Stephen W. Browne Rants and Raves

September 12, 2012

Deadly decisions

Filed under: Martial arts,Personal,Science — Stephen W. Browne @ 10:44 am

Note: Cross-posted from my newspaper blog at The Marshall Independent, which references an article “Deadly force decisions.”

Researching and writing the article “Deadly force decisions” for Monday’s paper was the most intense experience I’ve had at the Independent to date – and that includes donning harness and climbing a 70 foot ladder to the top of the MERIT Center wind tower simulator.

Though the article ran more than 900 words, I could easily have made it twice as long. Because what I didn’t include was, I got to try a few simulations myself.

Trainer Matt Loeslie let me try the LASERSHOT simulator out with a pistol during a break between officer trainings.

Let me explain, though I haven’t had much to do with firearms for some years, I’m passing familiar with them. I am not a stranger to interpersonal violence in odd parts of the world, and I have seen violent death.

Years ago I was within earshot of a deadly force encounter in Oklahoma and clearly remember the sequence of shots. And I remember many years ago a certain idiot youth and friend darn near did get shot doing something stupid that scared an officer near a crime scene under low-light conditions.

The police of course, are pros and have extensive training in these kinds of scenarios. The simulator is designed to bring an element of realism that gun ranges can’t have. I asked if the simulator induces stress. Some officers said it can sometimes. One joked that media presence was a great stress provider.

Then my turn came. I left shaken. I’m still a little shaken.

One scenario: a man in an apartment hallway holding a knife to a woman’s throat screaming he was going to kill her. There were bystanders in the narrow space.

After trying out the commands to drop the knife, just like I’d seen the officers do, I took the shot at the suspects head. Replay showed I got him. Very possibly grazed the victim but certainly saved her life.

Loeslie complimented my shooting, and asked gently if I could have taken the shot earlier.

Could have, and should have. The fact is I was caught up in it and did not want anyone to die.

Lesson learned: under American law an officer’s duty is to protect life, including the life of a suspect. But sometimes the choice is forced upon them of who is going to die.

The last scenario I tried was a prolonged horror. Answering a call to a high school where a “hit list” was found in a student’s locker. A pretty young girl is summoned out of class and asked to explain.

Everything went south from there, and I probably did pretty much everything wrong.

She goes to her locker ignoring all commands to stay where she was. She opened her locker, ignoring commands to show her hands, pulls out a cell phone. I shot.

The scenario should have ended there, but I think Loeslie had stepped out of the room and the scenario kept playing. (Fact is, I don’t know. It was that absorbing.)

Girl calls her mother and has a very disturbed conversation.

Then she puts the cell phone back, ignoring continued commands to be still, and this time pulls out a gun.

Ignoring commands to put it down she then put it to her head and finally pulled the trigger.

Startled by the sound of the shot, I shot her again as she fell. It couldn’t have made her any deader, but I was horrified.

Later with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight it occurred to me I should have had a Taser rather than a pistol. I didn’t have the Taser simulator but I could have said “Taser!” to indicate a transition from pistol to Taser. I should NEVER have let the girl open the locker, perhaps should have restrained her physically or even Tasered her.

Yes, I know how that would have looked in the press if a gun hadn’t been found in the locker.

I draw two conclusions from this experience.

One is that I am VERY glad the technology for this kind of training exists. This is not the kind of decision-making skill one wants officers to learn “on the job.”

The other is, I think every journalist who covers the police beat should try out this training.

And it wouldn’t hurt the general population to see some of these scenarios either. Especially those involving traffic stops, low-light conditions, etc.

December 9, 2011

Review: Knights of Mayhem

Filed under: Martial arts,Movies — Stephen W. Browne @ 8:51 am

Note: Printed in the Marshall Independent TV Guide

What you first see when you tune into “Knights of Mayhem,” a new reality show on of all places the National Geographic Channel, appears to be a bunch of smack-talking, foul-mouthed rednecks with egos bigger than their outsized selves. Then you see them in 130 pounds of plate armor mounted on 2,000-plus pound horses, charging at each other with 11-foot wooden poles at 30 miles per hour.

What they’re doing is called “jousting” which was what men did in the Late Middle Ages instead of football.

Jousting originated as a combat sport for mounted knights in the High Middle Ages. By the 15th and 16th centuries it had evolved pretty far from its martial origins, using specially designed jousting armor much heavier and less articulated than armor for warfare.

This by the way, is what led to the popular misconception that a knight unhorsed and lying on the ground could not get up due to the weight of his armor.

The death of King Henry II of France in a joust in 1559 is generally held to mark the end of jousting as a sport. Since then there have been periodic revivals, mostly of what is called “theatrical jousting,” where the joust is carefully choreographed with a pre-determined “winner.”
This isn’t that. These guys in the Ultimate Jousting Championship engage in the real thing, breaking lances on each other’s armor and trying to knock them off their horses.

It’s worth mentioning that in 2007 a jouster in England was killed in precisely the same way as Henry II when a splinter from a lance got him right through the eye-slits of the helmet. Concussions are common, as are injuries to the hands and shoulders.

The UJC is the brainchild of Charlie Andrews, who founded the organization in 2010 with the intention of popularizing jousting as the Next Big Thing in extreme sports. Charlie was taught jousting by Patrick Lambke, aka “The Black Knight,” onetime mentor and now bitter rival.

Charlie, to put it mildly, has an ego. He’s proclaimed that it is vital for the future of the sport that he win the World Championship.

Considering the “World” in this case is no more than a dozen guys who meet at various venues around the country, that tends to grate on people’s nerves.

Charlie is a tad obsessive about jousting. He’s admitted he’s gone broke and lost his family trying to promote the sport.

Add to that a lot of typical reality-show bickering, and talk like, “If you put my grandmother up on a horse I’d knock her on her…” and you’ve got a pretty high irritation factor.

Plus, jousting is actually a very sophisticated sport requiring superior horsemanship and fine point control of a long lance that is not light while atop a bouncing horse. The uneducated eye will not see the subtleties of technique and become easily bored.

Not to mention jousting is expensive. It requires a full suit of custom-made plate armor, a carefully-trained horse only slightly smaller than an elephant which consumes massive amounts of grain, not hay, and the rig to haul it all around in. Factor in training time and that $20,000 purse for the championship doesn’t look all that big.

So who does this kind of thing?

To begin with, big guys. If jousting had weight classes, a 200 pound man would be a lightweight. Other than that, former soldiers, football players, one former MMA fighter, guys who grew up on horses, a few who learned to ride just so they could joust.

And why do they do it?

Glory. The charge that comes from mastery of something so strenuous, so dangerous, and so cool.
You see real jousting, and you don’t wonder where all that ego comes from.

Now if only they could learn to talk with the delicate courtesy of the knights of old.

July 2, 2011

With sword in hand

Filed under: Martial arts — Stephen W. Browne @ 10:33 am

I just received my baskethilt broadsword from Purpleheart Armory yesterday, and I’m having a lot of fun and making quite a nuisance of myself to my family with it.

Purpleheart owner Christian D’Arcy makes a wooden waster for broadsword practice but I ordered this nylon model on the advice of Chris Thompson, founder of the Cateran Society. Chris moved to the Twin Cities area recently and I’m trying to get up there on a fairly regular basis to train with him.

The Cateran Society practices the fighting arts of Scotland, and in particular the Highland Broadsword, as preserved in British Army military manuals of the time. On my first training visit I learned the basic Royal Navy cutlass exercise designed by Henry Angelo Jr., scion of the Angelo dynasty of fencing masters, in 1812.

I am a ranked instructor in Filipino Kali and Wu We Gung Fu. The focus of my martial arts training is modern, in the sense that I train for the exigencies of the present day, not the Middle Ages, Renaissance, etc.

But I like swords! I like the feel of a blade in my hand, how it handles, how it moves.

I have a couple of cheap but decent katanas for cutting practice, boken (wooden samurai sword,) suburito (wooden samurai sword heavier and longer than usual for exercise,) a steel rapier foil, and wooden models of Chinese willow leaf saber and straight sword. I don’t have more than basic training in any of these arts, but the foundation moves are available on video and if you have a grounding in kali they’re not going to be totally unfamiliar to you. Kali is all about principles of movement and if you’ve ever seen one of those souvenir wall hanger shields from the Philippines, the ones labeled “Weapons of Moroland,” you know the islands are home to blades made in a bewildering and nasty-looking variety of shapes.

I have practiced modern three-weapon fencing, and found it valuable training, but I really don’t enjoy the way it’s practiced today. It has just drifted too far from the method of fighting with sharp steel in hand. (There is a classical fencing revival movement though.)

Practice with swords, and long weapons such as staff, teaches a lot about the discipline of movement, and lines of attack and defense. Though it’s not likely you’ll ever have to defend yourself with one, practice with various sword designs shows you how the characteristics of the weapon determine how to fight with it.

A friend and student of mine once had a scimitar-like blade, from Indonesia or Southeast Asia as far as we could tell. It was shorter than my outstretched arm (standard length for a kali stick in my style) and sharply curved in an asymmetric S-shape, i.e. the hilt curved forward, the blade curved back.

My bud said it was the most clumsy thing that passed for a sword he’d ever handled.

I said, “No it’s not. Look,” and showed how to move it in sweeping figure-8 curves and redondos (called moulinet in classical Western fencing,) using the point with hooking forehand and backhand thrusts.

“If you know kali principles, the weapon will tell you how to fight with it,” I said.

The Highland Broadsword handles far more subtly than you’d imagine for a blade that looks as big as this. (But that’s almost always the case with unfamiliar swords. People have been making them for a long time after all.) It’s longish for a single-hand sword, and because of the basket hilt any assist by the off-hand has to go to the wrist/forearm. I’m six feet tall and resting the point on the ground puts the pommel right at my navel.

It has great cleaving power and good point capability as well. The basket hilt makes a handy knuckleduster at close range, and there’s that pommel for reverse blows as well. Aside from the sheer fun and romance of practicing the fighting art of my Celtic warrior ancestors (“Caterans”) the techniques translate well to the use of a moderately heavy walking cane (see “cudgeling” on the society website.)

The only drawback of this model is – practice with it and the desire to own the real thing becomes well-nigh overwhelming.

And why would you want to do that? (I hear you say.)

Well, aside from the sheer joy of handling it, and indulging the fantasy of confronting a home invasion with steel in hand (unlikely to say the least – but in fact it has happened, to a man who became a legend in the Society for Creative Anachronism on that account*) there is very intriguing suggestion for sword sport.

Japanese kenjutsu has cutting drills, called tameshigiri, where live blades are used to cut straw mats. I’ve tried my hand at it, as you can see here. (Quoting from Akira Kurosawa’s “The Seven Samurai,” “As you can see, I am a swordsman of the Wood-chop School.”)

The suggestion was to adapt the Japanese training practice to Western swords. Face target, draw and come to guard. Likely guard of prime, or the hanging guard, the first position a western sword comes to out of the scabbard, now almost never used in modern sport fencing. Cut target or targets and return to on guard. Judging would be based on form and successful cutting.

And what use would that be?

It would be fun, the best justification for most anything. And, I think a revival of manly martial sports would be good for this wimpified society of ours. There was a time when “gentleman” meant “swordsman.” That time is long past, and probably a good thing too, but we’ve lost something also.

*The story I heard about 20-odd years ago, more than once but second-hand at best, was a prominent SCAdier was moving into a new apartment in a run-down neighborhood in Texas somewhere. One night the story goes, he was awakened by four Mexican gentlemen with axes and knives attempting to break in via the front and back doors. Taking a katana off the wall he confronted two at the front door, one of whom swung at him with an axe. He countered with a cut that severed the guys arm at least partly, and the story has it that the rest of it was lost in surgery. He then stabbed another in the butt as he turned to run, and again the story has it that a leg was lost as a consequence.

The two at the other door ran like jackrabbits on being confronted by a naked hairy man drenched with blood holding a sword.

Now first of all, I have heard the story several times from people who knew the guy, but never had first-hand confirmation. But the details were remarkably consistent each time I heard it.

And, one person who knew the guy did caution that he spent time in therapy dealing with the aftermath.

May 30, 2011

The 21 foot rule

Filed under: Martial arts — Stephen W. Browne @ 8:30 am

I’ve blogged about knives and their use in the martial arts category. At Wim Demeer’s site I just found Danny Inosanto teaching some cops exactly how dangerous it is to approach anyone with a knife.

It must be stressed, these encounters are for training purposes – but are totally unrehearsed. Knives are easier to conceal about one’s person than guns, and easier to access and deploy.

Some countries in Europe have banned any kind of knife carry. Some authorities in England have even proposed mandating that all kitchen knives be made without a point! Lot’s of luck guys.

December 20, 2010

Knives, knife fighting, and nightmares – part 2

Filed under: Martial arts — Stephen W. Browne @ 11:19 am

OK, I hope you’ve read the stuff on Animal’s site I urged on you in part 1.

Now I’m going to present the case for knives as a tool of self-defense, and hope to God I’m not talking to the hormone-driven monkey-brained males he – and I, are terrified of letting loose on the world armed with sharp stuff.

When women ask me what they should learn to defend themselves, I suggest the most effective thing would be to learn how to use a knife. Guns are a bother in so many ways, and highly limited insofar as to how and where you can carry. Every empty-hand art takes a long time to master. Even longer for women and smaller men, because size does matter and it’s a denial of reality to think otherwise.

And consider, in this day and age who generally has more experience using knives? Women use knives in the kitchen every day. Men, well unless you’re a butcher or cut boxes in a warehouse all day, how often do you use a knife as a tool?

Nevertheless, the common response seems to be, “But what if he takes it away and uses it on me!”

Trust me, with a modicum of skill it ain’t gonna happen. And if he’s a psycho who likes to use knives on women – he’d have brought his own. (But I have to say, I know of an incident in Norman, Oklahoma where a woman faced a home invader with a knife from her kitchen – and had it taken away from her. She was then sexually tortured, though not with the knife. That’s all I know about the incident, and I wonder with teeth-grinding frustration what a little training might have done for her.)

Some advantages of a knife as self-defense tool are:

– A knife negates advantages of reach and strength. He’s got longer reach? So cut the arm. Strength doesn’t matter if the muscles and tendons are severed.

– A knife is potentially quicker than empty hands. The weight it adds to the hand is negligible, and you don’t have to put as much power behind strikes so they can be even quicker than a boxer’s jab.

– A knife is easier to carry and conceal than a gun – and with a modicum of practice quicker to deploy. One can generally carry reasonably effective but legal blades in the United States (countries like Sweden and the U.K. have outlawed carry of anything knifelike) and if you are stopped with something not technically legal it’s far more likely to be disregarded than a pistol – IF you are a woman or a middle-aged solid citizen and it’s not a “Rambo Killer Commando” fantasy blade from hell.

You must of course put in some time learning how to move a blade (including targeting, the yucky part) choose a method of carry that suits you, and practice deploying it.

So where can you learn how to use a knife?

More and more martial arts schools are including Filipino arts as part of the curriculum. This doesn’t guarantee you’ll get realistic training for self-defense though. What you’ll likely get is training for the kind of light recreation men in knife cultures engage in – the knife duel.

There is furthermore, a lot of video stuff available. Go to YouTube and you’ll find more stuff on knife fighting than you ever imagined. Much of it is Filipino/Indonesian. There is a lot of stuff alleged to be traditional Spanish, Italian or whatever as well. Trouble is, though you can pick up a lot if you have a grounding in martial arts, it’s not systematized.

For a systematic approach to learning, there are video courses available. Below are some examples I’m familiar with – which by no means exhausts the available resources. This is merely what I know of.

I have left out of consideration of some videos I think well of because the knife tactics you use will to some extent be determined by the size and design of the knife. James Keating and Bill McGrath have excellent videos on fighting with big knives of the Bolo or Bowie type. This is largely irrelevant to the needs of most people. Carrying a Bolo or Bowie (unless you are in costume and going to or coming from a historical reenactment event – that’s been established in the courts) is likely to be a serious bust. Not to mention it’s a knife that’ll actually make a bigger bulge under your coat than a pistol…

Some examples:

Lynn Thompson, president of Cold Steel knife comany has a video series, The Warrior’s Edge made with martial arts teacher Ron Balicki.

OK, so this is an exception to the above criterion. The series teaches Thompson’s own brand of long-range fighting with a big knife. I include it because it’s a good, comprehensive course in how to set up a training program based around a kind of sportive knife fencing.

I got my set cheap on eBay. From this, you and training partners can build a set of PVC boffer knives that’ll give you a lot of fun, exercise, and some useful moves. (Years ago in the Society for Creative Anachronism I created a knife fencing program for our shire using boffer daggers made out of old wrestling mat, cut to shape and wrapped in duct tape.)

Even more comprehensive in my opinion is Lameco Escrima stylist Felix Valencia’s Ultimate Knife Fighting course.

More comprehensive because it also deals with medium to short range fighting. Thompson dismisses this as too dangerous and favors long range. Probably true – but you don’t always get to pick. He also covers going to the ground with a knife (Yikes!) holdups, clinching and grappling, takedowns and a lot of stuff you’d rather not do, but may have to.

Libre Fighting has a three-DVD set on their method of boxing and knife fighting with a sturdy folder. Their basic six entries looks a lot like Wing Chun to me (though they don’t credit it,) which is one reason I like it. Another is the emphasis on using a more-or-less street legal knife.

DISCLAIMER: Because they’re training with smaller knives, they jettison the “defanging the snake” principle of Filipino martial arts in favor of going directly to deadly cuts and thrusts.

This falls into the category of “good tactical advice – lousey legal advice.” Google “Atienza Kali” and “homicide” – or simply “murder” and you’ll find the story of a Kali student currently doing 17 years hard for one deadly thrust given during a physical confrontation in a nightclub in NYC. (More on this later.)

It’s a bit difficult to get right now, but Aztec Warrior Princess Addy Hernandez (take a look at this lovely, fit woman and you’ll see why I coined the nickname) has a Silat-based knife DVD.

This one is very good I think because its based on different permutations of one short technique sequence. Easy to learn, easy to apply.

Also interesting because it’s based on a Silat stance where the body leans forward of the base a bit. Now in modern fencing the body is held straight up from the hips, but in a reprint of a 19th century fencing classic the master described a stance that leans a bit forward of the lower-body base. The reason I believe was, the sword protects the face and the abdomen is tucked a bit back because in that day and age before antibiotics abdominal wounds were almost always fatal.

Here you can find the Paladin catalog section devoted to knife and sword fighting. Some of the stuff I’m not familiar with so you pays your money you takes your chances.

Now for the big caveat – all of these courses are for knife dueling, not self-defense. They start out from the premise of two like-armed individuals facing off with weapons drawn. None of them devote any significant attention to carry and draw techniques. There’s no “knife iai-do.”

I trust I don’t have to point out that in the western world for good or ill (and I sometimes suspect manners and civility have suffered greatly because of this) duelling is seriously illegal?

Another thing Animal MacYoung pointed out about the Filipino arts in particular. The Filipinos like a knife fighting strategy called “defanging the serpent,” meaning to cut at the knife arm and off hand to neutralize the threat before thrusting to the deadly targets of the body and neck.

What Animal pointed out was that prosecutors and forensic examiners have another term for this. They call them “defensive wounds.” I.e. the M.E. is going to look at the late (un)lamented and determine he was murdered while frantically trying to fend off an agressor – or worse, after torture.

Animal also points out that most “knife fights” on the street are nothing of the sort, they are assaults with a knife by surprise, mostly from ambush.

All of the above can be great guides to training how to move a knife. For what actually happens on the street, get Animal’s two DVD’s on 1) Surviving, and 2) Winning a Street Knife Fight.

December 5, 2010

Knives, knife fighting, and nightmares – part 1

Filed under: Martial arts — Stephen W. Browne @ 9:09 am

For law enforcement officers, civilians, and martial artists, knives are a terrifying reality.

Police who have to get close to contacts to question or arrest them, have to keep in mind the possibility of them having something unobtrusive and deadly (maybe even perfectly legal) concealed about their person.

For civilians, the idea of being confronted by a knife-wielding robber – or worse a kidnapper, is a nightmare. On some primal level its even scarier than a gun, with good reason.

For martial artists, it’s a nightmare plus the shredding of their pride and self-image the first time it’s brought home to them that literally minutes of knife training beats a black belt.

I’ve written here about my primary martial art Pekiti Tirsia Kali which has a strong emphasis on blade use, the bush knife/short sword and dagger.

I’ve written about the new martial arts buzzword “combatives.” I wrote about the term coming into use to mean martial arts with a combat emphasis for military, police, and civilian self-defense here.

I covered briefly the history of military combatives and how the most relevant training for civilians came from the wartime OSS here.

I wrote how combatives is not new, but martial arts returning to their roots here.

I reviewed a little of what’s out there in books and instructional videos here. And here I discoursed a bit on what you can get out of the material if you’re training without a teacher of that specific discipline.

Most of these are mostly empty-hand oriented, with some time devoted to bare hand defense against a knife attack. Lots of luck. You’re going to need it.

The Fairbairn manual “Get Tough” has a few illustrations of basic moves with the Fairbairn-Sykes commando dagger. But the F-S dagger, essentially a modern version of the medieval misericorde, is designed to be used for “silent sentry removal,” or to put it bluntly an assassination with a quick thrust.

For years material on knife use was hard to come by. Those who knew something about it tended to keep it to themselves. The first published material on “knife fighting” such as David Steele’s “Secrets of Modern Knife Fighting,” or William L. Cassidy’s “The Complete Book of Knife Fighting” is mostly about different kinds of knives, a bit about the history of knife duelling, and a few techniques disconnected from any system.

Martial artists with training in weapons-based martial arts refrained from publishing knife systems from a sense of responsibility.

No more. The cat is out of the bag, he’s pissed off and clawing up everything in sight.

There are all kinds of video courses out there now. Some of them are even pretty good. Some present pretty complete systems of training. And a lot of the material is available for zero dollars on Youtube. You could go from video clip to clip and pick up a fairly complete system.

Not that it matters, a complete tyro with a knife, a single technique, and a lot of heart (also called “crazy”) is deadly enough.

In part 2 I’ll review some of the stuff available, reasons why a knife may be a better choice than a gun for self-defense IN SOME CIRCUMSTANCES (remember that caveat please,) and what kind of trouble the available material can get you into.

In the meantime reflect on this self-defense adage, “Run from a knife – attack a gun.”

And review Marc “Animal” MacYoung’s secton on knife fighting on No Nonesense Self-Defense here.

Go to part 2.

February 22, 2010

Training with Guro Danny again

Filed under: Martial arts — Stephen W. Browne @ 8:34 pm

Danny & me

This weekend I drove four-and-a-half hours to Minneapolis to the Minnesota Kali Group school to train with Guro Danny Inosanto.

Danny was one of Bruce Lee’s senior students, and his choice to carry on his art of Jeet Kune Do. Since Lee’s death, Danny has learned and taught… probably more martial arts than most martial artists have even heard of.

I trained with Guro Danny twenty years ago, perhaps about a hundred seminar-hours over 4-5 years since Terry Gibson invited me to become an associate student of his. I travelled regularly to Tulsa (about two hours drive away) to train at Terry’s Progressive Fighting Arts Academy (later Progressive Martial Arts) in Tulsa. As well as training with Terry I attended almost all the seminars in Terry’s school, with teachers such as: Ajarn Surichai Surisute, Muay Thai; Paul DeThouars, Pentjak Silat; Paul Vunak, Jeet Kune Do; Nino Bernardo, Wing Chun; and others.

I also trained closer to home with Sifu John Douvier of the Wu Wei Gung Fu/Mushin Kan lineage.

I hadn’t seen Danny in almost 20 years, since I took off for Poland in 1991. Of course he didn’t remember me when I reintroduced myself. He’s probably met as many people in the past 20 years as the population of some countries I’ve lived in.

It was great. Though just like I remembered, it’s a lot like trying to drink from a fire hose. Danny’s approach is to throw an awful lot of stuff at you, in 2-5 minute bites in rapid-fire succession, switching arts and styles constantly.

Still, what was inspiring was seeing Danny again; lively, quick, agile, witty and sharp, much the same as I remember him, minus some hair.

He’s 73!

Speaking as a 58-year-old with two small children – it’s a real upper.

January 1, 2010

Martial arts and combatives, pt 2: What can you get out of it?

Filed under: Martial arts — Tags: , — Stephen W. Browne @ 11:40 pm

In Martial arts and combatives, pt. 1 I mentioned some of the instructional stuff on combatives that’s out there.

A few weeks ago I rented a teaser DVD for the Defendo program, and right now I’m working my way through the Kevin O’Hagan’s Special Forces Close Combat System series I got through a used DVD sale from Goldstar Video Rentals.

I love the video age. Before videotapes if you didn’t have access to training in different arts and styles, you had to rely on books. There are good books out there, but they’re limited. The authors either had to go with lots of photos or drawings, and light on text, or fewer pics, which sacrifices continuity of technique.

Many of the books, such as those by Fairbairn and Dempsey, often show only the end or mid-point of a technique. How you get there is described in print, which doesn’t help much if you aren’t an experienced fighter.

And, in some of the classic stuff I cited in part 1, you get a curiously stiff and posed look in the photos. The line drawings in Fairbairn’s ‘Get Tough’ actually convey more of a sense of movement than the photos in ‘Defendu.

I think this has to do with the photographic technology of the time. Cameras then weren’t as good at taking action shots and required longer exposures. Which meant they had to hold a pose rather than capture an action shot. And the process for printing photos in books made the end product more expensive and often of poor quality.

It was worse in earlier times when illustrations were printed from woodcuts, though those illustrations were often marvelous. But there were very few of them in the fecthbuchen (manuals,) which is what makes recreating early European fighting arts from surviving manuals so dicey.

In the case of the Second World War-era manuals, I think they were writing for an audience of young men more prepared by their upbringing to learn from them.

Men grew up fighting then: on the playground, at work, on the streets and in bars. Brawling and recreational fisticuffs may have been considered kind of low-class, but it didn’t evoke the horror and calls for “intervention” that it does today. (Not to mention the legal consequences, both criminal and civil.)

What the manuals and training did was to teach “dirty tricks” and “low blows” that lethalized the brawling skills of recruits.

For anybody with boxing experience, this is fairly straightforward. Everyone who’s studied boxing as a sport has been taught the fouls and illegal moves. To weaponize boxing you start by practicing the fouls.

My point about this is, “combatives” teachers sometimes like to cop an attitude of “this isn’t martial arts, this is the real thing.” However, looking at these videos I see an awful lot of martial arts techniques. If you know something about bunkai (application) of traditional Karate kata for example, you see them in combatives DVDs: palm heel strickes, fist hammer, knife hand, ridge hand, and that rising outer forearm strike usually mis-called an “upward block.”

The difference is how they’re practiced. There’s something in the energy of the O’Hagan and the Defendo demonstrations that’s hard to describe, but you could call it intent. Though they’re pulling the blows, they actually look like they’re intending harm rather than trying to look good for an audience.

So what can you get out of them?

If you’re a practicing martial artist; application of techniques you’ve been taught but perhaps didn’t realize how to actualize, new ideas about how to chain them together, and a reminder of what martial arts is at base – a learned viciousness.

I say “learned” because though men are combative by nature, we are not lethally combative by nature. The so-called “animal” part of our nature is actually not geared to kill, but to fight for dominance. The “killer instinct” is that part of us which is specifically human.

More on this later…

What can you get out of these resources if you are not a skilled martial artist?

I don’t know. I haven’t been a beginner since I was a boy, and I’ve been pretty skilled for a while now. I’ve got some ideas though.

The goal of this kind of training is “maximum results in minimum time” as my friends at the International Police Defense Tactics Association put it.

But, police and military are teaching recruits they’ve already put through a lot of physical training. For civilians whose idea of PT is doing forearm curls with a beer stein…

Marc “Animal” MacYoung has some interesting things to say about “Dango Jiro Karate” (an inside joke, it means “Mulligan stew Karate” -or what my wife might call “bigos* Kung Fu”) but to my regret has not yet added this to his indispensible set of books and videos.

The goal for most of us is, 1) to have a system of self-defense relevant to our needs, 2) with a training regimen that doesn’t seriously screw with our lives, time and money-wise, and 3) has rewards beyond competence in self-defense (which we may never need,) and 4) teaches skills which can be maintained as part of a solo exercise regime.

Anything I missed? How about world peace and a cure for cancer?

Next: How this sedentary desk commando trains solo.

* Bigos is the national dish of Poland, a hunter’s stew made from saurkraut, mushrooms, kielbasa sausage, other meats, etc. It’s delicious and filling, take my word for it. But if you’re making it in an apartment, the whole building knows it…

December 20, 2009

Martial arts and combatives, Part 1: What’s out there?

Filed under: Martial arts — Tags: , , — Stephen W. Browne @ 9:11 am

I’ve written here about the study of one of my two primary martial arts styles Pekiti Tirsia Kali , and about the new fad for the study of “combatives” based on the training for soldiers and OSS operatives that evolved in the Second World War.

I wrote about the three foci of combatives for military, civilian and law enforcement, and how putting together a combatives training program tends to arrive at a new martial arts style.

Pardon the length between posts on the subject. What I’ve been doing in my copious free time is reviewing classic and modern texts on military combatives, and modern videos on the subject. It’s a very limited subset of what’s out there, but I think I’ve go a representative enough sample.

One of the classics I was already familiar with from the well-equipped library on the Navy base I grew up around, such as Rex Applegate. I read Fairbairn’s Get Tough years ago, and recently read his more detailed
book ‘Defendu.’

I also picked up the classic Jack Dempsey manual he wrote for the Coast Guard in WWII, a reprint of Charles Nelson’s, ‘The Red and Gray Manuals,’ and Cosneck’s 1959 manual of ‘American Combat Judo.’

For moderns I’ve read some of Peyton Quinn’s stuff, a scenario-based book by Larry Jordan, and most everything by Marc “Animal” MacYoung.

Currently I’m going over Mark Hatmaker’s, ‘No Second Chance,’ Complete Krav Maga and Kevin O’Hagan’s, ‘Special Forces Close Quarters Combat Systems’ on DVD.

I got the set of DVDs from a used DVD sale at Goldstar Video Rentals, a treasure beyond price for serious martial artists wanting to research different approaches to the age-old philosophical problem of, “How do I get out of this $#!+?”

Another treasure for the serious martial arts researcher is SmartFlix. Go to both, there is a difference in emphasis in what they carry and not a lot of overlap. Rental fees are very reasonable, especially since you’re probably only interested in watching most of them once, and Goldstar has a buy option.

I should mention Nakayama and Draeger’s, ‘Practical Karate’ series. Though this is not “combatives” per se, it’s about the practical application of Japanese Karate with scenario-based illustrations.

Scenario-based training is something I’m going to develop further. If you’ll have a look here, you’ll find a kind of scenario-based training that is very intriguing, in a terrifying sort of way. I’ve trained a very little bit in Russian Systema and will have more to say about it.

An example of scenario training in Systema for a more likely scenarios can be found here.

Please note I am not trying to slight anyone by omission. There is a lot of interesting-looking product out there I simply do not have the cash to check out, or the time for that matter.

One warrior I’ve heard referenced with respect and awe is Geoff Thompson of the UK. I haven’t seen his videos or books, but I’m dying to.

When I win the lottery. First thing. Him and about a hundred other DVD sets.

Next: Martial arts and combatives, Part 2: What can you get out of it?

December 2, 2009

A martial artist looks at the White House party crashers

Filed under: Martial arts — Tags: , , — Stephen W. Browne @ 1:29 pm

Tareq and Michaele Salahi, in hot water for crashing the White House party, are now saying they had applied for invitations and showed up, “to just check in, in case it got approved since we didn’t know, and our name was indeed on the list!”

Oh God, I hope it’s not true!

Crashing a White House party is major cool! and the Salahis got some face time with President Barack Obama, first lady Michelle Obama, and Vice President Joe Biden. Double cool! I so hope this was a prank and not just dumb luck.

I know the President’s guards have security concerns and are catching hell for this. But damn, what bragging rights!

I’ve got an observation about this from the point of view of a martial artist, and it doesn’t matter if it was planned or dumb luck.

Presidential security, any security organization charged with protecting life and property, is trained to perceive and deal with threats. A threat, to bodyguards, is most often a person or persons nearby with the intent to do harm. That intent creates in an aggressor, certain subtle patterns of behavior that people with experience and competent use-of-force training learn to recognize.

The below-consciousness interior dialog in a trained man’s mind might sound something like, “Why’s that guy wearing a long coat in warm weather? Why’s that guy roaming around the periphery of the crowd so purposefully? Why’s that guy got shifty eyes?”

One can be trained to avoid giving these signals to a target’s security, but it’s difficult at best, especially under stress.

The Secret Service fell asleep on this one precisely because Salahis weren’t assassins, spies, or saboteurs. They weren’t on a mission – they were on a lark.

The Salahis were completely without malice, and thus failed to alarm the trained “instincts” of the President’s bodyguards.

The most skilled interloper will, when up close, run afoul of what the Japanese call “wa,” often translated as “group harmony.” PODJAPAN defines it, “Wa is a feeling close to perfection: a group situation in which everything goes smoothly, without contestation or ill will, everyone knows their place and acts accordingly.”

Pros like the Secret Service can feel when there’s someone in the group with ill intentions – but try explaining that. I have no idea what the investigation into security lapses is going to reveal about procedures not followed, or which need to be revised. But I’d bet the most important factor isn’t going into the report.

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