Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Ways To Strike With A Pistol

In pattern with the recent posts, here's a brief treatment of how to use a pistol as an impact weapon.  Sure, shooting bullets is the primary way to use the weapon, but not all situations allow or call for such usage.  Perhaps you're out of bullets.  Perhaps your gun jams and the bad guy leaps on you.  Maybe the area behind your target isn't clear, and you don't want to risk hurting an innocent person.  Whatever the case may be, there are plenty of situations in which you may want to use a pistol as an impact weapon rather than a projectile weapon.

The Pistol Whip

Anybody who has played a first-person shooter game in the last two decades is probably familiar with this move.  It involves striking with the bottom of the handle.  This is a perfectly natural movement as it is essentially just a hammer fist assisted by a hard object.

The Barrel Push/Thrust

This is when you basically thrust the barrel of the gun into the other person.  You can't quite get the velocity or power that you can with the pistol whip, but it'll hurt nonetheless...especially if you choose an effective target.  Now, this isn't meant to be like in the movies where the bad guy pushes someone with a gun in a way that maintains contact.  This is more like a powerful break in a game of 9-ball.  Hit and retract.  Part of the reason for this is the slight (I emphasize...slight) possibility that if you maintain pressure on the barrel such that the slide moves back ever so slightly, some guns may not fire because the firing pin can no longer reach the bullet.  Like I said, it's rare, but I imagine that if you have your gun out then you want to take every precaution to make sure it does what you want it to, when you want it to.

The Barrel Slap

You can get a bit more velocity on this one than the barrel push.  You swing the barrel of the gun like a little stick and hit the bad guy using any side of the barrel (top, sides, bottom...if you're gun is long enough).  If you hit with the top of the barrel, you might be able to get some bonus damage by raking the sights across the guy's skin.


The purpose or goal of hitting someone with a pistol in any of these ways can range anywhere from just hurting the guy to getting distance so you can get a clear shot off.  It all depends on the situation.  Maybe you don't even want to shoot the guy.  He may have rushed at you thinking you wouldn't shoot, or maybe you hadn't drawn yet.  You slap the guy around a bit with the gun to let him know you're willing to hurt him, you gain some distance, point the gun at him, and then let him quietly ponder his life choices as he realizes the seriousness of his situation.


It should be noted that guns are precise machines (some more than others).  Slamming your gun into a hard surface (like a skull) might cause things to get knocked out of place.  So, be ready to clear any jams that might occur afterwards.  My understanding is that semi-automatics, having more moving parts, are more finicky than revolvers.  Perhaps doing some experimentation at a shooting range (they may not like you slamming your gun into the table so going out in the country might be better) would be a good idea.  Another thing to be very careful of is the possibility of your gun going off because of the impact.  Maybe the impact moves that firing pin just fast enough to pop that primer.  All gun safety recommendations are still in effect.  Be very aware of where your gun is pointing.  Your intent might be just to hit, but your rickety old pistol might just go off when you do it.  KNOW YOUR WEAPON.

If you found this article eye opening, then you might also want to check out my similar article on alternate striking methods with knives.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Ways To Strike With A Knife

The ways in which you might cause damage to an opponent when using a knife might seem obvious, but there is more to this ubiquitous weapon than just cutting people.  As mentioned in my previous post, most knives can be used as both an edged weapon and a pointed weapon.  That covers the slashing and stabbing that people associate with knives.  But let's not neglect the potential of the other parts of the knife.

As an example, let's look at my CRKT M16-04Z.

Closed position

"Stay away from me if you know what's good for you" position
Just for reference, the blade is 4 inches long (in Texas, you can legally go up to 5.5 inches).  From end to end, it's about 9.25 inches.  Here's what it looks like in my hand.

If we're not friends and you see me like this,
your day is not likely to improve

As I said, the blade and point are the obvious danger zones of this weapon.  But there are some other ways of striking with it.  For example, look at the part of the handle that protrudes out from the bottom of my hand.  It may not be "sharp" per se, but it's enough of a corner to do some serious damage as an impact weapon.  I'm a big fan of hammer fist strikes already.  So this part of the knife just augments those strikes.  In the Apache Ghost Dog system, striking with that part of the handle is called an "eagle's beak".  If you've ever had, the back of you hand hit in knife sparring with one of know it hurts badly.

Let's not forget that the blade (particularly the one on this knife) is a slab of metal with some weight behind it.  Beyond the cutting/stabbing parts of the blade, hitting someone with the flat of the blade can be jarring and painful.  In sparring, I do this using a whipping motion similar to a back fist strike.  I use it to either hit my opponent's weapon out of their hand or to just do damage to their hand.  It's very fast and gives up a minimum in terms of openings.  In the Apache Ghost Dog system, this is called a "snapping turtle".  When you feel it, you'll know why.  Now obviously, if you have a little blade, this isn't going to be as effective as, say, a bowie knife.  So, know your weapon.

Now, most knives that people carry around these days are folding knives rather than fixed blades.  Just because a knife isn't in the open position, doesn't mean that it can't do damage.

Closed position, in hand
As you can see, I still have the eagle's beak strike available to me.  I also have a similar strike on the other end.  If effect, a closed knife is like a kubaton, which is a small impact weapon like the one below.
Spiked kubaton

You should also note that my knife fits excellently into my hand, weighting it for more devastating punches.

It's not a roll of quarters, but it'll do

So, even in the closed position, I have heavy punches and impact weapon potential for hammer fist strikes on either side of my fist...all before I even deploy the knife.  This can be useful knowledge when faced with a self-defense situation in which you are able to pull your knife but don't quite have time to open it.  Hit the bad guy somewhere painful, and when you have a couple seconds to open your knife, do so.


Knives are dangerous weapons in many ways, obvious and non-obvious.  I didn't mention throwing your knife, but that's a possibility as well.  Though I'm more in the camp of "why would I throw away a good blade?"  All of this is just to highlight the point of my last article that weapons can fit into multiple categories.  So, understand what you can do within a weapon category and you can quickly figure out how to effectively use any weapon that fits into those categories.  In this case, knowledge of pointed, edged, impact, and even projectile weapons will help you to more effectively use knives.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Weapon Taxonomy

There are a lot of different weapons out there. If you include all of the "traditional" martial arts weapons then the variety seems to grow tremendously.  If you want to be as effective as possible in a self-defense situation, then you'd better have some weapons skills, but does that mean that you have to practice with as many different weapons as possible in the event that something strange or exotic is available in a fight?  Thankfully, the answer is a definite "no".

What you should practice with are some weapons that are representative of their entire category.  If you don't know what the categories of weapons are, then read on.

Like the classification of living things in biology, weapons can be grouped (and subgrouped) based on their characteristics.  A good taxonomy will have non-overlapping categories.  So, I'll do my best to meet that standard here.  Keep in mind that while the categories don't overlap, there are weapons that fit into multiple categories.  Not to worry though.  If you understand how to fight with each of the categories, then that multi-category weapon will work just fine for you.

1. Projectile
2. Impact
3. Edged
4. Pointed
5. Flexible

Let's look at some examples.

I love my XDM
Guns are the typical example of projectile weapons, but they aren't by any means the only projectile weapons.  Assuming that stinger missiles and ICBMs aren't in your arsenal, any of the following would also constitute projectile weapons.
Throwing knives...of movie fame

The ever popular "ninja" star
Yes...this is a rock

Anything that you send through the air counts as a projectile.  Let's look at some impact weapons, which are basically anything that you use to hurt someone by running into their body really fast while it's still in your hands.

Here's the typical rattan stick ala Filipino martial arts a stick with an extra handle

Nunchucks are good for bashing people...
that definitely counts as an impact weapon
I witnessed the two year old version of my little brother
smash the skull of my older brother with one of these.
It looked like it hurt.  So, this goes here.
The ubiquitous folding chair of pro wrestling fame

And just to make this explicit, you could use a gun as an impact weapon by simply bashing someone with it.  Try not to knock it out of battery or jack up your optics, know...don't die either.  Keep your priorities straight.

On to edged weapons...which are anything with a sharp enough edge to slice flesh open.

CRKT M16 Z ... never leaves my side
"Butcher" knife

Straight razor
A shard of broken glass will cut you as easily as
any knife will

I used a typical knife as the first example because that's what people tend to think of when the term "edged" weapon is used.  However, technically it is both an edged AND a pointed weapon (but nobody really bothers to say that...because it's inconvenient).  Edged weapons need not be pointed and pointed weapons need not be edged.  As we will see below.  Oh yeah, and all these examples except for the glass have impact potential...and they all have projectile potential.  Anyway!  Pointed weapons...

Prison shiv #1

Prison shiv #2
The school yard favorite...

Ergonomic handle for really driving that sucker deep

So yeah, anything that you can stab somebody with counts as a pointed weapon.  If you're really talented, then maybe you could turn these into projectile weapons.

Of all weapon categories, flexible weapons is probably the most neglected.  Or at least, only a very small subset of these weapons have any sort of popularity.  We've already seen the nunchucks, which are a sort of flexible/impact weapon crossover.  But that's just scratching the surface.

Three piece staff ala China

Kusari fundo ala Japan
Flail ala...miscellaneous European countries...I don't know

I actually wear this kind of belt virtually every day.  The
metal doesn't look like much, but I could break someone's
bone with it I'm sure.

Here's the famous Dan Inosanto using a sarong (ala Indonesia)
to make some poor guy's day a little less pleasant
Flexible weapons have a "bendy" part.  They can be used to grab, immobilize, and strangle.  When weighted, they can be used as effective impact weapons as well.

That is about it for categories of weapons.  If you can understand how to use each of the categories, then you should be able to use just about anything that you pick up to defend yourself adequately.  You should be able to improvise just about any object into a weapon of some kind.  Adaptability is key.

I've been thinking a lot about various weapons and their applications in self-defense scenarios.  So, expect to see more along this vein in upcoming posts.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Rock, Paper, Scissors...Stab!

Recently, I saw a video that inspired me to make a new drill for my students.  The video took place in a kendo school.  Two opponents knelt in front of each other.  Between them were two toy hammers and a big bowl.  They then proceeded to play rock, paper, scissors.  The winner grabbed the hammer and tried to hit the other guy's head.  The loser grabbed the bowl and tried to use it as a helmet as quickly as possible.  If a clean shot was landed, then a point was awarded.

Beyond the comedic value of the video, I instantly saw a framework for what will likely be many games/drills at my dojo.  The first of which I will do this Saturday and will proceed as follows.

Two opponents will kneel in front of each other about one and a half arm lengths apart.  In front of them will be two training knives, one for each of them.  They will play rock, paper, scissors.  The winner gets to grab their knife and will have 3 seconds to cut the other person.  The loser must defend through blocking, parrying, and/or disarming.  If the loser gets cut (probably restrict this to vital areas), then he or she has to do 5 push ups.  If they tie, then they can both grab a knife and the same rules apply.  If you lose the rock, paper, scissors battle and you grab a knife anyway, then you do 10 push ups on top of whatever else happens.

I'm pretty sure that's going to be a lot of fun.  I like the drill for several reasons.  First, there's a randomness to it.  Often in martial arts drills, roles are assigned and everyone knows what they're supposed to do and when they're supposed to do it.  It lacks a certain realistic uncertainty.  Even having an instructor call out which person is supposed to attack can lead to some psychological predictions on the student's part because the instructor will inevitably want both sides to get an even number of tries at either role.  The rock, paper, scissors pre-game eliminates all of that.  The students have to be ready to attack or defend at a moment's notice.  Second, because of the uncertainty, there's a requirement to be not only physically quick but mentally quick.  I'd argue that mental quickness is the more important of the two in a fight.

I'm actually quite looking forward to trying out this new drill/game.  I have a feeling that there will be some push ups to be had...

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Stopping Power? Physics and Bullets

Being a martial artist, the topic of guns comes up frequently.  When it does, the issue of what caliber of ammo is best usually gets brought up along with the all-too-popular point about "stopping power".  Stopping power is often brought up by proponents of larger caliber bullets (.45 and up).  The argument tends to go along the lines of claiming that the bigger bullet has a better ability to stop a bad guy that's coming at you.  Rather than conjecture about whether or not it's a valid point, let's use some science to figure this out.

First off, let's agree that Hollywood movies do not constitute sufficient evidence of stopping power.  Ridding our minds of the images from movies that bias our thoughts on the effects that bullets have on the human body can be difficult.  That's why we have to let the science and math speak on the issue.

The most relevant physical law at play here is the law of conservation of momentum.  The momentum of an object is calculated simply by taking the product of its mass (m) and its velocity (v), mv.  The law of conservation of momentum basically states that the combined momentum of two interacting objects will be the same before and after the interaction.  To put it in a formula:

m1v1 + m2v2 = m1v1' + m2v2'

Here the apostrophe after the velocities indicates the post-interaction velocity of the given objects. 

 An example of this type of interaction might be a bowling ball hitting a bowling pin.  Initially, the pin has zero velocity and the ball is moving at some speed.  After they hit, the pin is now moving (in the direction perpendicular to the tangent of the ball at the contact point) and the ball has slowed down somewhat.  If this didn't happen, then the ball would just smash through the pin, the back wall and whatever was behind the Juggernaut.

I'm the Juggernaut!  Once I start moving I can't be stopped!
This is bad for science but awesome for action scenes!
In much the same way, we can look at a bullet hitting a human being and what effect that might have on his momentum.  In other words, we can use the above formula to calculate just how much a bullet will slow someone down.  Cool, huh?

Now, the was to affect momentum as much as possible is to have a "sticky" interaction, which means that the two objects stick together when they hit each other.  A bullet that passes right through a guy isn't going to affect his momentum by much.  So, let's assume that the bullet fully embeds in the bad guy (of course the target is a bad guy...we only shoot bad guys...right?!).  I'm also going to make a bunch of other assumptions that will only help the "stopping power" argument.  Like I said earlier, people who argue for stopping power tend to carry .45 caliber and up.  Let's look at some stats on the .45 ACP round:

mass: 230 gr (15g)
velocity: 270 m/s

That's not too shabby.  But for the sake of this exercise, let's assume that our hero's pistol fires .50 BMG bullets.  (That's the big one in the picture below.)

The stats on this bullet a bit more impressive:

mass: 800 gr (52g)
velocity: 882 m/s

Enter the bad guy.  The average weight of a human male in the USA (according to wikipedia) is 195 lbs, but we're going to say our bad guy weighs only 150 lbs (68 kg).  Let's say that the bad guy is charging at our hero.  Now, this morning I ran 1.4 miles at about 3.5 m/s, which is NOT fast and certainly wouldn't qualify as an attacking speed.  So, let's assume that our bad guy is not only small but also slow, traveling at a mere 3 m/s.

To summarize:

The bad guy:
m= 68 kg
v= 3 m/s

The bullet:
m= 52 g = 0.052 kg
v= -882 m/s  (negative because the bullet is going in the opposite direction as the bad guy)

Post-impact (sticking together):
mm= 68.052 kg
v = ?

We want to use the above formula to solve for v.  (Who's up for some algebra?)

To substitute in the values that we know...

68 kg (3 m/s) + 0.052 kg (-882 m/s) = 68.052 kg (v)
158.136 kg m/s = 68.052 kg (v)
which means...
v = 2.33 m/s

v is positive, which means that the bad guy-bullet combo is still moving in the same direction as the bad guy was going before the impact.  In fact, a FREAKING .50 BMG bullet that COMPLETELY LODGED into the LOW WEIGHT bad guy was only able to slow him down 2/3 of a meter per second.

I won't bore you with more math, but the results for a more realistic situation involving a .45 ACP bullet and an average weight US male traveling at a typical sprinting speed (9 m/s) would be that the bullet would only slow down the bad guy by LESS THAN 0.05 meters per second.  That's not much given most altercations happen at a distance of less than 6 feet.  


Even if your bullet hits a major off switch, a knife wielding bad guy might still fall on you and cut you if you don't move out of the way.  It doesn't matter if you're firing .22 caliber bullets or a .50 BMG.  Personally, I carry a 9mm because it has MORE BULLETS.  With more bullets, I can shoot more bad guys or lay down some cover fire to allow me or someone else to move.   Many people will swear by their preferred caliber, and they may very well have their reasons.  Just don't let "stopping power" be one of them.

Springfield XDM 9mm Compact
19 bullets using the full-size mag...19!!

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Learning Techniques From Principles

Autumn Rhythm

With all of the science talk I do here, someone might get the impression there is no "art" aspect of martial arts and that everything can be broken down into a formula.  Rest assured, that is not the case.  In martial arts (as in life), the apparent dichotomy of art and science is really just two perspectives on one thing.  They work together like dance partners. Science is about analysis and learning.  Art is about expression and beauty.

In my last postI talked about the scientific process that allows you to extract big ideas from individual techniques.  Here, we go the other direction.  Instead of analytical skills getting us to our destination, creativity is our vehicle now.

Part of the reason that I emphasize generality so much when determining principles is because the more general a principle is, the fewer restrictions there are in applying it.  This makes room for creativity.  If the principle is truly a principle, then you should be able to apply it in many different ways and have it work.  Using this in sparring, I've performed techniques (strikes, joint locks, submissions, throws, etc.) that I had NEVER trained before yet the techniques were applied successfully.

You just need to know what the principles are, when they are relevant, and have a few basic ways of applying them.  Doing that will enable you to "make up" moves on the fly.  For example, take the push-pull mechanic/principle.  It applies not only to joint locks but throws, structure manipulation, weapon disarmament, and more.  I could (and probably will) do a whole series of posts on how to use the push-pull mechanic to do joint locks on every joint in the human body.

So first you should gain knowledge about fighting and your preferred fighting style using scientific methods.  Then take what you have learned and artistically express yourself through movement.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Learning Principles From Techniques

So, I talk a lot about the value of learning principles rather than just techniques.  If you have an instructor the explains the principles to you then you're in good shape, but what if the instructor doesn't explain the principles?  What do you do then?

If you want to extract the principles out of a technique, then you need to first deconstruct the technique into its components and then try to generalize each component as much as possible.  Now, there is not one, unique way to deconstruct a technique and different principles might be learned from different deconstructions.  In any case, you're sure to learn something.

Let's look at an example of something basic: a rear hand straight punch.  Here's a good example I pulled from


We can break this down from the ground up.  First, I see a balanced stance with the back heel slightly up.  He takes a lunging step forward and to the left of the target.  He rotates his hips and shoulders, which seems to give the punch more power.  He keeps his shoulders up, protecting his jaw, and his punch makes contact with the target before his lead leg touches the ground.  Also, he pulls his punching arm straight back the way it left.


So, let's see how we can generalize these components into principles that apply to much more.  From the stance, I can see that he has both balance and the ability to move forward quickly.  In fact, this stance looks like it can move in just about any direction quickly.  That sounds like a good thing.  So, we can get the principle of having a good, balanced stance.  In fact, his stance demonstrates an even more general principle of mobility.  Fighting on your feet, mobility comes down to stance and footwork, but on the ground your feet aren't going to help you so much.  The doesn't mean that mobility isn't important on the ground.  So, I'm going to say that the footwork in this technique is demonstrating the principle of mobility.

One of the goals of a straight punch is to do massive damage.  As seen in the picture, much of the power from this technique is coming from the rotation of his hips/torso/shoulders.  Is that rotation unique to this punch?  Well, if he opened his hand up into a palm strike, that wouldn't really affect the need to rotate for power.  An upward/thrusting elbow strike from the rear arm would likely also need the same rotation.  Is rotating this way a striking thing only or does it also apply to other things like grappling?  Well, if his hand had started on the target before the rotation, then the rotation would have ended up causing him to shove the target away.  That sounds useful.  So, I'm going to say that the rotation in this technique is demonstrating the principle of rotation to generate linear force.

In a fist fight, for the most part if you can reach the other guy, then he can reach you too.  That means that you might have to deal with an incoming punch while you are punching.  Keeping the shoulders up facilitates this defensive goal.  I imagine that not wanting to get hit while in the middle of a strike applies to any strike, not just this one.  In fact, anytime in a fight that you can hurt the other guy (striking, grappling, etc.) then you're probably at risk for being on the receiving end as well.  So, let's generalize even further and say that your structure and positioning during an offensive technique should mitigate against the risk of a simultaneous incoming attack.

Watching the animation above, I see that he gets a pretty good result on contact.  This is because of the timing of when his fist hits verses when his lead foot hits the ground.  That results in all of the momentum and force being transferred through his fist.  None of the forward motion is sent into the ground.  This certainly applies to other linear punches...probably jumping kicks too (land the kick before the support foot hits the ground).  Come to think of it, any time you make a movement that is meant to affect the other person, it would be better if none of your effort was wasted by having it dissipate into the ground (or really anything other than the opponent).  So, make sure to use your motion efficiently.


There you have it.  Four extremely general principles extracted from a single technique.  These principles not only applied to other techniques that are "near" the original like a jab or a front kick, but they also applied to grappling and ground fighting.  If you think about it, they apply to some weapons fighting as well.  So that's one of the scientific processes you can apply to learning martial arts.  Use this to extract lots of value out of your training!

Bonus points for anybody who understands
why this picture totally belongs here

Monday, September 14, 2015

Principles vs Techniques

This image taken from

I grew up watching kung fu movies.  Often times, the success of the protagonist depended on him or her mastering a particular technique or having more techniques than the antagonist.  While this does provide a simple and concrete sense of character growth through a movie, it doesn't really work that way in a fight.

In fact, most street fights and competitions are won with very simple techniques that were just applied in a superior way (better timing, better distance, etc.).  In competitions like the UFC, you very rarely see an "exotic" technique that leads to a win, but for the most part they use the same small set of techniques because they tend to work.  In a fight, attributes like speed, power, distance, timing, and perception have more to do with winning than the actual techniques used.

There are a number of factors that go into this, not least of which is the speed of decision making.  As Hick's Law states, the more options you have, the longer it takes to make a decision.  In a fight, decision making time is scarce.  So deciding which of your 101 techniques best fits the situation is not realistically applicable.

Rather than picking from many techniques, good fighters will apply knowledge of a small number of principles and then "flow" with the situation as it unfolds.  In sparring, virtually every time I do something "impressive", it's a technique that I had never practiced before and hadn't planned.  In fact, the technique I finished the encounter with is usually not the technique that I started with.

There are basic laws of physics that always apply and a handful of guiding principles that will get you through just about any scenario.  Learn those and your decisions will happen faster because you have fewer options.  When you decide faster, you can move faster.  The faster you move, the less likely you are to get hit.  I don't know about you, but not getting hit is really high on my list of priorities.  In fact, when you fight this way, you're not the one choosing which technique you should use...your opponent is choosing for you.

So learn the basic principles and mechanics of fighting and stop worrying so much about learning new techniques.  The techniques you use in a fight aren't likely to look exactly like the ones you practice anyway.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Dealing With Injuries

Most people who train in martial arts for any significant length of time end up with some injury or another.  Usually, it's not the end of the world or your training, but choosing how to deal with the injury can have a significant effect on your training.

Like I said in my earlier post, sticking to your routine is very important.  You don't want to disrupt it if you don't need to.  Something like a mildly pulled muscle or broken pinky finger might not warrant a total hiatus from training.  Wrapping up the area, taking things a bit easier, and notifying your training partners of what to be careful of will usually suffice (assuming your training partners aren't going to be jerks and exploit your weakness).

However, if the injury isn't healing well or is severe enough to hinder proper form in performing techniques, then you would do yourself a favor by taking some time off of the physical aspect of training.  For smart/good students, this time can be used to study your art on an intellectual level.  Even showing up to class isn't out of the question.  Most people probably don't see the value of simply observing a class, but if you are practiced in martial arts and have a good sense of body movement, then you can gain much from observing your instructor and other students as they attempt to perform the required movements for a class.

Now, some people try to push through the pain and train when they really shouldn't.  Yeah, you might avoid some of the short term strength and coordination loss, but there is often a long term cost that young students in particular fail to recognize.  I have enough minor aches and pains in my body to constantly remind me of this fact.  I can remember where I got each of those aches and pains, and I also regret not taking it easy to let them heal properly.  Instead, I'm left with a constant reminder of how stupid pushing through the pain of injuries can be.  Don't get me wrong.  Pushing through pain when it is simply your muscles or cardiovascular limits being met is great for improving.  Trying to do 200 kicks with a broken toe is stupidity.

Don't be stupid.  Train for longevity.  Train in such a way, that you won't be crippled or highly immobile when you're 70 years old.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Importance Of Routine

Variety may be the spice of life, but there's something to be said for having well established routines as well.  Sticking to a training routine is important for several reasons.

First, people tend to have habitual inertia.  By that, I mean that we're more likely to keep doing the things that we're already doing.  If you are going to the dojo/gym three times a week for several months, you'll likely continue that.  However, if you go on vacation and miss a whole week of training, not only has your body lost a step in terms of conditioning but you are also mentally less motivated to get back into your routine.  I find this particularly true of any routine that is difficult either mentally or physically.  It's just like going back to school after summer break.  It's painful at first, but if you force yourself you can get back into the swing of things.

As mentioned above, stepping out of your routine will result in a quick degradation of whatever physical gains you've achieved.  As the saying goes, "use it or lose it".  This step backwards actually makes returning to the routine harder for many people because of the feeling of wasted time and effort.  And besides, do you know what's easier than going to the dojo?  Watching TV.  The TV never kicked you in the gut or hyperextended your arm (at least I hope not...otherwise you might be doin' it wrong).  The longer you are out of your difficult routine (training) the more entrenched you will get in your easy routine (leisure).

To paraphrase a quote from Tim Ferriss, you should guard against the weaknesses of your lesser self.  That means that if you know that breaking your routine will result in a downward spiral of behavior, then do everything you can to maintain that routine.  A good tip is to never miss two days (or classes) in a row.  Missing one day is just a slip up, but twice in a row is on its way to becoming a new habit.
In martial arts, we train to know ourselves better.  So take an honest look and figure out a way to stick with the training that you know is good for you!

Monday, August 31, 2015

How Good Is Good Enough?

I often hear people ask the question, "how long does it take to get good at martial arts?" It seems like a fairly straight forward question but more information is necessary to answer it.  Usually, people have some mental image, implicit or explicit, of what they think being "good" at martial arts looks like.  It goes back to what your goals are

Do you want to be the best fighter in the world?  Well, that'll likely take a lifetime of training and you might not even achieve it.

Do you want to be able to win competitions on an international scale?  It'll take several years of dedicated work.

Do you just want to be able to handle the average angry drunk at a night club?  That'll take a lot less work than the scenarios above.

I like to think of it in terms of the entire population of the world.  If I were in a fight with another person selected at random, what's the percentage chance that I have the skill, ability, and luck combination to beat that person?  For me, if I can have a better than 80-90% chance of winning (and I think I do), then I consider myself "good".  Maybe 90% isn't acceptable to you.  Everyone has to make that decision for themselves.

All this being said, individual talent and athleticism is certainly a factor in how long it takes to achieve proficiency in martial arts.  So, take an honest assessment of yourself, make your goals explicit, and then decide whether or not you have the requisite patience to achieve your goal.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Scientific Training

Everyone knows that getting better at a skill requires practice, but what people may not know is that not all practice is equal.  Sure, in martial arts, some drills are just more useful than others (I'd love to read about what people's favorite drills are...just as a side note), but what I'm talking about is what happens in your mind.

Let's suppose that you practice a good drill for years and years.  You will get better.  You will improve.  The question that you should ask though is, "could I have gotten to this skill level faster?". For the majority of people, I would say that the answer is "yes", and I can say that because I know that most people aren't taking a hardcore analytical approach to their training.  And yes, I'm talking about forming a hypothesis, TESTING it, analyzing the results, and then adjusting your hypothesis until you get the desired outcome. 

That's right...the scientific method applies to martial arts training.  (by the way, this really works for any skill, not just martial arts.)

As in any good experiment, you want to control for as many variables as possible, keeping all but one (ideally) the same so you can see the different outcomes and attribute those differences to the thing you changed.  When learning a new throw, perhaps you want to test how much you should bend your knees, how straight to keep your back, when the ideal time to execute the move is, etc.  Change each of those things up, one at a time, so you can see the results.  Also, repeat the test with a different training partner to make sure your conclusions will generalize to opponents of different shapes and sizes.  Running this kind of test is easy when you practice one move for many repetitions (you are getting your reps in...right?).

At the beginning, the changes will be dramatic until you get the fundamentals of the move down.  As you increase your mastery of a technique, the changes will be much finer and probably take longer to realize as you squeeze the remaining bit of effectiveness-juice out of the technique.

This approach applies to both offense AND defense.  When sparring, I recommend trying to remember what move worked best for you offensively and defensively.  Also, track what moves your opponents did to you that worked well both offensively and defensively.  Heck, keep a journal with this information so you can track it over time and help others later who find themselves on the same path.

Keep in mind, this approach requires that you have a degree of self awareness (how your body is positioned, how much strength you put into moving, balance, etc.), which is something that any martial art should cultivate in you anyway.  However, having a beginner do this might be a bit overwhelming for them.  It all depends on the individual.  But this level of critical analysis is something that all martial artists with a strong desire to improve should do at some point.

Taking a scientific approach to training will enable you to make intelligent decisions towards improving rather than just waiting until you "get it".

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

What does a stance reveal?

In an earlier post, I talked about using fakes to gauge the experience level of an unfamiliar opponent.  To augment that, I want to talk briefly about what your opponent's stance reveals.

To discern anything from someone's stance, you have to have some experience (whether through observation or participation) in a variety of fighting styles.  Most people without fight experience probably won't know the difference between a boxer's stance and a kick boxer's stance.  So, step 1 is to broaden your fighting art familiarity.  Know what fighters look like.

Step 2 just takes that knowledge deeper.  Don't just correlate a stance with a fighting art.  You need to know what types of techniques are characteristic of the art.   Know how practitioners in that art tend to move.  For example, even though Taekwondo and Karate are very similar arts, after spending 5 years in TKD and almost as much time studying Japanese arts, I can tell the difference between a TKD guy and a Karate guy just by the way they bounce around the ring.  How is that helpful?  Well, I know that both arts involve both hand and foot techniques (hence the name TKD...look it up), but my experience tells me that TKD people are MUCH more likely to throw kicks than hand techniques.  In a fight, that would affect where I focus my attention, how I distance myself, and what I perceive as a telegraph of a technique.

There are A LOT of martial arts out there.  TKD, Karate, Jujitsu, Muay Thai, Silat, Arnis,... The list goes on and on.  The good news is you don't need to dedicate the rest of your life to familiarizing yourself with every art on the planet.  From a statistical standpoint, ibwould recommend starting with the arts that are popular in your culture.  In the USA, with the popularity of the UFC, I'd say to start with boxing, Muay Thai, and BJJ (yes, even grapplers have a stance.  Many fights go to the ground, but almost every fight starts standing up).  After that, perhaps learn about some of the more common traditional arts like TKD, Karate, and Judo.  Recognizing a wrestler is a good idea too.

In another part of the world, the list of common arts might look quite different.

You can also take a more functional approach.  Is the guy clenching his fists?  Well, then he's probably planning on doing more punching than grabbing.  Is he standing sideways ("bladed") to you rather than squared off?  Well, then he's probably planning on kicking and keeping distance rather than punching and grappling.  Is the guy standing up tall or squatting low?  If he's up tall then he's probably going to strike.  If he's down low then he might be going for a takedown.

All of these things can be discerned in a moment, and they reveal relevant information about your opponent.  This being said, the opponent might be using his stance to deceive you, but that's another post!

Monday, August 24, 2015

Why people practice martial arts

Here's an insight that I gained from running a dojo and being a martial arts enthusiast that has tried to convince and motivate many people to join a martial arts class.
There are (at least) 4 different reasons that people practice martial arts.

1. Fitness
2. Sport/competition
3. Art/Style (ie cultural aspect)
4. Self defense

Some people (myself included) can fall into multiple categories, but there's usually a primary category that motivates the training.  I had to analyze why some people, even people that are into martial arts, wouldn't come to a seminar or even try out a free class.  Aside from the "lots of people are flaky and/or lazy" (like me sometimes :-/), a martial arts event won't appeal to all martial artists because of a mismatch in these four categories between the event and the practitioner.

For example, it's hard to convince a life long Taekwondo practitioner to come to your ground fighting knife defense seminar.  Similarly, someone who does cardio kickboxing isn't likely to want to participate in a sparring tournament.  A guy who wants only the simplest self defense moves is probably not going to be interested in mastering a trapping hands drill. People have different goals.  The market is segmented, not only by art but by motivation.

Here's my motivation breakdown.  I'm about 50% self defense driven, 40% art/style driven, 9% fitness driven, and 1% competition driven...and that competition aspect is probably because of my slight interest in doing a knife fighting tournament.

So, just know that's where I'm coming from in my future posts.  I primarily want things to work...but I wouldn't mind looking awesome while doing it ;-). But I wouldn't sacrifice functionality for style.  I guess what I'm saying is "know your audience".

Saturday, August 22, 2015

How to quickly gauge the experience of an unfamiliar opponent

Knowing some moves in a fight is good, but not all moves are ideal against every opponent.  Professional fighters will spend weeks, if not months, analyzing videos of their scheduled opponents in order to learn as much as they can about they way they move.  In self defense, that option is not available.

Most physical altercations tend to happen very quickly.  Sometimes you're ambushed and none of what I'm about to say is even relevant in that situation.  However, if you've watched enough street fight videos (world star, anybody?), then you may have noticed a few seconds of posturing before the first punch is thrown.  In those few seconds, you can learn a lot.

So, how do you gauge the skill of some random opponent?  The basic answer is: you throw fakes and see how he (or she, I suppose) reacts.  Now, if your opponent is a golden gloves boxer and you throw a big ol' fake, leaving yourself open for a quick 1-2 combo, then you're probably going to get knocked out just for that.  Instead, start with the subtlest movement: a quick bend in the front knee, a jutting of the shoulder...something that an experienced fighter would recognize.  Then look for a similarly subtle (or not-so-subtle) reaction.  If you see one, then you'd better play conservatively because the opponent knows something things.  If you get no reaction, then give a slightly more overt fake (while still maintaining good defensive posture in case they try to counter-punch against your fake).  Repeat this process until you finally get a reaction.  After three or four progressively more overt fakes, you should be able to figure out how experienced the opponent is, roughly.

The whole process should only take you 3-5 seconds.  Beyond that, punches are probably going to be coming your direction anyway!

Finally, there is a bit of an art to doing believable fakes.  You have to move in such a way that the opponent believes that you're actually going to strike.  If the opponent is very experienced, they might see through your fake and not react, which might give you a false sense of superiority.  So watch out!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Compression Locks

Science Concepts: torque, pressure, anatomy

I watch a lot of martial arts videos online.  I’m always on the lookout for new drills or insights into techniques and concepts.  I’ll watch just about anything having to do with fighting: boxing, BJJ, kali, silat, muay thai, dumog, sikaran, sambo, stick and knife videos.  The list goes on.  There’s a topic that I don’t see covered nearly enough (my opinion, of course), and that is compression locks.  I suppose that many grappling schools refrain from teaching them to lower ranks for fear that they might hurt someone in practice.  This is evidenced by the fact that the rules on prohibit compression locks for anyone other than brown and black belts.  Since I lean more towards self-defense than competition, I’ll teach just about any technique to someone of any level that can provide an advantage for them in a fight, including compression locks.

I love compression locks.  Just ask any of my students.  They often have the (mis)fortune of being of the receiving end of my demo techniques.  I’ll slip a compression lock into a series of moves, which will inevitably evoke a drastic reaction out of the recipient.  Then that recipient has to have the move done to them another three or four times so everyone can pick up on the nuances of the technique.  (I do feel bad about that…but how else are they going to learn?!) 

Now, in case you’re not hip to the hotness that is compression locks, let me provide a definition.  From Wikipedia, “A compression lock, a muscle lock, muscle slicer or muscle crusher, is a grappling hold which causes severe pain by pressing a muscle into a bone.”  The Wikipedia article then goes into all the gory/awesome details of what kind of damage compression locks can do.

There are several things that I like, in particular, about compression locks.  First, they work better on people with bigger muscles.  So they’re a bit of an equalizer.  Second, they are often available when someone defends against a regular joint lock.  Third, they are easier to apply if you have really bony forearms and shins, which I do.

Some Compression Locks

Ankle Lock
Now, there is one compression lock that is popular.  That is the straight ankle lock.  


Technically, the pain first comes from the radial bone crushing the Achilles tendon against the fibula bone.  In my experience though, the person taps out because of the pain of the ankle hyperextending, which is a regular joint lock.  (Unless of course, the person isn’t willing to suffer through the pain of their tendon being crushed.  Then they tap right away.  But in competitions or when your training partner is the dojo jerk that thinks every drill is a life or death war and refuses to tap, they wait until the ankle feels like it’s going to pop out of socket.  While I’m thinking of it, here’s a public service announcement: Don’t be a dojo jerk.  Just because you can power through something doesn’t mean that it’s good to do so.  More often than not, you’re being a bad training partner, and you’re also reducing the longevity with which you will be able to train…because you will force your training partners to go full force, every time.  Injury city.  Population: you)

Bicep Slicer

There are literally so many ways to do a bicep slicer that I couldn’t possibly list them all here.  I will cover several of them to give you some ideas though.
  • Off of a punch - You could use a split entry or a zone block or whatever, just capture the arm and lay the bony part of your wrist as far into the crease of the elbow as possible and then push your opponent's wrist towards his shoulder with your other arm and/or shoulder.  Some downward pressure from your body weight may help as well.
Here I'm using my shoulder to push the wrist down and out while
sinking my knees a bit and crunching my abs to get a bit more
pressure and velocity on the technique
  • Dominant ground position - Sometimes you can trap the arm with your shin on the ground to inflict extra pain with the pain you're inflicting :-)
Here I'm crushing Mike's bicep by driving my hips into his wrist towards
his shoulder while I wind up for a big hit...probably an elbow to the
solar plexus because it'll help push my hips lower to make the slicer
that much more effective
  • Counter to arm bar defense - One of the quick ways to save your arm from getting locked out on the ground is to grab it with your other hand in some form or fashion.  Well, if someone does that to you then you can hurt their arm by compressing it rather than extending it.
I'm just using my left arm to crank down on his wrist for the picture, but
if you want to get some strength on this technique then get a leg involved.
Every time I am able to get into this position, the person either taps out
immediately or lets go of their arm and I arm bar them

Calf Slicer
There are a number of ways to get to a calf slicer.  The mechanics are essentially the same as the bicep slicer.  This tends to be a ground move, but I've pulled it off at least once in sparring while both me and my opponent were standing up.

Here I use my forearm as the fulcrum and push his foot towards his
hip with my shoulder, driving from the ground with my legs for strength.

The same lock but applied with my shin.  Again, I'm driving forward with my hip
and I also have a grip on his shoulder with my right arm to help pull me forward
and stabilize me in the event he decided to try to squirm out of it.

Deltoid Crusher? (I don't know the official name of this one)
This is a compression lock that I've seen in Kali and Silat circles and not so much with the BJJ crowd.  It requires either more finesse or a nice diminishing attack to pull off, but luckily getting an eye shot on the way to setting it up is quite natural.  I like to do this from (what I've heard called) a reverse split entry, which is where your outside arm goes to the inside and the inside arm goes to the outside, which is a lot less awkward than it sounds.

This lock is admittedly a fair bit different than the "slicers" but it's a muscle crusher just the same.  It either puts the guy on his knees or his attempted escape leads right into a puter kepala takedown.

I keep a hold of Mike's wrist to prevent him from escaping and then
torque my arm so that it pivots around the midpoint of my forearm, driving
my wrist down and my elbow up.  As Mike would say, I'm using the "magic judo
finger" here to make sure that my arm is as uncomfortable as possible for him.

The Science

Rather than break down each of the techniques above, I'll just focus on one.

In the above picture, I've drawn in the important pieces for a compression lock.  The green base that is drawn over the upper leg isn't going anywhere because of the ground.  The blue arrow is the force I'm applying to the other green line.  My ankle is acting as a fulcrum for this lever.  The part labeled "A" is the part of the leg from the toes up to the point where my ankle is touching.  The part labeled "B" is the part of the leg from where my ankle is touching up to the knee.

When I apply the force with my ankle (or whatever) in there, it generates torque at the location of the fulcrum.  The longer I can make the "A" part by pushing my ankle closer to his knee, the more torque I can get out of the force I'm using.  One of three things is going to happen.
  1. He is able to counter-act my torque by using his quads to extend his leg.  If he's really strong or I'm really light weight, then this might happen.  It's unlikely though because he will have to provide A/B times the force that I am just to hold me steady.  That's why I want the "A" part to be as big as possible.
  2. His shin bones can't take the torque and snap at the red dot.
  3. His shin bones CAN take it, but the ligaments in his knee can't and his shin bones are literally pulled away from his femur, dislocating his knee at the orange dot.
The situation you end up in is going to depend highly on the person you're doing the move to.  I've found that people with more developed muscles tap earlier because they just have more muscle to crush.  Those people also feel the pain earlier (in terms of angle of the knee or elbow) because the muscle is taking up more room, giving you more distance to apply the move while in "locked" position.

As a point of application, you want the fulcrum to be as wide and hard as possible.  You want it to be wide so the pain is felt earlier in the motion, giving you that increased distance.  You want the fulcrum to be hard because that increases the pressure (remember Pressure = Force / Area).  You also want the little triangle that your fulcrum and opponent's bones make to be as isosceles as possible.  For those of you who can't remember your geometry vocabulary words, that means that the two green parts of the triangle up in the picture are the same length.  This has the effect of getting the fulcrum to push into the opponent's body at a perpendicular angle, which means that you don't have to use muscles to keep it in place (yay vectors).


If you've never experienced a compression lock, then you may not fully appreciate all of the pain and muscle destroying goodness that these types of moves have to offer.  The concept is simple.  Just use leverage, pressure, and some basic vector math to crush a muscle against a bone.  Compression locks are not only effective on their own, but they also complement "traditional" joint locks extremely well because they work in opposite directions.  Try it out slowly (for the sake of your training partners) and see for yourself.  

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Structural Manipulation Technique: The Arm Drag

Science concepts: torque, force transfer

Things have been on the busy side.  So, I'm going to have to keep this one short.  In my martial arts class this week, we focused on the arm drag.  We looked at the principles of the technique and a number of easy, yet effective, follow-ups to it.  The main idea we focused on was manipulating the opponent's balance and structure through controlling a limb.

In my absentmindedness, I forgot to get pictures and video to demonstrate the technique.  So, some YouTube video will have to suffice.

The Technique

There's actually a lot of extra stuff in this video, but Billy Robinson is the man when it comes to CACC wrestling.  So watch at least from 2:00 to 3:00.

The Science

In a previous post, I talked about how force transfer applies to striking.  The same principles apply when you are trying to pull someone off of their balance.  Let's imagine, very simplistically, that your opponent is a tall triangle and that you're going to pull his or her right arm.

The base of the triangle represents the line between your opponent's feet.  As pictured here, for optimal unbalancing, you want to pull perpendicular to the base of the triangle because there is no structure with which to transfer that pulling force into the ground.  Instead the force is experienced as a torque.  The torque has quite a long effort arm because it is basically the distance from the opponent's shoulder to the ground.

If instead, you pulled parallel to the base, then the force could be transferred down into the ground, much like the way bridges work.

The Application

There are a lot of equations that could be used to describe the exact effect of a given amount of pulling force, but let's just get down to business.  You get a firm grip, you pull hard in a motion that takes the opponent off of his or her base, and they will be forced to step forward.  In that moment, you can get behind them, you could follow up with a variety of chokes, takedowns, and joint locks.  There is a bit of finesse in the way you twist and pull with your body though.  I find that if I wind up my body at the same time that I'm getting my grip, then I snap back to center, which is structurally ideal, then I get good results.


So, I presented a quick technique for you to try out...short and sweet.  This idea of pulling perpendicularly to the opponent's base is actually a fundamental concept in grappling.  Just look at some Judo throws to see the principle in action.  As always, generalize and apply.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Pivot To Win It: A Tip For Kicking

Science concepts: friction, normal force

As I've stated before, pivoting for certain kicks (round kick and side kick, in particular) is essential for proper execution.  Even after 5 years of Taekwondo, I found that I had to make some adjustments when I moved to a dojo that required shoes.  The extra friction was causing my foot to stick to the ground, preventing me from getting a good pivot.  This is an experience that I've seen happen to many students.  So, I'm going to explain a little trick, based in physics, to mitigate this problem.

The Science

As we all know (or should know by now), friction is the force that resists motion.  That includes spinning on your foot.  The formula for friction is f = mN, where m is the coefficient of friction between the two surfaces and N is the normal force exerted by the ground as the reaction force against the weight of the object (in this case, you).  So, when the surfaces change the friction also changes.  This is what happens when you go from being barefoot on a canvas mat to using rubber soled wrestling shoes on a vinyl mat, for example.  There's not much that you can do about the surfaces involved other than choose different footwear.  The thing you can control however is the normal force.

The normal force is equivalent to the amount of weight pushing on the ground at the time.  This is where the trick comes in.  If you take some of your weight off of the ground, then you can reduce the normal force and, therefore, reduce the friction you experience when you try to pivot.

The Trick

So how do you take your weight off of the ground without turning every round kick into a cinematic flying kick?  The trick is to bend your knee quickly and briefly so that your weight actually falls, momentarily, toward the ground.  If you're not using the ground very much to hold you up, then it can't push back with a very big normal force, which reduces the friction.  In practice, I almost think of it as pulling my heal up towards my body without an accompanying upward jump.  As my foot pulls away from the ground, the friction is reduced.  Keep in mind, this is only for a fraction of a second...just long enough to finish the pivot, which should be fast anyway.  Here are some visual aids.

Here I'm set, ready to kick

The black pants and angle make this a bit difficult to see, but
my heal is off of the ground and my knee is bent as I pull my
heal up away from the ground a tiny bit

Once the pivot is done, I allow the heal to return to the ground

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a moving picture is worth...many thousands of words.  Check it out.


This particular trick is useful when performing a round kick or side kick when the ground and your shoes have a high friction coefficient.  This general idea of reducing the contact force to reduce the friction has all sorts of applications elsewhere in fighting, but that's for another time.  Happy kicking.