Avoiding Conflict

Best fights are the ones we avoid.

– Mr. Han (Jackie Chan, the 2010 remake of “The Karate Kid”)

Whenever people dole out self-defense tips, it tends to be under the guise of you being in the fight. The fight has started, or the fight is inevitable, and how can you manage the fight. Granted, sometimes this is how it goes. But what might be better is if we could avoid the fight in the first place.

There are good techniques for this, like SouthNarc’s Managing Unknown Contacts (MUC) techniques, or just following the Insights Training ABC: Always Be Cool. Marc MacYoung knows a lot about the subject too, and when he posted this article I thought it was one worth sharing.

The article is titled “Eight Self-Defense Tips for Men to Avoid Violent Conflicts“. I would argue these are good self-defense tips for everyone to follow, but I can see the author’s point towards men because I get reminded of LowTechCombat‘s examination of Alpha vs. Predatory.

Here are the 8 points, without elaboration (you can find that in the article):

  1. Forget what you see on the screen
  2. Live, love and be happy
  3. Know yourself
  4. He’s human too
  5. Get over yourself
  6. Leave
  7. Peyton Quinn’s rules
  8. Stick to the mission

Notice there’s no tips on how to punch him just right, how to shoot more effectively, none of that. It’s about mindset, it’s about mental approach and tactics for situations — before they become situations. This is more important.

It’s also about humility. There’s so much bravado, so much macho about fighting and self-defense. I recently saw a posting on Facebook, of a picture of a bank holdup scene and captioned basically “and what would you do”. The comment thread was full of big talk, heroics, fantasy, and few posters acknowledged realities involved (tho it was cool to see Rog mention the Beer & TV Maxim; one of the few rational comments on the picture). I think about #8 of “stick to the mission” which is basically:

Every time I leave the house, my mission is to return to it and my loved ones safely and unharmed so I can live a long and happy life with them.

So does your macho, your bravado, your fantasy, your heroics, do they permit you to fulfill your mission? Granted, your mission may be different, but then at least you know your mission. You do clearly know your mission, right? If you don’t, if you cannot stop right now and state it clearly aloud, then perhaps you should take a moment to define what your mission is. It will guide you and your decisions, which may be critically important when the flag flies.

Give the whole article a read. It’s quite good. In fact, most of these tips will apply beyond “violent encounters”. I mean, we have conflict on the job or in other interactions in our daily life. Tips like Peyton Quinn’s rules will help you manage those just fine too.

Found More Canes

I’m a fan of canes, because they can be a useful self-defense tool in addition to being a walking aid. And let’s be honest… while we would like to always carry a gun, we can’t. Gotta get on an airplane? Carrying a gun isn’t going to happen. There’s just times when you have to look for alternative solutions. I think a cane is pretty tough to beat.

It probably stems from my martial arts study years ago in Kuk Sool and Hapkido. From day one, the cane was the weapon that appealed to me most because it was most practical. A sword isn’t going to cut it (pun intended) these days. A short stick (dan bong) actually can be pretty useful and have wide application, but it’s short: it’s a close-in weapon. A cane is about 3′ long, and useful at a slight distance and at helping to maintain some space. There are other weapons, but in many regards aren’t feasible or practical. Cane works, and will always be available and with us.

In my quest for a good cane, I finally found one a few years ago. While good, it wasn’t exactly what I wanted. But certainly it got me through. Nevertheless, my eyes were always open for another cane.

A couple months ago one came along.

When we were headed out for a family day, we stopped into the Bastrop Buc-ee’s. Wandering around the store, saw a container of canes and dug through them. Found this one.

There was no identifying tag on it, so I cannot say for certain the make/model/manufacturer, but I can say it looks a LOT like the Twisted Oak Walking Cane from Brazos Walking Sticks. I couldn’t be surprised if that was the case, given how it was being sold. It was a similar setup to my first cane, and given all I discovered when I looked up my first cane well… it seems to be in line there.

What I liked about this was the almost straight shaft. The twist? Looks neat, and adds some hurt. I also liked how the crook was a bit more open in the neck area, and yes this hooks around limbs and necks much more easily. The fact the end/butt doesn’t extend too far either also is welcome for ease of hooking and releasing. Oak, so it’s strong. Really, I’m thrilled with this. It’s not perfect, but it’s good.

A few weeks ago we went to the Sherwood Forest Faire. Wife and Kiddos sat down to get ready for a show to start, and I looked behind me and saw a vendor selling canes, walking sticks, and other such things. Turns out they are Lady Mac’s Horns, Canes, and Staffs. Alas, I cannot find any sort of website for them, but if you search you’ll find them referenced on other “Ren Faire” websites and forums. I saw some gorgeous work there, including one cane with a thick and beautifully crafted mesquite shaft topped with an elk antler “handle”; if I needed a full-time cane for walking, I would have bought it in an instant. I actually saw only one crook-neck cane, and I couldn’t resist trying it out…. and yes, buying it:

This cane is made of hickory, and I loved the “unfinished” look with the bark still on. The shaft is as straight as it can be, given it’s attempting to look more natural. Really, it’s pretty straight but yet has just enough “kink and bend” to be interesting. It’s also slightly thicker than the other two canes… and that’s why I think I like it more.

See, there’s something about the shaping of the handle, where your palm actually rests. I tried to capture a picture of it but couldn’t get one that did it justice. They have to shave the wood down some to make the bend, but here they didn’t shave too much. Plus they shaped the top of the handle to be round but just a hair flatter… it’s slightly more oblique than circular. All that shaping, combined with the slightly thicker wood? It feels just awesome in the hand, and is very comfortable to walk with. Makes sense, because now you are spreading weight over a greater area.

The crook is a little tighter, but still hooks around necks. In some regard it’s a difference between a “practice cane” and a “street cane”, if you will. That is, with a practice cane you want to be polite to your partner, so a larger, more open crook is desired. With a “street cane”, you aren’t as concerned with politeness to your attacker. If I had to classify, I’d say the twisted oak cane above is more “practice” and this hickory is more “street”. Regardless, it’s certainly more comfortable to walk with.

Here’s a close-up of the three cane neck/crook areas:

L-R: #3, Lady Mac; #2 twisted oak; #1 first cane

This picture should give you a better idea. You can see with cane #2 that it’s rather open at the neck as well as very straight of shaft. #3 is a little tighter in terms of the hook and length. #1 is even longer.. and if you can see, there’s a little “hump” at the top of the crook and the wood is very thin — it’s no where near as comfortable to walk with as #3.

Anyways, #3 is my current go-to. But since I’m building a little collection, I need to find a way to store them all. Thinking about ideas, because I suspect more canes will be in my future.

Leveling the playing field

Now, 15 years later, virtually all law enforcement agencies and officers are either issued AR-15 style rifles, or have them accessible. But, that is the police. In the context of self defense, why do armed citizens need AR-15 style weapons? Because, the armed citizen faces the VERY SAME criminals that police face. The only difference is that police, because they are more often called TO the incident, face these criminals more regularly. Understand, though, criminals do not prey on police, but instead, they victimize the public.

If the armed citizen wants to have a fighting chance against criminals who are armed with high capacity rifles and pistols, they also need effective weaponry. Just like the police did back in the 1990s and today.

Marty Hayes, President of the Armed Citizens Legal Defense Network, responds to “why anyone would need one of those”.

In reading Marty’s response, it made one thing clear: it’s about “leveling the playing field”.

I’ve often said that a firearm is a force equalizer. A petite woman vs. a 300# beast of a man? Force disparity. Old man vs. young thug? Force disparity? Fit able-bodied person vs. small gang? Force disparity. So much of self-defense is about overcoming that disparity. I mean, when some martial art talks about how it’s techniques allow that weak tiny woman to overcome and cripple a 300# man, the underlying message is that martial art allows you to overcome force disparity, and thus it’s a good thing. Rape prevention techniques talk about using tasers, pepper spray, walking in groups – all means of overcoming force disparity. It’s all about reducing the disparity, or better, becoming the one with the force advantage so perhaps no one will mess with you in the first place. However, the reality is while these measures are all useful and do overcome force disparity, a firearm is a better tool for overcoming force disparity. It’s like any technological advancement; it’s why we blog and tweet and email, and why the US Postal Service is shriveling up.

We seem to put great stock in “leveling the playing field”. Why do we drug test in sports? Because we don’t want someone to gain “unfair advantage”. Why is there large political movement to change this country’s legal and economic structure? To stop few people from gaining unfair advantage and control over the rest of us. We want the field level, or whether people want to admit it or not, if the field is going to be tilted they want it tilted in their favor. So why should self-defense be any different? Why should we put ourselves at a disadvantage or force others to be at a disadvantage? That’s akin to telling the petite woman to not fight back against her rapist. To use force of law to deny her effective tools? That’s akin to tying her hands behind her back. Doesn’t it sound stupid to suggest “Hey ladies, the most effective way to keep from being raped is to lie there and take it! Just give him what he wants!”? So why do you suggest solutions that effectively create this situation?

There are numerous reasons why someone would “need one of those”, be it an AR-15, a modern semi-automatic firearm (rifle or pistol or shotgun), a firearm that could hold more bullets than you deem to be “necessary”. Fundamentally it comes down to overcoming force disparity and ensuring that “level playing field”. It’s about allowing the weak to stand strong. And yes, YOU are weak. There is always someone stronger than you: physically, mentally, economically, politically. And if not today, tomorrow you may be weaker (if nothing else, someday you will be old and frail). Are you willing to resign yourself and your fellow man to being crushed? Or would you prefer to stand strong?

Sometimes violence is the answer

I already see people reading the title of this article and shaking their head in disagreement. Hopefully they’ll be willing to set their bias aside and read with an open mind.

We are way more ‘civilized’ than we’ve ever been. Enough so that you can say there is a bias against physical violence in this society.

We’ve developed systems were the need for physical violence is greatly reduced. We rely on professionals to do our violence for us and enforce the rules. This is really an amazing development in human history. Realistically, we’ve never had it so good

The problem with this is people take it for granted. They assume this system is the ‘way life is.’ And you get some seriously fucked up and out-to-lunch assumptions about life in general and violence in specific.

The biggest one is that there is some ‘divine right’ about how violence is never supposed to happen to them. (Or that oh-mah-gawd-it’s-some-kind-of-life-long-trauma if it does.) Once someone takes this attitude, they’ve slipped an anchor to reality. Worse, they start making up their own version of reality to fit that imagined ‘right.’

A point that scares me is when they start saying ‘well because I don’t use physical violence, nobody else should either.’

I like to point out that people who say ‘Violence never solved anything’ are both liars and extremists. To begin with, in order for that statement to be proven true, you’re going to have to ask every person on the planet, “Hey, did violence never work for you?” Then you’re going to have to build a time machine and ask every person who has EVER lived, did violence not work for you?” Even without the time machine, you’re going to run into some folks who it worked pretty well for.

The use of the word ‘never’ is an extremist position. But people don’t think of it that way. So they don’t stand up and challenge that stupid statement. Most folks understand that sometimes physical violence is necessary. As a society, we need to have one hell of an argument about when that is. And yes, I like the fact that the bar is held up to a high standard with most folks. But we also need to understand there are folks out there who are rabidly against any kind of physical violence. And they’re willing to let you die to prove they’re right.

When you encounter someone like that you need to know how to point out that they’re position is a barking moonbat one — otherwise they’ll bully everyone who’s trying to find a reasonable compromise or understand WHY violence was necessary.

Because face it, sometimes you gotta use force to solve a situation. The challenge then becomes how to explain to people that it was the right decision given the circumstances and that you didn’t over react. This especially to the cops.

Marc MacYoung

I used to be that way, to say that “violence is never the answer”.

Eventually I came to realize that sometimes violence is the answer.

First, you must accept that, for the most part, we all condone violence as an answer; we just delegate undertaking that violence to someone else – the police, the military, etc.. That’s what enables a lot of people to take the stance of “violence is never the answer” because of this delegation. But note it’s precisely because someone else is willing and able to do violence on their behalf, that they are enabled this “privilege” of being non-violent and espousing non-violence as some sort of ideal to strive for.

Would it be nice if we could eliminate senseless violence from the world? Sure. But it won’t happen, Jack. Violence is a part of life and being throughout history; it’s just part of the human condition. The trick is how you look at that violence.

See, violence in and of itself is neither good nor bad. It just is. The evaluation of good or bad depends upon the people involved and the context. If my daughter is being raped, that violent act is bad (in my book). If my daughter draws a gun and stops the rapist, that violent act is good (in my book). And yes, right there violence is an answer. In fact, it’s likely the only effective answer because begging and pleading, negotiation, curling up in a ball, praying, hoping for someone to come along… those are highly unlikely to stop the bad violence happening now. In fact, if someone else comes along, chances are they will and the victim will want them to undertake a violent act to stop the rape, else we’re back to begging and pleading.

Or consider, as Marc also discusses in his interview, that we all tend to look at violence in some very cut and dry way. That it’s going to be some dude getting up in your face, or that mugger, or a carjacking, or just like you’ve seen on TV and the movies. There are different levels, different contexts of violence. If you’re out somewhere, someone gets drunk, starts acting stupid, and just needs to be sat on until they sober up and stop running their mouth… well, you might have to use some violence on them to get them to shut up. But that doesn’t mean breaking their arm or shooting them; it may just mean a little restraining joint lock to get them to come along with you to another room where they can sober up in private. Was this bad violence? Well, the drunk might think so at the time, but most everyone else will probably be happy to be rid of him so they can go back to enjoying the party.

As Marc alludes to, the discussion to have is WHEN violence is the right and necessary answer. And yes, the bar should be held to a very high standard. Our trouble is we’ve become “too civilized” and it’s not politically desirable to talk about violence in a frank and honest way. We think we’re above it, so we’d rather deny it. Or that we’ve move so far away from it, so many people are detached and inexperienced/ignorant of the concept, they don’t even know how to begin to discuss it. This causes our problems because violence is very real, very much exists, and while chances of you being in a bad violent encounter may be slim, when it does happen it’s going to suck, especially if you’re not prepared for it.

Consider as well that when people think about “discussing violence”, most think about physical techniques. They think the discussion is only around how to throw and take a punch, how to shoot a gun, how to use pepper spray, how to knee him in the crotch and yell “NO!” and other such techniques. This is only part of it. Another part of it is how to see that violence is coming, because there are pre-fight cues. How to avoid violence in the first place (e.g. don’t go to stupid places; don’t associate with stupid people; don’t do stupid things). How to manage the aftermath of violence. To learn “emotional self-control” (which would be good for life in general) to keep you out of trouble. “Always Be Cool“. These are topics that are very much part of the discussion of violence, and to know when it’s the right answer… and perhaps how to keep it from needing to be the answer.

To say “violence is never the answer” is either ignorant or disingenuous. I was ignorant. I became educated. I prefer violence to not be the answer, but I accept that sometimes it is the answer. Hopefully we can have open and honest discussions on this topic, as that will serve humanity far more than denial will.

When Marc MacYoung speaks…

… you’d be wise to listen.

A great interview with Marc MacYoung, discussing all sorts of issues regarding violence and dealing with it. Everyone should read this.

Instructor – follow up

My prior article on instructors was primarily aimed at those that wished to be instructors and the path to get there. However, in examining the path one might follow on the road to becoming an instructor, it sheds a lot of light for those that wish to be students — how can you pick a good instructor.

While the context might be different — weightlifting/physical training — the principles remain the same. Dave Tate lists 4 ways to tell if your coach has a clue:

  1. Who did they learn from?
  2. Who did they train with and/or under?
  3. What have they done?
  4. Who have they trained and have made better than themselves?

Doesn’t matter the context or the specific type of instructor. These pretty much hold for any instructor be it martial arts, lifting, cooking, painting, whatever.


5 Important Skills for Protecting Yourself

From the “clearing out my backlog” files…

From LowTechCombat comes an article about the “5 Most Important Skills for Protecting Yourself“. As with all LTC’s stuff, a solid article.

Before I discuss the article, you need to go read it. Go on, read it. I’ll be here when you get back. 🙂

You’ll notice that no where in the article does it say “have a gun”. Yes, I talk a lot about guns and find them to be a valuable and useful tool, but I know that self-defense goes well beyond that. It’s like Insights Training‘s hierarchy:





Mindset is most important, and equipment is least important. We all talk equipment because it’s cool, it’s fun, but once you get your equipment figured out, it’s time to move on and build up the more important things.

Back to the article.

1. Stay Alert, Look Ahead.

Indeed. All too often the story you hear from people being attacked is “they came out of nowhere”. No they didn’t, you just didn’t pick up on them until it was too late. Col. Cooper would call that being in “code white”. We should strive to be in “code yellow” most of the time, but life is what it is and we’ll likely drift in and out of yellow and white throughout our day (and hopefully we won’t escalate up the scale).

This is part of mindset, to be aware, to stay aware, and to have your head in a place where you know attacks can come out of nowhere, suddenly. For if we knew an attack was coming, say an appointment tomorrow at 3:00 PM, why would we willingly walk into it? No, they are surprises, “when you least expect it”, so do your best to expect it. Sure we’ll be surprised some of the time, but do your best to minimize the chance. So take out your earbuds, stop texting while walking, and use all your senses (yes, even taste might sometime be relevant) to be aware of what’s going on around you.

2. Walk Confidently but not Arrogantly

That’s a new maxim to me, at least in phrasing. I think it’s a good one because yes, if you have too much swagger out there, could you be drawing in a challenge you don’t want?

But confident is good. I know I go back to Insights a lot, but those guys have a lot of… well… insight into such matters. I always liked Greg Hamilton’s take:

Most people are grass-eaters with their heads down on the ground. The jackals and lions know this and think of them as that. Hold your head up and walk like you are the biggest, baddest lion that walks. The jackals and lions will notice and leave you alone because they don’t want to get hurt. Don’t challenge them because they might feel they have to respond to it. All you want is their respect, not their dignity.

So there you go, same thing said differently.

3. Know When to Run

Amen. Yes there’s something to be said for fighting, but we must always remember the key point is to survive, to go home, to see tomorrow. Sometimes fighting will be the right answer, but sometimes running will be too. And remember you gun folk… just because you have a gun doesn’t mean you have or should use it. Same for you black-belt martial artists; just because you know 3608 deadly techniques doesn’t mean you need to try them out and prove your skill. There’s a time, there’s a place, and sometimes Nike-Fu is the best martial art.

Implied in this is to not going looking for trouble, but that’s discussed in #5.

4. Use Quick and Effective Techniques

The article was written by a guest author at LTC, a Jack Roberts of Black Eagle Martial Arts. I don’t know for sure what Jack studies, but it appears likely he studies a traditional empty-hand martial art. Regardless, what he discusses here is spot-on, in that you want to keep it simple and use whatever skills and techniques are truly effective and that can be applied (by you) under pressure… which implies you need to train under pressure. If you do study a traditional martial art, ensure there’s some sort of “alive” training. If all your techniques are just too deadly to actually practice for real (full speed, resisting partner, etc.), you may want to try a different art (if your goal is fight skill, self defense, etc.). But note that even in such arts, there’s likely a subset of techniques that you can focus on (I always think about Kuk Sool’s “Ki Bohn Soo #9” as such a technique)

It doesn’t matter what you’re working with, be it empty hand styles or firearms or whatever. Acquire good skills, simple skills, effective skills, that you can apply under pressure.

5. Stay Away From Trouble

I would put this as the #1 skill for protecting yourself. If you do your best to stay out of trouble, trouble generally won’t find you. John Farnam summed it up quite nicely:

Don’t go to stupid places; don’t associate with stupid people; don’t do stupid things. We will add to that, be in bed by 10 o’clock.

Not much more to be said.

It’s sad, really

In my past I studied a martial art called Kuk Sool, and did so as a part of the “Kuk Sool Won” or “World Kuk Sool Association”.

I was young and naive.

Now, I think the art itself is a fine art and has great potential, but too many problems have happened within the organization. Within the past couple years there was this “franchise agreement” that came up, changed the landscape, caused many more people to leave the organization. I left prior to that shitstorm, because I could see a lot of things brewing that bothered me. The art? fine. The business? horrible.

For some reason today I went to the WKSA website and poked around. I happened upon a document, the “Black Belt Handbook”. I never received such a thing when I received my black belt, and based on what I read in there it’s obviously new, a product of the post-franchise era.

Most of the things in there were fine, just outlining protocols and so on. These were things that were always there, just not etched in a formal document. I did see some of the “penalties and repremand” stuff as being good to have formalized… and I’m pretty sure that some of the enumerated situations came directly from the past antics of some high ranking folks (I know of a few situations). I don’t blame WKSA for not wanting to tolerate and deal with that sort of crap again.

But there were some things in this now formal document that bothered me… some things that were once rumor, but obviously are now hard fact.

First, I recall that to progress up the dahn ranks (i.e. higher “degree” black belt) that there was a loose requirement for “time in rank” and some minimum number of tests, usually 8. I see now that the minimum number is also formalized at no more than 4 per year. So going from 1st to 2nd degree will take you a minimum of 4 years. That’s a lot of time… and money. That was always there, but I recall things could be a little more flexible, like some people were able to find ways to test more than 4x/year and that was OK, or time was close to 4 years but if it wound up being 3 for someone exceptional then sure. But what I see now that they’ve added is a hard requirement of attending “seminar” (every year Kuk Sah Nim and some other Masters come around to each school to lecture and teach… and pimp lots of merchandise). So that’s a lot more money to have to spend. Then you must also attend at least one tournament — every year WKSA holds numerous tournaments around the world, all closed and WKSA only. It doesn’t say if you have to compete, just “attend”, but you will at least have to volunteer as a judge or scorekeeper… because no one likes doing it, but now you have no choice but to … “volunteer”. More time, more money, forced labor… gotta love it.

But here’s what really bothered me. There was always rumor this was how it was, but now it’s written and formalized:

The following are the basic guidelines set forth by Kuk Sa Nim for all Kuk Sool Won™ Black Belts:

1. Kuk Sool Won™ Black Belts are expected to set the finest examples to students. Kuk Sool Won™ Black Belts should never undertake training in any other martial arts style other than Kuk Sool Won™, nor may they receive certification from any other Martial Arts style.

2. Black Belts shall not exchange any technical knowledge with students or Instructors from other Martial Arts styles whatsoever.

3. Black Belts may not attend Martial Arts seminars organized by other Martial Arts styles, organizations, associations, etc. Black Belts may attend Kuk Sool Won™ seminars and workshops only. Black Belts must immediately inform the WKSA if he or she has knowledge that any member attends any Martial Arts instructions, seminars or workshops organized by associations other than the WKSA.

Emphasis theirs.

(BTW, is the art’s name “Kuk Sool Won™”? Guys, I understand you’re all freaked over your marks and intellectual property, but once you’ve established your marks elsewhere in the document, readability requests you stop using the symbol all the time. I digress.)

That’s quite bothersome. You’re never allowed to train in any other art than KSW. You aren’t allowed to discuss technical knowledge with other people. Where does technical knowledge extend? How to execute Ki Bohn Soo #1? Or the discussion of how to lock the shoulder joint? Hrm.  And you cannot do anything to further discussion or obtain any other martial arts related knowledge — and you are to tattle on your fellow student if you find out they are learning!

There’s so much that’s wrong with this attitude and approach.

But what strikes me is the hypocrisy.

Elsewhere in this same document it says:

Black Belts are strongly recommended to practice diligence and open-mindedness.

Open-mindedness? I guess so long as it’s about Kuk Sool and nothing else.

What about prior knowledge? I know many high-ranking masters studied other arts before coming to Kuk Sool. Are they allowed to use that knowledge in any way? or must they somehow purge it from their minds and be pure-Sool?

How about Kuk Sah Nim himself, with his stories of how as a young man he travelled the countryside learning from any master he could learn from, some only teaching him one technique. What sort of loyalty is that (I would say, to his grandfather… since the story goes that he learned the core of things from him)? If learning from anyone willing to teach him, if discussion with others “not of your loyal style” was something he did well… why was he allowed to and the underlings not?

This is just wrong and unhealthy on so many levels. It does nothing to foster knowledge, improvement of the art, and even really trying to make the art look good in the eyes of the world at large. Tell me where being so closed was ever a good and productive thing? And how can students actually know if their art is worth a damn if it can never be proven on anyone except those that also drink the kool-aid and are willing to compliantly fall on the ground because that’s the choreography of things?

It’s sad, really.

To my friends still in “The Won”, I mean no harm nor offense to you. We can’t agree on everything, and this is just one place we’ll have to disagree.

I really don’t know what else to write… I’m just sitting here shaking my head. I don’t regret leaving the organization. And if you really want to learn the art of Kuk Sool, thankfully there are a lot of people out there that can teach you without all of this controlling dreck.

You’ve got a hammer, but everything isn’t a nail

Michael Bane and Michael Janich discuss an important construct in self-defense: that one solution isn’t always the appropriate answer.

Can’t embed the 5 minute video… you just have to click the above to watch it.

I like Janich and he speaks a lot of truth here. I’ve dealt with two realms of “self-defense” training: guns, and empty hand martial arts. In the past and even today, people tend to choose one or the other. As well, many schools tend to only teach one or the other, tho thankfully that’s improving in recent years.

The reality is, like Janich points out, if you have a gun that’s great but that is not the appropriate nor possible response in all possible situations. It doesn’t mean you need to become a black belt in some deadly art, but having more responses programmed in, from simple verbal commands, to escapes, to perhaps basic empty-hand strikes can be a useful thing to allow you to respond appropriately to what’s presented. Insights Training Center is a good place for this sort of integrated methodology. If you want to go a more traditional route, consider Filipino arts, like Pekiti Tirsia Kali (in Austin, check out Leslie Buck).

On the other side, a lot of people take empty hand training but won’t progress to the level of firearms. Well, many traditional martial arts will teach weaponry, but it’s interesting how much of that ends up being demonstration and never application. Granted, it’s difficult to apply sword or nunchaku in a modern context, but what’s the point in learning a weapon if you do not know how to actually fight with it? However, I’d argue to move beyond those weapons because technology has evolved (else we’d all be using clay tablets and not iPad’s) and firearms are the modern sword. Empty hand skills can take you far, but not far enough because I’m sorry… a 5’4″ 95# woman no matter how skilled is just going to have a tough time against a 6’6″ 275# strong man hell-bent on raping her. A gun is a force equalizer.

I know some argue against the notion of “another tool in the toolbox” because then you start to collect a zillion tools and won’t know how to deploy anything. This is true. But there’s a balance point, and it starts by having to acquire more tools. Let’s be literal with the notion of toolbox. If the only thing you have in your toolbox is a hammer, yes everything looks like a nail. You’ll pound screws, if you need a hole in something you’ll just have to whack the hammer through it, if you need to measure something it will be “3 hammers long”, and so on. Well sure that might work, but it’s not very efficient and could cause collateral damage. That’s why you have to acquire more tools for your toolbox: to have a screwdriver, to have a drill, to have a tape measure. There are enough basic tools that one needs in order to have a complete toolbox. The problem starts to arise when you start to acquire too many tape measures… how many rulers does one need? For me, a simple 25′ tape measure is fine and covers all my needs. But a professional carpenter might want a carpenters ruler. Most people only need a claw hammer, but the handyman might also have a drywall hammer, and the roofer a roofing hammer.

So most people don’t need a taser and handcuffs, but a police officer does. A bouncer at a nightclub needs a lot of empty hand arrest and control techniques, as well as good verbal skills. So you can see, toolbox contents, literal or figurative, can vary from person to person and situation to situation. What matters in this self-defense context is that you can go too far. Bragging about having 3608 techniques means… what? Consider Bruce Lee: “Take what is useful and discard the rest”. Or Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, “Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”  Whether you listen to the martial artist or the writer, they are both saying that it’s about stripping away, but first you must have something to strip away. If all you have is a hammer, you have nothing to strip away. If you have 3608 techniques, you have a lot you can strip away. In the journey of life, we start with nothing and acquire as we go along. This is the way it has to be, because how else can we find what is useful? How else can we discover what we need? How else can we know what to discard if we’ve never acquired it in the first place? The key, however, is to not just collect, but ensure you periodically review and discard the useless so your collection is meaningful. So, “another tool in the toolbox” is good, but only if it’s useful to you. If all you have is a hammer, it should be because you had an entire hardware store and were able to discard everything else.

Martial arts quote of the day

Don’t you think that the idea of both of you squatting down, as if to defecate, whilst one holds onto the other’s wrist, so that they can apply a countering technique, is somewhat off the planet?

Ollie Batts (said here)

For those that may not understand what he means, he’s talking about compliant training technique. You and your (compliant) partner face each other, assume a horse stance (“squat down”), partner offers up his wrist, you grab it and apply some sort of wrist lock technique, and your partner never resists. Partner taps because an ounce of pressure was applied, and you stand up smiling because you are obviously a badass. Yes, lots of people have a problem with this sort of training… because what are you training?

Granted, in the beginning, learning any technique requires such cooperation and compliance because you need to understand what’s going on. But once you have the basic idea in place, your partner needs to resist, which could just be applying more tension and “counter force” so it’s harder to apply the technique, all the way up to active resistance and “fighting back”. But, it really all depends upon the context and goal of your study. If you are trying to learn how to defend yourself, do you think some mugger or rapist is just going to compliantly offer their hand for you to twist? Or do you think there’s going to be struggle, resistance, and fighting? So which way do you think you should train?   If however you are just training to wear a flashy uniform and look good for the crowd and the camera, I guess just ensure your teeth are straight and white and keep smiling… or grimacing profusely when the technique is applied to you. There’s nothing wrong with that, if that’s what you want to do. Just be honest with yourself and the training you receive.

Really, that’s what it comes down to. Ollie’s comment was a (not so?) subtle jab at Kuk Sool, but likely a deserved one (note: Kuk Sool is FAR from the only art that is like this). Kuk Sool as a martial art is actually a very good one and could be most effective — if it was taught in the right context and manner. However, these days the context predominantly seen for Kuk Sool is compliance and “looking good”, giving office workers a chance to exercise and blow off a little steam after a long day behind a desk. Nothing wrong with that (I can’t deny my fitness/conditioning level was amazing during my time in Kuk Sool). But I left (in part) because I was not being taught in a practical way and had a hard time dealing with instructors that demanded they knew how to do things “realistically” and “properly” when unskilled me could have just grabbed them and sat on them without much effort. Where are your 3608 techniques to save you now?

What Ollie wrote made me laugh, but it’s good food for thought. Ultimately it’s about knowing what YOU want out of your study. If you are wanting exercise and spirituality, find an art to allow you to follow that path. If you want to know how to fight, find an art for that path. You have to be honest with yourself, your goals, and what you’re studying. If it’s not meeting your goals, you waste your precious time and energy to continue down a path that won’t ever help you achieve your goals.