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.


  1. Lineage dating all the way back to 1650 China is great but don’t flaunt it like protective shield as you’re only as good as what you’re personally capable of. I live in the 21st century and your forefathers aren’t reflective of what you can do as an individual now. Carry their values with you but be in the here and now.

2. I am not stuck in the past. I don’t live my life as a reincarnation of a 500-year old Buddhist monk so when I see a North American pretending he/she is from Eastern Asia it turns me off very quickly These are often the same people who criticize Asian people for wanting to be more Western. Pot calling kettle black.

3.  I don’t chant mantras from books from generations back like Confucious. If they can help me in my current state be a better husband, father, son and friend..then fantastic…but I am not Musashi nor do I idolize or pray at the altar of Bruce Lee, though I accept they both had great contributions to this industry.

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4. I am tired of those who tell me that, because I’m pragmatic, functional and modern with my approach to violence, personal preservation, safety, self-defence and combatives that I have less of a philosophy than traditionalists. In fact, from many I’ve met I have a much stronger one. Many I’ve met have no idea when they should and shouldn’t use countervailing force. What constitutes a “self-defence” scenario and what doesn’t. What verbal diffusion is. (If you don’t practice it you WILL NOT use it, contrary to what you tell me) How to be situationally aware because it’s unnecessary due to all the mystical lineage-giving powers you possess. What your superpowered chi can do to other human beings who oppose you. (HINT. It’s not throwing someone across the room with a no-touch knockout.) What adrenaline does to you and the cost using violence forces one to pay.

5. I am tired of those who hide behind a belt and believe that it means they can rest on their laurels just because it’s colored. Authenticity, blood, sweat and tears are worth the effort but many believe they’re color of belt is the equivalent of their level of being able to defend themselves and I’m afraid the correlation isn’t that direct.

6.Though you believe you’ve been “training for 40 years and know the system like the back of your hand”, if you’ve stopped training for 15 and aren’t teaching you are NO LONGER training. You’ve stopped, thus the “time put in” factor is not quite the same as the rest of us who continue rain or shine.

7. I don’t believe you can give people life skills from a book. Combat is chaotic. Situation awareness is organic and subjective. Violence is sudden. Human physiology is complex. Books give knowledge but some things need to be experienced.

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8. When you tell me that “I remember when I was 40..great age…very inexperienced” you are being condescending. Especially when you tell me you’ve taught for 5 years of your “40 years of experience” and I’ve taught for 15, including to military, police, security and prison personnel.

9. I grow weary of traditionalists who act like they’re superior because they put their left pinky finger at a 37.8 degree angle in their vaunted cat stance (which should be taught as a stance with a 73-27 weight distribution, by the way). Secret techniques that can subtly screw the reality-based and MMA community that nobody has to prove because of the lethality involved. Superiority without proof, other than that my master’s master’s master told him it’d work…therefore….it works. Tradition has it’s place and it’s important to know where we’ve come from but don’t hide behind it. What happened in 1300 feudal Japan is not necessary applicable to June 14, 2014.

10. You are also wrong when you tell me there is no such thing as reality-based self-defence or combatives or combat martial arts as they’re all reality-based and combative. I’m sorry but they may all have been at one point but they are no longer all. Kicks to the head on ice or in the rain, rolling around on the ground waiting 10 minutes for that submission to open, punching with your hands on your hips, training barefoot, one-punch-one-kill…in most circumstances not applicable for the modern streets with the modern criminal with modern tactics.

11. I also grow weary of those who claim that we (you and I) should freely exchange techniques and I should openly share with you what I know at no fee because a) that’s the way the old masters would’ve done it (I’m sure my family would think differently of my working for free) and b) you’ve taken two seminar certification courses in the same art so you’re a qualified instructor. Please.

©copyright, all rights reserved 2013 Mandirigma FMA Academy


Sounds poetically beautiful, no? Like a spring rain? But all have a very functional use with regards to anticipating violence before it arrives. Since these are relatively simple and take a very short period to hardwire into the system, I’ll (try and) make this entry brief.

SILHOUETTES: When it’s dark, have you ever had trouble in the middle of the night making out images, for obvious reasons? Especially when the lights first go off, if you look right at the object/person it’s almost impossible to see anything. A trick I use is to “tune out” my vision and look at the whole  broad picture instead of trying hard to focus on the one image. Just by looking a couple of feet to the left or right, the image in the center comes more clearly into focus. Not clear, mind you, but clear enough that you can make it out and perceive enough about space/distance between, limbs and potential targets…if needed. It’s a neat drill to do and enhances one’s sensory perception.

In ancient Japan, apparently it was often taught that, when fighting an opponent in the dark, you should always lower your body so as to see the silhouette of the opponent against the night sky or moon. This is another example of changing your perception to give yourself a chance at staying safe in difficult circumstances and not being caught off-guard.

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REFLECTIONS: When in public places especially, I often take a glance at passing storefront windows, mirrors in restrooms, security mirrors in convenience stores and reflections of people in objects such as hand-dryers, sunglasses, television sets and my cellphone just as a quick drill to enhance my sitatutional awareness. To be aware of my surroundings and the people within it. To see if anyone is potentially singling me out. Once again, it’s never within the context of active paranoia; it’s just a precaution and takes literally a second or two before moving on.

Often in sudden violent situations, attacks or kidnappings the people may have had a better chance to prepare for something potentially coming around the corner if they had paid a little attention to those around them. Who’s watching you? Who’s following you? Has that car been on your tail for many blocks now and even turns when I turn (rearview and side mirrors/reflections)? Is it something to be concerned with? Or is it just coincidence? More often than not it is indeed coincidence but I find it’s good practice for me to get into. Making yourself a hard target. Projecting awareness. Creating a non-victim mentality.

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THE SUN: Sun Tzu, in his treatise “The Art of War”, stated that an army should always face the sun when higher up or on higher ground than the opponent. By doing this they’re in the light, thus preventing them from falling prey to a surprise attack and putting them in a position of advantage, both through this strategy and having the advantage of greater position. Great tactics! While this is true in various terrains (brush, forest, mountains) for greater tactical position and the prevention of an ambush attack from hidden foe during times of war, it’s not always applicable for modern individual self-defence.

When approached by a stranger, while it’s sometimes difficult to acknowledge or think of sporadically, I, for one, like to have the sun at my back. It’s bright, distracting and hard on the eyes and I’d far sooner have it in a potential attacker’s face than my own. It gives off glare and causes one to squint when they’re looking at a potential attack point or vulnerability. It’s a small but sometimes brilliant (intentional witty sun reference) tactic that may only give a couple of seconds respite or reaction time, as we say: sometimes a couple of seconds are all that’s needed to make the difference, even if that difference is escaping or calling out for help.

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Just some areas to think about that have nothing yet everything to do with modern self-defence. Another tact to improve your non-violent conflict resolution and situational awareness. Remember, fighting isn’t a daily regular occurance. Staying safe is.

©copyright, all rights reserved 2013 Mandirigma FMA Academy


PART TWO: Car safety.  While I defined defensive driving as any precautions relating to movement of your car, car safety was defined as those precautions pertaining to the stopped vehicle. Car safety pertains, quite simply, to when the car is stopped; preparation in case of potential scenario, your own body language, awareness of potential hazards around your car. Examples?

I advocate locking your doors BEFORE you put your seatbelt on. This is a mistake that seemingly the majority of us make. If our seatbelt is on and someone opens your car door with the idea of kidnapping you, stealing your car or otherwise perpetuate an assault, you are now direly limited in your movements. (striking with power, accessing your tactical folder at your pocket or other defence weapon, moving to face your opponent, etc.

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As mentioned, keep your personal effects out of sight. In CR often motorcycles approach a car on the passenger side and see a purse/wallet/cellphone/sunglasses that they’d be interested in breaking the window for with or without you in the car. Why give them the temptation? Keep these things under the passenger seat, inside the glovebox, in the trunk…wherever they cannot be seen easily by a potential thief.

When getting in your car, whether at home or at a different location (mall, movie, restaurant) make a quick check of the area. Visually sweep the backseat, under the car, the vehicles next to and around yours. It only takes a brief few invaluable seconds when you’ve trained yourself properly to peruse these places and it may save a lifetime of trouble. Is that a minivan/van parked next to you? Many kidnappings and hostage-taking scenarios have started this way by strategically parking next to someone perceived as a victim.

Scams? Spam left on the windshield to draw you out of the car while three guys wait by a near vehicle ready to hijack your car. (Always drive away first as you can always look at the paper at a different location and if it’s a legitimate product deal there’s no harm done) The flat tire ploy of someone in need of “assistance” on the side of the road while buddies wait in the bushes on the opposite side. (If you’re determined to help and it looks like someone legitimately in need, you can always, with your doors locked and window open a crack, offer to call for help for them on your cellphone)

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Though this is just a small discussion of literally hundreds of scenarios, skills and precautions to take, I hope it creates even a little awareness in a few of you. Then this entire article that should be common sense and basic was worth the review. Stay safe.

©copyright, all rights reserved 2013 Mandirigma FMA Academy


PART ONE: I’d like to talk about a topic that to me is even more important than physical strategies (as most of us are in our cars every day interacting with other human beings), only because we are far more apt to have conflict through this means daily: defensive driving and car safety. Aren’t they one in the same? Not at all. One, defensive driving, covers the actual movement of the car-traffic, reading the body language of other drivers, common sense with spatial awareness as it pertains to others, driving with a defensive mentality to ensure getting to a locale in one piece. I’m going to be discussing both in a two-part article.

Defensive driving.  While travelling at highway speeds, I recommend at least a full car length of distance (at least) between you and the car in front of you. This allows for enough reaction time to stop suddenly, if needed. Here in Costa Rica, I realize that this gives other drivers the lane over the idea that a car length is ample space for him to fit his Chrysler so be aware of that potential possibility as well. This distance both gives your reflexes enough time to react to rapidly-changing stimulus and is easier on the brakes of your vehicle if you’re somewhat lax in your vehicle maintenance. The last thing you need is to have brake failure because you’re constantly riding the brake/clutch.

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Stopped? At least enough space on either side to drive around the car in front of you in case of road rage or a perceived sleight from the person ahead is always a smart idea. I know at least one friend who, at a stop light, stopped inches away from the vehicle ahead, which may or may not have been the trigger point for the following aggression of him getting out and trying to smash the driver’s side window in. On a side note, nobody said you had to get out of the car if another driver shows signs of road rage (giving the finger, shaking a fist, swearing after rolling down a window, getting out of his/her car). The best thing to do, although for us men it often tends to challenge our “pride” is to stay moving in your vehicle while calling law enforcement or 911. As a tactic you can even, if followed, lead them directly to the station after alerting them you’re coming. (Let someone else do the work for you who’s paid to deal with that sort of engagement) Maybe not macho, but prudent and sometimes even pretending to be on your cellphone will scare off someone inclined to escalating a scenario. Plus, you never know when someone’s packing a pistol.

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Constantly checking your rearview mirror for both knowledge of the coming actions of drivers behind you and, if your intuition dictates, paying attention to potential vehicles following you for long periods of time. Lock your doors while travelling in urban areas. Too many times I hear of the same story-“I was waiting at a red light and some guy out of nowhere jumps in my car and orders me to drive him to such-and-such location.” (One true story in Canada even involved one of these guys putting a needle to the driver’s neck claiming he had AIDS-infected blood in the syringe, which really gets one’s attention, needless to say) Always use your peripheral vision. I see so many drivers with tunnel vision that never pay attention to anything other than what’s directly in front of them. That’s strong awareness but unfortunately only strong to 25% of the directional potential problems. (And eliminates any possibility of being aware of a potential motorcyclist coming up from the side and seeing that purse or camera sitting innocently on the passenger seat waiting to be taken after a quickly smashed window) While this article discusses only a fraction of the potential elements of safe driving, it gives a glimpse of some simple task that can be done to contribute to avoiding potential danger. We’ll discuss car safety in our next installment. Until then, stay safe.

©copyright, all rights reserved 2013 Mandirigma FMA Academy


We all feel it. We all experience it under moments of great duress and confrontation. Military. Law enforcement. Experienced martial artists. Security. Bar fighters. Prize fighters. To a man..or woman. It is inherent and those who will tell you they do not nor never have are one of two things: with mental/social disorder or lying. While some have ways of containing or managing it, we ALL feel it. And know what? It’s normal. Stop feeling incomplete or insufficient and embrace the fact that it’s evolved from thousands of years of evolution and there’s nothing that can be done to completely avoid it.

While we have introduced various concepts on how to cope with it and add it as an element of your training, this is more an article to deal with our invulnerability as martial artists. (and therefore, as people). The belief, both in the community and, in some cases, in some in their own minds, that we are invulnerable or untouchable still abounds in modern society. People poke, take shots or test, trying to prove that we are human when all they need to do with the grounded of us…is ask! Do we get hit? Yes. Can we dodge or avoid all strikes? No. Do we prepare to sometimes “win ugly” in a way different than Hollywood will have you believe? Absolutely. Are we always prepared for every potential scenario possible to be faced? No, I’m afraid it’s damn-near impossible..although we try and, therefore, cover as many bases as we can. Do we feel fear like the rest of humanity? See paragraph one for reference point.

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We train for flaw. We train for perceived physiological drawbacks of the human involuntary system. We train to limit damage. This is the reality of reality. Many martial arts instructors won’t train with their students, barking orders from the sidelines and continuously putting themselves in situations that adheres to the strengths of their abilities to give themselves an air of invincibility in front of their students. (a form of hypnotism) They preach mysticism and quote truths from 500 years ago (which, by the way, are often not relevant to modern day laws, attackers, terrains or garb)

Instead of showing students my “perfection” and immediately making them feel they could never achieve a level that’s unattainable, I find it both humbling and honest to show them (usually involuntarily) flaw at times. I train with my students. I test myself alongside my students. I show them the techniques against resistance. It, counterintuitively to what many believe, does not show them my weakness but instead gives them a confidence that to err is human and that, if I am not perfect maybe they don’t have to be either. Achievability. It gives them strength. And, more often than not, they respect me more for the fact that, more times than not, I can pull these things off with resistance yet achieve it without perfection. And, more importantly, that because of its relatively simplicity it could be accomplished by them as well.

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Many times new students are so hard on themselves when they make mistakes, don’t do the drill or “sequence” as fluently as their instructor or get cut/hit/kicked. Real dynamic scenarios with interactive resistance allow the student (yes, of course going slower with limited resistance in the beginning for learning is appropriate and required!) to feel a greater confidence and understanding of how things are supposed to work and greater belief in their own ability. I once had a student who was a brown belt in another style and we were doing a grappling drill with resistance. It was his first time doing anything with resistance, even though he had been training for years. He admitted to me, honestly and self-deprecatingly, that he was a little concerned and nervous. I assuaged his fears and told him he would do fine. (And I knew this to be true) After the drill was complete, he approached me with a look on his face of sheer enjoyment and self-accomplishment. Though I’m paraphrasing, his response was something along the lines of “fantastic, exhilarating, never done that before!” Remember, every breakthrough shatters self-imposed myths and barriers of fear, breaks new ground. We did breathing exercises, scenario-training, close-quarter tactics (a range beginner students often innately have great fear of) His tools were in the toolbox but he just hadn’t taken them out for a testdrive yet to pressure-test them. (As a sidenote, this student-who had taken only 5 or so classes at this point-was attacked by a patient at the mental hospital where he worked and disarmed the staff-wielding chap-an accomplishment I am still to this day very proud of him for)

I feel fear as well. I have been in situations in which I have been afraid. (both in the self-defence world and in my day-to-day and in which I have both thrived and let fear get the best of me, remember-to err is human and we are most certainly not machines. Even the Terminator himself has come on hard humbling human times lately) Initially, I was distraught after these occurrances but, upon further thought, I realized that although I was determined that it would never happen again that way, that at times we are vulnerable and adrenaline is a protective mechanism the body uses to temporarily make us more impervious to pain, stronger, faster. We learn to accept it, embrace the attributes it provides us and limit it’s negative impact (freezing, inability to act, tunnel vision, trembling, decision-making, etc.) using tools to bring our heartbeat down, calm our nerves and clear our mind. The internal resistance was provided by the myth that it should’ve worked out like it did in the club.

My firm belief is, those that don’t have stories to tell you of their own personal fear (or at least confirming their existence if too proud to admit openly) are not telling the truth. And I have never trusted people without flaws or weaknesses. The forever smiling and surface-euphoric. Everyone has them (flaws). Whether or not they choose to admit it is a flaw unto itself…pride. I prefer to be honest, open and able to relate to my students. Not try and uphold shrouded mysticisms of generations-old chains of unreachable perfection. It IS possible to be grounded, approachable and questioned while still maintaining the ethics and standards of a conceptual system. (And, remember, that’s all any system really is once stripped away to its bare bones) Honesty cultivates self-expression. The ability to develop self-expression creates trust. Trust breeds unlimited potential for learning, which often opens the door to a greater willingness to overcome fears. Didn’t that get wrapped up nicely.

©copyright, all rights reserved 2011 Mandirigma FMA Academy


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


I was asked a short time ago is esgrima criolla was a “martial art.” I have found myself thinking on this for some time and debating the answer. Jorge may have some different or complementary views on this but I’ll share my perspective. Esgrima Criolla is inevitably the knife fighting method for the gauchos of old…Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Uruguay and a number of other places. The lifestyle was hard and born out of need. Many disputes were settled with the blade, as is historically documented, some of which is on this page. The most accurate comparison I can make is the samurai. They didn’t simply practice a martial art of the sword. One size does not fit all so they adapted what was necessary and applicable to them as their life depended on it. It was not the traditional kenjutsu we see practiced now. Even the perpetual Musashi example is a contradiction. The Japanese are often very structured in their martial syllabi and small minutiae are of the utmost importance. Yet Musashi himself, once an outcast and hated in his own society and the antithesis of what a traditional samurai represented, stated that his “style” was inevitably a no-style. What worked. A compliation of tactics and functionality that was sewn together under the pressure of survival and not a penny less.

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Though it will inevitably be lumped into the current martial landscape as a comparative “art”, I dispute this in some ways and in others I hope it never achieves that standard. It was born of a need, not a systemized approach to learning “knife fighting” for the masses with drills and sequences and stoic responses for hypothetical problems. The individual who utilized it learned through trial-and-error, under pressure and if it didn’t work, he (quite simply) lost his life. Quite a high cost. Ugly and without care to “technique” or the weight of how things are supposed to be done from opinion and experience other than their own. Upon the current re-creation and re-connection (whether it be esgrima criolla, esgrima tumbera from South American prisons or esgrima malevo), it took me a long time (due to my previous experience and reference points blinding me) to see the vision of what this was and where it fit in, why practicing “self-defense” against the knife or through a technical knife system was a moot point, why micro-specific striking points simply don’t work when pressure is factored in, why empty-hand counter-knife is simply not as prevalent a skill to develop as equaling and multiplying the level of force needed or conditioning a specific escape response. It’s an experiment in functionality. Granted, there are techniques, terms and methods, types of specific contextual sparring, and labels for distancing, footwork, grips and positions. But this is all done with an experimental eye – does it work with a fully-resisting opponent in front of you trying to cut you? If not, it rapidly gets thrown away. We fight. That’s the end result of how we determine what works for us or not. Pressure-testing. Does it hold up? If not, it’s gone. It’s not tested under micro-scenarios to make the scenario fit the technique. Quite the opposite: if the technique doesn’t hold up under the scrutiny of resistant scenario, it’s invalid and discarded.

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It is a dueling method and, because of this, many people state that it needs other components. That it doesn’t address modern need for the surprise or ambush knife attack, that there’s no “self-defense” methodology to it. I had thought the same at one point until delving further down the rabbit hole. It is entirely because of this that it gives an entirely honest perspective on the state of modern knife combatives and the modern knife attack. There is no room for the hypothetical, you just do. Experiment. And find. Then we come to conclusions that meet in the middle of truth….counter-knife is often a myth when one factors in multiple intent-filled stabbings, ambushes, modern knifer methods and the features of the modern knife. There is no sure solution. Blood, pain, shock and motive are the cold, hard reality of the knife attack. EC eliminates the theory and takes a cold hard look at what really works and what doesn’t, as was one by its ancestors.

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EC is not deeply codified at this moment, is not overly structured and does not go the colored belt or ritualized canon route and this is one of the reasons for its base functionality-and why I gravitated to it. It’s simple, basic and pragmatic. A means to an end. I have no claim to the gaucho or Creole way of life, I’m not Latino and I don’t pretend to be (being a white guy from Canada). It’s not my culture nor my heritage. But I do know pragmatism and function when I see it after 25 years in this business. And, being entrusted with being the English-speaking representative of the beast, my goal is to promote it as such and maintain it via this manner as the English-speaking conduit for the system. It may not (nor may never) hit the masses but it will remain pure and unadulterated. And maybe this is its place, inevitably non-mainstream due to the fact of that cold pragmatism, the types of weapons contained within it, its history, its relative simplicity to learn (without 5-year program to draw out the learning) and its unapologetic matter-of-factness.

It was born not in the current day as the vast number of martial arts you see today (counter to the constant misrepresentation of their origins, most are recently modern, post WWII). It was born in another era where artistic merit was overruled by martial necessity. While kenjutsu has become an avenue of perfection and specificity with minimal or no actual pressure-testing, I hope the same does not happen with EC. From my part, it will not. I have no claim to the gaucho or Creole way of life, I’m not Latino, being a white guy from Canada. I am of the opinion that as a method it serves much greater purpose being low-key, in its original format and without the need to adhere to public opinion. I, in a way, and for what it’s worth, hope it never becomes a “martial art” in the manner that the vast majority of modern and traditional martial arts have. Just this man’s perspective, accepted or rejected.


In many programs the physical realm is the one primarily focused on as it deals with the directness of an immediate aggressive conflict being faced in the moment. But what about other areas that potentially may have avoided the conflict altogether? Personal opinions vary but many times these topics are glossed over and addressed in conversation but paid little attention to after that when these areas serve as a greater importance to the day-to-day. We don’t fight/get attacked every day (although constant training prepares-once again preparing being substantially different than paranoia-for this event on a multitude of fronts) but we do interact with people every day. We do put ourselves at risk in some fashion every day. We do instintively/intuitively read body language and analyze phrase structures and word context every day. That being said I want to address the 7 (we’ll call them) “realms” of self-defence/personal preservation:

1-PHYSICAL-actual physical techniques, scenarios, weapons usage and defence (both external & natural body) and the application of the above, cardiovascular (both aerobic and anaerobic) and resistance training.

2-METAPHYSICAL/INTERNAL-what goes on inside your body: adrenaline dump & fear response and varying proactive strategies to address these natural body occurances: visualization, autogenic breathing (both from the chest during and from the abdomen before/after), meditation

3-INTUITIVE-senses, developed through trust over time/meditation, innate reaction to outside stimulus and our gut feeling towards the stimulus-people, situations, locations

4-IMPROVISATIONAL/SITUATIONAL-weapons of opportunity, escape routes, barricades, awareness of surroundings

5-INTERPERSONAL/BEHAVIOURIAL-body language of others and yourself, signs of escalating anger/confrontation, inevitably profiling of other people we interact with/allow into our spatial awareness

6-ANATOMICAL-quite simply, the study of human anatomy, what happens to the areas of the human body when attacked/damaged with empty hand, weapon or otherwise, muscles/nerves/tendons/ligaments/organs/arteries/veins/joints/bones, kinesiology (animation of motion)

7-TACTICAL-perhaps the most cryptic of the group in that it is situational-specific, submissive posturing, verbal dissuasion/distractions, tricks, subliminal motions, draw/carry points for defence weapons, mental deceptions to mislead and confound potential attacker

(For my curriculum, I compress these into 4 groups for learning and retention purposes: 1. PHYSICAL (including the anatomical), 2. METAPHYSICAL (includes the intuitive), 3. SITUATIONAL (entailing both improvisational and tactical) and 4. BEHAVIOURIAL.

It’s important for us as personal defence instructors/martial arts teachers/law enforcement/military to realize these realms all need addressing..none can be neglected or it is just that for your students…neglect. Personal preservation is more than just physical…we don’t fight or get assaulted every day but every day is a day we strive to be safe and take the necessary precautions to achieve this. This whole sphere of self-defence contributes on a daily basis to keeping us that way. These are all important and require attention so remember to incorporate all of these into your training if you haven’t already. Peace.

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Recently I’ve noticed some extremely disturbing  trends in the current martial arts world. Now I realize I may piss off a lot of cohorts by writing about this generally hidden-in-plain-sight issue in the industry, and I’m okay with that potentiality. The martial arts world simply does not provide what the majority of people want nor what they need. A paradigm shift would seem to be called for, as it would in any other industry during evolutionary processes inter-field but, alas, it simply won’t happen in this instance. I just don’t see it. That would take self-reflection. Doing heavy research in a vast number of areas. Handing in our pride, ego and maybe even all those colored belts. (I’m willing if you are)

We are bass ackwards in our view. Title-whoring. Idolatry. Politics. Pecking orders. Elitism. Hell, racism. Skewed histories and downright lies. We are a service industry and people pay us (like a plumber, carpenter, janitor, electrician) to provide them with something needed, hopefully with honesty and ethically. NOT to get a mountaintop guru that feeds them the bullshit they want to hear. We assume secretly that people are stupid and laugh about it behind closed doors with other killers-in-their-own-minds. They, the public, are not. This is, quite possibly, the most information-savvy public in the history of humankind, at this very moment. I hate to say it, but they are often the ones laughing at us.

The majority of instructors, I’d be willing to bet, have never done any market research on what the average citizen is actually looking for. From most average folk that I’ve talked to, the perception is two-fold: 1. The pyjama-wearing, barefoot, color-belted, screamer who hits air and goes through multi-cultural rituals that usually don’t pertain to his/her own. 2. The tough guy who walks around glaring at people and acting out on misplaced child opportunities to express him/herself demonstratively. Very rarely does the cerebral professional whose goal is to train you to stay out of the dangerous spots come to mind. We are missing a huge demographic that will never find themselves on the inside of a “dojo”. They see a never-ending supply of vast physical responses to all situations, outdated methodologies, no classroom time or analysis of current crime and reverse-engineering to address it. A systemic linear curriculum. (From my experience, which may or may not be correct from your vantage point – and that’s okay – violence is not, linear that is: it’s organic, fluid and varying and graduating suddenly on a sliding scale of escalation.)

We continue to play these parlor games of long-term syllabi and progressive learning curve, oftentimes being negligent at best, putting our students directly in harm’s way at worse. Teaching what in the real world would amount to murder. (16-cut lethal knife solution to single right cross, anyone?) No address of local laws. Post-event LE interactions. The varying phases of adrenaline. Spatial considerations. Situational and environmental awareness. Internet safety. Defensive driving and car safety – in the plainest terms, not like Jason Bourne, just learning how to simply drive defensively. Anatomy. Psychology. 1st Aid. What constitutes self-defense and what not. Body language – both yours and “theirs”.

Most seemingly do not understand, don’t care, only pay lip service as it’s boring content or worse, don’t even know about the difference between social and asocial (dueling/matchfighting and violent one-sided crime/victim selection) violence nor the difference in prep for each being unique unto itself. And when this is brought up, one gets the stereotypical response. “Come to my club and we’ll see who knows about violence!” “I’ll meet you at this time and this place to discuss this further” “If I were there, I’d kick your ass.” Listen, when I say the vast majority of martial arts don’t work, I’m not saying physically they’re not capable of being functional. (although this is another issue entirely, just not for this article) What I am saying is they simply don’t address modern needs, modern scenarios, modern problems, modern criminals nor modern legal/ethical/psychological/moral complexities. They don’t. At least not the way the majority teach them. We teach 95% physical, 5% mental. What people face is 95% mental (physiological/emotional/moral/psychological), 5% physical. Ass-backwards. I’ve far too often heard from instructors: “Okay, Johnny, be situationally-aware out there, alright? Great! Now let’s get back to hitting the heavy bag (grappling/striking/cutting ad infinitum)!” Meanwhile, Johnny is left to wonder that something really bloody important was just glossed over at the expense of curriculum/syllabus. As he has no clue of what “situationally aware” means, what he’s supposed to look for and what it means even if he does.

Here’s an axiom I always revert back to, it helps me both sleep at night and look in the mirror the next morning: “I teach nothing that I wouldn’t use personally to defend the lives of myself or my family.” Now, I know this will be perceived as a macho testosterone-filled statement but, in actuality, this also means not taking myself out of their lives and putting in jeopardy my ability to provide for them stupidly and irrationally. It means analyzing situations, both in the moment and well-before (visualization/risk analysis) so I have a plan of assessment as to what constitutes worthwhile and what simply doesn’t. (HINT: Social media doesn’t) It means not getting killed or seriously-injured nor doing the same to anyone else out of pride or ego. It means not screwing my family over with a mountain of legal bills post-incident. And it means not making important decisions with either my lizard brain or what’s conveniently-covered by my boxers. (boxers vs. briefs will be left for a future article) Now I know most would say they want someone who’s been there/done that with regards to violence or at least pressure-testing/resistance-training, and this I agree with. (Delivering damage is different than “squaring off”, all other avenues being exhausted) But I also often ask this as well, to play devil’s advocate, which allows for some thought a little further down the rabbit hole of context on one’s experience with said violence: “Can someone who simply can’t ever seem to stay out of the shit, away from violence, teach someone else counter-violence or personal protection?” It is a fine line and there are those out there who come from both worlds but they are becoming increasingly hard to find.

Maybe this is an overreaction. Maybe not. But we run the risk of becoming redundant in the martial arts world. A caricature of ourselves. Stagnant. We walk a fine line of self-importance that quite honestly wouldn’t be tolerated in another line of work or other industries. Hammer and nail theory. Evolution is good. Healthy. Self-assessment and self-realization are the pillars of that evolution. Ego, politics, status and status quo are the destroyers. I’ve chosen not to play the game any longer. The mirror? Well, still having problems but that’s a matter of prettiness or lack thereof, not ability to look.


The art of the gaucho, a simple but hard and proud men, the Latino equivalent of the Wild West cowboys where reputation was everything, living off the land was an accepted part of living and being an outlaw and afoul of the law was a distinct possibility. These were rebels; individualistic and independent from the government, law and political affiliation. Outsiders. Creoles, specifically, are always associated with being from mixed race; local or aboriginal peoples mixed with what is often European heritage. The U.S., Africa, the Philippines, Brazil, Chile, the Caribbean and, of course, Argentina all lay claim to Creole peoples. So how does something from another era pertain to modern day blade usage and personal defense? Let’s go over a few points of interest for those uninitiated and unfamiliar with Esgrima Criolla, and those who speak predominantly English and aren’t privy to the main areas where it’s practiced:

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  1. Focus on multi-use of the blade: eating, hunting, utility…not just self-defense so it pertains to modern legalities and ethical/moral issues regarding use-of-force and reason for carry.
  2. It was not meant to kill outside of something infinitely serious: to teach a lesson, to inflict injury, to disembowel, to mark permanently, to humiliate so it had a biomechanical, psychological and non-lethal focus that very much counters all the murder & knife-fighting we see from so many modern instructors of the blade.
  3. They stressed improvisation: even the varied blades (caronero, facon, daga, verijero, picazo, punal) were crafted with parts of swords and other tools by design. Improvisational weapons were used for great effect for a multitude of daily utilitarian purposes, the boleadoras (bolos, anything projectile and weighted: rock ‘n’ sock/blackjack/poolball in towel), rebeneque (compared to the modern-day sjambok or short whip), poncho (the modern jacket/hoodie)
  4. There was a code of conduct or ethics even within the conflict as they had respect for human life and the value of another man’s right to live, which coincided with the psychological barriers the vast majority of the population has with regards to utilizing violence as a positive tool (depending on circumstance) and reticence to inflict damage on another human being.
  5. Based more on knife dueling than what precipitates flashy knife defense with the idea that it was nigh impossible to deal empty-handed with a man whose very existence was born from the knife and used it every day. The truth is that far too many systems base their counter-knife program on hard-to-learn, harder-to-implement and complex knife defense, which simply won’t hold up to what reality dictates.
  6. The 3 methods of dueling are focused more on context and circumstance, conditioning this psychologically from the start in a very subtle, maybe unconscious way. 1. First blood (developing evasion, distancing, movement, natural bodily survival mechanisms), 2. To a point count of 10 with different values given for head, chest, hands (developing targeting, knowledge of anatomy, accuracy, not exchanging blows), 3. Duelo (showing the biomechanical stopping power of the blade, how to adapt and survive when injured, the desperation of not getting cut) Overall, this is a great way to demonstrate the sliding scale of lethality and use-of-force.

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7.  They focus some attention on grips, deployment and concealment & carry – the fastest way to deploy a blade when needed and the carry stressed this (examples: facon carried blade down at the back of the belt for more rapid draw, the caronero hidden in a subtle pouch while on horseback (same can be done in the modern-day car)

8. It was inevitably big-knife fighting as most of the blades (outside of the verijero & picazo) started at 6 inches and made their way up to almost 4 feet (caronero). The punal was a South American version of the American Bowie knife. This length and size also allowed for blade-on-blade re-directions, flat-of-the-blade and spine usage and beat attacks (using the weighted flat of the blade as an impact weapon)

9. There is nothing complex about it, it is easy to learn. It was simple, functional and pragmatic…more a way of life than a “style of fighting” or “system” with adherent protocols, which was the beauty of the effectiveness. These people lived the blade, utilized it daily, carried numerous for different and specific purposes; it was a part of their existence, which conditions and hardwires the brain in a much different way than training complexity for an hour a week.

10. No politics, no belts, no arrogance. This is not a system as much as a method: what didn’t work was simply discarded as it had to be functional to keep someone alive. The effectiveness is in the trial-and-error and a mutual understanding and cultivating of knowledge. While it is an ongoing historical study, it is a study with direct implications to what modern reality dictates. It will not go the direction of larping, re-enactments and fairs. It is meant for function.

11. Dueling was a foregone conclusion if delving into this way of living. It was almost a right-of-passage so, while this is not accepted in modern society, it puts the impetus back squarely in the hands of the practitioner: you become practical and survive or you don’t, quite simply. No reliance on others, no soft training, no theory – you learned what worked under duress, through trial-and-error and put it into play in real-time…or you ceased existing.

12. Greater attention to the point. As many modern knife combat systems, Esgrima Criolla comes from Spanish influence. As with much of European/Spanish fencing, greater attention is placed on thrusting and becoming proficient at putting the point into the target.

For further information on Creole fencing/Esgrima Criolla, contact Jorge Emilio Prina (whose blog address is below) or myself.