I remember a few years back there was this big back and forth discussion/debate between an ex-student and his former instructor. The crux of it centered on what hand/side of the body to lead with when in a confrontation. They both had a list of why each was a superior method of defense. The old debate of “lead with the strong side” versus power hand in reserve went back and forth like a veritable game of nunchaku ping pong. This debate went on for page after page on various martial art forums, each having a staunch group of supporters who chimed in with their respective “expert” views. And while both points of contention had a plus and minus column ratio, it seemed to me to miss the whole point of authentic personal protection.
Real self-defense has no “get ready, get set go” option. An attack in real life is by and large an ambush. Of course variations in this theme exist as in a house party or bar situation where you can escalate or de-escalate as the situation merits. But these alternate scenarios are more what I term “fighting” versus true personal protection/self-defense. In an ambush it is a “mugging”. An unexpected attack is usually done in low light conditions, more than one aggressor and the antagonists armed. There is no time and or ability to ask the attackers for a “time-out” so you can position your body to more effectively deal with the attack! Strong side, weak side any side at all is just not going to matter. You need to be able to explode from where you are at any given moment. You have to train yourself to be able to go from zero to sixty in an eye blink. You need to be able to shift in mind set from being semi sleepy, and full of food after a nice dinner and movie with the spouse to being jumped by street vermin.
Be like Shrapnel my friend. You need to literally “explode” from where ever you happen to be in relation to your enemy. No time for posturing, no time for posing. No time outs no second guessing on what the situation may entail. What is required is awareness, decisiveness, aggressiveness, speed, coolness, ruthlessness and surprise to quote the good Colonel as to his principles of self-defense. You need to be able to swarm real quickly. All your training should have prepared you for this moment of truth. No time to “think” about what to do. An effective training program should have inculcated in you a right combat mind set. The color codes of threat escalation. The OODA Loop. The idea and difference between fight, flight and freeze.
Real personal protection is not sparring, nor is it fencing or rolling on the ground looking for some form of BJJ/MMA “victory”. If you have not prepared for what the human predator is capable of, please don’t delude yourself. The predator does not process nor think like the more “civilized” person does. A FOP (fresh out of prison) predator has no empathic filter to negotiate in a moment of violence. I remember a story that happened years ago in the Big Apple. A young Korean guy, who had several Tae Kwon Do schools in the area, took his dog out for a walk on a hot humid Manhattan night. He decided to grab a beer at a local bar and tied the dogs leash to a fence while he went to grab the brew. Another guy had a similar idea and ties his dog to the fence as well. As luck would have it, the two dogs went at it and got all tangled up. When the dog owners attempted to separate the warring pooches, a bit of jocularity between the two dog owners turned into the Puerto Rican fireplug owner saying the Korean guys pussy dog started it all etc. etc. What the Tae Kwon Do did not do was to verbally de-escalate and walk away. Ego, pride and the sure knowledge of his long and hard earned TKD skills prevented him from leaving or losing “face”. One thing lead to another and the stout Puerto Rican ended of shanking to death the Korean martial art “expert”. Dead. Done. Game over. No example of swarming shrapnel here. Things can escalate so quickly that one of the first things you need to ask yourself is “Is it a life and death situation, and is it worth dying over’?
Now I know a lot of people reading this would say that “He just did not meet a REAL Tae Kwon Do master”, and so on. And some may take offense that I mentioned the ethnic backgrounds of these guys. Hey, it could have been the other way around right? No. This is the truth of the scenario. The stout Puerto Rican had recently been released from prison. His martial art was “Shank-Ryu”, not McDojo Tae Kwon Do. And while I mention this incident as an aside to the main concept espoused, the TKD guy did everything wrong. Now he is dead and the other guy was put back in prison. I don’t know what happened to the dogs. Had the TKD guy understood Jungle Warfare and the predatory nature of true survival, he might still be here. But I’m sure his students miss him, and the shiny trophies at the Dojang will continue to collect dust.
I saw the other day a really wonderful video of a traditional Japanese Shotokan teacher helping the viewers understand the true meaning of “dojo” and general Japanese martial art dojo etiquette. Clip your toes nails and finger nails. Stand at attention when Sensei is talking, and how to use the term “Osu”. And on and on….very good information to know in a traditional Japanese dojo. But how many of his students know anything about true to life principles of self-protection? How many of them have learned how to attempt to survive a vicious unprovoked attack by a true predator? Etiquette and having a nice clean gi is great. A sense of moral justice and respect is a wonderful side benefit in training in a traditional dojo. But true self-defense it is not. All the kata, bunkai and kumite in the world is not going to prepare you to deal with Shank-Ryu. Yes I know many traditionally trained martial artists would staunchly argue with me on these points, and proceed to tell me countless stories of some 17th Century famous Okinawan master defeating a dozen armed bandits in a quiet Okinawan hamlet. And I know the bar the tooth Fairy and fat santa hang out at.
But take heart dear reader. My intention here is not to bash or trash all traditional martial (recreational) arts. I love them all. I enjoy the bonding and comradery developed through randori, kumite or the wonderful flow of Escrima or Aikido. Most so called martial arts are not even stress tested. Any art will “work” in the safety of the school if there is cooperation. But being able to explode on the predator is generally not taught.
The peace and love taught in some styles of so-called martial “arts” will get you killed. You want religion, go to church. Having a smiling bearded mystic as your spiritual guide is very cool. But he is not going to step in front of that shank for you. In my observation a vast majority of people who go to a “martial art school” want nothing to do with training in a more combative arts program. When I have asked people what they want to learn when I teach a workshop some will inevitably say “self-defense”. But then when I get all gutter fighting on them, they change color and say it’s too intense or that it’s to visceral for them! But do more of an Aikido, T’ai Chi Ch’uan approach and all ears are perked up and big beautiful smiles are seen upon their faces. Oh well. Perhaps I need to be teaching Zumba or a Pilates class, or even better some type of Ka-Robics kick boxing stuff!
Some closing thoughts here. I know I rambled on a bit in different areas. So be it. It was my free flowing stream of consciousness in action! But don’t be fooled. If you claim to be about teaching “self-defense” then do just that. Don’t put up a sign saying “non-violent” self-defense (what a contradiction in terms!). Teach your people the laws of the land. Pre and post conflict. Teach verbal de-escalation methods. Teach real blunt impact and edged weapon work. Learn how firearms work. No excuse here. You may not “like” guns or even be afraid of them, but America especially is a gun nation. And above all learn how a hand grenade operates. Be like shrapnel my friend…..
copyright, 02/10/2017, John Kovacs