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Scaling Force in Self-Defense – Part 3

LEVEL 5—LESS-LETHAL FORCE

Welcome to Level 5. Here, you are committing a crime. It doesn’t matter whether you are actually charged with one or not, Level 5 is a crime. If you’re a black belt or ranked tournament competitor, it’s pretty easy for the district attorney to find out via a quick Google search. In most jurisdictions, “trained fighters” are held to a higher standard than regular folks when it comes to prosecuting violence, so you really need to watch yourself if you’re in this category.

At best it is a simple assault, but if things go awry it could be anything from aggravated assault to manslaughter to murder. If intent, means, opportunity, and preclusion are there, with a good lawyer, a lot of money, and a little luck, you will be off the hook because the actions you took outweigh the competing harm of what the other guy was going to do to you. As mentioned previously, self-defense is an affirmative plea; you admit to the crime and then need to prove you had a good reason not to be held accountable.

Level 5 is about damaging the other guy, typically so that you can withdraw and flee to safety.

Consequently, less-lethal force tends to be delivered via striking techniques. While there are a limited number of striking elements such as elbows, knees, hands, feet, forearms, shins, and head, targeting makes a significant difference in the level of force applied. A punch to the ribs for example may cause damage, but the effect is largely psychological when it comes to ending a fight. The exact same punch to the jaw hinge, on the other hand, could cause loss of consciousness. Location matters.

Most fights end when one guy or the other gives up, rather than when he can no longer continue to battle. In a fistfight, it is tough to do enough physiological damage to kill or severely disable someone. If you watch MMA competitions, for example, you will see competitors who have been kicked or kneed in the head continue to fight, and those who are knocked out virtually always walk away from the ring under their own power afterward. The psychological damage from a broken bone will take many people out of a fight. Many, but by no means all… “Knockout” blows don’t always work.

The goal of less-lethal force is to stop an attacker and facilitate your escape to safety without permanently injuring or killing him. Sometimes you hit him. Sometimes you knock him into something that can cause pain or injury. Or use an implement to whack him with.\

Nevertheless, the things you do in this category should be less likely to cause lethal damage or permanent injury than actions taken at the next level on the force continuum. This goal generally means employing empty-hand techniques designed to incapacitate or using tools such as pepper spray or Tasers that are designed to be less than lethal.

Strictly speaking, Tasers and OC are pain compliance tools, Level 4. Pepper spray is an irritant. Fifteen minutes or so of cold water or forty-five minutes in a breeze and your eyes might still be red but everything is fine. Once the Taser is done cycling, you have two barbed needles in you, roughly the equivalent of getting a fishhook in your thumb. Neither tool does enough physical damage to stop anyone.

However, there is a perception that any tool, even a tool designed to do NO physiological damage is a higher level of force than an unarmed technique that is readily capable of damage, like a jointlock. That perception, which is something you can expect from a jury or a prosecutor, is why we chose to classify these tools at Level 5 for the purpose of this book.

“Less-lethal” weapons are explicitly designed and primarily employed to incapacitate people, while minimizing fatalities, permanent injury, and damage to property or the environment. These weapons include devices such as Tasers or OC (Oleoresin Capsicum or “pepper”) spray that are employed by civilians and law enforcement officers alike (though civilians have fewer options to choose from). Simply because these items are designed to be non-lethal does not mean that they have a zero probability of maiming or killing someone.

It is not just what you use, but how you use it. Knocking the other guy onto a piece of furniture often plays better in court than smacking him over the head with a chair, for example, even though you can do similar damage either way.

Other types of weapons that could be used in less than lethal ways are often seen as a higher level of force when adjudicated by the courts. Even the tactical baton, which is not even designated as a deadly weapon some places, tends to be held to that standard more often than not when deployed by a civilian because of the damage it could do, not necessarily because of the damage it does when you use it. In certain instances, you may be judged by the target (e.g., leg versus head) when the prosecutor decides which charges to bring, but you probably shouldn’t count on that.

Use of an implement explicitly designed as a weapon raises the stakes even further. For example, a knife is a tool, but in most jurisdictions it is designated a deadly weapon. Consequently, while you could use an unopened folding knife for control techniques, in most jurisdictions you will be charged with the aggravated assault (or attempted murder), just like you would be if you had opened the blade.

Similarly, you could use a firearm to leverage an armbar, but that’d be stupid. Because you should plan on having to justify its use as Level 6, we will take the conservative route and cover these types of weapons in the next section.

Hitting Hard

If you are going to damage someone, you will need to hit hard to do it. Or use a tool. We will assume that if you are studying some type of martial art, you will become proficient with the tactics and techniques of your style. Consequently, we are not going to delve too deeply into the mechanics of striking. You can’t master this stuff from a book anyway. Nevertheless, there are a few principles that are worth relating that apply to most any fighting method.

Stay connected

Be it a kick or a punch, body alignment is the key to hitting hard. The more connected your striking appendage is to your body, the more energy is transferred into the target. That is why a straight punch that lands with the elbow down, shoulder relaxed, spine straight, and deltoid muscles locked down tight hurts more than an identical punch where the elbow is raised a bit. Every joint has a potential for a disconnect. This disconnectedness breaks the “power chain,” allowing energy to bleed off. You are hitting with your arm rather than with your full body weight. Don’t break the power chain.

Use your core

Try this with a partner: Shake hands. Using your forearm, you will see that you only move his forearm. If you use your shoulder, however, you can move his whole arm. If you use your hip, so that your whole body is engaged, you can move his core. Tying with the previous principle, a connected power chain helps you put your entire body weight behind your blows so that nothing bleeds off when you strike from you core.

Accelerate

Acceleration is critical too. If the speed remains constant, you are pushing the other guy; whereas if your blow lands faster than it started, you are striking. You can strike much faster if you relax until the moment your fist (or foot or whatever) hits the target and then tense your whole body than you can if you remain tense the entire time. Actually, with good bone to bone structure, the tensing is unnecessary and slows down your recovery, but that requires a lot of skill to apply. Weight drops add additional force too.

Practice

Staying connected using your core and accelerating into your target will markedly increase your effectiveness, but you need to practice in order to make it work reliably. Practicing with a heavy bag or makiwara (striking post) can help you build and refine these fundamentals of striking. Simply pressing against a solid object and feeling your body alignment helps.

Specialized Body Opponent Bags (BOBs) help with targeting too. The BOB is shaped like the torso and head of real person. There are also extended models that include the groin. BOB facilitates contouring strikes to various vital points such as the eyes, and is soft enough to strike hard without damaging your hands, assuming you do it correctly.

Drills with striking pads or shields will help you move from static to dynamic positioning and help you adjust to different ranges. In a fight, you can bet your target will be moving. You must practice delivering effective power to a moving target. This type of practice is very useful because unlike sparring, you can go full out without endangering your training partner. Do work up to it slowly under proper supervision so that you don’t hurt yourself.

Hand Techniques

Martial artists learn dozens of striking techniques with their hands. Some relate to the position of the fist and rotation of the arm when it connects with the adversary, such as an uppercut, standing fist, or fore-fist punch, all of which can be found in the classical karate “corkscrew.” Others relate to the part of the hand that you strike with your opponent with, such as hammerfist, palm heel, knuckles, or fingers. Others yet relate to the trajectory that the punch follows to its target, such as a swing strike, straight punch, or hook.

Open-hand techniques can be safer to perform than closed hand ones on the street, as Mike Tyson discovered the hard way when he broke his hand punching fellow boxer Mitch Green in a bar fight in 1988. Unless you are a very experienced martial artist, it is best to stay away from most closed-fisted techniques, save for the hammerfist where you are hitting with the side of your hand. Oftentimes a palm-heel or other open-hand strike is as effective as and much safer than hitting with your knuckles.

If you are skilled enough to strike with a closed hand, be sure to connect with the first two knuckles (base of your index and middle finger) rather than the last two. This connection aligns the hand with the arm properly and is much less likely to result in debilitating injury if you hit the wrong target. Boxers, MMA competitors, and others who practice with gloves often hit improperly and injure themselves in street fights. Regardless, closed fists that are seen by witnesses, or more importantly captured on film, do not play as well in front of a jury as open hands do, despite the fact that skilled practitioners can cause serious injury either way. Even though millions of people spend at least a little time in a dojo, often in their youth, most jurors’ “experience” with fighting in general and martial arts in particular stems from Hollywood movies, not real life experience. This can be a real challenge in court.

You can also strike with your elbow or forearm. These are very effective striking surfaces if you have limited experience because you can hit hard with somewhat less risk of injuring yourself than using your hand. Examine your art; many so-called “blocks” are actually forearm strikes when performed properly.

Foot Techniques

Kicks begin by forcefully lifting the knee as quickly as possible. If the adversary is close enough, this movement becomes the initial strike. Depending on where you aim and your proximity to the other guy, it is possible to strike with the knee and leg or foot all with the same motion, connecting multiple times. The higher you lift your knee, within reason, the better. Like a punch, the foot should be moving faster when it lands than when it begins or it will wind up being more of a push than a strike. Pushes can be useful, but they rarely cause damage (unless the other guy stumbles into or lands on something that hurts him).

After the knee lift, you can perform different kicks by varying what the rest of your leg does. For example, to do a front kick, swing your foot up, snap it forward, and bring it back as quickly as possible (sorta like trying to kick your own butt on the return motion). For a stomp kick, drive your foot downward leading with your heel. To do a sidekick, rotate your hip and snap the kick out to the side. Front kicks, stomps, and sidekicks are generally the easiest kicks to learn, although fancier applications like axe kicks have their place as well. Having said that, however, if you are going to kick an adversary in a fight, the safest place to aim is below his waist. Low kicks are faster, more direct, and harder to block than high ones. They also help you retain your balance.

While many martial artists train barefoot, your feet are much more likely than not to be shod if you get into a real fight. That means your boot or shoe can become a weapon. Or it can blunt some of the force of the blow. Certain types of footwear make great striking surfaces (for example, steel-toed boot), and they protect your foot too.

Be sure to practice kicking in shoes. This could damage a BOB or heavy bag, so you might consider using a fencepost, makiwara, or even a wall. Start with low power and gradually build up. As you do, practice using the shoe in a way that does not injure your foot. You will find quickly that with soft shoes, like most athletic trainers, you will want to curl your toes back much like a traditional barefoot strike. With hard-soled shoes, like dress shoes or boots, you will find that pressing your toes hard against the sole allows you to use the point of the sole as a striking surface, like kicking with a board.

Assaults happen at a much closer range than most people practice sparring. This distance especially affects kicks. Whether kicking above the waist is a good tactic is one question. The simple fact is that in most assaults, you won’t have the room.

We will do variations on this exercise a couple of times: Go hit a heavy bag as hard and fast as you can. Flurry on it for maximum damage, the same way a predator would try to take you out. Then let the bag dangle and see how close you are. That is the range where your techniques need to work. Toe kicking the ankle is one of the best techniques simply because there often is not room for anything else.

Contouring

Contouring is a very important component of fighting, yet it is commonly overlooked because it becomes pretty much irrelevant in tournament competitions where safety gear and heavy gloves change the dynamics. Contouring helps you identify the best target for any given technique, assuring that you do maximum damage to the adversary and minimize the risk of injury to yourself. In general, hard parts strike soft targets and vice versa.

If you have ever punched someone in the jaw with your closed fist, you undoubtedly know how painful that can be for both parties. Hard fist to hard jaw is not good. A palm-heel strike to the jaw, on the other hand, can be quite effective. Soft palm to hard jaw works. It not only meets the contouring rule, but it is far more painful for the other guy.

If you take a close look at all of your striking surfaces, your feet, hands, knees, and elbows, you can see how targeting works at a more granular level. For example, a single knuckle or finger strike fits the solar plexus better than the whole fist, even when you make it properly by connecting solely with the first two knuckles. A hammerfist aligns much better with the temple or the forehead than it does with the stomach where an uppercut or palm-up straight punch might better apply. A bear claw (second knuckle of all four fingers) or web hand (between the thumb and index finger) can strike the throat, whereas a palm heel simply will not fit.

The same approach works with your feet too. Even when shod, the blade edge of your foot aligns best with the other guy’s knee, while the ball of your foot makes a good fit with his groin or midsection, particularly if you use an upward arc when you strike. Alignment of the foot matters too; the heel works better for a stomp or back kick than it does for a front kick. As you can see, different types of kicks are best for different targets.

Making It Work When You Are Losing

Okay, so you know how to hit hard. Most martial artists do. The challenge in a Level 5 (or Level 6) encounter is that unless you are the attacker, odds are good that you are losing. If you were winning, you would not need to take things to Level 5. And that’s the real bitch. Losing in an assault is not like losing at sparring or randori, no matter how intense the match.

This simple fact is where so much self-defense advice falls apart.

What does it feel like to be on the losing end of an assault? Everything is wrong. The bad guy set it up for you to be at a disadvantage. The action will be too close, too fast. Pain and damage will be coming in. Totally untrained people hit four times a second. An experienced violent criminal, unarmed, will likely hit you four times before your brain can switch from whatever you were thinking about before to your fighting mode.

If the threat is armed, the speed does not change. The damage just increases.

Experienced criminals will hamper your mobility. The attack will be close. Try this: Go to a heavy bag and set an alarm or get someone to blow a whistle. Relax. When the whistle blows, unload on the heavy bag as fast and hard as you can. Have the whistle blow again in three seconds. Freeze. Let the bag hang.

When the bag hangs, it is probably touching you. Maybe you have taken the center and the bag is leaning on you. That is how close a bad guy will be in the midst of an assault. That is the range that all of your self-defense striking needs to work from.

Even worse, there are exceptions, but most threats will attack from flank or rear in an assault. Again, if you see it coming, if a guy squares off at the sparring distance you are used to, it is not self-defense. Not only must your targeting and power generation adapt to different ranges, but you need to know how to damage someone behind you.

Expect part of your body to be controlled. Both good guys and bad guys naturally index—grab the opponent to make hitting with the other fist more accurate. Some go further and have practiced immobilizing a body or yanking someone off balance simultaneously with a strike or stab.

All of this may happen in an enclosed place with bad footing and limited visibility.

Self-defense at Level 5 or above is a desperate situation. It won’t be pretty. Everything you learned about timing in sparring flies out the window. You may have been shoved against a wall or vehicle, unbalanced, awkwardly twisted, or falling. You may be reeling from a punch or kick or you may have been stabbed or shot. But you still must be able to fight, and fight effectively, in cramped, close conditions while unbalanced, held, and possibly with your structure compromised, despite being injured, and with limited or no visibility.

Piece of cake.

Causing Damage

As mentioned previously, Level 5 is about damage. You are no longer trying to discourage or control bad behavior. You are trying to make the threat incapable of bad behavior. Level 5 is all about breaking a human being.

In truth, it rarely works that way. Humans, like all animals, are physically tough and can survive a tremendous amount of damage. Really dedicated individuals have continued to fight or save others while literally shot to pieces:

  • Jacklyn “Jack” Lucas was just sixteen years old when he dove onto two Japanese grenades to save his squad mates, taking more than 250 pieces of shrapnel into his body. He was hit in every major organ, including six pieces in his brain and two in his heart. And he lived.
  • Matt L. Urban was shot seven times, including once in the throat, yet managed to kill 116 German soldiers in one day during World War II. He survived to become the most decorated soldier in the history of the U.S. armed forces.
  • Jacksonville police officer Jared Reston was ambushed and shot seven times with a .45 caliber semi-automatic pistol yet managed to turn the tables and kill his attacker. He was hit three times in the torso and once in the chin, elbow, left thigh, and right buttock, yet he survived.
  • John Finn was hit 21 times by bomb and bullet fragments as he tried to hold off Japanese planes with a machinegun during the attack on Pearl Harbor. He refused to leave his post until he got a direct order to seek medical attention.

Humans take a lot of breaking. Usually.

Sometimes it goes the other way, and a little breaking raises the stakes, makes the predator reevaluate his game plan. When a rabbit turns on a coyote and kicks it, and the coyote leaves (or a cat makes an alligator back down), it is not because the prey did so much damage the predator was impaired, it just raised the stakes beyond what the predator was willing to pay.

This may sound like we are talking out of both sides of our mouths. Sorry about that, but this isn’t a black and white issue. Every encounter is different. Nevertheless, it is about damage, which will usually work because of discouragement. So you see, both of those things are true. Humans take a lot of breaking, but often that is enough. What is important is that, if you are justifiably at these survival levels, your focus must be on damage. Let the threat work out his own psychology. If he quits because he is discouraged and leaves, fine. Freaking fantastic! If not, you do not stop until you are safe.

Dealing damage at close quarters under surprise, the essence of Level 5 hinges on three principles: timing, power generation, and targeting. If you have studied a striking art, these are the same concepts that make any strike work. The difference in Level 5 is the context.

Timing

We are dispensing with this one first because it is both the easiest and the one where everything you know from sparring is wrong.

Timing in sparring is a cross between a chess match and a jazz jam session. It is a complex, highly developed art and skill. In the mix of complex distances (centerlines, of course, but also reach with different limbs and range to different targets), differential speeds (yours, his, leg and hand, and bob and weave speeds), and personalities, there is a balance of offense and defense, and psychological and physical skills that make timing one of the big equalizers. A small man with superb timing can often easily defeat a big, strong man with shitty timing.

That’s all cool. And none of it applies.

Ambush changes everything. The distance and the facing (threat to your back or flank) are chosen by the aggressor. He will be right at the range where his strikes will create the most power. The critical distance line, or step, or half step to develop the range that you rely on in sparring was crossed before you knew what was happening.

Speed is based on several factors, but the flurry of attacks will probably spike your OODA loop (sometimes referred to as “Boyd’s Law” for military strategist Colonel John R. Boyd who codified it as a way of quantifying reaction times in combat). OODA stands for Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act. In laymen’s terms, it is a cognitive cycle you must pass through to figure out what the hell is going on, determine your preferred response, decide to take action, and counterstrike. Several microseconds may pass, although it could possibly take minutes if you are frozen. All of your legendary speed in the ring will be pissed away as you instinctively wait for your opening or the break in his timing that you would usually exploit.

Your concepts of offense and defense are out the window under an onslaught of damage. He is not defending himself, and is counting on the swift repetitive damage to keep you from counterattacking. That approach allows him to put everything into attacking you. To defend each of his attacks AND counterattack, you must be twice as fast as he is, likely twice as fast as a human can be.

And the personalities. Everyone has a fighting personality. If you have sparred, you have developed one. The ice-cold counterstriker. The guy who dominates the center and owns the ring. The tricky one… Yadda yadda yadda. Who cares? It takes time to access that mode. You know when you are going to spar, and you have time to prepare. Even assuming your normal fighting personality has any value under an assault (most don’t), you won’t be assaulted when you are in that mode (unless your attacker is a blithering idiot).

Whether the threat hit you with complete surprise while you are in your nine-to-five brain, or he distracted you with the interview, or he’s a charm predator who used his social skills to put you in social mode, or the threat let the tension build up until you were adrenalized beyond what you could handle, you almost certainly cannot access your fighting personality. You don’t get to pick what kind of mind you will have in an assault.

The threat’s personality will be unlike anything you have experienced in training. This is not a partner dedicated to helping you get better. This is not someone that, under the doctrine of “mutual benefit and welfare,” will work to NOT injure you. This is not someone who will respect a tap or a point.

Your predator may be a scared kid feeling like he is losing control on his first crime and does not know how to regain control without resorting to extreme violence. It may be a hardened felon who will use extreme force without any thought of you, just a quick assessment of the odds of getting caught. It may be someone who enjoys the feeling of domination as he makes someone bleed and beg. It is very, very unlikely that you have hit any of these personalities in normal training. Most instructors would not let a uncontrolled predator anywhere near their dojo.

That’s all the reasons the timing you have learned will not help.

Here is what will. Timing in a real-life assault is simple: You are at Level 5. You need to put some damage and kinetic energy into the threat. You hit the threat when you can.

You see an opening? You hit it. That simple. You hit it fast and you hit it hard, and you keep hitting any opening that you see until you can safely escape.

Regardless of incoming damage. Regardless of whether it is a scoring target. Regardless of whether you can hit it with a proper technique.

Timing under assault is simple. You hit what you can when you can.

And keep hitting.

Until the threat is no longer a danger to you.

Power Generation under Adversity

“The unforgivable crime is soft hitting. Do not hit at all if it can be avoided; but never hit softly.”

—Teddy Roosevelt

Once you have been doing it for a while, generating power when you are striking a heavy bag, makiwara, or BOB is not all that tough for most martial artists. But it doesn’t work so well when you are losing. When your structure is compromised. When you’re bleeding and in pain. That is when it’s tough to hit hard. But that’s when it is absolutely necessary. You will end the situation only by getting kinetic energy onto the threat in a place that will put him down.

The threat is not afraid of your strength or physicality. If he were, he would have attacked someone else. Either because you are smaller and weaker, or because you are already injured, or because he is able to position you in such a way that he is confident you cannot apply power, the other guy is not worried about you.

Most of what you know about power generation is based on foot placement and distance. That is good and if you hit hard with specific techniques at specific distances, you should be working to get at that distance, but the threat usually won’t allow you to start there.

We are not going to concentrate on this kind of power. Usually the threat has already neutralized it. We are going to concentrate on the cheats that work up close and personal:

  • Using a tool.
  • Using the environment.
  • Using torque.
  • Using gravity.
  • Using momentum.
  • Using aggressive forward pressure.

Using a tool

You are not an ape. Use a tool. This is the thing that trained martial artists forget most often. It is so obvious that we are almost too embarrassed to write it: use a tool. There is a reason that no one in all of recorded history has voluntarily gone into battle unarmed; to do so is stupid.

You will not be in control. That’s one of the hallmarks of high-level (5 and 6) survival fighting. The odds of your having a weapon in hand are close to zero. But if you can access a tool, use it.

You can hit harder with a slightly curved paperback book than with your hand. A pencil can do things your finger strikes cannot. Your computer bag or purse makes a fine flexible club or flail and there is no chance of breaking your own hand like with a fist blow to the head.

The challenge with tools is that they often raise the stakes to Level 6. Tools are weapons. You need to be able to justify them. The type of tool can be important too. In many jurisdictions, there are legal distinctions between deadly weapons and dangerous ones. A deadly weapon is generally defined as anything manifestly designed, made, or adapted for the purposes of inflicting death or serious physical injury. The term includes objects like firearms, knives, swords, and explosive devices.

Use and carrying of deadly weapons, concealed or openly, is governed by state and federal laws. If you carry one, know the laws where you live and travel. Because of differences among the various states, a person who is lawfully permitted to possess a weapon in one state may be precluded from doing so in another. Generally, use of such devices during the commission of a crime enhances the nature of and penalty for that crime. For example, while striking someone with your fist might be considered simple assault (depending on the circumstances), doing the same thing with the butt of a pistol could become aggravated assault, a felony.

A dangerous weapon, on the other hand, is something that can be used to injure or kill a person, but was not expressly built for that purpose. Items like hot coffee, fire extinguishers, beer bottles, rocks, and vehicles (in some jurisdictions) can fall into that category.

One implication of this difference is that if you are carrying a deadly weapon, you may have a more difficult time claiming self-defense than if you happen to find a dangerous weapon lying around and use it in an impromptu manner. In the former case, you may have to prove that you were not looking for trouble when you left home carrying the device. The prosecutor will want to stack the jury with folks who do not carry concealed weapons and, depending on where you live, may be successful in doing so. Also, concealed carry permits are not available in all places.

On the other hand, a deadly weapon is typically holstered or carried in such a way that you can deploy it quickly and efficiently. When fighting for your life, impromptu weapons are not always available and suboptimal at best. There are trade-offs for everything.

I will talk more about weapons in Level 6.

Using the environment

Fights happen in places. Again, this is one of the truisms that is so obvious we feel stupid writing it. In most martial arts and martial sports, every effort has been made to keep the environment clean, uncluttered, and safe. Floors and even walls are often padded. The broken glass and, occasionally, used condoms and discarded syringes of some of the nastier places are noticeably absent. Grappling is almost never practiced with beer bottles or pieces of brick lying about conveniently.

Training without this stuff lying around is good for developing specific skills. But it also creates blind spots.

Real life:

The gangbanger did something stupid, took a swing, probably. Side effect of years and encounters, I usually only remember the spectacular ones or the ones I learned something from. A simple takedown on a swing doesn’t deserve memory space. What I remember is that he hit the ground face down, as I intended and then I noticed the baggy pants, sagging to knee-level. I stood on the crotch (not the threat’s crotch, the crotch of the saggy pants). He was completely immobilized, pinned to the ground, both legs locked straight.

Training:

The visiting aikido instructor slapped his hands to the inside of his knees as he knelt, causing his hakama to fan out in a beautiful vee on the floor. I thought it looked cool, so I imitated the action. My sensei shook his head. “We don’t do that in this school.” Dave told me later, “It looks pretty but you just step on the hakama and he can’t stand up.”

More damage at less risk to yourself is done when you slam a threat into a corner, more than anything you can do with your fist, foot, or elbow. Pushing a coffee table into his shin. The ground-and-pound on a concrete or asphalt surface: this isn’t a match and this isn’t an octagon. When the threat tries to take your face off, the slightest miss plants his fist in the unforgiving concrete.

Curbs and stairs are for tripping over. Doors are solid wooden lever arms when it comes to bashing and some doorknobs are set at a good height to chip the tailbone.

A parked car, park bench, or brick wall. They are all useful tools—if you smash the other guy into them. That’s the cool part, you do not need to draw or reach for anything. Just be aware of your surroundings and use them strategically. Knocking someone into an object tends to play better in court than picking something up and hitting him with it anyway.

The environment can be your friend. Use it.

Using torque

Explosive rotation can add power to your blow. An easy example of this is an inside-chest block. Have a partner stick his arm out simulating a punch and strike it with the inside of your forearm by raising your arm and swinging straight across. Even if your arm is accelerating at the point of impact, this move should not hurt your partner’s arm. If you simultaneously rotate your forearm as you connect the blow should feel much more powerful. Now, do it again, but explosively like a sneeze.

The same principle applies to a hammerfist or backfist strike. Even if you cannot move very far, rapid rotation at the moment of impact can magnify the blow. You can do this move with a standard punch too. For example, start with a standing fist and then rotate into a fore-fist punch. Be sure to keep your elbow down, body aligned properly, and accelerate as fast as possible. In this manner, you can hit fairly hard even with a very short range of movement.

Torque is useful when you are very close to or tangled up with your assailant. Explosive rotation adds power to what may otherwise be an ineffectual blow even when your structure is suboptimal or compromised.

Using gravity

Using body weight is one of the big equalizers, especially for small people and especially in close quarters where you may not have the room to put momentum into a fist.

Odds are if you grab a bigger person by the head, you cannot pull him down, but if you jump in the air and swing off his neck, he will be lucky if hitting the floor is the only injury he takes.

The drop step is one of the most effective and simple methods for generating a lot of power. It gets missed, sometimes, but the body mechanics are found in every striking system. It was best described in Jack Dempsey’s long out-of-print book, Championship Fighting: Explosive Punching and Aggressive Defense.

The drop step is, in essence, deliberately falling. It uses gravity as a speed and power multiplier. The cool thing is that gravity doesn’t telegraph. There are no tells to falling.

The concept is simple. Stand with your feet shoulder width or a little more apart and suddenly lift one. You will immediately begin falling to that side. If you do it right, which you won’t at first. This is because trained martial artists have been told since the first day to always stay on balance.

Now some schmoe is writing in an article that sometimes it is very useful to fall on purpose.

So you go with your years of training and subtly, subconsciously, shift your weight to your left foot before raising your right. So you do not fall right away, but slowly, like a teetering tree. Furthermore, the shift of weight to the other side is the telegraph that the technique should not have.

If your right foot snaps up with no attempt to control balance, you will move, falling faster than you could step.

Often saying the words does not help. A trick you can use is to snap your right foot to touch your left knee as quickly as you can. The effect you want is not a step, but like a leg that has suddenly been removed from a stool.

Your foot will get back to the ground in time to keep you from falling down.

The drop step, properly executed allows you to deliver considerable power in a tight space and even to the rear or flank. Once you get the timing right, you can use the same principle even if you are falling uncontrollably because the other guy knocked you off balance. Strike at the moment of impact, using your weight as a power multiplier.

Using momentum

You will be pushed, pulled, lifted, hit, and jerked in a fight. Your base is disrupted. That is one of the reasons why trained people find power severely weakened. If you aren’t prepared for it and get psychologically overwhelmed, the chaos of a fight will freeze you.

Understand that this chaotic movement is the natural environment of a fight. It is just the way things are. If you are a fighter, you should be comfortable with someone trying to swing you into a wall or shove you down the stairs. This is normal. You may have to spend some energy getting used to normal.

Judo tachi-waza randori (standing free sparring) and sumo are both excellent ways to get used to the dynamic of moving and being moved.

When you become comfortable with being moved, this chaos and loss of base become gifts that you can use to make your application of force more effective. The threat grabbing you by the hair and forcing you down may also be forcing you into his own knees making it easier to throw him. The threat pushing you into a wall is also giving you force so that when you twist, he will plant hard.

Mentally, using momentum is easy. Rather than stop the threat’s force, you keep it going, maybe with some slight steering so that he runs himself into a solid object. Or you throw your short punch so that the threat is moving into it, adding his power to yours. Or you simply get out of the way.

The dull bong from the booking counter sounded wrong. Unusual. Any unusual sound in a jail is likely to be bad, so I headed that way. One of my officers was standing over a big drunk who wasn’t moving much.

“G, what did you do?”

“Nothing, sarge. I just stepped out of the way.”

The drunk had tried a football rush on the officer. When the officer simply stepped out of the way, the drunk drove his own head into the stainless steel counter. The officer never touched him. The drunk needed an ambulance, nevertheless.

Using momentum can get complicated and it is something learned best by feel. If the threat is moving, he has momentum based on his weight and trajectory (speed and direction). If you can manipulate his trajectory, you can exploit his momentum.

Any time that you are moving, or being moved, you have momentum that can be used in a fight. Even being yanked off balance backward by the hair, one of the most common attacks on women, can be exploited by jumping or falling with the pull and leading with an elbow.

If the threat is hanging on to you and either or both of you are moving, you make a system with possible rotational momentum and a shared center of gravity. That is a fancy way of saying that if the threat swings you in a circle, spinning you around his center of gravity and you suddenly drop, his own force will cause him to swing around your center of gravity. His lifting you onto your toes adds power to your uppercut.

Pretty cool, huh?

Using aggressive forward pressure

Sparring, often, is a game of distance and timing. That means that there is a lot of circling and backing up. Those actions can become habits. Practitioners try to maintain their separation, just out of the critical distance, and that becomes their comfort zone. It is an assumed condition that people who spar a lot often center their tactics and strategy around. This approach works great in the ring. It helps them win the competition. Unfortunately, it’s worse than useless in most brawls on the street.

When you are under attack and overwhelmed, the dynamics change considerably. We are aware of two reliable options that can help you turn the tables on your adversary. Neither are techniques, nor are they wholly mindsets. They are an aggregate of attitude and principles and strategy. In the first option, you turn fear into anger and with aggressive forward pressure, ignoring damage, and taking the offense completely. You fight your way through the threat to safety. Colloquially, that’s going “ape-shit” on the other guy.

The other option is rare and we do not know anyone, no matter how solid their training, who has been able to access it the first time they were attacked. Or even the tenth time in many cases… But there is a place where you go icy calm and everything the threat does and is becomes merely a gift or tool to exploit. Train for this skill, but do not count on the mindset. Not the first time.

If all else fails, aggressive forward pressure can get you out of many precarious situations. You will need a certain level of structural integrity (spinal alignment, balance, etc.) and a lot of attitude in order to pull it off. It works quite well when you can make it happen, but it is not the end all, be all by any means. Nevertheless, aggressive forward pressure can be a good way of turning the tables on your attacker so that you have a decent chance of regaining control of the situation.

Targeting

There were only two combatants involved, but it took eight of us to break up the fight without hurting anyone, four officers, three security guards, and myself. Once we got the participants separated we began sorting out what happened.

The surly guy was cussing, spitting, and arguing vociferously, but his friend just stood there impassively. The quiet guy was huge, a good head-and-a-half taller than me, but he hadn’t been directly involved in the fight and didn’t appear to be a threat, particularly not with all the authorities around. I wasn’t paying him much mind when I suddenly realized that his elbow was speeding toward my head. I didn’t have sufficient warning to dodge or block, but I was able to roll with his blow, spin around, and land an uppercut to his side. Just as I felt his floating ribs snap, he seemed to teleport away. Two officers had grabbed him from behind and dragged him onto the ground.

In the confusion, no one realized that I’d busted his ribs, least of all him, at least until some fifteen or twenty minutes later when he was allowed to stand back up to be escorted out of the stadium. I could see him wincing in pain with each step. He took a full power shot to the side that didn’t even slow him down during the altercation while I received but a glancing blow to the temple, yet I suffered headaches, nausea, blurred vision, and ringing in my ears for almost a week. It wasn’t until the symptoms began to ebb that I belatedly realized that I’d had a concussion.

Y’all need a little introduction to medical damage.

Shock

Shock is the big daddy of medical damage. Many years ago Rory’s EMT instructor told him that shock was the only thing a human can die from. Everything else, from motor vehicle accidents to gunshot wounds to cancer to old age were just different ways to get to shock.

So what is shock? The inadequate perfusion of tissue with blood and/or oxygen. If the brain does not get blood, the brain shuts down. If the brain does get blood, but the blood is not oxygenated, the brain shuts down.

This holds true for every other organ and tissue. You shut down organs or make an organism die by denying oxygen to critical tissue. Simple. Maybe too simple.

There are four basic kinds of shock. Hypovolemic shock means there are inadequate fluids in the blood stream for whatever reason (dehydration or hemorrhage). When someone bleeds out or starts going all shocky from a ruptured organ bleeding internally, it is hypovolemic shock.

When the heart is not pumping enough, that’s cardiogenic shock. It does not come up much in fights.

Anoxic shock is when the blood is getting there, but it is depleted of oxygen. Suffocation and strangulation are not the only way this happens in a fight. Some people forget to breathe. Sometimes you can put your body weight on the threat’s lower ribs and he will become weaker and weaker as he struggles against the pressure.

Neurogenic shock means the brain has failed at regulating the circulatory system, usually dilating the blood vessels faster than the heart can compensate (this is basically what happens when you stand up quickly and get a “head rush”). Sufficient damage to the brain, especially to the brainstem at the top of the spine, can mess up the circulatory system in a number of ways.

There is a special subcategory of neurogenic shock called psycho-genic—nothing went wrong in the brain but following a psychological or emotional trigger, the person faints. This is what happens when someone with no stomach for a fight gets a Hollywood knockout after a light tap. It wasn’t a knockout.

The dude fainted.

This section is not meant to be a medical text. Here is the deal: you shut off blood or breath, the person stops. The brain shuts down. Sometimes it takes a while—over a minute to suffocate someone to unconsciousness. Sometimes it is relatively quick, as fast as seven seconds for a good carotid strangle, but seven seconds can seem like a long time in a fight.

To shut off the brain quickly is hard. The Hollywood knockout, where somebody gets hit in the head and wakes up fine a little later, is pretty much a myth. If someone passed out without neurological trauma, they did not get knocked out. They fainted.

People get immediately knocked out one of two ways: (1) the skull is hit so hard that it actually intrudes in and disrupts the brain or (2) the forces slap the head around so fast that the brain bounces off the inside of the skull. There’s actually a third, more-or-less: sometimes, with enough torsion, the brain tears away from vessels and anchors, and the situation will get really bad.

I met a homeless guy, Danny, recently. Danny awoke one night while being beaten by another homeless guy with a hunk of rebar. The assault broke both his arms in numerous places, shattered his right hand, and staved-in part of his skull. Where his right temple should be is a 2 ½ inch long, nearly inch deep dent. When that wound was fresh it required 37 stitches. A year later, Danny is just fine (insomuch as a guy who chooses to be homeless can be anyway). He has no memory problems, speech impediment, migraines, or any other lasting effects from the assault, save for the dent in his head and some pretty wicked scarring. Describing the attack he said, “My destiny is to die on Indian land. Living here in White Center, I knew it wasn’t my time.”

Even this extreme trauma usually does not result in a loss of consciousness immediately. Many of those who lose consciousness pass out later as part of the brain swells like any other bruise. The brain gets squeezed.

Taking head blows even without ever getting knocked out can still cause “microconcussions” that have some very bad long-term effects. We think everyone should try boxing, at least until they get over the fear of being hit, but we do not recommend anyone stay with boxing for an extended period of time.

There are some possibilities for non-concussive unconsciousness or unconsciousness without significant brain trauma. A good example is strangulation (sleeper holds, vascular restraints…there are many euphemisms) where the person goes out for twenty seconds or so. Unless there is a preexisting condition (e.g., heart problem, arterial plaque, or blood vessels weakened by excessive drug use), there are no ill-effects.

That is brain trauma. Other tissues can be torn or injured in different ways.

Organ Bruising and Injury

Most muscles, when hit, bruise. That is just swelling from small blood vessels being torn. The bruise can make the muscle tight and painful. Seriously, though, if you’ve never had a bruise why are you reading this article?

Significant intrusion into the body as well as really horrific levels of force can injure organs. Some organs, when bruised, bleed. Sometimes significantly. Other organs can be lacerated (cut) by shards of bone. The horrific levels of force mentioned above, like deceleration trauma when a vehicle hits a tree can actually tear organs. That does not come up often in a fight. Internal bleeding, especially with weapon trauma or falling, can damage certain organs like the liver and spleen.

Broken Bones

Bones can be broken. It is not easy. Long slender bones tend to be weaker than short, heavier bones. Narrow ribs and clavicles break easier than the thick femur or humerus. It is almost impossible to break a free-moving bone. In other words, if a hand is in the air, it will be very hard to break a forearm even with a club. Brace the hand against a hard surface and it becomes much easier.

Fracturing bones rarely causes someone to stop fighting. A guy with a broken bone can still pull a trigger. A man with his right arm dangling at his side can still use his left. But a fracture tends to make people not want to play anymore.

Joints and Sprains

Joints are generally more vulnerable than bone. A skilled twist or hyperextension can stretch ligaments and tendons beyond their design specifications. If they stretch far enough, the joint can be dislocated, which means the bones are separated from each other and do not go back into place. A sprain is when the bones are separated but do return to proper positioning on their own.

Sprains are injuries. They hurt and tend to swell, which makes it hard but rarely impossible to use that joint. Dislocations tend to be more painful and the limb is often nearly useless. Rory has made his arm under a dislocated shoulder work, but he has never made it work well.

The tendons and ligaments can merely stretch (sometimes painfully, rarely physically debilitating) or tear. Tears can be severe, often disabling the limb, or so minor that you may have dozens of small tears in various places right now and not know it.

Okay, that’s medical damage. Not every type of injury by any means, but a sufficient introduction for understanding what might happen in a fight. Now, let’s get legal for a second. If you inflict a serious physical injury on another person, there are repercussions. From NY State Penal Code Chapter 40 Section 10:

“Serious physical injury” means physical injury which creates a substantial risk of death, or which causes death or serious and protracted disfigurement, protracted impairment of health or protracted loss or impairment of the function of any bodily organ.”

There it is. You are intentionally trying to break someone. At Level 5, you are hoping for something that isn’t permanent. This desire affects your choice of targets. Damage depends on how hard and accurately you strike as well as what you hit with. Most martial artists can deliver a pretty strong blow under optimal conditions using their fists or unshod feet, but a Level 5 situation often requires help from some sort of solid object. Threats who are stimulated by adrenaline, fear, drugs, alcohol, or even sheer willpower may not be incapacitated by anything that is not immediately physiologically disabling, even if mortally wounded.

If Level 5 isn’t working, you might have to escalate to Level 6. Immediately.

One final thing to think about. A danger of Level 5 that most folks don’t consider is exposure to blood-borne pathogens (such as hepatitis B, hepatitis C, or HIV/AIDS). Any time you break the other guy’s skin, there is a potential risk. This risk is increased if your skin is broken as well, one of many reasons why punching a threat in the mouth is stupid.

In the next few sections I will cover specific targets that you may consider attacking to cause damage to a threat. Nothing’s perfect, nothing is a panacea. The particulars of each individual encounter will vary, so the tactics you use must reflect the nature of the threats you face…

The foot is a useful target, particularly if your goal in a confrontation is to escape. Traditional kobudo systems, such as Matayoshi, target the foot with bo (staff), kuwa (hoe), and sai, among other weapons, because the ancient masters knew that it was a tough target to defend as well as a good way to end a fight. With a weapon or even a powerful stomp, the small bones in the foot can be crushed with a downward blow, disabling an opponent’s balance and reducing his ability to move, fight, or chase you. A blow to the upper surface of the instep can damage the plantar and peroneal nerves causing pain throughout the leg, hip, and abdomen thereby weakening the leg. Digging your toe into the top of the other guy’s foot at the base of his toes can cause excruciating pain too. While this will not stop him, stepping hard might help move him into a position where something more debilitating can be delivered.

Simply stepping on the other guy’s foot can ruin his balance, keep him from evading a follow-on strike, or otherwise mess up his plans, but at Level 5 you are really looking for damage not disruption. You will likely have limited opportunities so it’s best to make each one count. If the threat’s foot is on the ground, the easiest way to injure it is with a stomp. Striking with the heel generally works best, particularly when you are wearing boots. If you are tied up with an adversary, particularly in a clinch, it may be possible to strike his foot without him seeing it coming, but you will need to be careful not to lose your balance in the process (which in a clinch is not all that tough as contact with the adversary will usually keep you from falling).

It is hard to practice foot-stomping with a training partner because most padding is inadequate to avoid risking damage. Timing is a critical component of a successful attack to the foot, so a useful partner drill is called “toe tag.” It is best to go barefoot because this not only increases your sensitivity but also helps preclude injury. Start slow and work up to speed slowly. Here is how the exercise works:

  • Begin with lunge punches (striking arm and leading leg both forward on the same side), moving forward and back in a straight line. As one partner throws the punch, the other blocks, deflects, or uses whatever defense is appropriate for his art and attempts to step on the puncher’s foot in the process.
  • Once you get good at catching the training partner’s foot with your own, move on to reverse punches (striking arm forward, opposite side leg forward) and repeat the drill.
  • When you become skilled at working both types of punches, start moving at various angles until you can find the other guy’s foot instinctively without looking.

If you can step on the foot, you can stomp on it too. It is useful to practice stomping powerfully. After all, what gets trained gets done, and you are looking to do damage. Place striking pads on the floor and practice teeing off on them. This is a great way to perfect your technique and can be a lot of fun too. Once you become good with static targets, you can have a partner slide the pads along the floor so that you have something moving to aim for too. As with the previous drill, go barefoot so you will not damage the equipment. It will help reinforce proper striking angles too.

Combining the timing you get from playing toe tag with the power you can achieve from working the striking pads will set you up for success if you need to use this application on the street.

Ankle

The ankle can oftentimes be easier to target than the foot. You can stomp on it, of course. A downward blow to the knee that misses can be redirected to strike the ankle fairly easily in many instances. You can also attack it with a front or back kick. Short jabs with your toe or heel, particularly if you are wearing boots, tend to work well. These blows are hard to see and even harder to block or evade. You can entangle the other guy’s feet, using your stance and movement to target his ankle or knee. The crescent stepping you find in many traditional martial arts facilitates this type of attack.

If the other guy is into high kicks, you may be able scoop-block and capture his strike, then punch or torque his ankle to cause damage. Similarly, you can work the ankle when grappling too.

The ankle joint may be hyperextended, dislocated, or damaged by a solid blow, causing severe pain, disabling an opponent’s balance, and reducing his ability to move, fight, or chase you. A strong blow to the inside of the lower leg at the base of the calf can cause temporary paralysis of the muscles there.

And it hurts like hell.

If, in the heat of battle, the adversary lands on the ground, it may be appropriate to stomp on his ankle as you make your escape, assuring that he cannot chase you. This technique can even look accidental, not that we would necessarily recommend that. Regardless, you need to be prepared to articulate why you took the action you did if you strike a downed adversary. Stuff like that looks really bad to witnesses. You must have legitimate reasons why the other guy is still a threat.

It is difficult to practice assaulting the ankle safely with a training partner. For this application, we recommend slow work. Use movement, angles, and body alignment during sparring to position yourself to hit the ankle with your strike, but do everything in slow motion so that no one gets hurt.

It is important to restrain yourself in slow drills. If you maintain a constant speed relative to your partner, the results will be much more realistic than if you accelerate to land the blow. Practice stomps, entanglements, and also kick defenses so that you can attack the ankle with both your feet and hands. When you capture and torque the ankle, go really slow so that your training partner can roll out of the technique without becoming injured. Overtorquing the ankle almost always injures the knee, and knees tend to heal poorly.

Talk to each other afterward. What works, what does not, and why?

Knee

I was in the zone. It was like I knew what every competitor I faced was planning to do before he tried it. And I beat them all with ease. Undefeated in a double-elimination, I reached the semi-finals. And then the accident happened.

My left knee was bent as I took a lunge step. That puts something like ten times your body weight on the joint. At that instant, he struck the side of my knee. It wasn’t a legal target, or what he was actually aiming for, yet the combination of my movement and his momentum meant that his blow connected in just the right place at exactly the wrong time. I had this weird rubbery feeling as my knee lurched sideways, seemingly independent from the rest of my body, and then snapped back into place.

It felt really weird, but it didn’t hurt. Until I tried to take another step. And fell. And couldn’t put any weight on my left leg after I got back up. I found out later that it was a medial meniscus cartilage tear. And stretched ligaments.

He was disqualified, but I was done. Not just for the day, but for four months including arthroscopic surgery and rehab.

When the knee is bent, as it generally is in combat, it is not particularly vulnerable from the front unless you are wearing a steel-toed boot or using an impact weapon. If you strike the knee from the back, you can cause it to collapse but are not likely to produce serious damage unless the kneecap lands on something hard and/or jagged. The side however, is another story. When hit from the proper angle, particularly when the threat’s weight is on the leg struck, his knee can be hyperextended or dislocated to disrupt balance and effectively take an opponent out of a fight. Ligament and cartilage damage often take surgery to repair.

While striking an adversary’s knee can cause crippling injury, it does not appear as offensive on film as a blow to the face which, even when minor, can cause extensive bleeding. It is a very useful application if your goal is to escape. If, for example, you block an attack using a closing technique while simultaneously shifting to the outside, you may be able to strike the other guy’s knee and run away all in the same motion.

Again, this technique can be practiced with a partner. Go slowly. Look for body alignment and positioning. Find ways to post the other guy’s weight (e.g., grabs, pulls) in conjunction with your strike. Work into being able to hit the other guy’s knee from any in-range position without looking. Sudden, instinctive knee strikes can be game-changers in a fight.

Ribs

A blow to the ribs rarely ends a serious fight. An adrenalized person may not even notice. The floating ribs (eleventh and twelfth ribs) are only attached at one end making them more vulnerable than other ribs to breakage. This damage is extremely painful and can hinder a threat’s breathing and movement, even his ability to punch or kick effectively too.

I’ve broken ribs with a hook twice. Both times the guy was wearing armor and I was wearing gloves. The second time, my opponent was wearing soft body armor (a ballistic vest) and we were both wearing sixteen ounce gloves. He had about 20 pounds on me. I broke two of his ribs. The match was over. That was a right hook.

The first time, the opponent was wearing entry armor (inch thick foam with a semi rigid cover) and I was wearing my entry gloves—fingerless leather with padded knuckles. Steve had at least forty pounds on me. He went down faster than any head shot I’ve ever delivered.

If, ladies, you ever wonder what it’s like to get kicked in the testicles, take a liver punch. And guys, if you ever wonder what it would be like to have an eight-pound testicle get stomped, take a liver punch.

The ribs can be vulnerable to hooks, uppercuts, and palm-up center punches, among other empty-hand techniques. Elbow strikes are very effective here; particularly, a reverse elbow to the lower ribs. You can strike them with your knee or foot too, but kicking above the waist can be dangerous because it is slower, less direct, and easier to block, redirect, or capture than strikes to the knees, ankles, or feet. If you are grappling on the ground, however, a knee strike can work well. You can do the same technique with your foot if you are up and he is down. That sort of thing plays poorly in court unless he is armed, in which case you would probably want to target something more vital than the ribs. Or just leave. Quickly.

Ribs are common sparring targets, particularly when wearing protective gear. Heavy bags and BOB can help you learn to generate power when attacking this area too.

A note about kicks: Lawrence is primarily a karateka. Rory is a jujutsu-trained infighter. They kick entirely differently. Many of the objections to kicks in real fights listed above simply do not apply. Remember that this is at Level 5, so you are losing. When losing, you are being pummeled, crowded, and both your balance and your structure are being jacked.

Most kicks from striking arts won’t fail under assault because you cannot even get them started. The front, side, snap, and roundhouse kicks are extremely range dependent. Merely stepping into a kick completely neutralizes the technique. Getting any foot into play when your head is being knocked around or you are grabbed and shaken—let’s just say you do not need to worry about the kick costing you your balance because the odds are good you will not have the balance or the base to start the kick in the first place.

Infighting and infighting kicks are different. If you know what you are doing when infighting, you can have one leg in the air because both of the threat’s legs are part of your support. Some of the techniques, the booted toe-kick to the ankle and the knee-to-knee pops, are quick and vicious. They take no room and almost no time. There are even a couple of effective infighting kicks that work above the waist…

Kidneys

It was supposed to have been a flag football game between two fraternities, but tackles were becoming the norm as our competitive natures came to the forefront. I wasn’t wearing any padding, nor was anyone else for that matter, but didn’t mind getting hit. Hitting the other guys was fun. Until someone fell on me hard, driving his knee into my kidney. I don’t know whether or not it was intentional, but it felt like I’d been stabbed in the back. Pain shot all the way up into my neck. It took me several seconds before I could stand up. Limping off the field, I watched the rest of the game from the sidelines. There was still blood in my urine the next morning…

Most people aim too high on kidney shots. Less than an inch of the kidney is exposed below the ribs from behind on a normal person. This area is frequently targeted with kicking techniques because they can be reached in this fashion from the front, side, or back, although punches work well too.

A blow to this region from a blunt instrument can cause internal bleeding or shock. Near the kidneys is the hypochondriac region. Located between the seventh and eighth ribs, approximately one hand width below the solar plexus, a blow to the threat’s right side can affect the liver whereas the left side can get at the stomach or spleen. If an implement is used, blows to any of these areas can have fatal consequences due to internal bleeding. Death occurs by hemorrhage, a slow process. If medical attention is reasonably forthcoming, a kick or punch to the kidneys will rarely prove fatal. These blows tend to be quite painful, however, so much so that if your strike is ineffective, or not effective enough, you must escalate to other targets in order to stop your adversary.

Clavicle

The clavicle is a really nice target because it is relatively easy to break. A busted clavicle will physiologically disable an adversary’s ability to use his arm to attack you. And it hurts like hell too. Unfortunately the clavicle is not always easy to target in the heat of battle.

One method of accessing the clavicle is a diagonal strike, say with a ridge hand. A whipping downward palm-heel strike can also work well. Another is a straight-in punch. That, however, requires the target to be leaning forward, such as he might be if he overreaches or you pull him off balance. This strike is easy to execute and has good power even at close range. While the BOB can help you practice this technique, it is too static to truly get a feel for how hard it can be to access this area. Consequently, partner drills work best. You are working near the head/neck, so use caution not to hurt each other while practicing.

Solar plexus

One of the advantages of striking the solar plexus is that it is not an area that looks particularly dangerous to hit or that is necessarily well defended in many cases. After all, you are punching the other guy in the “chest.” But this is deceptive.

Located just below the xiphoid process, a blow to this area can shock the diaphragm rendering the recipient temporarily incapable of breathing. The blow is not going to kill him, but while he is worried about drawing his next breath, you can beat feet to safety. A powerful blow in this area, particularly when delivered by a blunt instrument, could cause internal bleeding, unconsciousness, and even death (though it takes a long time to die from internal hemorrhaging). More often than not, all you’re going to do is knock the wind out of the guy if you strike him in this area.

Contouring is important when attacking the solar plexus. A fist is unlikely work; the impact is spread too wide. A single knuckle, the point of your elbow, or the end of a tactical baton can be very effective. A back-handed slap tends to get the perfect reaction. The solar plexus can be a challenge to hit in the heat of battle. Practicing on a BOB can help you identify the target, but it is only static. Partner drills can work best. Clearly, you must go slowly and/or strike lightly when training.

Groin

The game had been over for an hour and a half or so. I was walking along a bike trail on campus, heading toward the lot where I’d parked my vehicle. Between the darkness and driving rain I couldn’t see more than a dozen feet despite the intermittent streetlights alongside the trail, so I carried a flashlight in my hand.

I heard them long before I saw them, a young couple near the stairs that led up to the student union building. I don’t know what they were arguing about, but it appeared they’d been going at it for a while. As I approached she snarled something I couldn’t understand followed by, “Be a man!”

For a moment he looked stunned. Then he hauled off and punched her in the face, knocking her clean off her feet where she crashed to the ground on the muddy grass beside the stairs. A foot to the left and she would have smacked her head against the concrete. While she lay, he began to advance, ready to strike her again.

I’d seen more than enough. “Hey asshole,” I shouted.

When he whipped around to see who was there, I snapped on the light, giving him 240 lumens full in the face. He flinched back, raising his hands to shield his eyes. And I kicked him in the groin.

“Why don’t you pick on someone your own size?”

For a few seconds, he just stood there; then he let out a gasp and crumpled to the ground. He was still curled in a fetal ball gasping like a fish out of water when I helped the girl up and walked her back to her dorm. Since I was wearing steel-toed boots at the time, I probably should have pulled my blow. Probably.

The groin can be an effective target. Blows to this region can elicit pain, nausea, or vomiting in male victims. A firm grab can potentially be incapacitating. Upward blows to the pelvic girdle of a female adversary can elicit similar results, although it takes a bit more force and accuracy. But the groin is one of the best protected areas of the male body, so it can take a bit of trickery to attack it successfully.

And, there is a three-and-a-half-seconds rule. It takes about that long for the blow, no matter how serious, to affect the threat. A lot can happen in a fight during that much time. Worse yet, kicking certain people in the nuts simply pisses them off. Damage from a groin strike tends to be more psychological than physiological.

You can attack the threat’s groin with your hands, knees, or feet. You could use your teeth too, but opportunities for that are rare and rather unpalatable for most. If you use your hands, you will most likely need to use angles and misdirection. Straight in can be really tough. The three main hand techniques for attacking the groin include the finger whip, grab, and lawnmower pull:

  • The finger whip, or flyswatter as it is affectionately called, is simply a matter of whipping your arm toward the groin while keeping your wrist relaxed. As soon as your arm connects, shoot your fingers forward like a whip so that it strikes the groin and retracts as quickly as possible. This is much more painful than it sounds. Rory has taken a number of groin shots, including one that lifted him over a foot in the air. Only once was it immediately incapacitating and that was from a finger flick. Lawrence has had similar experiences. Nevertheless, it is unlikely to cause any longterm damage.
  • The grab, or five-on-two as it is sometimes called, starts the same way as the finger whip, but once you make contact, you grab a hold and hang on tight. Squeeze as hard as you can. This technique can really get an adversary’s attention.
  • The most effective hand technique is the lawnmower pull. From the grab, turn your wrist over like you are checking the time and rip up and back as you would do to start a lawnmower.

You can cause significant damage this way, even tearing off a testicle if you do it right. (In 2007, Amanda Monti tore a testicle off her boyfriend, Geoffrey Jones, with her bare hands…and tried to eat it.) While this will not necessarily end a fight, it has a reasonably good chance of doing so. Straight in kicks to the groin can be tough to pull off unless executed from a very close range or with the element of surprise. Knee strikes can work from a clinch, and heel or back kicks can work if a threat grabs you from behind, but your structure may be compromised with such techniques. If you try a front kick, you are more likely to be successful with an upward angle than you would be going straight in. You can connect with your toes or shin, preferably straight up between the legs.

You can practice groin strikes in a variety of different ways. An elongated BOB or heavy bag can work well, but those things tend to be too static. Playing “cup tag” with a training partner can help you understand how tough it is to hit/easy to protect this area. Make sure you are wearing adequate protection and strike lightly. Get used to the angles and misdirections that work as well as those that do not.

Jaw

It was my turn to watch the door. Everyone at the party had left their keys on a pegboard, and I wasn’t supposed to give them back unless the person was sober enough to drive. About midnight Ron staggered up to me and demanded his keys. He was hammered, so I told him no, something along the lines of, “You’ve got to sober up first, man.”

Well, he wasn’t having any of that. He lunged for the keys. I got there first, grabbed them off the board, and twisted away from him. I told him no again, but he kept coming. He was bigger than me, and a serious asshole when drunk, but I wasn’t about to let him kill himself or someone else driving home. Unfortunately, the other guys just thought it was funny. They were no help. Until he grabbed me by the throat and tried choking me.

I drove my knee into his stomach. It wasn’t much of a blow but it did force him back. As he lunged again, I pivoted and hit him in the base of the jaw as hard as I could. Much to my surprise he crumbled to the ground. It was the first time I’d ever knocked anyone out. And I didn’t even hurt my hand.

Thankfully, the next morning he didn’t remember who’d hit him.

Any blow to the head can prove fatal. It is a dangerous application to attempt, although some targets tend to be safer than others. A blow to the jaw, particularly at the hinge, can transmit shock into the brain. The more the other guy’s head whips around, the better the chances of obtaining a knockout from such a blow. Depending on whether you hit the chin or the base of the jaw, other injuries can include broken teeth, whiplash, or a broken or dislocated jaw.

It is a really bad idea to try to kick someone in the jaw unless he is on the ground, attempting a wrestling-style takedown (even then, most kicking experts cannot time the targeting on a rush), or otherwise has his head below the level of your waist. Consequently, most times you will be using your hand. If you are going to target the jaw, do not strike the chin with a closed fist. You’re as likely to break your hand as you are to shatter his jaw, although you might accomplish both at once. A palm-heel strike is much more effective. With good form you can, however, punch the side or base of the jaw with a closed fist, although a quick turn of the head and you may wind up striking somewhere other than you had planned.

Elbow strikes oftentimes work well. Properly leveraged, you can generate tremendous power with it while simultaneously risking little damage to yourself when you connect. You can hit with the forearm too.

One way to safely practice jaw strikes is with hand shields. Have a partner hold a pad at jaw height and keep it moving around while you strike it. Get feedback on how crisp the blows are. Perform this drill statically, and again with both people (as the pad) moving to simulate the dodging and weaving that sometimes takes place during a fight. (You’d be amazed by how many people just stand there and pummel each other, even though movement and positioning are important aspects of fighting.) For solo training, a BOB much better than a heavy bag, although either will do.

Nose

Two fans had gotten into it. While it started as a stand-up fight, it only remained that way for a few seconds until one guy shot in, grabbed the other guy’s leg, and took him down. Then he crawled up onto his chest, pinned his victim in place with his legs, and started raining blows down onto him. This was some twenty years ago, long before MMA became popular, but not so different than you’d see in the ring today.

Of course he did it on cement and the other guy didn’t fall right, so dude on the bottom was in serious trouble. As I rushed to intervene, the guy on top suddenly flew backward screaming, blood pouring out of his nose.

We grabbed him so he couldn’t get back into the fight, but I had no idea what had happened. I searched for some sort of weapon, but couldn’t spot anything. Seeing the confused look on my face, the guy who’d been on the bottom said, “I shoved my finger up his nose. It made him let go.”

Novel approach, that. Only time I’ve ever seen it.

Lawrence has had his nose broken seven times. The long-term impact was bad enough that he eventually had to have it re-straightened during sinus surgery to correct breathing problems. But a busted nose never knocked him out of a fight. Rory had his broken twice too; it only pissed him off.

It is really tough to get a knockout from this area without using a blunt instrument to augment your blow, but smashing the mid face can cause a lot of pain and bleeding. This is not likely to stop a committed adversary, but it may cause an attacker to rethink his choice of victims. Shoving your finger up a guy’s nose can work too, apparently. The challenge with this area is that it can expose you to blood-borne pathogens.

The intermaxillary suture is located just under the nose at the philtrum. The nerves are very close to the surface in this area such that even a light blow can cause pain and watery eyes in most people. This sensitive area can also be used for control techniques when leveraged from behind such as pushing in and up to manipulate the head/neck and control the spine.

Several techniques can be effective in targeting the nose. The most obvious is the punch, although that can sometimes be hard to land, particularly the straight in variety such as a boxer’s jab. Even if the other guy does not block, it might be possible to slip the blow. Doing so can be as easy as tilting his head, although it often takes a bit more movement than that. In some situations, a hammerfist works better, particularly if used as a riposte in combination with a block or deflection technique. The hammerfist can come straight in, but a vertical blow that lands at the top of the nose and crushes in and downward from there can really rock the other guy’s world. Elbow and reverse elbow strikes are great ways to target the nose as well.

While the philtrum is more often used for control techniques, such as pulling one combatant off of another, you can add a finishing move to bring it to a higher level if necessary. For example, driving your thumbs into the threat’s eye sockets or stretching and violently twisting his neck would accomplish this result. That could be hard to justify depending on the circumstances though.

Once again, the BOB is a fantastic way to practice targeting the nose as well as slow work with a training partner.

Ears

The ear slap is one of my ‘A’ techniques, ever since a girl in junior high school wanted to prove a point and put me on my knees with a double-ear slap. Maybe twenty years later, we were running a new set of training armor through its paces, seeing how well we could move in it and what the armor could and could not protect us from. Craig was wearing the armor, being the bad guy. I casually slapped his ear to augment a takedown. He didn’t get up for a while. When he did, he couldn’t hear anything on his left side. Through one of the best helmets on training armor made, I’d ruptured his eardrum.

A concussive slap to the ears can cause pain, disorientation, and severe trauma to the eardrum, particularly if the hand is slightly cupped. You can also grab and twist or even bite the ear to cause pain, but it is less likely to be fight ending than the good old fashioned “pimp slap” upside the head.

Eyes

I purchased the wrong type of coffee, a ground drip blend rather than the whole-bean variety I normally buy. When I popped the top of the vacuum-sealed can, a blast of grit exploded into my face and left eye.

Now I’m a pretty tough guy, with multiple black belts in martial arts who’s been in more than my share of violent altercations. And I wore contacts for years before getting Lasik surgery so I’m somewhat used to having “foreign objects” in my eye. Yet I experienced a nearly overwhelming desire to fall onto the floor and scream like a little baby. I didn’t, but I really, really wanted to. If you’ve ever gotten smoke, sand, or similar substances in your eyes, you have a good idea of what I mean.

I stumbled to the bathroom and then took the better part of five minutes, and most of a bottle of eye-drops, to rinse the sludge out of my eye. It was still red and sore some five hours later.

So, what does a face full of coffee grounds have to do with self-defense? It is very tough to fight effectively when you cannot see. That makes an assailant’s eyes an important target in a legitimate self-defense scenario. Compared to all our other senses, eyesight is dominant in its impotence for most people. It’s not only how we view the outside world, but also how we acquire targets and defend ourselves against assaults.

Here is how to attack the eyes most effectively:

The thumb can be used as a wedge to displace the eyeball from the eye socket. This technique is done by placing your thumb against the inside of the bridge of his nose and pushing into the corner of your adversary’s eye socket. Typically, you will use your fingers as a guide alongside the other guy’s face. It works much better if you can support his head with your other hand or block it against an immovable object such as a wall, the ground, or a parked car so that he cannot move his head back or twist away.

When shoved forcefully into the eye socket, your thumb works much like a wood-splitting wedge, displacing the eyeball. This ultimate result is not typically a full removal of the eye from the socket, which is very challenging, but rather a stretching of the optic nerve that attaches the back of the eye and shoots excruciating pain into the brain.

A thumb to the eye can cause blurred vision, disorientation, shock, and in some cases blindness, more than enough trauma to let you escape to safety in most cases. If you actually displace the eyeball, the disabling effect is even more severe.

Eye attacks could be considered Level 6 because of the potential for permanent injury. On the other hand, pepper spray or similar substances can be used to temporarily blind an assailant, which would be Level 4, because it is actually only pain compliance, or possibly Level 5 because it is a weapon. (These things are not always cleanly categorized.) Either way, assaulting the eyes is dangerous stuff. In a legitimate self-defense scenario, the attack can be life-saving, but where it is not warranted, it can lead to serious jail time.

Not only can you cause horrific injuries, but you also let the other guy know that he is in a very serious confrontation. If you attack his eyes and miss, you are going to piss him off in a primal way, becoming the target of a lot more anger and violence than you might expect. Anything goes from that point on.

Anybody who wears glasses can probably relate to this situation. Having your glasses knocked off by another person, even accidentally, pisses you off. It is personal, it is primal, and it is instantaneous. Even in an accident, it takes real effort to control the instinctive reaction. This reaction gives you a glimpse of the type of response you can elicit from another person when you attack his or her eyes.

So, while attacking the eyes can incapacitate an adversary, it can enrage him too. Consequently, you need to know how to do it right. And practice effectively. The best techniques use either your thumbs or fingers. Either way, attacks must be executed powerfully, with resolve, and often more than once. The chances of failure without these three points are high.

Fingers work too. If you are a trained martial artist, you almost certainly know how to do an open-hand block (e.g., hiki uke). After initially intercepting the opponent’s blow, you can bounce off his arm and thrust your fingers into his eye socket. You can also rake across the eyes. Either way, whenever your open hand crosses in front of the other guy’s face, you have an opportunity to reach his eyes. Even if you do not make contact, such movements can be distracting, leaving the adversary open to a follow-on attack such as a low kick or a knee strike.

Attempting to jab your fingertips straight into an adversary’s eye can be challenging. It is fast and effective, but it is easier to block than other techniques and will will damage your hand if done incorrectly, so advanced training is necessary. Horizontal raking across the eye, however, can be nearly as incapacitating and can be easier to execute on the street. A good way to do this is to thrust your palm against the attacker’s cheekbone, which serves as an anchor and guide. Then sweep away from the attacker’s nose toward his ear dragging your fingertips across his eye. This motion is relatively natural, like twisting the lid off a jar.

Raking the eyes can damage the cornea, the outer lens of the eye. Scratching the eye with your fingertips can cause excessive tearing, light sensitivity, pain, and disorientation. While scratching may not cause sufficient trauma to let you escape immediately, it is likely to set up a fight-ending follow-on strike.

You can also use implements. For Level 5, the main implement you might use would be tear gas, pepper spray, or similar substances that cause temporary incapacitation. These hurt the eyes, but generally do not cause long-term injuries. We will cover self-defense sprays in depth in the section “Pepper Sprays,” so we will not go into detail here. Also know that a hot cup of coffee, fire extinguisher, or similar impromptu weapon could also be used against the eyes with a very good chance of success. In the right range, such implements are nearly impossible to block, even if you do not have the element of surprise. However, you may be pushing Level 6 if you use them.

While the eyes can be a lifesaving target in legitimate self-defense situation, it is psychologically challenging to place your thumb or finger into another person’s eyes with the intent to do damage. It is also hard to practice these applications safely with a partner. However, there are a couple of ways to practice eye strikes effectively. As with any training regimen, oversight by a competent instructor is strongly encouraged for the safety of everyone involved.

The first option is to use a BOB. Begin slowly and gradually build speed and power, practicing the aforementioned thumb and finger strikes against the BOB until you can do them instinctively.

The second option is with a live training partner. This training can be dangerous if done improperly, so exercise extreme caution. Cut an orange in half, duct tape it to a set of safety goggles, and give them to your training partner (despite the goggles, your partner would be well advised to keep his/her eyes shut tight and have a towel handy to wipe away any juice that gets through). Practice striking the orange with the aforementioned thumb and finger strikes. Striking against a real human, even one wearing this type of getup, can be disconcerting in a way that using a target dummy is not. Even if you use a BOB, it is a good idea to try the “live” drill too.

The first time you feel the orange give way beneath your fingertips should prove enlightening. It is important that a training partner be wearing the fruit to better simulate a real person than can be done with an orange alone or taped to a target dummy. You may well find that you are incapable of striking another person’s eyes, something that is best known before encountering a life-or-death confrontation on the street.

Pepper Spray

I’ve been sprayed with OC (Oleoresin Capsicum) a bunch of times. It was required to qualify at my agency and we had extra requirements for the tactical team. Our qualification for the team was to take a full-face blast, then move to a heavy bag and deliver a series of elbow strikes; cross the room to another heavy bag and deliver knee strikes; deploy an expandable baton, find the next bag, and whack on the bag. Then we had to re-holster the baton, draw our duty weapon, and prone out a suspect. Then holster the weapon, handcuff and search the suspect (and find the concealed weapon), get him to his feet and escort him through two locked doors, maintaining control of a threat while using keys.

That was just qualifications. That was also a large part of why our agency set OC at Level 4, not Level 5. It is pain compliance. OC hurts and it makes your eyes water and usually shut, and often makes big streams of snot pour out your nose. But not to everybody, not all the time and even when it works, you can still fight.

My personal experience with OC has been less positive than most officers because most of the time I only got called when the spray didn’t work—so there is sampling error. The ones that worked I didn’t usually get involved in. So I’ve seen one guy with so much orange foam on his face that I thought it was a food fight and someone was throwing carrots…and the guy didn’t react at all.

Had to go into a cell (with the team, thankfully) after a guy with two shanks didn’t react to five magnum canisters of OC, which, by the way, made him extra slippery. Watched one scrape the pepper foam from his face and eat it, staring into my eyes… Anything we talk about here is a tool. Nothing is an answer.

Pepper spray is designed to temporarily distract or disable an assailant by affecting the eyes and mucous membranes. Most sprays come in small (typically 2 to 7 ounce) aluminum or plastic containers, although they are also available as pens, kubotan, and other assorted disguises including jogging weights, cell phones, and pagers (yeah, for some reason they still make ones that look like pagers). These containers hold the irritant along with a propellant, and sometimes other additives that increase the solution’s viscosity, so that it can be sprayed roughly five to fifteen feet. Depending on the container, you typically get 8 to 10 one-second bursts per bottle. There are foaming, fogging, narrow, and wide-spray varieties. There are several common types of irritants available, but Oleoresin Capsicum (OC) is usually the most effective.

OC is a derivative of cayenne pepper. It is a more efficient inflammatory agent than tear gas CN (chloracetophenone) or CS gas (ortho-chlorobenzalmalononitrile) and causes an intense burning sensation, temporary blindness, a feeling of restricted breathing, and disorientation in most people. Unless the threat is affected by Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, asthma, or a similar condition, this “respiratory distress” is psychological. CS and CN can actually impair the airway, hence often considered a higher level of force than OC. The effects can last from 15 to 60 minutes depending on the concentration and environment in which it is used (and decontamination process). It is generally effective on drunken and drug-affected individuals, and even on dogs.

If you plan to carry a self-defense spray, be sure to practice with it. Classes are available from several training institutions where you can not only find hands-on instruction, but also get sprayed with the substance so that you will understand how it works. Many manufacturers sell an inert substance that operates similarly so that you can become used to disabling the safety and discharging the spray without having to think about it too much. Such practice is invaluable should you ever need to deploy the spray in an adrenalized state.

While generally effective, pepper spray does not work all the time and can even become detrimental to a person who uses it. Some people are not very susceptible to chemical irritants. Alcohol and drugs can further reduce a person’s receptivity as can glasses or contact lenses. Further, the use of a defense spray may enrage an attacker if it does not stop him, increasing the severity of the attack.

If the spray does not stop your opponent, it may also affect you as you try to grapple with him. It is slippery and may make the fighting terrain more hazardous and/or make grappling techniques more difficult to perform successfully. It can be dangerous to the user to deploy self-defense sprays in tight spaces such as bedrooms or vehicles. Wind, rain, and environmental conditions may reduce a spray’s range and effectiveness.

Even though self-defense sprays are generally considered defensive in nature, they are prohibited in certain jurisdictions. Be sure to check the law before carrying them. For example, in the UK where it is classed as an offensive weapon, the sale and possession of pepper spray is illegal. In Washington, DC, pepper spray must be registered with the police. Pepper spray is also prohibited on some forms of public transportation such as airlines.

Because they are not very expensive, it is useful to buy extra containers and spray a “live” stream a few times at a safe outdoor location. Do not attempt to do this if you have not already felt the effects of the spray in a safe training environment with readily available medical personnel first though. You will want to be able to aim at the face of a moving target and hit reliably for a couple of seconds for best effect.

If you have gotten any spray on yourself, do not drive for some time afterward, especially not with the windows rolled up. When you sweat or take a hot shower afterward, residue on your skin will reactivate. Take a cool shower and do not, especially for your first hot shower, let the water flow over your sensitive parts. Not kidding.

Tasers®

Tasers® are less-lethal projectile devices that are very popular with law enforcement and security personnel. These devices use compressed nitrogen to project two small probes up to 30 feet or so, at a speed of around 160 feet per second. While Tasers come with various (effective range) cartridges, the models with the longest ranges are only sold to law enforcement, military, and aviation security agencies. While civilian models have a maximum effective range of 15 feet, they can be discharged at nearly any distance less than that. The civilian version also cycles for six times longer, 30 seconds versus five.

The most popular civilian model, the C2, is only six inches long and lightweight. It comes with a built-in laser sighting system to increase accuracy. But it has only one shot.

All models work best at ranges where the probes have an opportunity to spread out a bit in flight. These probes are connected to the Taser device by thin insulated wires. An electrical signal is transmitted through the wires to where the probes make contact with the body or clothing resulting in a near immediate loss of the victim’s neuromuscular control and the ability to perform coordinated action for the duration of the impulse. While Taser devices are generally effective, they do not always stop a determined attacker (except for the Taser ®Shockwave™ area denial weapon. It’s a bank of 12 Tasers that fire all at once. For other models, evidence suggests that determination matters far less than obesity when combating the effects of a Taser). They do, however, have a higher one-shot stop percentage than bullets.

According to FBI statistics, 95 percent of officer-involved shootings occur at less than 21 feet, with approximately 75 percent taking place at less than 10 feet and a little over half at closer than five feet. These distances mean that most dangers take place in Taser range. You can use a Taser as a contact weapon too, incidentally.

While there is little evidence of Tasers alone causing accidental death—forensic studies typically find other contributing factors such as heavy drug use or excited delirium—some states are beginning to pass laws controlling the use and ownership of stun guns and similar devices.

Level 5 Conclusion

There are additional targets we have omitted, such as the shin, which can be painfully effective when struck with force. The goal of Level 5 is to break the threat’s willingness to continue to fight, so we focused on areas that give you the best chances for success. After all, if you cannot escape to safety or otherwise resolve the situation at Level 5, you will have to take it to the next level. Additionally, the longer the fight lasts the greater your chances of being injured. Applications at Level 5 must be ruthlessly applied to end the confrontation as quickly as possible.

You have probably also noticed that the boundary between Level 5 and 6 is not black and white. There are way too many shades of gray, thus reinforcing the importance of being able to articulate the threat you faced and why you did what you did to escape it.

INTERLUDE — ON KILLING

“I don’t shoot targets. I shoot men. Honestly, I figure I owe them that much.

“I know that when I kill someone I am doing to their family—their mothers and sisters and brothers—what the asshole who murdered my sister did to mine. My mother will never recover all her sanity from that. She won’t ever stop grieving. Neither will I. Both of us are a bit broken. Making it by in a world that should still have her in it.

“Somewhere out there in this world there are families that felt that same split in their soul when they were told of what I have done to their loved ones.

“My sister lost everything to a selfish asshole who couldn’t commit suicide without company. She would be 23 now. Would have graduated college. Maybe found a man. Maybe not. Maybe started grad school. Everything she ever would have done and been was taken from all of us.

“I do that to people. Some evil, some lost or misguided, some just doing what they can do to get some money. I don’t feel bad about it. It has to be done. At the end of the day they set themselves in front of my rifle. But I figure the least I can do for them, and their families, is to acknowledge their humanity.”

—Non-Commissioned Officer, U.S. Army, Airborne Infantry.

Level 6 is about killing people. It is about deliberately taking a human being, an absolutely unique combination of genetics and history, and utterly destroying it. Someone who smiled at his newborn nephew. Someone who, from birth, was his mother’s delight. There will never be this person again. Whatever he could have been is no more. Void. Empty. Nothing.

This is the manufacture of corpses and cripples. It is also the creation of widows, orphans, and grieving mothers. Your actions will create people who will never forget and never forgive what you have done.

The decision that underlies every decision to use lethal force is this: Whose mother will grieve? His or mine? Whose children will go to their beds tonight crying as newly created orphans? His or mine?

Everything up to this point can be a game. You can bluff in poker without saying a word. Debate is the verbal form of sparring. Touch can form the basis of seduction—and seduction, for right or wrong, can be played as a game. Submission wrestling and judo are competitions at Level 4. Boxing and mixed martial arts are the game version of Level 5.

You can argue that fencing and paintball are fun simulations of deadly force. Maybe. Except without the fear or the pain or the smell. No, we have not used killing people as a game since the gladiators… and even then most did not play.

There are no do-overs in deadly force. A bullet is one of those things that, once fired, you can never take back. If it is a mistake, it can never be undone. If you think of another option months or years later, you will have to live with the grave you need not have filled.

Never lose track of this. Some of you practice techniques in your martial arts that are readily capable of taking a life or crippling someone. Never forget what that means. Always treat it with absolute respect.

The application of deadly force can never be a game.

LEVEL 6—LETHAL FORCE

Gary Fadden was a salesman for firearms manufacturer Heckler &Koch. On February 24, 1984, he and his fiancé were driving their Ford pickup along Route 50 in Virginia. This was before cell phones became ubiquitous and he had no communication device inside his vehicle. But he had a competitor’s rifle, a Ruger AC556 (the selective-fire, or colloquially “fully automatic” version of the .223 caliber Mini-14 carbine) that he planned to test as part of his job, in his truck that day.

While driving, Gary was cut off by two guys on a motorcycle and had to slam on the brakes to avoid an accident. Shortly thereafter he noticed a Chevy pickup with three passengers—two men and a woman—following closely behind him. Strangely, one of the male occupants suddenly began gesturing for him to pull over. Since he didn’t recognize the folks in the Chevy, he ignored them. Until he suddenly realized that the passenger was waving a knife. And the driver had a gun.

He turned to his fiancé, saying, “We’ve got a bit of a problem here.” Bit of an understatement, that, as things turned out.

As they entered Middleburg, a small town of perhaps 800, and came to a stop at a red light, the two men exited their truck and ran toward Gary’s vehicle. One guy’s hand was on Gary’s door handle when he decided to run the light to escape. Unfortunately, the other guys jumped back into their Chevy and gave chase. Gary quickly accelerated to 95 miles an hour, but his vehicle’s speed governor kicked in, keeping him from going any faster, so he was unable to elude the pursuing vehicle.

Unable to call for help, Gary desperately looked for a policeman he could flag down but didn’t spot any patrol cars in the area. The chase continued for 22 miles, until they began to approach Chantilly Road and the H & K factory where Gary worked. Recognizing the location, he quickly planned to use his pass card to get through the plant’s security gate where he could get into a building and find a phone to call for help. Unfortunately, the automatic gate mechanism took too long to open, so the pursuers caught up. One of them began to exit his vehicle before Gary could get through the gate. The nearest building was too far away.

Grabbing the Ruger, Gary told his fiancé to get down on the floor of the Ford. He threw open the door and stepped out where he was confronted by one of his enraged pursuers. The guy was average size, wearing ratty clothes, with stringy hair and a long beard.

“Stop or I’ll shoot,” Gary yelled.

Gary had never fired the Ruger. He knew how to disengage the safety, but was not sure which position the fire-control lever was set to, semi-automatic, three-shot burst, or fully automatic. He pointed the muzzle upward and fired a warning shot only to discover that the rifle was set on full auto. It ripped off nine shots before he could get his finger back off the trigger.

Shockingly, this had no effect whatsoever. The bad guy kept closing. Fast. And he was carrying knives in both hands.

“Fuck you and your high powered rifle,” he yelled. “I’m gonna kill you motherfucker!”

This time Gary aimed at the bad guy, firing six shots with one pull of the trigger. His assailant fell to the ground dead. Then the other guy tried to run him over. Moving quickly, got behind a brick planter to escape the onrushing Chevy. The pickup skidded to a stop and the driver bailed out.

“Fuck you! You killed one of the brothers! You shot him, you motherfucker,” the guy screamed.

Gary’s was prepared to fire again, but instead of using his revolver, the other guy looked like he was trying to hide it in his truck. Suddenly Gary realized why. The police had arrived.

But the incident wasn’t over. Not by a long shot.

As it turned out, the Chevy driver was an outlaw biker who went by the name “Papa Zoot.” He was unarmed when the cops arrived, but officers found two pistols in his truck, a .22 semiautomatic and a .357 Magnum revolver. The revolver had three live rounds and three empty cartridges in the cylinder. More spent brass was on the floor of the pickup, and a bag full of ammunition was open on the seat. Although no bullets struck his vehicle and he hadn’t heard any shots, Gary was certain that the bad guys had been shooting at him during the chase.

The dead guy’s name was Billy “Too Loose” Hamilton, another biker. Two knives were found on his corpse. Toxicology results from his autopsy showed that he had a .19 blood alcohol level when he died. He was hit by all six rounds that Gary fired, but he flinched away from the gunfire such that one bullet struck him behind the lateral midline, taking out a chunk of his spine.

You’d think that Gary had a pretty strong case for self-defense, right?

  • Intent? Yup.
  • Means? Absolutely.
  • Opportunity? You betcha.
  • Preclusion? Hell yes.

But, Gary was arrested that night. The charge? First-degree murder.

His family raised $60,000 bail.

He was vilified by the prosecution for “shooting Hamilton in the back.” The press picked up not only on this point, but also on the fact that he’d used a fully automatic weapon.

The politics surrounding his case were ugly enough, but Gary soon discovered that Papa Zoot had purchased a .30-06 rifle and sworn a “blood oath” to kill him and his family.

At his trial, the prosecution brought Gary’s attackers in to testify against him. They claimed that he’d tried to run over their biker brother, the guy on the motorcycle who cut him off earlier that fateful day, and that they’d chased him 22 miles trying to get his license plate number. They said that he’d tried to kill them, not the other way around. (Gary had all the proper permits; it was perfectly legal for him to possess the rifle.) The prosecutor made such a show of waving the machine-gun around that the judge had to go out of his way to instruct the jury that the weapon used had nothing whatsoever to do with whether or not the shooting was self-defense.

When the jury found Gary not guilty on all counts, the prosecutor shouted, “You’ve let a murderer loose!” in open court. In front of Gary’s mother.

While Gary was ultimately exonerated, the bill for his legal defense was more than $45,000 (equivalent to over $100,000 today). It was eight years before he was able to pay everything back.

Level 6 is extraordinarily serious. If you are at this level, odds are good that someone is going to die. It could be you. And whoever lives, be it you or your adversary, is almost certainly going to jail. If convicted, that person will be doing hard time in prison.

Any blow delivered powerfully and deliberately to a vital area of the body could be construed as deadly force so long as it can be shown that it was struck with the intention, or predictable likelihood, of killing or maiming the other guy. Expect to be prosecuted for it. In Washington State, the definition of deadly force is “The intentional application of force through the use of firearms or any other means reasonably likely to cause death or serious physical injury.”* Sounds a lot like Level 6 huh? This means that you are committing a felony. At a minimum, it is aggravated assault. More likely it’s murder…

We have beaten you over the head with this detail already, but it bears repeating. Self-defense is an affirmative defense. You are admitting to the elements of a crime but offering an acceptable legal excuse for doing so because the threat had the intent, means, and opportunity to kill or grievously injure you or a third party, and preclusion was out of the question at the time. Further, you did not contribute in any way to the situation you found yourself in. A cornerstone of legitimate claims of self-defense is the innocence of the claimant. If you allowed a situation to escalate when you could have walked away (à la monkey dance), you’re screwed even if the other guy pulled a knife or a gun before you took him out.**

It is vital to understand that Level 6 encounters carry supreme risk. Even bringing a weapon into play will not automatically stop a determined aggressor. Remember Jack Lucas, Matt Urban, and John Finn? It is exceedingly rare for a shooting victim to be stopped dead in his tracks by a single shot, even one to the head.

They had a saying in the Old West, “dead man’s ten.” It was a common experience for a gunfighter or knife fighter to continue the battle for another ten seconds after suffering a fatal wound. That was then; what about now? Have modern weapons changed anything? Not really. Loren Christensen wrote,

“I’ve had to fight guys even after they have been shot and they still fought like maniacs. I know of two occasions where suspects had been shot in their hearts and they fought the officers for several seconds before they crumpled dead to the ground… I saw two cases of people shot in the head—one person took five rounds—and they were still running around screaming and putting up a fuss.”

Mutual slayings are not all that uncommon at this level.

A defensive handgun instructor whose class Lawrence took reinforced this point, stating that it takes a fatally wounded person between 10 and 120 seconds to drop. You must expect a determined attacker to continue his assault even after he has been shot. Lawrence was taught to fire and move rather than stand in place as you might do on a gun range, staying vigilant until the threat was disabled and clearly unable to continue the fight.

It is even worse if you are unarmed. Justification for Level 6 includes an armed assailant or disparity of force. That means that if you’re operating here, you’re outgunned or outnumbered. Or both. With a weapon you may have a sporting chance. Without one, well it can be a roll of the dice…

This is Level 6 folks. And it sucks.

Mindset

One of the hardest concepts about explaining deadly force is that so few people have a frame of reference. They cannot really grasp what it is to use deadly force or what it will be like to exist even for a few seconds in the conditions that would justify it.

You can justify Level 6 when you think you are about to die. Take all the overwhelming loss and damage that justifies Level 5 (and makes it so hard to pull off) and raise it by an order of magnitude.

To put it another way—if it makes sense to use Level 6, it also makes sense to hang onto your attacker, jump out a third story window, and hope for the best . The essence of Level 6 is that you are going to die if you don’t act. Given that baseline, that you are only a second from your own death, you have nothing to lose.

Perhaps the best you can hope for is to take the other guy out with you. Or to at least do enough damage and leave enough forensic evidence behind that the odds will be good that he will be convicted for killing you. Maybe, just maybe, you can do something totally nutso, take a long shot, and survive. You can do some pretty crazy things that have really bad odds, because you have nothing to lose.

Not a pleasant thought is it?

It is hard to truly comprehend this stuff. Tough to achieve a Level 6 mindset. To get your head into that place that gives you the will to win, or at least not lose, when your life is on the line.

In some ways, being skilled at competition actually makes it even harder. The reason for this difficulty is that the more intense the competition you have become accustomed to, the more ingrained your habits become. Sure, the experienced MMA fighter could gouge out an adversary’s eye. Or crush his throat. Or break any other competitive rule in order to survive an assault. But thinking outside the box is extraordinarily tough when you’re afraid, adrenalized, and fighting for your life.

Here is an example: If someone has you in a choke-hold from which you cannot quickly escape, you are in deep yogurt. Once rendered unconscious, your fate is entirely in the other guy’s hands. If he does not let off quickly, you are going to become brain damaged. Or die. One strategy you could attempt in a situation like this is to tap him three or four times, wait until he hesitates (or actually releases the hold), and then hit him with everything you’ve got. Lawrence has done this twice (in separate encounters) and it worked like a charm both times. The reason it is so effective is that grapplers are conditioned to stop fighting when their opponent taps out, signifying defeat. Don’t expect to be able to pull it off more than once on the same person. It only works because it is a pretty much a one-trick pony. Your counterstrike had better work… It is a reflex action.

Deep-seated habits do not mean that folks who train for competition cannot succeed in self-defense, merely that it can be tougher for them because they have conditioned reflexes to overcome. If that’s you, you need to instantly shift from competitive mode to combat mode. And that ain’t easy.

Scenario training can help. The goal of such exercises should be not only to help you shift into combat mode, but also to help you find your limits because most fights end psychologically rather than physiologically.

You can, and probably should, attend seminars and professionally developed courses to gain experience, particularly where you can safely use weapon-simulators like Simunition™ and Shocknife® tools, or less-lethal devices like Tasers and pepper spray in relatively realistic conditions. These implements do not truly replicate the chaos and fear of real encounters, but they are a hell of a lot closer than rubber knives, paintball guns, or paper targets ever could be. Working with “woofers” who simulate bad guys, trainers in “bulletman” suits who can take full contact hits without breaking (usually) and the like is excellent.

“Will drills” that test your limits and help you learn to fight to the goal are important as well. Here are a few additional drills to consider:

Free-for-all drill

If you train long enough, dojo etiquette becomes ingrained. One of the challenges that experienced martial artists tend to encounter is working outside the box. Drills are, after all, “just” drills, so practitioners follow the rules even though they sometimes miss the larger picture.

Why are you doing the drill? What does “success” look like? If it is a competitive thing, success will be very different than if it’s a combat simulation, which is not the same thing as a self-defense scenario. For example, if it is supposed to be light contact sparring, but the other guy is a foot taller and a hundred pounds heavier than you are, you don’t run over to the weapons rack and pull out a sword to even the odds. Sparring is competitive, even when weight classes are not used. Success is not winning at any cost; it’s scoring a point. If a training partner comes at you with a rubber knife and you are supposed to attempt a disarm, you do your best to make it happen, right? But if it’s a self-defense scenario, then yelling for help while getting the hell out of there is more than likely the best approach. Why go hands-on against a dangerous weapon if you do not need to? In real life that’s a losing proposition.

A simulated free-for-all brawl can be a really good way to learn the improvisation and develop the mindset necessary for street survival. The simulated brawl can be dangerous and takes a lot of pre-planning, but it is worth it.

The “brawl” is generally done as a one-step drill for safety. That means that each participant gets one movement before the other guy gets a turn. This sounds sorta ho-hum, but with skill, the one step becomes extremely fast (though it really does not matter as long as everyone goes at the same speed and can be safe). Use a cluttered room. Nightclubs are preferable; you can often rent them for the day as long as you’ve finished and cleaned-up before customers arrive at night, but bars and warehouses can work too.

The game is played with everyone against everyone, using the environment. Everything is in play. Shoving people into corners, furniture, doorknobs, and other participants is fair game, expected even. Temporary alliances and anything else the fertile imaginations of the group can come up with is allowed.

Full weapons and “frisk fighting” rules are in effect, so you can use just about anything in the room or on the other guy to fight with. That means that street clothes are required, and firearms, knives, and other lethal implements cannot be brought into the facility. A common strategy is to pull implements off the other guy’s belt, or out of his pocket, and use them against him. Unless you have experienced trainers in the space with thorough safety protocols in effect, do not do this drill. Everyone in the training area, including observers, instructors, and safety officers must be thoroughly pat-searched each time they enter the training area. No exceptions. If your safety protocols are lax or the participants let their egos get out of control, people will get hurt.

Instead of pool cues, beer bottles, and other impromptu weapons that could cause serious injury even at one-step speeds, simulations can be created. Rubber knives and plastic training guns you can buy, but you can make most anything else out of schedule-40 PVC*, foam pipe insulation, and duct tape. The PVC pipe is cut to length, shaped with a heat gun, and glued where necessary. Wrap with foam to create cushioned striking surfaces and seal with the tape to hold it together. That is a recipe for a rocking good time.

With his Tactical Team, Rory used to do this in extremely low-light conditions to add another twist. Once you get going, it’s amazing how creative you can be with this drill. And what you will learn from it.

Find your limits

The first time I tried riding a chairlift, I fell off. It wasn’t far, perhaps a dozen feet, and I landed in soft powdered snow so I wasn’t hurt. But it exacerbated my innate fear of heights. The acrophobia seemed to be getting worse over time, so I decided to do something about it. In high school, I took a summer job cleaning gutters. Since I had given my word to the owner of the company, and wasn’t about to break that trust, I had to show up and face my fears every day for three months. It wasn’t easy, but it was educational. Since then I’ve done a ropes course and even rappelled off a 75-foot tower. I still don’t like heights, but I know that I can face them.

It is hard to know what you are truly capable of. Regular folks sometimes climb mountains to conquer their fears. Others participate in Outward Bound or similar outdoor adventure programs that test their limits. Martial artists participate in thirty-man kumite and the like. Overcoming extreme challenges can be illuminating. It can empower you, or it can break you. There is a danger in such situations. But, it is useful to know what you are capable of, particularly when it comes to a struggle for survival. At Level 6, you cannot give up.

There are a ton of scenario training drills that can help. Here is one I am somewhat hesitant to offer. It’s risky. Odds are good that you will be a different person after you have completed it. Nevertheless, it is worth considering.

Find three to five experienced martial artists whom you trust completely. These guys need to have good skills and great control because this drill is going to be full contact. Use minimal protective gear —gloves, mouth guards, and hard-cups. It is a good idea to have trained medical personnel standing by just in case…

Your job is to spar against all of them at once. There are no rounds, no breaks, and no time limits. The only rule is that you are trying to hurt each other, not inflict lasting injuries. It’s Level 4 and 5 work. Unless you manage to knock out all of your opponents, the drill continues until you are exhausted, physically unable to defend yourself. Then your opponents beat you for one full minute.

Going into a drill knowing that you cannot win takes guts. You will learn something about yourself by undergoing it.

Slaughtering an animal

Here is the deal: If you train in the martial arts and your technique fails, you will understandably be upset. Particularly if you have trained for years, decades. Often enough, when techniques work, folks become equally upset. Maybe even more so, because they are unprepared for results. The sound of breaking bones. The vision of a big man trying weakly to scream. You have been learning some nasty stuff and may be in for a surprise when you find out just how nasty it can be.

One of the biggest disconnects in martial arts training is that it is so easy to forget what you are training to do. An elegant throw used in the ring on a fellow practitioner who knows how to fall scores you a point. Wins you the match. The same throw on the street, performed on an average person who does not know a break-fall from a bowling ball, is slamming the other guy’s head into the ground with enough force to shatter his shoulder. Or break his neck. A powerful, focused punch lands with enough force to concuss the brain or break or dislocate the adversary’s jaw.

This is not mindfulness. To practice and to either forget or ignore what you are practicing is something close to unforgivable.

We had to put down Gazelle, a paralyzed goat. Put down means “kill.” Maybe it means, “kill for its own good, for the cessation of pain.” I went out early in the morning and dug the grave. It is a sin in my family to waste meat, but since the paralysis was probably due to loss of circulation the meat may not have been safe. I dug the grave close because I know that limp bodies are much harder to move than stiff ones. I took aim from about a foot and a half away with a .40 caliber semi-automatic handgun and pulled the trigger.

The shot was very loud in the morning quiet. I’d aimed for the sniper spot, the brainstem. We are taught that in a hostage situation, a direct hit on the brainstem will make the threat go limp, so they will not reflexively clench their hands and pull a trigger. I missed. I’m a good shot with a handgun. That means that on my best days, I’m about half as good as a TV hero. The miss (live targets move or I may have rushed the shot out of fear that Gazelle would move) was about an inch from my aim point, missing the brainstem but entering the brain cavity. It was a special expanding bullet and didn’t exit the skull. Gazelle started shuddering and twitching.

She was dead—CSF (cerebral spinal fluid) and blood had erupted from both ears and her nose at the shot. Her eyes were fixed. I touched her eyeball and there was no blink reflex. She was dead, dead, dead. But the brainstem is old and animal, and it kept her legs jerking and her heart beating and her breath going in little raspy gasps. For about a minute. I think I watched that long because I was convincing myself that she was dead and I didn’t screw up. But my wife was there (my excuse?) and it was hard on her to watch (oh, no, couldn’t be hard on me… I’ve been butchering animals since I was a kid! Bullshit. It’s still hard. I just do it more efficiently and with more respect and with clearer reasons now). So I fired again, this time hitting the sniper spot, and Gazelle went limp instantly.

People don’t die much differently.

Can you take a life? Really? What’s it like to have done so?

A friend of mine, Jack (Lt. Col. John R. Finch), relates,

“I have seen convicted murderers suddenly awake screaming from a sound sleep and try to run from what they later, I believe, honestly describe as the hands of their victims reaching for them through the walls of their room. As we staff intercepted these scared criminal patients, we realized that despite their crimes, there was more to their punishment than that meted out by the legal system.”

Will you freeze and let yourself be slaughtered? Will you succeed only to wake up every night screaming in terror? Will you suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)? Or will you do what you have to, make the most of it, and move on?

Hopefully you will never have to find out. If you want to get a glimpse of what it is like, a mere inkling, in a legal and ethical way, try slaughtering and butchering an animal.

Yeah, really.

Hunting is okay, but it is really not an adequate illustration of what you need to feel. With bow or rifle, the distance is too great, the connection is missing. The skill going into the stalk becomes the focus, not the death, not the act of killing. Finishing a downed animal with your knife is a bit closer. Cleaning and butchering it gives you some of the sounds and smells, but it is still not the same thing.

Slaughtering, killing a domestic animal, is different. It is more intense if you have raised the animal, named it, and it is a species that you like.

Rory never really liked sheep all that much, so slaughtering them does not bother him much. But he does like goats. And raises them. They are smart and wild, and have personalities. He learns more and it hits him harder to kill a goat.

Understand this: the point of this exercise is to hit yourself as hard as you legally and ethically can.

See what you learn.

Legally—an animal, not a human; a food animal, not a pet; and one that belongs to you or you have permission to slaughter.

Ethically—you would learn more killing with your bare hands or making a botch of it with a knife, but any unnecessary pain is wrong. When you kill, under any circumstances, it should be as quick, clean, and painless as you can make it. That is the right thing to do.

Most of you reading this will never do this exercise. Those that do, your options are to raise your own animal or help out a friend who already butchers. It is nice to have small farmers for friends. It also helps because you will have someone with a proven method to teach you.

Rory has slaughtered with both a gun and a sword. Lawrence has done it with a gun.

That is the point, of course, and the importance of this exercise. Martial arts and self-defense, on one level, is the manufacture of cripples and corpses. Pretty that up if you have to, but if you need prettier words you have not come to terms with what you may need to do.

I could tell you what you might learn, about life, about weapons, and about yourself. But I won’t. You need to do the drill, produce your own meat, and make your own discoveries.

Breaking the Freeze

You are in a fight for your life. You might think you know what you would do, or want to do, but in the heat of the moment you find that you can’t pull it off. What if you freeze? Most people do when faced with extreme violence. Freezing is not moving when you are in danger. Sometimes it is involuntary, when adrenaline kicks in and you go into hardwired-freeze mode and cannot do anything. Sometimes it is tactical; you choose not to move because it is your best option for the moment such as taking cover during a gunfight. Sometimes, in the midst of a freeze, you honestly cannot tell if you can’t move or just don’t want to.

Perception under extreme stress is altered—both your senses and your perception of time. Some people, who think they froze in combat, were only frozen for a fraction of a second. They just remember it as a very long time. Or they think they are moving in slow motion but were actually moving normally. Some folks who clearly remember doing lots of things actually stood there with a blank look imagining doing stuff. Personal reports of events, particularly freezes, are unreliable for establishing facts.

One of the reasons that freezing is not well understood in humans is that there are many reasons to freeze, many ways to freeze, and that each type has different implications. Some are easier to train away than others, some can only be minimized, some disappear entirely. Some freezes feel like freezes. Some do not. And some do not even register consciously. That’s a tough one because in order to break the freeze, you must first recognize that you are frozen.

If you believe you should be doing something and you are not doing it, you are frozen. If you are taking damage or seeing someone else take damage but have a warm, comfortable feeling and hear a rushing noise like the ocean in your ears, you are frozen.

Recognize it. Acknowledge it. Say, “I’m frozen.” Out loud is better because it reminds you that you can affect the world. It is easy to say stuff in your head and not do it. Then tell yourself to do something. Anything. Scream, hit back, run, whatever. Say it and do it. Then tell yourself to do something, again, maybe even repeat the same action. And do it.

Recognize you are frozen. Make yourself do something. And keep it up until you are moving and thinking freely.

This will give you the best chance to act.

Categories: Martial Arts


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