Tuesday, October 21, 2014

On Using Deadly Force

Conflict Research Group International (CRGI) represents a coalition of professionals pertaining to self-defense for citizens and their legal ramifications. On this panel are experts in fields ranging from firearms, security, law enforcement, and martial arts, including the renown authors on violence and self-defense, Marc MacYoung and Rory Miller.

According to CRGI the 'Basic Standard' relating to a life-and-death altercation reads thusly:

You may legally use deadly force only when there is an immediate and otherwise unavoidable danger of death or grave bodily harm to the innocent.

In order to meet this basic standard, you must be able to convince a jury that you (or the person you defended) were an innocent party, and that you were in immediate and otherwise unavoidable danger of death or grave bodily harm. This is contingent on a few things.

Three basic elements must be present before lethal force is used. These elements are called Ability, Opportunity, and Jeopardy. When these three things are present, any reasonable person would believe that a life was in danger, so the defendant’s legal position is very strong. But if one of the elements is missing, the defendant may have a hard time convincing a jury that shooting the attacker was really necessary.

  • Ability means that the other person has the power to kill or to cripple you.
  • Opportunity means that the circumstances are such that the other person would be able to use his ability against you.
  • Jeopardy means that the other person’s actions or words provide you with a reasonably-perceived belief that he intends to kill you or cripple you.

To reiterate, the caveat here is that the presence of only two elements does not justify using deadly force.

Read the rest here...

(h/t: reddit/martialarts)

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Monday, October 20, 2014

The Art of Fighting Without Fighting

Somebody recently asked me which are the best techniques to use in a "real street fight." Are grappling moves superior to striking methods? Should punches be favored over kicks? I advised him to give equal regard to all things -- in training. That the best strategy in any fight is really not to fight. Later, I was reminded of a lore from medieval Japan about a samurai, Tsukahara Bokuden, a story I first encountered in the works of Donn Draeger. A modern version of this tale appears in this great scene from Bruce Lee's Enter The Dragon. Lee's character is threatened on a boat en route to a martial arts tournament by another competitor.

What follows is a lesson in the ultimate martial-art "technique":

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Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Shin as a Weapon

Yesterday I received an email from a reader regarding my last post on the perils of hand conditioning. Here's part of it:

Been training in ----- for about a year. In my school we don't punch anything hard but my sensei has us round kick the heavy bag with our shins. Man that s#!t hurts! He [the instructor] says the thai boxers have shins like steel, this is the way to do it. What do you think? My legs are all lumped up now I'm thinking of quitting.

Among other things I advised him to let his shins heal before he resumes training. Like makiwara training for punches, shin-striking hard or semi-hard objects are not my forte. I've never really been schooled in this method, but I'm guessing that the shinbone (tibia) should not take the full brunt of impact, but when performing the roundhouse kick the toes should be angled down a bit so that the muscular part of the shin (tibialis anterior) makes predominate contact.

In Muay Thai shin-strikes are a signature move. There's a lot of controversy and misunderstanding about shin-striking delivered as a roundhouse kick. Traditionally, Muay Thai fighters would kick banana trees till they keel over. Banana trees, unlike most North American variety, are relatively soft and flexible. Still, being able to fell one is a formidable task. It's not hard to fathom how novices would end up crippling themselves after hearing about these feats.

It's debatable as to the effectiveness of shin conditioning in the martial arts. Some use a rolling pin device for the shins to deaden the nerves, thereby raising the pain threshold. There is also a psychological component involved concerning pain tolerance. According to Wolff's Law, bones that are subject to incremental overload will respond by becoming stronger and denser. Evidence suggests that activities such as weightlifting and jumping support this thesis. Other research has revealed that microcrack damage actually decreases bone brittleness, making the bone less susceptible to further fracturing.

A low-section roundhouse shin-strike to the opponent's outside thigh can be highly effective in a match, but it can come at a cost. In a UFC title match held in 2013 between Anderson Silva and Chris Weidman, the former attempted a low-target shin-strike that was leg-checked by the latter with catastrophic results. Silva had orthopedic surgery to repair his broken tibia with an intramedullary metal rod infused in the bone cavity. He is scheduled to resume fighting in 2015.

I hate to say it, but every fighter Silva is matched with from here on out is going to target that left leg. He may also be gun-shy with kicking (or even checking kicks) with that leg, another impediment. I really think Silva should call it a day, unlike my reader with bruised shins who probably just needs a break (no pun) if he intends to stick it out in a school that he otherwise likes. Hopefully this young man won't continue getting hurt and is getting qualified coaching.

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Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Iron Fist Training

Let me state that this is not a tutorial on how to develop manos de piedra - "hands of stone" - which is the famous moniker of prizefighter Roberto Duran. My use of a provocative title may be misleading. For the record I don't subscribe to the idea that hands can be conditioned into something akin to an anvil . Hands did not evolve to break open body parts and certain traditional training methods to toughen them can wreak havoc. Actually, this post was inspired by an impromptu sparring session I had this past weekend (my first in quite a while) that resulted in the first two knuckles on my left hand to swell to frightening proportions. I wore cotton hand-guards that leave the fingers exposed, and while my striking force was left in reserve for the most part, apparently, that wasn't good enough. This is really the result of chronic damage from years of sparring. (Note to readers: When you feel pain from an activity, stopping said activity is advised.) A colleague told me I should perform pushups on my knuckles to avert future injury. Another suggested training on a more time-honored method: The makiwara. I don't think so to either one.

A grandmaster of Matsubayashi-ryu once told me that any respectable dojo should have a makiwara on the premises. A makiwara is a wooden striking post designed to develop punching prowess and accuracy, not to put callouses on knuckles. Karateka that have knuckles that look like they're jacked on steriods may look impressive and could be held as a perverse badge of honor. Ego trips like this can go either way as one Okinawan karate historian tells:

Arakaki's father often warned him about making large black callouses on his knuckles. One reason was that, as his father was a merchant, customers would, on seeing the swollen and deformed hands, be easily frightened away. Another reason was that local ruffians would often try to pick fights on the pseudo-karate-ka who flouted such grotesque trophies. 'After practice on the makiwara,' Arakaki told me, 'it is a good idea to wash one's hands in salt water (or urine) and then alcohol; if the skin is cut, always carefully sterilise the affected area.'1

There's a market that offers a wide range of liniments with names like "Iron Hit Wine" and "Tiger Balm" that, while pricey at roughly $20 for a 2 oz. dose, provides a more sanitary method of treatment than urine. Once during an Isshinryu karate demonstration held for US marines on Okinawa, Tatsuo Shimabuku cut his hand while driving a spike through a slab of wood. There was no liniment or any first-aid handy, so in a pinch he applied some dirt to the wound to stop the bleeding.

I've never trained on a makiwara, which is supposedly of Chinese origin, not Okinawan as many believe.2 Indeed, the Chinese method of "Iron Bone Hand" training, developed as a method for maiming and killing, appears in Article 20 of the Bubishi stating:

The Iron Bone Hand technique can only be developed through relentless training. After thrusting the bare hand into a container filled with hot sand on a daily basis for many weeks, the fingers gradually become conditioned enough to initiate the secondary stage of training. After thrusting the bare hand into a container filled with gravel on a daily basis for many weeks, the fingers will become even more conditioned so that the final stage of conditioning can be initiated. The final stage of conditioning requires one to thrust the bare hand into a container of even larger stones. This special kind of conditioning will lead to hand deformity and the loss of one's fingernails. Alternative training methods often include thrusting the bare hand into bundles of wrapped bamboo in an effort to condition the fingers for lethal stabbing and poking.3

There's a tenet of unknown origin that advises to "attack soft tissue with a hard-surface hand-strike, and a hard area with a soft-surface hand-strike." Hammerfist, shuto (blade-hand), and palm-heel use the fleshier part of the hand that tend to be less injurious than a closed-fist if your target area is someone's head. In boxing, heavy hitters occasionally break their hands delivering the KO punch, this in spite of wrapping their hands in plenty of gauze and donning 10 or 12 oz. gloves. You'll also never see a boxer hit any kind of a bag without gloves. And some karate men, such as Isshinryu's Angi Uezu, have been known to doggedly hit that makiwara bare-handed. Somebody's wrong here.

1. Mark Bishop 1999. Okinawan Karate: Teachers, styles and secret techniques. Tuttle Publishing.
2. Ibid.
3. Patrick McCarthy 1995. The Bible of Karate: Bubishi. Tuttle Publishing.

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Sunday, October 05, 2014

Realistic Kung-Fu Fight Scene

Here's a short clip featuring a Xing Yi Quan man dishing out some abuse on multiple attackers. The dramatization utilizes moves from one of the style's forms or toalu. Xing Yi Quan, or Intention Boxing is one of the three major systems of Internal styles of Chinese martial arts, the other two being Baguazhang and Taijiquan. Of the three, Xing Yi is the most "external", i.e., having linear and explosive movements. Various hand techniques are featured including "crushing" and "exploding" fist and eagle claw, along with a judo-type throw and arm-bar/break.

The fight sequence, performed by stuntman and Xing Yi master Keith Min, conforms to the ancient Five Elements philosophy (wu xing) that governs cosmic cycles and human physiology. The Five Elements are wood, earth, water, fire, and metal.

DISCLAIMER: Mildly graphic

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Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Isshinryu Front-Kick: Varieties, Chambering and Distance

The front-kick is the most basic kick taught in karate, tae kwon do, or just about any striking style in martial arts. To execute, the knee is pulled up to waist-level (chambered) while the shin hangs down. The leg is then straightened to strike the intended target. Novices are taught to kick the midsection, but other targets include the shin, thigh, groin, or even head. In tournaments, Chuck Norris would fake a front kick to the gut, retract, then snap it to up the head for an easy point. Most practitioners either aren't that quick (or flexible), or prefer other kicks that are less detectable such as roundhouse, hook, crescent, and spin-around-back.

Sensei Victor Smith has a nice article on the front-kicking techniques of Tatsuo Shimabuku (the founder of Isshinryu karate). Some old video clips of the master (c. 1960) are posted featuring the mae geri (front kick) from the Isshinryu kata canon. As Smith-san notes:

If we have been observing his [Shimabuku's] technique,

1. First he raises his thigh parallel to the floor.
2. Once the leg is chambered parallel to the floor, the leg kicks out and returns in a hinging motion, front front kick or rear front kick.

This kicking method means the foot strikes out from the chamber and not slingshoting out as the leg/knee rises.

It gives less time for the opponent to recognize the kick is coming. That also means there is less time to try and catch the leg.

His remark "less time to recognize the kick is coming" raised my eyebrow at first. If I see my opponent has his leg chambered of course he is going to kick me, was my initial thinking. But from a chambered leg (with the shin held at 90-degrees) I have no idea which kick is coming. A chambered leg could be the prelude to one of the following:

  • Front kick
  • Roundhouse kick
  • Hook kick
  • Side kick

A "slingshot" style kick could be a telegraph if you're really sharp. Don Nagle, who trained under Shimabuku in the late 50s, supposedly could block a kick as it was rising from the floor with his forward foot! Now that's a neat trick. Personally, I'm too reflex challenged to pull this kind of move off. I've never seen anyone even attempt this. Attempts at catching kicks I've seen plenty, usually among beginners. In some dojo I've trained in catching an incoming kick is seen as taboo, even though (or maybe because) MMA players do it all the time. The time-honored way is to slip the kick (ideal) or block it with your arm. (The latter is widely taught in karate. Disclaimer: bad idea.) At any rate, I believe that chambering most kicks is good practice. As a last resort the raising knee could be delivered as a hiza-tsui (knee-strike) if your attacker manages to close the distance.

The last video in the blog shows a very brief clip of the master performing what appears to be an application from the kata Sunsu, his creation and a form particular to Isshinryu karate. It is a front thrust kick (as opposed to the snapping variety) in defense of a double-arm grab. (The image above illustrates present-day exponents demonstrating this.)* In this scenario ma'ai or striking distance is minimal between you and the attacker. In this manner, the thrust "kick" is performed more like a push-off.

Generally, the front thrust kick is a very different animal from the more widely taught front snap kick in traditional karate. A front snap kick utilizes mostly the vastus medialis portion of the quadriceps muscle and requires a quick recoil, striking with the ball of the foot (If you're wearing footwear as most folks do when out and about, the ball-of-the-foot application becomes moot, but I digress.). A front thrust kick is akin to kicking down a door; you're really driving more with your hips and striking with your heel. Thrust kicks have more knockdown power than snap kicks. A staple in Muay Thai kickboxing, the front thrust kick has been favored among the Japanese military for use in combative self-defense.

The front kick, a basic technique that is relatively easy to execute, has viable self-defense applications and variations that shouldn't be given short shrift in lieu of so-called flashier kicks.

* This particular bunkai of Sunsu is how it was originally taught to me by a high ranking instructor who trained on Okinawa. I believe it's the correct way. Since then I've visited a number of schools through the years seeing other things applied. It seems everyone has their own version of Isshinryu.

Donn Draeger 1974. Modern Bujutsu and Budo. [p. 75-76] Wheatherhill, Inc.

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Monday, July 28, 2014

The Family Tree of Fighting

(Click on image to expand)

This is interesting.

I've never heard of Muslim Kung-Fu, Glima, Indian Kickboxing, Gatka or Wheelchair Fencing until I stumbled upon this chart.

  • Glima is a style of Nordic combat devised by the Vikings about 1200 years ago. It is sometimes referred to as Icelandic Jiu-Jitsu. Here are a pair of Glima grapplers:
  • Gatka is a weapons system practiced by Sikhs that was created in the 15th century in northern India. Modern exponents use sticks in lieu of a live blade to simulate swordfighting. Here are a duo of Gatka fighters:
  • I had no idea there was such a thing as Wheelchair fencing. Here is a bout featuring duelists in wheelchairs:

I'm still discovering.

(h/t: Shapeless Randomness)