All posts by Darren

System-subversive, hoplologist, and sport-duelist, I've been focusing on the weapons-arts and human behavior for over 25 years. Let's call what I teach a bastard mix of backyard, low-tech, 3rd-World, shoestring budget methods on a number of different thoroughly-studied arms added to from nature, experience, nurture, influence, environment, and training. Some of the programs will be fight-fundamental-based FMA/Filipino Martial Arts (both my own blend, Terra Firma FMA Adaptations, and my base, Burokil Alambra Arnis de Mano and their various subsystems), Argentinean Esgrima Criolla (both modern and classical), La Canne Vigny, and Chi Kung/breathing/meditation. ALL of these will be directly-applicable to the current time we live in regarding the current global crisis. The world is changing - and I'm changing with it, bringing you programs for new situations, with new training methodologies, and for changing dynamics. Come try! The investment is minimal, the knowledge extensive, the effort intangible.


People who’ve sparred a lot in combat sports or in their weapons training become good at things I call “micro-movements”, which are rarely taught and legitimately hard-to-teach. Why they’re not taught, predominantly, is because they’re different for every person and experience-driven. (Other contributing factors: the club doesn’t spar or spar often, and the instructor doesn’t know how to impart that particular info due to the previous sentence) Whatever the reason, they are instinctive and good fighters do them innately/experientially They’re things you figure out on your own (learned, not “taught”) that are subtle and minute but can change the outcome – instinctive and innate. They’re NOT skills like “evading”, “trapping”, or “countering” but the minutiae that facilitate those skillsets. For example – foot placement/replacement, subtle weight shifts, fades, angling, feinting/feigned body commitment or vulnerability, pulls/pushes, pivots, small barely-seen body movements, the nuance used to make a thing go, all the way to feinting and baiting.

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They’re NOT techniques but things learned WHILE fighting, the small elements that we discover repeatedly over time during the honing of those “tools” during testing and application against active and dynamic resistance. People who just do relatively static TMA, I’ve found personally, don’t have these and often aren’t even aware of them. Boxers, grapplers, fencers, all have them as they seldom do anything other than pound fundamentals and train pressure, AND how to fine-tune those fundamentals under pressure. Small nuances that exceptional and experienced fighters do, is what sets them apart. (We see it repeatedly in combat sports with those who excel) And when something is innate and instinctive, it’s immediately more “recallable” and accessible.

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Can they be taught? Maybe, but what they´ll be doing is sharing their micro-movements to another that will then regurgitate them and perpetuate that round-hole-in-square-peg training methodology. We can show students and peers what we do so that they become aware and conscious of their own movements that make a thing work for them. Inevitably, one has to find them out for oneself as nobody can teach you what you´ll do under duress, what McGyver-like adaptations you´ll need, how you´ll react to a given stimulus, what 3-dimensional solutions you´ll come up with to 3-dimensional problems. That is up to the individual and solely the individual. No growth can occur by showing others exactly what works for you and expecting them to replicate, copy, or mirror those actions successfully on-the-fly. Some things are simply left up to the student. If taught, they´re no longer micro-movements but a taught thing that YOU´VE experienced and that they will focus on forcing into a random context.

Micro-movements, natural body-adaptations, innate evolutionary survival-skill are all examples of this and such an integral part of cultivating a student to stand on their own 2 feet and making a given system their own instead of a cookie-cutter replicant of said system and the instructor representing it. Micro-movements we described above – conscious and repetitive after success with them is ingrained (akin to heuristics and that experiential internal “rolodex”), natural body-alignment is how your body moves to a given stimulus or context instinctively – conscious but rapidly-implemented in the moment, and innate survival-skill mechanisms those things we do evolutionarily to react to an unknown input – non-conscious, like a reflex. Just a quick overview as none of these are the norm in the martial arts world, they are the exception to the rule. Most often those that do a lot of sparring, resistance, stress-training, and play are most aware and have learned on their own what works in a vast diversity of situations. Pity, as it´s hard to experience personal-growth while trying to be a clone of someone else´s by-proxy life experience.


If you want to learn how to stay safe, to defend oneself, to know how to fight, to understand violence, to learn about conflict, to protect oneself, to avoid being targeted – one needs to learn martial/fighting arts. Particularly those from the Philippines, Indonesia, Japan, China, and Korea. It can’t possibly be done without. If one doesn’t study these, one simply doesn’t or can’t know anything about violence and cannot be taken seriously.

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Some examples where this is not true:

1. Prisons. Filled with people experienced with violence…and predominantly untrained.

2. Gangs, organized crime, street criminals.

3. People that fight with regularity at the bar or on the street.

4. Most doormen, security, LE, prison guards (outside of a bare minimum introduction and yearly refresher, maybe) Daily, they deal with violence sans training but with experience.

5. The vast majority of violence survivors who fight back and often rely solely on innate survival skill, most often against very dangerous asocial/asymmetrical violence

6. The intelligence community, home security, private investigations, CCTV specialists, and other professional branches that come from a totally different direction to curb violence than head-on.

7. People who grew up in violent environments that needed to learn about and understand violence for pure survival means.

8. The many people in the self-defense, personal preservation, and conflict management realms.

9. People who work in other high-risk occupations: troubled youth, mental hospitals, mental health, low-income housing, public school systems, etc.

Also note that, by far the greatest amount of “human/civilian kills” is perpetrated by civilians….untrained.

Really, I’m not talking down in any way about TMA/fight training if that’s your thing. (and it can greatly benefit survival quotient, no doubt…it has mine) But, in all honesty, if you truly believe this is the ONLY way and that your style and fight training is sooo special that all else is moot or irrelevant, you have a level of Dunning-Kruger that I’m unfamiliar with.


There’s been a lot of discussion, both on the page and off, in-private, on scripts recently…which is positive, as it’s an area often neglected. This is not to counter or disprove anyone else’s ideas but to give a different perspective and outlook. While I get the general use of starting-scripts to get students thinking on potential scenarios, I personally don’t think they’re necessity and, long-term, I think they can potentially stifle the adaptive mind, critical thinking under duress, and problem-solving ability. (should they be stuck to and conditioned as is) Many in the SD world use adrenal-stress response (ASR) monosyllabic (or close to it) scripts for various interview stages. Now, we have an overabundance of people using the same tired clichés and passing them on to their students as viable. “Bro, I don’t want any trouble.” “Dude, can I buy you another beer.” “Buddy, talk to me, how can I help.” So even many instructors are seemingly “stuck” in script-format and rarely vary from these tired responses. These are dynamic, complex, and unique situations so I’m just (personally) not sure that scripting does the thing many claim. When I do drilling on this, I am constantly changing behaviors, giving off confusing signals, escalating/de-escalating in tone and body language, changing dynamic for exactly that reason….to destroy their scripts and show them that that means is often ineffective against live-action humans in complex environments. As a developmental base for future cultivation, sure, if that’s not all that’s perpetuated, I can see some value.

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That being said, I see numerous videos or commentaries on “the interview” where the same sad clichés and mechanical interactions take place, often from long-serving name instructors. Lots. That tells me exactly that, that the scenarios they’re giving to their students involve scripts from both sides. “I’m gonna kick your ass.” “Whatchu’ lookin’ at, mother fucker.” “You gotta’ problem, asshole.” Tired, and this is way I most often see scripting implemented into modern SD training. It makes criminals seem one-dimensional and lacking in creativity, as well as the “defender.” If that’s how you incorporate interview-stuff, it seems more like the idea of being able to state that you have that element in your training rather than actually understand the complexities of the skillset. These are multi-faceted and multi-dynamic scenarios, why not train for them the same way? It’s not an emotional roller-coaster ride for students as there’s a sliding scale of order – low, medium, high – and gradual manner of incorporating it. The sooner you get your students to start interacting dynamically and seeing the rapidity of change that can occur in stranger-interviews, the more prepped they’ll be for adaptive thinking. With more experienced students, yes, it can become emotional but that’s kinda’ the point, isn’t it? To show the physiological, adrenal, emotional reactions you can have under even low-level conflicts and how it can potentially affect performance, whatever that performance may be in relation to – conflict communication, spatial distancing, body language/stress physiology, to actual aggression response. To see in what small head-space you’re in need of working in. That monosyllabic response is sometimes all we’re capable of…yet sometimes we’re capable of far more. (as is aligned with much science coming out on stress-response capability) That it’s not so easy to just open a script-file and pull out the exact one needed for that time, or ad lib with no prior training that advocates for that. Something else worth thinking about, and from my experience, is that “pros” often take advantage of, even manipulate, scripts. They expect many targets to script, whether out of panic, freezing, fear, submission. It’s part of the ambush mentality and if we think it’s of importance, assuredly they know that we think it’s of importance.

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I am, personally, not a script guy, some people are, so I’m not knocking the methods of others, just pointing out that there are options and it’s not imperative. Come to your own conclusions, either way the discussions that we’ve been having on this should be quite valuable and thought-provoking. It’s an important topic. Indexing and recalling scripts for a situation that has (often-great) physiological changes to you, is often rapidly-changing, and can be dictated by huge variations in dynamic….is sometimes not feasible. Sometimes scripts can provide and assist with this, sometimes we’re better off with “conditioned” adaptive and critical thinking.


I’ll leave this:

1. People survive violence daily, the world over, that have zero training. Far moreso than are trained, regardless of your reasoning why.

2. The highest kill-count, by far, in the world  is from completely untrained civilians. Jails are full of them. Many walk free among us. Some are waiting to happen. But the fact remains…

3. The ability to inflict violence has minimal to do with physical systemic or stylistic training…it has to do with will. (which supersedes any training)

4. Yet, through all this, we live in the generally the safest time in recorded history.

All 4 of these are usually denied vehemently by the majority of martial arts instructors, as they don’t go along with the rhetoric needed to create a business usually based on fear, anxiety, and paranoia.

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The theory forever perpetuated that we ‘need’ all these systems and subsystems and styles and arts and methods and belts and titles and certificates and self-defense classes and fight records to protect ourselves…is just that, pure theory. Evolution and experience have given us a ton of tools with which to do so and they’ve been pretty damn effective to get us this far on the timeline, long before any organized syllabi ever existed.


a. Most modern systems are ‘very’ new in the grand scheme of things, if we’re really researching their origins, and were created for an abundance of reasons specific to their culture, location, time, creator, need – much of which likely has absolutely nothing to do with your current existence.  Others of old have been lost forever, often for the same reasons.

b. Instructors constantly bring their rather subjective opinion on violence based on their personal experience/s, which may (or may not, as is far more often the case) have anything at all to do with yours.

c. Methods are predominantly gimmick-driven by nature…some new inventing-of-the-proverbial-wheel idea that no human since the dawn of time has ever thought of with regards to physical conflict.

Head up, eyes open, logic and common sense activated.




Some elements worth noting:

1.   The fight is linear and symmetrical, not circular or asymmetrical.  (“agreed-upon” violence) Footwork is all forward and back, not lateral or circular. (possibly as circular wasn’t needed due to the vast expanse of space and they intuitively knew this)

2.   The shuffle step, not the vaunted v-stepping everyone preaches, is instinctively used.

3.   For dueling, the weapon hand predominantly leads…again instinctively…to have weapon protect body, not other way around. (In fact, it was the backhand cut attempt that got him caught, as it presents both a telegraphing/timing ratio problem from the elbow, and a target-proximity one)

4.   Due to the ergonomics of the machete (not a pure cutting/slicing tool but an inevitably impact one with cutting power – hacking, not cutting), notice the elastic recoil on the striking: like a whip, the motions maximize the impact of the tip/head. The misnomer is that one telegraphs strikes this way but, due to the dramatic mid-strike increase in speed, simply not true and irrelevant. (as with the low-line sucker punch that so many martial artists make fun of, but lands with regularity in the really-real world)

5.  Here is a good example of the FMA defanging-the-snake theory and bio-mechanical cutting….rarities, if we’re being honest….but present. The cut to the arm’s extensor tendons on the outside of the forearm  inevitably terminated the confrontation. (Noting that, again, this is an agreed-upon duel, not an ambush, which presents another set of problems to solve entirely)

6. Regardless of what the majority of instructors will tell you about what these 2 did wrong, this WAS a real machete fight, not a theoretical one. No grand movements were made, no dojo-successful techniques, no catch-all universal conceptual ideas…just subtle body evasions under heavy (the heaviest) duress. All else is moot. Reality dictates and provides valuable case study, not bullshit to pick apart for stylistic/systematic theory.


I decided a short time ago to write this for a friend who had asked me about my thoughts on the viability of tai chi/chi kung training as it pertains to combatives training. While many are either seemingly pushing the woo-woo, chi-power, metaphysical powers of chi kung or tai chi, or trying desperately to re-transform it into a powerful fighting art, I thought I’d take a few minutes to offer some rather tangible functional benefits it ‘can’ contain, as is:

  1.   It teaches one to lengthen movements. As movements are shortened dramatically by the effects of adrenaline, fast styles and techniques over-reliant on speed often fall by the wayside and don’t have near the desired impact in real situations as “in the dojo”. (As an aside, the techniques, poses themselves, and positions aren’t nearly as important the control, relaxed power, and deliberate movements it promotes. Actual combative concepts can replace traditional ones with the same mechanics in-play)
  2.   It can teach proper use of the kinetic chain for maximizing power and efficient movement. Proper power development…and power is a more important than speed in a violent scenario, the vast majority of the time.
  3.   It teaches slow deliberate practice, which leads to efficient myelination/”uploading” from proper, progressive, and correct conditioning of skillsets for function. We’ve likely all heard the “slow-is-fast” maxim but training things deliberately and with purpose sets them more permanently, in proper context, and with greater efficiency.
  4.  It can teach breathing, both while static (the “interview” phase of developing conflict) and while moving in a dynamic arena (active/aggressive). I realize this is given tons of lip service but many don’t seem to really know why, but the major reason is because when adrenaline floods our system, we tend to predominantly stop breathing, putting access to our training and conditioning “off-line.” (We panic, forget, disconnect from) Remembering to breath and having done so out of various constructs, triggers us to do so when it matters and keep us “online”, therefore having accessibility to prior training. (hopefully correct and aligned with what actually happens pertaining to real violence)Image result for chi kung

5.  It teaches body control and relaxation. Simply, the more relaxation one can achieve within the restraints of adrenal-stress response, the more subtle, explosive, and decisive the movement(s) following and the less chance of a powerful counter.

6.   The grounding/rooting and balance helps one to “sit on” one’s shots, as well, putting proper body weight into those mechanics. Footwork is the fundamental fighting tool. Without balance, agility, movement, power generation, angling, zoning…..all other skillsets fall by the wayside.

7.  As an aside, I often hear critique on the hip-punching done in tai chi/chi kung/karate/kung-fu, etc. However, as we can see from case studies, violence videos, mixed martial-arts matches, personal experiences from experienced people….taking longer trajectory to the target has shown little to no problems of connection from the various ranges/stages of fighting. Punches from the hip often fall under the depth perception line caused by adrenaline/extreme focus, are heavy in power, and connect far more often than the bullshit myths in martial arts will have you believe.

8.  While this may be a stretch to those long-timers in the “internal arts”, I’ve often (personally, so take with salt) made a correlation of the 2 types of Chinese breathing (Buddhist – regular, belly expands when inhaling & Taoist – reverse, chest expands/belly contracts when inhaling) with relaxed or controlled breathing and tension or stress breathing. Relaxed when at rest, at ease, or able to be controlled when under minimal or containable stress. (including during low-level or pre-escalation conflict) Tension breathing when exerting oneself physically (including fighting).

9.  It can teach self-control, discipline, and patience…3 monumentally-important elements when dealing with conflict management and pre-violence escalation, not the least of which are important in cultivating proper violence mindset and state-change capability.

Notice I use the word “can” for more than one of the examples given as, remember, this is in reference to this practice being combined with actual fight training, that which hopefully correlates and reinforces our innate survival skills and instinctive fighting mechanisms. Can all these things be found in other training methodologies and personal manners of fight training? Absolutely. However, I find these elements often go unexplained as to their reasoning (or unknown, for most trying to make the correlation) or context as it relates to real-world issues.


The “Dual Process Theory” of human thought has been around for some time, in varied incarnations, how generally decision-making is done by 2 different processes. The most recent that has gained momentum is from Daniel Kahneman, who in 2003, came out with the terminology of “system 1” for what’s inevitably intuition, and “system 2”, regarding reasoning.

Now, these 2 systems sometimes overlap, let’s take driving as an example. As we learn to drive, a lot is going on upstairs – focus on what others are doing on the road, our pressure on the pedals, reeling in the environment around us, worrying about directions, etc. A lot to take in. This would qualify as system 2, as we’re perpetually having to make conscious decisions based on analysis of best possible outcome. As we become more experienced, a lot of these processes become automatic based on time, like-scenarios, prior familiarity –  system 1, intuitive. There are also times where these processes come into contact with one another. In events where our safety or protection is at stake, system 2 may take too long to come up with precise solution to the problem, so we default to system 1 – intuition takes over and, based on prior experiences, comes up with the best possible solution to the immediate problem, “overruling” system 2, which is taking too long to give finality with something that needs immediacy.

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While, apparently, there are still some flaws in the theory (I’m not a neuro-scientist nor do I claim to be), it’s an interesting and relevant theory pertaining to self-defense and personal preservation.  Even if some parts of the theory are unsound or the theory itself is proven lacking over time, there’s still a lot of validity here when explaining threat analysis and recognition to students or civilians.  There are 2 points I’d like to gloss over here:

  1. It has the potential to make for a much easier idea to transmit to students or the general public as opposed to something like the Cooper Color Code, which often tends to draw a lot of confusion, over-thinking, and paranoia in the average student, even when given clear explanation. Telling them that they’re hardwired to notice important things in their vicinity that may affect their well-being automatically and their rational thought will be alerted when more complex decisions need to be made makes for less paranoia, less overthought, and less confusion over the minutiae that so many self-defense instructors love to harp on. Stop being paranoid and perpetually looking for irrelevant things that stand-out, analyzing constant stimuli, assessing people – and let what’s already innate look for the important things that ‘are’ relevant to your safety, while you continue on with your day as needed. Being jacked and forever honed-in is not healthy.

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2.   Maybe entirely hypothetical (maybe not) but what if (just what if) this is related to actual violent conflict as well? It would explain a lot of things we see regularly with real violence, social media, Youtube videos, case studies, first-hand reports, etc….even with trained people. Under heavy duress, most people revert back to primal means of survival – innate survival skill/instinctive fighting/naturally-occurring technique, – those things which system 1 gravitates to to overrule system 2 (trained response), which often takes conscious thought or “upload time” when/if it goes against what’s survival-driven evolutionarily. If System 2, or trained responses that aren’t in line with evolution, take too long, are too complex, or don’t go along with what’s hardwired – system 1 or intuitive response to something that threatens our safety or survival, kicks in, overwriting poor or unnatural training, no matter how conditioned or for how long. If it’s in-line, it can enhance and supplement our natural innate survival response mechanisms.

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Something to think about. If oftentimes, the simplest explanation is usually the correct one, or at minimum the one that helps us understand and go about our day with the most calm and confidence, then maybe this has more than a little validity. And now, to wait on the theory’s durability…


What if (just what if) so many grandmasters and masters (and sokes and sifus and datus and guros and tuhons and pendekars and….) have it all wrong? What if mastery isn’t intricate knowledge ‘within’ the system, its protocols, and its techniques they’ve chosen to dedicate their life to representing loyally and thinking they’re part of some delusionally-important generational chain? What if true mastery is knowing not to be duped into believing that the system is greater than you, knowing you control the system, that the system is nothing without you, and that it’s simply a vehicle or tool to be used to achieve a specific temporary purpose (and then move on)?

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Remember, those who have the greatest control over a system…aren’t bound by it. Those with flexibility and adaptability control the system, not the other way around. The minute there are parameters, blind loyalties, limits, paradigms, rules…you are inevitably controlled by that very system. Been thinking on this lately…starting to think that all those that use titles proudly are simply exerting control over others and flaunting ego from a projection point of utter weakness. Big fish, tiny pond.
*As an aside, the top people I know in the industry that are breaking the most ground, educating people on violence, are not affiliated with any system whatsoever, though this is not limited at all to solely violence.


FLINCH RESPONSE(S): I’d like to leave this here as I’ve had the same belief for a long time. So many are stressing the importance of THE startle flinch response when, in fact, it should be made very clear that we have startle flinchES. There is no universal flinch response we all have to every given surprise stimulus, despite the claim of many self-defense experts. Do some people-watching. I’ve seen people scared from surprise heavily increase breathing while grabbing their heart. Getting burned by a hot stove causes an explosive pullback and often a grab of the burnt body part, but not raising the hands up in front of the face. Tripping and falling forward causes an outward/forward-moving and often double-locked arm extension but torso doesn’t retract back, for obvious reasons. (that falling thing) I’ve seen someone getting salt or sand in our eyes recoil back, not with an arm projection and body jerking back response, but with an “elbow shield” covering the eyes. Blinking without any other reaction at something light and non-damaging coming towards our face. (How does the brain distinguish?) Someone pulling your chair back at a party causes a flail or “spasm”, desperately looking for a way to regain balance. A great idea is learning to re-focus quickly on “the target” or cause of the initial surprise and at least training your brain (hitting one’s significant other from having a water fight is not recommended) to think of immediate counter-offense.

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So, to summarize:

  1. As stated multiple times, there is no one universal flinch (even for the same person at various times of the day/different mental states/daily intangibles/different stimuli) Watch America’s Funniest Home Videos, When Animals Attack, or any number of “Fear Factor”-like videos on Youtube for confirmation.
  2. It cannot be weaponized (we can dictate what comes after, not during) To weaponize the flinch itself would come from prescience. With not knowing any of the stimuli mentioned above until  that moment, repeated prepping/training for multiple different flinches still presents a lag in selection, rendering “weaponization” moot.  The minute anything is altered, whether by experience or training, it is no longer unconscious, reflexive, or evolutionary…it’s familiar/experiential or trained. A flinch, by its very design, is a reflex (the “startle reflex”). Conscious response to known stimuli is not a flinch, it’s a conscious response projected outward.
  3. Not every scenario draws a flinch. Sometimes some people, or some people in some scenarios, simply don’t flinch. It doesn’t happen 100% of the time.



A close friend happens to be a chef and over the years we’ve found that many of the knife safety rules of proper usage that apply with cooking and knife management for self-defense cross-over seamlessly. It’s an often neglected part of teaching knife as a tool for self-protection. Specific to self-defense purpose: safe carry, safe/fast/protected deployment, dropped blade protocol, accessibility, no showing off, no fancy handling for demo, blade AND point awareness, knife etiquette (handling of others’ tools, perceived but unknowing threat display), multi-uses to justify daily carry for potential legal consequence, vision to notice signs of carry in others, clean cutting over the multi-cutting flash we often see on Youtube. It’s a far cry using a blade within the art than it is practicing it for isolated and specific purpose. Whether teaching, or at least practicing for personal use, an important part of understanding and implementing proper blade use. Attached is a very simple, basic document pertaining to cooking but you can see some transferable elements already: