Tuesday, July 12, 2011

"Who Will Guide Us...?"

In a comment on the last post, AF1 made a comment that gets to the core of what I see as a major problem. AF1, this isn't aimed at you, but aimed at an attitude that I see throughout the martial arts world.

AF1 wrote:
The Straight Blast Gym guys use the S.T.A.B system of knife defense which focuses on controlling the weapon arm.

That gym is famous for banging it out. In fact if I'm not mistaken it was them who first coined the phrase "alive training."

So if they say it really works, and you say it doesn't work, who are we to believe? Is it possible that there is more than one way to skin a cat?

The point is not whether to believe me or to believe them. Either way, it is an "argument from authority," one of the classical logical fallacies. (Especially annoying, if I am the authority in question.) All it means, whichever you decide, is who you have chosen to do your thinking for you. It has nothing to do with being right.

That's getting really close to the essence of one of the things that has been bothering me. Martial arts, self-defense, whatever label you put on this endeavor is supposed to make you better. Stronger, fitter, and, in my mind at least, smarter and tougher and more independent as well.

That means thinking for yourself. Observing for yourself. And sometimes challenging ideas from people you respect.

So if you want someone to do your thinking for you, go with the other guy. You've already missed the point of everything I have to say. There are lots of people out there actively looking for acolytes and yes-men who will welcome you with open arms.

And, to be glib, when we are talking about knife defense, it's more accurate to say that there is more than one way to fail to skin a cat.


Scott said...

As far as martial arts classes go here is my solution. Everyday as you say goodbye to your teacher say, "Next time I see you I'm going to defeat you, whatever skill, knowledge or experience you have, I'm going to do one better." And then give them the evil eye with quick smile. Problem solved.

We've been over the question of whether there is value in saying "just do this (experiment) the way I say, eventually (if things go right) you will understand." But if anyone adds, "You just have to believe," not only are they insisting you don't do your own thinking, they are saying in effect, "You must join my tribe."

malcolm said...

This video seems to explain STAB pretty well.


Kai Jones said...

There are few better refutations to a generalization than "That's not my experience of it."

Steve Perry said...

Ah, but here's the rub: A logical fallacy, such as Argumentum ad Verecundiam isn't necessarily true.

Neither is it necessarily false.

The level of evidence required to make the point is the same no matter who offers it, scholar or fool.

The supposition that the scholar who has studied a subject extensively is apt to know more about it than the fool is perhaps not always justified, but it is easy to see why most folks see it as a more reasonable option.

If I need brain surgery, I'm more likely to seek out a neurosurgeon than a car mechanic, and anybody who wants to make the other choice is welcome to it.

Past that, we are fining down the choices: Which neurosurgeon? Why? How do I tell without letting him cut on me?

Some people do know more about some things than others, they are better at it, that's the nature of life on this planet, so finding and using that knowledge is a good thing, it might save you having to re-invent the wheel.

Now, who determines what real expertise is, that's a horse of a different color.

Of course, all zen is personal, and you have to see what works for you, but to figure that out, you have to start somewhere. Sometimes the sifting process will be harder than other times.

Rory said...

Steve- And here's the rub. I've had thirty years of training and five real knife encounters. My litmus test will always be the real encounters: is a group training against the attacks that I saw, are they even aware of the elements I found life-saving. Most don't even come close, and that's one of the limits, even in banging at any intensity.

But five hardly makes me an expert. Not even a dabbler in this, and that's one of the reasons I hesitate to teach it.

Michael said...

I agree with Steve: I think it can be very useful (and sometimes necessary) to trust that an expert knows the right way. But the responsibility for who I trust in (and to what extent, and why) is on me.

So to polarise, we have a couple of extreme positions: (1) we must each find our own way, or (2) it's (sometimes) sensible to believe the experts.

I guess I try to use the thoughts of other people (especially experts) as 'accelerators'. There are lots of people out there with more experience and knowledge than me, so it'd be silly not to take advantage of that. If I know where I want to go, it's faster to follow someone there along a path they've broken than it is to bush-bash myself.

Of course, once I'm on that route and I start to understand the lay of the land myself, it's up to me to decide whether this is a good route and whether it's likely to get me to my destination.

If the trail suddenly veers off in another direction, and my guide can't tell me that the reason for this is to avoid a big thorn-bush up ahead (or I want to learn knife defence but what I'm being taught is always getting me cut in training), I should start to think about finding a different guide.

Ultimately, it's up to me to decide for myself whether the route I'm being shown is sensible. And sometimes that's a bit of a crap-shoot, but... gotta start somewhere.

cfadeftac said...

One thing I find interesting in one police training study in Canada, they found that people who naturally strike used that strategy successfully in knife defense scenarios and that people who naturally grapple used that strategy successfully. It became a problem when the student was trained to do something they were not naturally inclined to do, hence why banging it out is useful.

At least then you will have a plan that works the way you do.Many people have been saved by having a plan, even a bad one.


Steve Perry said...

Four more than I have. Offer what you know and qualify it. some expertise is better than none, isn't it?

What I've learned from banging is that bare against the blade is a bad idea -- the guy with the knife has the advantage, and that's just with practice blades.

Anonymous said...

Well, hey, as long as we're being glib I'd say the expression There's More Than One Way to Skin a Cat works fine. Bad news is you're the cat. ;-)

ush said...

"Most don't even come close, and that's one of the limits, even in banging at any intensity."

Thats why I was confused that you were recommending banging it out to see what works. On the occasions I've tried that the only things that worked for me were always preceded by getting some kind of control on the knife hand. I don't know if that's valid though because a training exercise is only our approximation of how we think it will go down

Steve Perry said...

The map versus the territory. In a real throwdown, either the attacker or the defender (or both) can turn into a Berserker and if the contest goes to full speed and full power somebody is going to get seriously hurt.

Somebody had better get seriously hurt -- or what is going on isn't working like it is supposed to work.

I know a highly-ranked MA who had a fellow black-belt student in his style killed by a knifer. The slain guy was running away, got caught at his car, ate a stab between ribs, and died before they got him to the hospital. This was against a guy with no formal training with blades.

So the guy I knew, shaken, went back to the dojo and told his training buddy to come at him with serious intent driving his practice blade. Don't give me a freebie, go for it.

None of the knife defenses he knew worked when they tried it that way.

The guy stopped teaching those defenses. Better, he told his students, that I don't show you anything than something that is apt to get you killed.

Now, maybe one of those defenses would have worked had he unleashed the dogs of war and hurt the attacker. But doing something that works and cripples your training partner in practice is generally frowned upon.

Here is the problem with skill. If it is you and me and I have a knife and yo don't, I have all the physical tools that you have -- kicks, punches, elbows, knees, head-butts, AND I have a knife. If I treat the knife as just another tool and use my other stuff?

While you are controlling my knife arm, what stops my other elbow?

Where is your advantage?

Josh Kruschke said...

A possible answer to the title question:

Edward De Bono?

AF1 said...

Rory, you are the guy that has been in the sh*t so to speak.

I haven't.

So I tend to listen carefully to what you have to say, thinking that you probably know some things I don't due to your experience.

But in this case (due to S.T.A.B) I know a little about knife defenses that control the arm, and about getting those defenses to work against a resisting training partner who is coming at me full force with bad intentions.

And based on that I was surprised that you came down so strongly against that particular approach.

I will keep doing what works for me regardless of what anyone says. But it does make me wonder if the training hall simulations I'm doing, no matter how realistic we try to make them, aren't good enough?

Especially if you, a real world operator, have reached a completely opposite conclusion than I have.

Jim said...

There is no one absolute answer. Some folks out there have come up with some stuff that has worked. Some of that same stuff has failed, too.

Listen to the guys who have been there... but don't rely on them. Trust your own experience and training, too. I've never been attacked with a knife outside of a training situation. Dealt with a couple of guys who had knives -- but they all decided that it was in their interest to do what the guy with the gun said. Funny that...

Odds are that if you find yourself truly attacked with a knife, you'll probably be behind the curve already. You can try to control the thing that's hurting you -- or the person doing it. Either has pros and cons. Personally -- I'm probably going to seek to move off the attack, while doing sufficient damage to disrupt further attack. But, right now, I'm a virgin talking about sex. What'll happen if it really happens? Can't say; can only hope that I've instilled reactions through training that'll serve me.

Joshkie pointed out that "attacking the mind" isn't necessarily limited to "smash 'em into unconsciousness" elsewhere. That's a great point. I've short circuited people from monkey dances and from attacks by doing something they weren't expecting. And I've had incidents where they just ignored me, and kept going on with their original stupidity.

Jason R said...

Great Thread.

My issue with knife defence is this. I often see people learning to defeat someone armed with a knife in training. The issue is if you put gloves on both of them, the person doing the knife defending would get smashed.

So, my gripe is that if you can't beat someone going at you empty-hand, what chance have you got if they are coming at you with a carving knife? You simply don't have the strength, power, skill etc. to win. Yet I see it happen all the time in training.

I'm not saying knife defence is worthless or not valuable to learn. The issue is you need to train it with realistic expectations. No system will work for many people most of the time - they'll get stabbed and maybe killed because of the net advantages their attacker has beyond just the blade.

It's all just fighting, just with even far higher stakes. There is no magical answer. Don't get stabbed. Hit the guy. Grab the weapon arm. Bite it. Kick him. Spit at him. Gouge. Whatever works at the time is the solution.

Josh Kruschke said...

Jim -

It wasn't my point. I was just trying to point out we might be missing the point of what Rory was saying, but then again I might of been missing the point.


Anonymous said...

I have a couple of observations pertinent to this discussion:


I think Rory's mistrust of 'controlling the knife arm' probably stems from the it being too prescriptive. One of things I took away from Kane and Wilder's writings is that whatever you do should be consistent with your styles overall strategy. This is what cfadeftac alluded to as well. Something that Rory and the Kane and Wilder talk about is 'training the flinch', to work with your instinctive reaction and train it to be as effective as possible. If the response to knife attack is to block strike, then the most important thing is to be utterly committed to that strategy.

That's another thing Rory has stressed all the time. Complete and utter commitment to surviving. That is more important than any specific strategy or technique. I recently rediscovered that sparing with a female 4th Dan karate tournament champion. My strategies worked only when I was completely committed to them. If I was a bit doubtful or hesitant I wound up with an extremely fast accurate and weighty fist in my face.

The next observation I wanted to make is to ask; what is the difference between a knife strike and an empty hand strike? Other of course than one of them could open you up....In the dojo, we are constantly thinking about "iken hisatsu",


and minimizing the time between onset of an attack to a single fight-ending response. This is true whether or not the attacker is armed. It's not always framed in those terms, but it doesn't matter because the body is being trained whether the mind knows what is going on or not.

The third observation is that the techniques shown in STAB video seem fine. I even recognise the technique from two of our katas, Seiunshin and Sepai. But I also couldn't help thinking 'what's wrong with a palm strike to the nose'? My instinctive reaction watching the demonstrations was to do that and saw plenty of openings. I really didn't want to stay anywhere that knife. And presumably there is a finishing move in later part of the class? I don't want the guy following me especially if I am losing blood and my adrenaline is wearing off.

Never-the-less, I found the video extremely interesting and thought provoking.

Finally, does anyone know of where there is a collection of CCTV footage of martial arts trained people responding to an attack (of any sort) in the real world. Wouldn't that be incredibly instructive? Just as much if they ended in failure or success? A good example is the video I linked at the top of the post. The security guard clearly had some training judging by the way he deflected some of the attacks, and contrary to the commentary, I don't think he was 'run through' - he deflected lunge so that he could grip the attackers extended arm close to his body.


PS For a little light relief, you might want to take a look at this story:


I'd like to know what kick she used.... :-)

Anonymous said...

Sorry - try this:



Steve Perry said...

Read about a guy in Las Vegas recently killed a guy with one punch. Wasn't his intent, and that doesn't happen real often, but there it did.

Training for a one-punch-one-kill is fine, but there is a big drawback.

Landing that punch before an incoming stab would do the trick. But if it doesn't -- if your killer shot doesn't stop the incoming stab, then it's probably a bad trade.

People shrug of those killer shots all the time and simply don't drop dead. If your gun has only one bullet and you miss?

You attack. I break your nose, but you keep coming and stab me in the throat.

Hmm. Maybe not the swap I'd like to make.

Because a knife is a more dangerous tool generally than a punch, the one-punch kill notwithstanding, the incoming blade becomes the primary focus for the defender. The attacker might throw a punch or a knee or whatever, but chances are those won't do as much damage as the knife, especially if he doesn't know much of anything.

If he does, you are probably screwed.

It's all Oh, shit! stuff.

The theory is that a good defense works whether the guy is armed or not. The reality is, a knife is dangerous on the way in, once it gets there, and on the way out. A barehanded strike, not so much.

The weapon brought to bear matters.

Anonymous said...

Steve, nothing you wrote is any way incorrect, but you make it sound like there is a choice.

If a guy is coming for you with a knife or, as is more probable, already attacking you with a knife, things are already pretty bad. It would be a miracle if you did not get hurt.

The principle of iken hisatsu is not a "killer blow" as such, but a fight ending blow. It may just be an eye gouge or a joint kick. The idea is that if you are being attacked, your response should be so devastating as to thwart any immediate continuation of an attack. And then get the hell out of there.

At least that's the principle. In practise it's all about trying to survive....as if I would know....

I think I will train with as much purpose as possible and hope to god I never have to find out.

Anonymous said...

Hey Rory. I had the opportunity to attend one of your seminars in Austin, TX with the Krav school. Great stuff.

Of the people who have been attacked with a knife and survived (or didn't), how many of them knew after the attack began that they were being attacked with a knife? The first strike? 2nd? 10th? If you are suddenly attacked, at what point do you decide to execute your "knife defense"?

Steinmann's knife attack drills (w/ a preset planned number of strikes) sound interesting. Maybe mix up the attackers; no weapon, knife, stick, piece of glass (or training equilavent), etc. Evaulate afterwards; was the defender's response effective? Were they able to recognize if they were being attacked with a knife? Did they use the "right" defense?

Jason H

Steve Perry said...

I think Mac's comment is dead-on -- if you have time to see it coming, you probably have time to get out the way. Maybe not always, there are back-to-the-wall situations, maybe you have granny and the kids and fleeing is not an option, but Mac's point is a good one: Advance warning likely gives you more *options.* Run, attack, whatever.

There are a hundred weapons in my office within easy reach. Some are better than others, but all are better than nothing. If I see you coming and can't get out of your way, I'm going to use a tool.

If you don't see it coming until it's already there, it's going to be a harder row to hoe. I think training for the one-shot kill is optimistic, and ten rounds probably better than one, just in case. People have shrugged off multiple rounds from a high-powered handgun and kept coming. If that death-blow is off an inch? Might be enough.

The training artifact that Rory talks about is something you have to consider. A serious attack with a blade merits an equally serious response, and what might work at full speed and power for a defense might not work done slower or with less juice.

It's a problem and I don't think there's an easy solution.

Full speed and power against an unarmored attacker is going to, and should, cause damage. Put him in a padded training suit saves him injury, but it invalidates the test. If he doesn't feel the hits, he doesn't have to stop.

The map is helpful, but it isn't the territory.

ush said...

"I think Mac's comment is dead-on -- if you have time to see it coming, you probably have time to get out the way. "

Related tangent: When I was training in the phillippines we didn't do a lot of the cool knife drill's. We did however find our teachers poking us with table knives when we least expected it (or sometime even when we did expect it, lesson there in itself) What I took from it was that unless weapon awareness was second nature to you, all that cool tapping stuff ain't gonna be much use

Jonny said...

A couple of points to consider -

The one-punch kill is really just someone getting a solid knock-out and the guy is unconscious before he hits the ground. It's the heavy slamming of the back of his head on the pavement/table/wall etc that causes the brain injury and results in death. It is more common that you'd think, we have had a significant number of deaths in Ireland due to this.

One of the major points about 'knife defence' is knowing that you are being attacked with a knife in the first place. Generally it seems that people who threaten with a knife may not actually attack and are using it as a threat for compliance (a bit of a generalisation but it does seem this way...just you don't let your guard down). If someone is intent on harming you they will want to do it with minimal fuss and attention, stabbing from very close range. I was stabbed once in the leg and thought I'd been punched. I thought he was trying to give me a dead leg! The strange thing was he actually froze, I think realising what he had done. If he hadn't froze, I don't know what might have happened.

The point is that a lot of people who are stabbed and survived said that they didn't see the knife and thought they were punched. Another very important point is acceptance. People's brains will do all sorts of strange things to deny what is actually happening. Acceptance is key to being proactive and surviving an assault.

Anonymous said...

Those are interesting points Jonny,

In karate when we talk about iken hisatsu, we don't mean that the 'one punch kill' should be one punch and then stop to have a look and see if it worked, the context we discuss it in, is training for the most devastating response possible, as quickly as possible, as a reflex. It doesn't literally mean 'kill' - and I think that might have been a misconception (though not in our school where the meaning of it is as I described).

The next stage afterwards is to flee.

In the context of this discussion, my feeling is that certain very knowledgable 'masters' for want of a better word, recommend staying true to the strategies of the style in which you have been trained. It is arguably a mistake to learn a specific technique for a specific theoretical situation, firstly because you can be sure it won't be anything like you imagined it to be, and secondly if it isn't something that trained to the point where it is instinctive, it probably won't work.

If you accept the teacher in the STAB video fairly reasonable assertion that you should accept that in a knife fight you are going to get cut, then from the point of view of a block/striker it makes sense to treat a knife strike as if it were an ordinary punch. It might be more effective than trying to 'catch' the hand esp if you are out of position. You will almost certainly take some damage but you might be able to minimize it before retaliating or escaping.

Have a look again at the poor dude in the video in my first post. To my mind, it kept him alive.

Jake said...

A few thoughts

@Jason -- Yeah, the drill is deliberately made pretty simple, though in several trials the attackers got pretty creative with some of their verbal assaults. You could (and probably should) eventually complicate things, but I wanted to isolate a knife assault for this particular drill.

(Also, I only have two suits of High Gear, so setting up multiple assailants was out of the question. Unless the defender doesn't have gear on, but that creates it's own set of problems.)


So far, I've only had one attacker who had any kind of formal knife training (Cabalas Escrima, I think), and I only got one trial with him (his nose got badly bloodied during the first run--he still stabbed me 7 times). None of the other attackers, some of whom were trained martial artists, initially thought to use any skills besides the blade. In later reps, it crossed their minds. In some reps, their attempts to use other skills actually made my life easier.

RE: Not getting dropped.

High Gear does not complete stop the blow (that's why we call it Impact Reduction Gear). That said, there is a degree to which I've had to rely on the bad guys judgment...if they get a hit that they feel would have legitimately taken them out without the gear, they can react appropriately. It isn't perfect, but it's the best solution I know of.

Tony Blauer frequently reminds us that training is really a quest for the "best fake stuff out there". Nothing short of the real fight is the real fight, and even then, people have wildly different experiences of what that fight manifests as.

Anyway. The Experiment is interesting so far. I want more trials, and need more volunteers. We'll see what comes up.

Anonymous said...

I've attended several "knife defense" seminars. I did what I usually do; be respectful of the instructor and pull any useful info I could from the class, thinking of ways I could incorporate new ideas into stuff I think I already know. If the class is labeled "Knife Defense...", it's a safe bet what the goal will be and what the assailant will be armed with. Scenarios including the assailant having a knife and the defender having a knife. It was fun, but I'm thinking those scenarios aren't as likely as others. I'm all for acquiring knowledge, but when it comes to surviving an assault, I've been trying to simplify things. Shut the other guy down as fast as possible.
Watching Rohan's 'security guard knife attack' video, it still seems like a good idea to me. Unclear what training the guard had, but he was extremely focused on stopping that knife, vs. stopping the man. One strike, or several, just as long as it was enough strikes to stop the assault.

Jake, I wish you the best in your Experiment, and will be reading your future posts.

It's great having an expansive toolbox, just don't get caught rummaging thru it...

Anonymous said...

Guess I should sign in w/ an account at some point...

Jason H.

Anonymous said...

I know quite few self-defense instructors who have never been into a knife fight and yet they 'teach' people about knife-fighting.

I also know one person who had vast ammount of real life experiences with knife threating situations. To those of us who know him well he is willing to show a thing or two, but he is not teaching anyone. He says that people like to fantasize about knife fight way too much. Most attacks with knife happen from ambushes. Knife fights as many imagine them as 'duels' almost never take place. When they do and if they do (chaces for this are extremeley low) it's between individuals of two different groups - combatants in a combat zone, both out of ammo and each one holding a knife in his hand. It's an option. It is very unlikely that this would happen in an urban environment.

Once I've asked him what's his opinion regarding self-defense 'knife-fighting' experts. He smiled.

There is a big difference between knife fighting fantasize and attack with the knife as it happens in the real life.

AleŇ° J.

Jake said...


Cool. I'll look forward to getting your input.

Is this the video you're referring to?


Anonymous said...

That's the one. I'll try to give some useful input (or at least a viewpoint) on your site once you start posting your findings.

Jason H

Justthisguy said...

I reckon this is not exactly off-topic for this blog, as a few hours ago I got knocked down and thwacked upside the head for no reason I can think of. Click on my name to see my blog post about it.

Justthisguy said...

Bump. Hey, Rory, I would have sent you an email if you still had your address here, so please leave a comment on the last-but-one post on my blog. I am interested in any ideas you may have on how I could have avoided getting jumped yesterday. I mean, the injury was minimal, even compared to a rough touch football game (two below) but the insult was revolting, being surprised like that, and then having to talk to a badgifer who dang near treated _me_ like a criminal.

Anonymous said...

Coming late into the conversation. Lots of good stuff said already. I was thinking two layers everyone’s touching on independently. They’re both part of the same thing.

First, doing things to keep from getting hurt is hard to argue against. Maybe that is to control the knife arm. The same holds true then for a heavy, blunt object. After all, the problem isn't solved if you are still getting hurt. Risks can be fairly high once you are getting taking hits. Mitigating a dangerous aspect (the weapon) in the process is a good tactic. But, it is a tactic and just a means to an end. Be the resourceful technician, not the slave to technique.

What is always overlaid onto this is that if a bad guy has decided to start stabbing you ...or anything else bad, being safe as suddenly as being attacked would mean having somehow changing his mind. A bad guy is a complex machine with a drive and energy source just like you. Defuse, unplug or smash him to pieces before he cuts your wires. You’re past ‘defuse’ in an ambush. So, I’m thinking that to kill his will to act may be more efficient (at least more natural and accessible) than only focusing only on the strength and physical skills that will limit his abilities. Controlling the situation just isn’t quite the same thing as controlling the weapon arm.

An army combatives instructor friend talks about "attacking the structure" as a working principal of his military system. What exactly is the plan once you have gained control of the knife arm? I ask him what is more structural than the mindset of the action. You have to get there or nothing has really been resolved. It has to be closed down. His system moves through the structure as a means to control, and the theory goes that this works as a principal in every aspect of combat. Attack structure and establish control. The last piece is the true goal though. End the fight.

I’m not a military or weapons guy. I like the observation that people don’t lose …they simply quit. I must have a hundred otherwise irrelevant stories of both physical and mental application to this. Sometimes it is subtle. Other times, it must be urgent and explosive to achieve success. It should always have a deliberate purpose. It is called fighting. And, someone else will likely end the fight if you don’t. Once you decide it’s a fight, or someone chooses for you, the overarching purpose over any congruent technical goals must be to commit to ending it.

Having perseverance over, under, around and through obstacles is the recipe for winning battles and determining your future existence. There is no substitute for that kind of character. Tie it to great ethics and it is stunning how luck can work in your favor, even beyond the limitations of logical tactics sometimes. I would bet most of us know for sure how much it doesn’t those times we don’t fight.

-Billy G.