slightly for improved reading and context.

Addendum 1:

If you want to see all this in action, here’s an excellent demonstration by Dan Inosanto:

Long version, one hour.

Short version, 5min.

Addendum 2:

I never gave Randy’s full name, because he is no longer on that email list and I hadn’t been in touch with him for years. Recently, he commented on this publicly so I can know acknowledge Randy Brannan in full for his contribution to my life. And it’s not just me…

Addendum 3:

Like I said, Randy’s Law is applicable in all fields. Here’s a comment one of my Patrons wrote.

How to never stop improving in your martial arts training using Randy's Law