Weapon Training & Defense

Whip-Making Tips: For a Crackin’ Good Time!

After a fantastic bull whip demo at last year’s PAWMA camp, my two students who accompanied me to the event and I were intrigued. Sifu Restita DeJesus (from the Seattle Wushu Centre) took us outside for our own informal bull whip lesson in the parking lot, using whips she had made herself. Some were beautifully made, intricately wrapped with para-cord, but the ones I liked best were the ones she had made using simple items from her local hardware and sports stores. After that, the three of us vowed to make our own whips one day. Last weekend, that day finally came. (more…)

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Is a Weapon Truly an Extension of the Body in the Martial Arts?

Is a Weapon Truly an Extension of the BodyIt is said that elephant trainers can train their animals to be held by nothing more than a small rope tied to one of their legs that is pegged into the ground. When they are very young and much smaller they use the same size rope to tie them and, at that age, it’s more than enough to hold them. As they grow up, they are conditioned to believe they cannot break away. They believe the rope can still hold them, so they never try to break free. Humans do this for many things in life too, it’s in our nature to use predictive reasoning to make our processes more efficient. But sometimes things change and the process no longer makes sense. For this reason, we should always keep an open mind and re-analyze the things we do and the reasoning behind it. (more…)

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An Eye-opening Experience Cross-Training in Filipino Martial Arts

A couple of years ago, I did some cross-training with Chris at a Filipino martial arts school in my area. We enjoyed it for a while, but our interest waned. This school’s teachings were largely based around practicing very set sinawali (patterns), which were fun at first, but we eventually felt that it wasn’t taking us any place new, that there was a flatness to the general approach to training.

Last month, I was given the opportunity to meet up and train with Filipino martial arts instructor Guro Mark Mikita. This man is no weekend warrior. He is a consummate martial artist who has dedicated his entire life to his training, having trained over 46 years, nearly every day, and for long bouts, he was putting as many hours into his training as most people do into their full time jobs. And it shows in the way he moves and teaches. Here is a photo of him (can you believe he is in his 50s?!?!)

mark_mikita_martial_arts_fightology (more…)

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The Value of Old Knowledge in the Martial Arts

The Value of Old Knowledge in the Martial ArtsA couple of weeks ago, I went to Powell’s Book Store, a huge bookstore in Portland that had the biggest martial arts section I’ve ever seen with a variety of new and used books on every topic. I bought half a dozen books, but my most valued find was an old book, The Complete Jujitsuan, that was originally published in 1915.

I am always on the look-out for old martial arts books like that for a variety of reasons. Firstly, they’re interesting to read from a historical perspective. The writings reflect the unique attitudes toward training and combat of the time and place during which it was written. The demonstrators wear clothes that are customary for the era, which can make for differences in movement strategy. The techniques sometimes comprise of different moves or even weapons that have fallen out of favour. And sometimes you find different techniques or ways of applying familiar techniques that are new to you. (more…)

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Chopsticks & Scissors & Knives, Oh My! – Fun with Throwing Weapons

A couple of weekends ago, guest instructor Sifu Restita DeJesus from the Seattle Wushu Center paid a visit to our dojo to teach us the basics of the fine art of throwing weapons. In Jiu-jitsu, we spend a lot of time throwing people, but most of us had little to no experience throwing weapons, so it was an entirely new concept for us.

Sifu started out by showing us how to throw knives designed to be balanced for throwing. The first type of throw she taught was with a spin then we later moved on to no-spin. Here is a really useful video she shared with me that explains the two types of throws: (more…)

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Using Weapons as an Extension of Your Body in the Martial Arts

There are many different stylistic approaches to the use of weapons in the martial arts. There is a common theme though. As a general rule, weapons are simply considered an extension of your body. The stances, blocks and strikes you use when unarmed are used in the same contexts when using a weapon. The only difference is that you use the weapon as an extension of your body to enhance your defensive or offensive capabilities.

In Can-ryu Jiu-jitsu, we emphasize the use of weapons of opportunity. Weapons of opportunity are simply items that are commonly found in your environment that could be used in self-defense, but aren’t necessarily carried for that purpose. This includes things like a flashlight, hair brush, rolled up magazine, umbrella, stick, cane, etc. Whatever the weapon, we still use the same stance and style of movement as we do in our unarmed defenses, we just introduce ways to enhance one’s impact, reach, and overall effectiveness, using the unique qualities of the weapon used. (more…)

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The Difference between Panicking & Choking

I’ve been on a bit of a psychology arc for the past couple of weeks on this blog. I started with a discussion on what it means to choke and followed up with a discussion on the importance of ‘will to win’ in the martial arts. This week I’m going to discuss what happens when you panic, which is often confused with choking. They are, in fact, very different animals.

As previously discussed, when you choke, you over-think your actions. You bring yourself back to a beginner’s mindset, mentally planning all the details of your moves. If you have moved beyond the explicit learning of a beginner and moved on to the higher level development of implicit learning, you lose your grace and fluidity of movement, as well as the quick reactiveness that comes from relying more on your intuitive mind.

Panicking, on the other hand, is quite the opposite. When it occurs, you stop thinking, reverting to base instincts. You experience perceptual narrowing, often focusing on one single thing. This is one of the reasons multiple attacker situations are so dangerous. People who don’t have experience dealing with these types of situations experience physical symptoms of perceptual narrowing, including tunnel vision and auditory exclusion. They focus entirely on one attacker and then are blindsided by the person’s buddies. Another common example is dealing with a knife attack. Even people with some training have been known to make the mistake of grabbing at the knife as it comes at them, focusing on the blade as the primary threat. There are, of course, better options, such as using physical barriers, creating space, controlling the arm holding the knife, etc. But when panicking, many people only see the knife, so that is what they try to grab, despite the inherent dangers of doing so.
I’ve also seen people panic on belt tests. For example, I might ask a candidate to do a technique again, telling them that they’ve done something wrong. The stress of this makes them panic, so what do they do? The exact same technique performed incorrectly in the exact same way of course! These people usually say afterward that they knew as they were doing it that they were making the same mistake again, but felt like they just couldn’t stop themselves.

So what can we do to prevent panic? Train lots… then train some more. Create training situations that allow you to experience higher levels of stress. Train to deal with multiple attackers. Train to deal with knives and other weapons. Though most dojos wouldn’t dream of doing it now for liability reasons (nor am I endorsing it as a practice), historically some dojos even used to use real knives in training (doing all movements slower and with far more control of course) just to give students the experience of dealing with the psychological stress that comes with a real knife.

People with a lot of experience tend not to panic, because when the stress suppresses their short-term memory they still have some residual experience built onto useful instincts they can draw on. The more you train, the less likely you are to panic. Choking is always a potential hazard though when stress rears its ugly head. While panicking and choking often look the same to the outside observer, they result from very different things going on inside your head. I hope this article helps you recognize the difference.

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5 Rules of Street-Oriented Ground Defense

I was recently asked what my general rules that I apply to all ground defense (for street application as opposed to sport). It’s pretty straight forward. I’ve laid them out in this post.

Rule #1: Protect your head and neck. If an attacker is trying to immobilize their victim and eliminate their defensive capabilities, the most dangerous targets are the head and neck. While defending from the ground, the forearms should be kept up close to the head (when possible) to protect it and the chin should be tucked with the shoulders raised to prevent strangulation.

Rule #2: Keep your elbows and knees tucked close. On the ground, an attacker will try to immobilize your limbs to keep you from fighting back. When your arms are straight and spread out away from your body, they are easier to control. If your attacker knows joint lock submissions, they will more easily be able to apply them too. Keeping your elbows tucked close to your body prevents this and also allows you to use them to protect your head and neck. Keeping your knees bent allows you to kick out and hides your kicking reach.

Rule #3: Create and use space. When defending from the ground, the more space you have the better. This is particularly important when your attacker has the size/strength advantage. Space opens up more defensive options. Use whatever attacks to vulnerable targets you can, in combination with whatever body shifting you can manage to create more space. Then use the extra space to apply more powerful defenses. Another good use of space is to try and ward off an attacker with kicks and takedowns from the ground before they get on top of you.

Rule #4: Watch out for other hazards.
The ground can present a number of hazards that you need to watch out for as you defend yourself. The attacker may produce and use a concealed weapon. If you see them reach back for something, assume it is a weapon and take the necessary measures to defend yourself. You also have to watch out for environmental hazards like glass or other debris/obstacles on the ground that could cause you harm.

Rule 5: Get off the ground! The ground is a dangerous place to be (See my article on the dangers of ground defense). You greatly increase your ability to protect yourself and escape by getting off the ground as soon as you have the opportunity to safely do so. As such, all defenses should end with the student getting back to their feet.

For more information about practical, street-oriented ground defense, check out Lori O’Connell Sensei’s book, When the Fight Goes to the Ground.

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How to Defend Against a Knife Realistically

Last weekend, I went to Sicamous, BC for the annual Hiscoe/Can-ryu Jiu-jitsu seminar in the Okanagan. We had some fantastic instructors featured including Steve Hiscoe Shihan, 8th degree black belt in Can-ryu, 20-year RCMP veteran police officer and RCMP trainer of trainers. Steve’s topic this year, at my request, was the updated knife defense curriculum.

In Can-ryu Jiu-jitsu, our knife defense, like all our other core techniques follows 4 basic principles: 1) simplicity, 2) gross motor skills, 3) commonality of technique and 4) awareness of the potential for multiple opponents. This is to say that our knife defense is meant to be simple enough to be learned fairly quickly. It uses gross motor skills, which are easier to use, even in the high stress situation of a life-threatening attack. It relies on commonality of technique, using similar techniques for various situations so you’re less likely to freeze up trying to “think” of what to do. And lastly, it is adaptable for use against multiple attackers.

Our knife defense system uses a simple block that protects the arteries and is adaptable for various types of attacks, (i.e. slashing, stabbing, etc.). You use that block as many times as is necessary to either get away or to find the opportunity to close in and control the knife arm at the elbow. Once you have control of the knife arm, you hold on for dear life then use your legs to attack the person, using knees to the groin, shin kicks, foot stomps, whatever is necessary. Once the person is weakened, a simple takedown can be used to get the attacker to the ground.

Here is a short video of Steve Hiscoe Shihan demonstrating an inside block against a left-handed attacker:

Here is another video in which Steve Hiscoe defends against multiple attacks from different angles:

It was an excellent seminar and all who attended appreciated the effectiveness of this system. Thanks to Steve and all the other instructors (including Michael Seamark Shihan, Phil Wiebe Sensei, and Julian Sensei) who led classes at the seminar!

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The Unbreakable Umbrella – A Review

I was checking out various videos on YouTube of people using a cane for self-defense one day and I came across some product videos for the unbreakable umbrella. Watching their videos on YouTube, it does appear to be unbreakable. But it is possible to fake these things.

I contacted the company asking them about their product, telling them a little about who I am and what I do, and they offered to send me one of their umbrellas on the house provided that I review it on my blog. I gleefully accepted.

The umbrella, on first glance, looks just like any other cane umbrella. This explains why it is possible for people to bring it on an airplane without creating a stir. You can’t even bring a cane on an aircraft nowadays without being able to prove that you need it.

It is noticeably heavier than the average cane umbrella, but it makes up for it by being ultra-sturdy. It’s made of ABS, a man-made composite material, not that that means anything to the average person. I decided to take it in to my dojo and test it out. I didn’t have a watermelon to split open like on the YouTube vid, but I ran a couple of the other tests. Here’s the vid:

It is suitable for use in self-defense techniques in place of a cane. The wide hook handle allows you to easily hook someone around the neck or legs. And as long as you keep the nylon wrapped up, it makes for an effective striking weapon. The only trouble in paradise is the cost. It’s carries a hefty price tag: $179.95 US. But this may be worthwhile for self-defense enthusiasts who would like to be able to use an umbrella to defend themselves should the need arise. With the fall starting here in Vancouver, I can expect to be carrying my unbreakable umbrella with me right up until the end of next spring, so I’m very happy to own one.

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