Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Bare Knuckled

I've talked a little bit here about firearms and a little about knives.  I think, for the average person preparing for the coming collapse, there is a "holy triad" of self-defense, the handgun, the knife and the bare hand.  And, all three of those things suffer from inaccurate, though popular, perceptions.  The handgun is assumed to either be deadly or difficult for anyone to shoot correctly (hint:  practice!), the knife is assumed to either be a lightsaber to your enemy or very dangerous to yourself (hint: train!) and the bare hand is either the equivalent of a wet noodle or a virtual sledgehammer.  The problem is that most people don't spend much time studying these things, because they're really not part of our daily lives (yet) and so we basically tend to run on what we hear from other people (some of whom should know better) who're equally ill-informed. 

The reason for considering these three things as being staples of self-defense is simple.  The handgun is very portable and concealable, meaning that it won't attract attention or cause alarm where a rifle might, plus it's handy when you're engaged in some other activity (driving, walking around with your hands full, etc).  Knives are also easily concealable, very effective at close range, easily made from a wide variety of improvised materials and also useful as tools.  Finally, bare hands are never taken away from your (unless you're injured or maimed) and are faster to deploy than anything else.  I once had a discussion with a person who had a carry permit, with the person of the opinion that it wasn't necessary to know any martial arts if someone had a gun.  My response was that in close quarters, it may be difficult or impossible to draw, if you're surprised, your arm is trapped, etc.  Krav Maga, for example, recognizes this as being a possible situation and stresses practicing pushing back an attacker before readying a weapon.  Martial arts also allows for a less than lethal response, something not open for people who're relying on a handgun or knife to stop a fight.  I once broke up a fight between two people in the workplace, that would've ended with at least one of the two people badly injured or dead, using a basic karate technique (use your own discretion if you're ever in the same situation!).  In fact, the utility of martial arts is recognized by most major militaries and has been an area of focused improvement in the Marine Corps, , the IDF, the Russian armed forces, etc.

The other point is that most of us are not soldiers, or training to be soldiers, so all the "models" that traditional survivalists have relied on, such as being heavily armed and living in a bunker, are not exactly correct.  While it's a good idea to be ready for serious emergencies, the reality is that most of us are going to be busy trying to deal with daily life as the world around us collapses. 

If you're not convinced that leaning how to fight unarmed is worth your time, I'd suggest reading up on what other people have to say on the subject.  For those who think it's a good idea and are looking for more information, there are plenty of sources to consult, along with a lot of disinformation.  For my part, I've studied nearly a dozen different forms of martial arts, along with doing a considerable amount of reading and discussion with other people about martial arts, what works, what doesn't, etc.  Even with all that, I won't bother passing myself off as a "guru" and trying to claim that one style is superior to another.  However, I can offer some insights.

The first is that there is a huge difference between styles which are dedicated to sport and to self-defense.  Ones which emphasize self-defense focus on putting another person out of action as quickly as possibly, usually by attacking vital areas or doing other things which are considered "unsporting."  By contrast, sport forms are dedicated to competition and conditioning.  Sometimes, the two overlap, though it's not common.  This isn't to say that a sport martial art is useless for defense, but that it's just not what it's intended for.  Judo, tae kwon do, etc, are generally considered to be sporting styles.  Styles which rely on a large number of kicks or intricate manuevers are also less practical, as are styles which rely heavily on physical conditioning or grappling.  While "submission" fighting can be impressive -- and mixed martial arts fighters are in very good shape -- ending up on the ground is very dangerous, especially if you're outnumbered.  For example, if you're fighting two people, and try to grapple with one, you're defenseless against the other.  It also makes escape harder.

Second, if it's a good style, you'll be able to learn quickly the basics of what you need to defend yourself in a few training sessions.  This doesn't mean that you don't have a lot of things to practice and perfect (muscle memory takes time to "set"), but that what you've learned right off the bat will be immediately useful.  I made the mistake once of studying an art where I was told -- after the first session -- that it wasn't until the later ranks that I'd learn self-defense techniques.  The only point of that approach is to milk the students for money.
(I'll take a quick sidebar here and say that it's important to know the kind of instructor and school you're dealing with, if you're going to pay for lessons -- there are people who teach the "flavor of the month" other words, the guy last week who was teaching Tae Kwon Do might be teaching Krav Maga this week...also, watch out for people who are more interested in talking about contracts and payment plans than their art -- the best school is one where you plunk down cash up front and if you come or not, that's your business!)

Third, you don't have to be a star athelete to do martial arts.  While it's obviously helpful to be in condition, the fact is that any practice is better than nothing and may make the difference between life and death (stats have shown that people who do not passively accept violent attack are more likely to escape without serious injury).  Doing martial arts themselves may actually lead people to work on improving their physical condition, for that matter.

Last, there are numerous styles to choose from to suit everyone's tastes, though most similar styles are similar due to biomechanics.  For example, I was surprised to be flipping through an article about George Silver, an English "fencing master" of the 1600s.  He included techniques in his unarmed section that was a knife-edge hand to the bridge of the nose, an identical technique to what you'd see in a karate dojo!  This means that if you're not able to study what you like, you might be able to find something similar to it.  For speed of learning and practicality, I think Krav Maga is probably the best bet for most people.  It was designed with rapid learning in mind and doesn't contain much "fluff." 

I don't think we should expect to -- or worry about -- having to engage in a constant hand-to-hand battle for survival like in The Ultimate Warrior or Steel Dawn.  I do think that we're going to need to be reasonably prepared to take care of ourselves, and being able to defend ourselves without weapons is part of this preparation.  After all, the best way to avoid trouble is to be ready for it.


  1. I really agree with you except one very small point on knives. They can be remarkably effective at ending a fight, or allowing you to escape without killing your attacker(s). Go to the Outdoor channel's web site and look at videos from the show "Best Defense". The one gentleman on the show has several segments on how to use a very short knife (1 1/2") to disable you attacker by cutting important muscle groups at are not near major arteries or veins. Additionally these are definitely not target areas most the martial arts I have learned paid much attention to defending. Just my 2 cents worth. THanks for a great blog.

  2. Yeah, knives can be used for that purpose, although, of course, a "minor" wound in a world without antibiotics or the "urgent care" is going to be more serious than we'd expect.

    One other point that I thought was interesting was reading how even a minor knife wound can also result in a person going into shock if they're susceptible to it (I believe I read that in one of Marc MacYoung's books and he was citing a trauma medicine source).

    Thanks for the comments on the blog. It's always good to know that people are finding it useful.

  3. Stumbled upon your blog, like what I have read.

    I'd like to comment on your thoughts about self-defense. I have 40+ years of experience in the martial arts of jujitsu & aikido. I'm in my early sixties and still teach/train 8 hours a week. IMO it takes many years of training before one can truly say that they have internalized the skills necessary for defending oneself in a real life confrontation; especially a situation involving multiple attackers. I am appalled by short term 'self-defense' courses which I believe give the student a false sense of confidence that he/she has the ability to defend themselves against a determined attacker. Training must be constant and consistent in order to develop an automatic and effective response to an attack. Otherwise, one is deluding himself about his/her abilities.

    As much as I enjoy my continuing involvement in martial arts, I consider my training as something that would only be used as a last resort. Basically, my training will enable me to gain enough time and distance to deploy a gun or a knife. A gun being a better tool than a knife unless silence is a factor in survival. As far as knife fighting is concerned its fine as long as you are the only one with a knife. Knife against knife fighting likewise requires years of dedicated training.

    Ultimately, the best tool is a handgun. A gun puts you on 'higher ground' than an unarmed attacker or an attacker armed with a knife. And, depending upon your skills, it gives you at a minimum parity with an attacker armed with a gun and if you are highly skilled it gives you superiority over the typical punk holding his 9 millimeter sideways. However, you do have to train and that training has to become a regular routine. On top of that you have to develop a mindset that will enable you to fire the gun without hesitation if your life is threatened.

    When threatened with the possibility of serious bodily harm or death untrained people go into flight or fight mode. Adrenaline floods your body and mind. Only with training and the proper mindset can one control those urges and act decisively. Flight is fine (preferable) if there is an avenue of escape, fight is fine as long as you have the skills and tools to fight effectively. Better to train, train, train, and train some more and when attacked go into offensive mode.

    Thanks my 2,000 inflated cents. ;-)

  4. I have a few comments concerning self-defense. My purpose is not to contradict or disparage your ideas.

    First of all, I don't believe its possible to learn truly effective open hand self defense in a matter of weeks or months. I believe it takes many years of constant and consistent training. And, training must become a weekly routine and continue throughout your lifetime. I've been studying jujitsu and later aikido for over 35 years. I still teach/train 8 hours a week. I (and others) consider myself to be very competent in my chosen art, and against an attacker lacking training I am confident that at my age (early sixties) I would have no trouble handling the typical young street punk or even 2 or 3 punks at once. But against another trained artist/fighter it would all come down to who has trained the hardest and best understood the advantages and disadvantages of his/her chosen art.

    IMO the real benefit of the martial arts is that in a life & death situation your martial arts skills may give you the time (in seconds) and distance (measured in inches or a few feet at most) to deploy a weapon. In most situations that a civilian will face defense with a handgun is a near contact 'sport'.

    A knife is a good weapon, especially if you have one (& know how to use it) and your foe does not. Otherwise, knife against knife will come down to who is the better trained, you or your opponent. Same goes for firearms.

    However, firearms have one distinct advantage. If you have a gun (and the will to use it) and the attacker does not you have an overwhelming advantage and he or they will most likely break contact and flee. Likewise, if both parties are armed but you have better training you still have an advantage over the attacker. And if both the intended victim and the attacker are well trained then at least you are on equal footing and your chances of survive are obviously much better than the unarmed intended victim.

    A final point, if you have the training and confidence in your abilities, that will be reflected in how you carry yourself and your attention to your surroundings; many (but not all) would be attackers will notice this and seek an easier victim.

  5. BTW, I failed to add in my comments that I like your blog. Your tone is rational and civil. I'll check back here regularly to read your ideas and opinions.

  6. Hmmmmm, I must be doing something wrong. I posted some thoughts about self defense and took the steps to post the comments but they aren't showing up, while my note at 3:23 PM does.

  7. Perhaps the third time will be the charm....

    IMO open hand self defense requires long term (lifetime) constant and consistent training. It can't be learned in a matter of weeks or months. It must be practiced over and over and over again against a wide range of attacks. I have 35+ years of training/teaching in jujitsu & aikido. I understand the advantages and limitations of my chosen art, and I am confident I can handle most situations against young, stronger (unarmed) attackers. However, I believe the real advantage martial arts training gives you is that it might allow you to gain time (a second or 3) and distance (inches or a few feet at most) to deploy a weapon. Weapons and the skill and willingness to use them are what separates winners from losers.

    Knives are fine as long as you know what to do with the knife and your opponent is unarmed. Otherwise, the better knife fighter wins. The same goes for firearms. If you have one and the attacker(s) do not you are obviously hold a distinct advantage provided you are willing to use the gun. If both parties are wielding firearms the most skilled and coolest head will remain standing.

  8. I've noticed that blogger can eat comments sometimes. It's not a bad idea to copy your comments to the clipboard before hitting the post button.

    I know that martial arts (and, really, anything to do with self-defense) is often a source of controversy. One thing we need to keep in mind is that 99 percent of the people in the world probably haven't bother to put serious time and resources into learning how to fight. Even the so-called "street fighters" are mostly on the same level as anyone else, unless they've bothered to go train, so anything that a person can learn is already putting them ahead of the game. I've dealt with a few people who've been into jail as a lifestyle and wasn't too impressed with how they fought.

    At the same time, I've seen people who've done a month or two of classes at a serious school and practiced on a regular basis be at least halfway competent in terms of taking care of themselves. (now, the people who stand there and grin in embarrassment when they are being taught stuff are just hopeless and need to go do something else)

    I think my feeling ultimately is that something's better than nothing, that if a person at least learns something, then they're going to be somewhat ahead of where everyone else. I know that there is the self-confidence issue, although anyone can fall victim to that (SEALs, SWAT teams, etc), and the same can be true if they're trying to use a handgun or rifle.