The paradox of Tradition and Self Defence

A topic of much discussion – often heated – among martial artists and combatives instructors, is the role and relevance of traditional martial arts (TMA), as well as competition styles such as MMA or boxing, in self-defence training.

The notion that TMA and Krav Maga (KM) are mutually exclusive is a paradox. It's like saying that a knife is not a weapon because today we have tanks. True, but dying from a knife wound won't make you any less dead than being blown to smithereens. The answer, to me, is why not have both?

Quite often I hear KM (which for the sake of this article will be a universal name for self defence methods) described as ‘a lot of martial, not a lot of art’, which is true to a great extent. But then again, its purpose was not to be an art, but to be a self-defence system. The many variations, organisations and clubs that teach KM around the world often describe ‘their’ version of KM as being the original or the superior, etc. But let’s not forget that KM comes from a traditional background of Judo, Jujutsu and Boxing. 

I would therefore define KM as a set of principles and techniques that are used for self-protection.

While the techniques vary from teacher to teacher, the principles remain mostly uniform across the different KM school and focus around eliminating threats in the shortest amount of time to allow for a quick escape.

TMA, on the other hands, are steeped in tradition and can be very clearly defined as ‘arts’, particularly the older styles of Japan, China and South-East Asia. Their technical demands and specifications are usually very specific to each system, and follow a clear path in terms of building both skill and character. The code of behaviour and character development in most TMA is also very specific, and almost uniform across systems. It generally focuses on the virtues of Bushido, or similar, and emphasises such values as respect, loyalty, honour, courage, etc. But let us not forget that they, too, originate from a combative need. Although the context may now be outdated, the need was still authentic, and as such can be learned from. 

I believe that the benefits of TMA to systems like KM or other modern combatives come from two sources, as outlined above – the code, and the technical base. Please allow me to expound:
1. Technical base – TMA emphasise a strong technical ability at the core of its progression. The same is true for competition sports. This technical base, while not always relevant in a modern combat context, is a huge benefit to the application of combative techniques in self-defence, as it teaches principles that are important to the understanding of how and why certain things work. Lowering the centre of gravity, the ability to feel and redirect energy and knowledge of human anatomy, its strengths and weaknesses are an intimate part of progressing through the ranks in TMA. Speaking from personal experience, I have found that 6 months spent focusing on doing Bojutsu and Kenjutsu, improved my Krav by the equivalent of double that time, just because it focuses on principles that are incredibly important to make techniques effective. What this creates, ultimately, are well-rounded martial artists. Nearly every outstanding combatives instructor has a background in TMA (I say nearly, not all). My favourite example for this is Brazillian Jiu Jitsu and submission grappling. BJJ is not an effective self-defence system when considering multiple attackers and weapons, but it teaches incredibly important aspects of self-defence. Most fights will go to the ground, and without intimate knowledge of positions, transitions and submissions it could be difficult to fight your way out in a street fight against someone who may possess some skill in this area, or if you have not rehearsed those things enough to be able to do them instinctively under adrenal response.
2. Values and ethics – the values emphasised in traditional martial arts form the core of a training group. They are exemplified by the behaviour of both instructors and students. These values, as previously mentioned, usually revolve around respect, camaraderie, loyalty, etc. And, perhaps most importantly, TMA emphasises leaving one’s ego outside of conflict. The resulting behaviour of an experienced practitioner should be to walk away from a physical conflict unless impossible to do so.

The logical set of questions that follows from this, in my eyes, is as follows:

1. Does this mean that one has to do both?
I believe the answer to that is ‘no’. It really depends on what it is that you hope to achieve by training.
2. Are there benefits to doing both?
Absolutely. TMA and competition sports offer a lot in ways of developing both attributes and skills such as timing, distance, endurance, power, speed, etc., all of which can play a pivotal role in self-defence.
3. Are there cons to doing both?
The answer is yes, sometimes. If you only train for competition or in a TMA environment, you will find that you will start to ignore or forget some of the basics in self defence training, such as multiple attackers, high-value targets, weapons, etc.
4. Do the benefits outweigh the cons?
Once again – yes, but that depends heavily on how the two are combined.

Personally, I do believe that having a solid foundation in some fighting system, whether it is traditional or not, will always add to your KM or self-defence, which to me comes full circle to the definition of KM – it is a way of applying techniques that is specific to the set of circumstances that are considered realistic.

This, of course, can then open a whole other can of worms about what is considered ‘realistic’, the value of ‘pressure testing’, and so on, but that is another discussion altogether. And let’s get something else straight - I know amazingly talented KM and self-defence instructors who have no experience, nor interest, in TMA.

A very wise and skilled instructor has recently made a statement I wholeheartedly agree with:
When you are on your dying bed, the last thing you will be thinking about is what style of martial arts is the best. 

As long as you achieve your goals, learn the skills you set out to learn and become a better human being for it, it doesn’t matter what you practice!

Stay safe, stay tuned.



The 'diminished fighter' conundrum

I am a big proponent of the ‘what if’ questions that come up in training. We all know them. Here are some common examples:
- What if the other guy is too strong?
- What if this doesn’t work?
- What if I need to fight an armed gang of 500-pound, 7-foot behemoths with my hands tied behind my back?

My favourite answer, and one that used to frustrate me more than anything else years ago, was my Sensei’s most common one:

'The answer to any ‘what if’ question is ‘do something else’'.

Wise words indeed!

A recent seminar with the very wise Hock Hoccheim has brought up another important ‘what if’ question, one which is often neglected. Even worse, it is one that is often unfairly shunned as a distasteful answer to 'what if' questions. The question is:

‘What if the opponent is stunned?’

In most modern self-defence systems there is an emphasis on using simple, effective and easy techniques to deal with attacks. Things like throws or complicated locks are generally frowned upon as being ‘non-realistic’ or hard to pull off on a resisting opponent. Which is often true.

However, one thing many people forget is that even in old traditional styles – Jujutsu, Aikido, Silat, etc. – the lock or throw is usually preceded with striking the opponent hard enough to produce some form of compliance or stun which will enable the next move to be executed easily (or at least more easily).
The same can be seen with regards to mechanical restraints such as handcuffs. It is often necessary to turn a non-compliant person into a compliant one before applying the cuffs in order to prevent injuries to both the officer and the person in custody. And again the same is applicable to conflict on a larger scale. War is seldom won by waging a frontal attack against a stronger enemy. Instead, some distraction or incapacitation often takes place prior, in order to enable or support that attack.

With this in mind, it is possible to separate techniques into two groups – ones that work on a non-compliant opponent, and ones that don’t.

Some may think of these categories as 'realistic' and 'non-realistic'. I think it's more of a matter of 'before' and 'after'. How does one make work a techinque that is meant for a compliant opponent? Simple! by making the non-compliant opponent compliant. And how does one achieve that? Well, that's all up to you. 

Where this gets tangled is when we look at the legal aspects of applying techniques from these groups.
Those techniques that work on non-compliant opponents - for example, punching someone really hard in the face to stun them so you can apply locks or takedowns - are considered to be a higher level of force than those that do not. As such, they should be used second rather than first in order to demonstrate that one has escalated the use of force according to the law and only when there was no other choice. The problem with that approach, however, is that unfortunately it doesn’t always work that way.

And so, we go back to a ‘chicken or the egg’-type discussion of what is effective and what can and can’t, should and shouldn't be done under ‘real’ conditions…

To me this goes back to the original answer of the ‘what if’ question – do something else! If the technique does not work, then maybe you simply haven’t put your opponent into a position or situation where it will. The next time you think about ‘what if’, at least also ask yourself ‘what if the opponent is diminished?'


Stay tuned, stay safe.





Space and Time

Distance and timing are perhaps the two most important attributes in nearly all competition sports. When looking at combat sports such as boxing, kickboxing, MMA and so on, it is easy to see how fighters with superb timing and control of distance and range can defeat opponents who are faster, stronger or more technically-savvy. Look at Muhammad Ali, Joe Louis, Jamey Toney, Bernard Hopkins, Floyd Mayweather Jr., Anderson Silva, Lyoto Machida and Georges St-Pierre, just to name a few of my personal favourites.

I have encountered two schools of thought with regards to these attributes in the context of self-defence.

Many self-defence systems, particularly Krav Maga exponents, advocate the idea of forward movement as the base for successful defence. The idea behind this is to put the attacker on the back foot, literally as well as mentally, in order to disable their ability to continue the attack. The forward movement, combined with a blitz attack should enable the defender to push the attacker back and inflict sufficient damage to subdue the attacker or to cause enough stun to allow for a quick escape. As such, distance becomes almost irrelevant, as we have only two options – either there is enough distance to run away, or get so close as to disrupt the opponent’s attacks, but very little happens in between. The same logic applies to timing – in self-defence there is often no time to assess your opponent’s movements, patterns or technical ability. The only option is to escape or press forward, and executing movements like a perfectly-timed light jab is not effective. Timing relates more to how long an encounter takes place before other factors, such as multiple attackers or weapons, come into play.

The other approach, which I tend to lean towards, is that both timing and distance do indeed matter in self-defence. That being said, I also believe they take much longer to develop and be comfortable with. 

The application of technique should, ideally, follow this logic - “nearest target, closest weapon, best result”. In other words, we have to pick the best target and use the optimal weapon available in order to inflict maximum damage. Both Distance and timing play a crucial role in doing this successfully.

To start with, if you are alert enough to your environment and surrounding, you may be able to eliminate many threats altogether by controlling distance using effective movement. This could mean running away, circling or maneuvering to a position where you have the advantage.

Next, take the typical male ‘monkey dance’ where two guys stare each other down from across the room. As one approaches they begin to verbalise threats or challenges and gradually close distance until they come to blows (assuming no opportunity to deescalate or escape is available). This implicitly implies that the same technique won’t work at all ranges of the encounter. Throwing something, kicking, punching or head butting can all work as efficient techniques, but only at different ranges. The same goes for timing. If the opponent closes the distance faster than you realise you may use the incorrect technique, for example kicking when you should punch, and you may find yourself off balance and paying dearly for that mistake.
Secondly, while it is true that most self defence situations will end up in some form of grappling or extremely-close quarter combat (the ‘bad breathe’ range, as a good friend likes to call it), it does not start there. Let’s look at another example – someone rushes at you to try and tackle you to the ground. Depending on your understanding of timing and distance you may choose to block if they are very close, sprawl if you have a bit of space, kick if they are further out, or redirect them if you can. But all of these require a good understanding of how far away the opponent is, how quickly they are closing the distance, how quickly you can execute the technique and what the range will be when you execute the technique.

There are many more such examples. 

I would love to hear your thoughts on this, so please comment, post or email us any time.

Stay safe, stay tuned.



Turning Your Attackers On. And off.

Knowing how to turn your attackers on, or off, is actually pretty important! So let's start with the back story...

The effects of adrenaline in self-defence situations are well documented.
What most of us know is this:
As soon as we detect danger, we experience the 'fight, flight or freeze' response. Adrenaline floods into our system, we become stronger, faster and feel less pain. We also tend to experience tunnel vision, loss of spacial awareness, time warps, auditory exclusion, etc., etc. A big part of self defence training focuses on getting oneself used to that experience, functioning effectively through it and managing it, to the extent that this can be safely done in a training environment. Still, we know that the adrenal response can be a huge disadvantage in many cases and severely limits the way we think and fight.

One thing is often left unsaid though. The person who is attacking you, or is about to attack you... Do they experience this? If so, how can you use it to your advantage? If he/she is not experiencing adrenal dump, how can you trigger it in them in order to tip the conflict in your favour?

Geoff Thompson, in his excellent book 'Dead or Alive' (which I believe everyone should read), offers some tips and tricks to identify and trigger adrenal response in the opposition.

Before we discuss this though, let us discuss something else. Is adrenaline always a bad thing? The answer is no. Miller (2008), in his book 'Meditations on Violence', identifies several levels of adrenaline response in the body, as follows:
1. Normal – this refers to your every-day mind and body, when one is often unprepared for an intense violent encounter. When we get hit with a sudden rush of adrenaline in this state, the response is often to freeze, while the mind tries to cope with what is happening and decide on a course of action. Unfortunately this takes precious time, especially if the attack has already begun and you are taking damage.
2. Optimal – this is when we are alert, engaged and physically ready for an altercation. A good example of this is when you prepare yourself to spar in training. You are alert, and this will usually provide the best reaction time, as well as the ability to plan and make tactical decisions as options present themselves.
3. Past optimal – in this case we have gone past the optimal state, and will often result in similar symptoms as previously mentioned, with serious impairment to physical and mental skills.
4. Pessimal – absolute loss of control, both physically and mentally, which often results in total freezing, and even loss of bladder and bowel control.

An interesting anecdote that Miller (2008) points out, is that untrained people often fight better than they normally would under adrenal response, while trained people often fight worse. This relates to trained martial artists often trying to apply fine motor-skill and complicated techniques in situations where making them work is very hard. It also relates to the fact that when you have many techniques and options to choose from, it will take more time to decide on a course of action. Ask yourself now - do I block, evade, cover, counter, kick, punch, elbow, knee, head butt, throw, lock, grapple, choke, etc.? just reading that sentence took you a few seconds, and making a decision and executing it will take a few more! Unfortunately, time in those situations, is often not on your side. This indicates that if your 'autopilot' is not properly programmed – in other words if the correct responses are not rehearsed to an instinctive level – then your chances of survival in sub-optimal adrenal response conditions are drastically reduced.

So how does one identify, or even trigger these in an attacker?
Let's look at what we already know in terms of the visual signs that someone is being affected by adrenaline. These include sweating, shaking, posturing, clenched fists, closing distance, flaying of arms, pale skin, difficulties in verbalising thoughts, etc. An indication that an attack is imminent is often that the attacker will stop using whole sentences and will revert to single words and/or syllables. Being aware of these signals will give you a handy clue that something may be about to happen. 

Now is the time to make another decision. Do you want to turn the attacker on? Or maybe you prefer to turn them off?

We have two options here in order to control the opponent's adrenaline response:
1. To lower the adrenal response (turn them off)– by being submissive, the opponent's adrenaline flow may reduce as the perceived danger is lowered. This may allow you to get them to lower their guard in order to escape or strike first. This is best done when you have no other alternative but to fight.
2. To increase the adrenal response (turn them on) – Thompson (1997) identifies two ways of doing this. One is by becoming overly loud and aggressive, the other is by acting cool and uncaring as if you have been in this situation a thousand times before. The idea in both cases is to create hesitation and fear in the other party, by making them believe that they are likely to get hurt if they attack. This will often send their adrenaline past the optimal level, and may bring about a flight or a freeze response.

So how do you train something like this?
I think this depends a lot on the environment in which you train, but the best way for me has been by simply trying this out on unsuspecting training partners! They prepare to attack me during a routine drill, but instead of doing the technique I will simply try to distract, talk them into doing something else, or yell at them at the top of my voice... But another option is by using scenario training, where you don't know what the final outcome is. In other words, the people who are the 'bag guys' in the scenario may decide to attack you, or they may not, depending on how you react. This teaches both training parties how to manage their adrenaline and gives different ways of solving the problem before actually getting to the physical stage. 

Stay tuned, stay safe.


Is Self-Defence a Lifestyle Choice?

Is self-defence a lifestyle?

A very interesting point of discussion in a seminar with Richard Dimitri and Chris Roberts recently has really got me thinking on a different aspect of self-protection training. While it is something that I am acutely aware of, I have never really verbalised it. So here goes.

But before we proceed… A key word throughout the next few points is moderation. Read all the way to the end and you’ll see what I mean!


Perth Charity Knife Workshop August 29


Delivered by Master Instructor Mannie de Matos

This workshop covers the fantasy applications of knife defense, flow and disarms from angle 1 (body thrust) and angle 2 (downward angle slash). It will also cover the realistic TDE Trauma Destroy Exit methodologies.

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