Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Brain Storming with Marc

One of the things I like about hanging out with Marc MacYoung are the long conversations.  He's a thinker with wide experience and we've seen a lot of the same problems but from different sides and different magnifications.  The synthesis of ideas is intense.

A few weeks ago, he taught a class at the Firearms Academy of Seattle.  It was my chance to meet Marty and Gila, so I tagged along.  The class was good, but the conversations were amazing.

(Do NOT take a bet with an attorney.  He would not be betting unless he had insider information.)

At one point in the class, Marc asked, "How do you not get stabbed?" And let the class mull over it.
Later that night, I ran with the question.  I liked it.  It's only limited if you think it is.  Between the two of us we came up with a pretty good list.  Not definitive, I'm sure we missed some things.  And there are places where we disagree about the order, but generally, in order of importance:


  1. Don't be the kind of person that someone else would want to stab.  Marc likes to say that the two best knife defenses are to avoid are: 1) to avoid the drug culture and 2) don't sleep with other people's mates.  Almost every stabbing I could think of was over something, and it was over something big enough to make it personal and it was between two people at least one of whom was cool with stabbing.
  2. Don't go places where people stab each other.  This ties in directly to Marc Denny's "Avoid stupid places with stupid people doing stupid things."  Random stabbings are rare, but they happen in predictable places.
  3. Run.  If you don't have to engage, you don't engage.  If you have time to ask yourself, "Should I engage?" the answer is, "No."
  4. De-escalate.  If you can talk your way out, do so.  Most of the time if you have an opportunity to talk, the goal is not to hurt you.  The weapon is displayed to get you to hand over your wallet.  So more accurately, some of the time I should say, "Don't escalate."  Don't say anything stupid.  If you challenge his manhood, he's likely to use the knife even if that wasn't his attention.  

And be aware, right here, that almost all of this from de-escalate on comes from the viewpoint of a male martial athlete.  A victim being intimidated to a secondary crime scene goes into a different flowchart and may have to make different choices.  A knife suddenly at you neck and the words, "Give me your purse" are not the same situation as the same knife and the words, "Come with me.  Don't make a scene."

5.  Brainstem.  If it is going to engagement, you take out the brainstem.  Get this, all of the physical responses are low percentage, and there is a matrix somewhere of ease of execution, likelihood to work and whether it finishes or delays the situation.  This will be heavily influenced by your skill and your training.  EV has long arms and great power and has made a practice of hitting brainstems shots from a number of angles.  A different individual may or may not be able to make it work.
6. Positioning.  Done properly gives you options and protects you without tying up your hands.
7. Compromise structure. This may be better than positioning or worse than limb disabling or not.  I think where this goes on the list depends a lot on your fighting personality. But either destroying a leg or twisting the spine have their uses.  And their dangers.
8. Disabling the limb.  If you can pull it off.
9. Defanging the snake.  Disarming in other words.  Technically difficult and low percentage, but the big change from a lethal encounter to an unarmed encounter moves it up the matrix.
10. Controlling the weapon arm.  Might buy you a second, maybe two, but it generally ties up (unless you do it by positioning) two of your hands to his one. To think that someone is 'so focused on the knife he will forget to hit you' is what we call wishful thinking.  It is not strategy.
11. Simple blocking.  Lot's of issues with it.  Reactive so it tends to be too slow, doesn't finish anything or even slow anything down.  So if it works, and that's a crap shoot, you are in exactly the same place you were.
12.  Simple pain.  I have no problem with adding pain.  For that matter you can stack as many options as you can handle.  Use them simultaneously.  But counting on just pain, whether a pressure point or a shin kick to stop someone adrenalized to use a knife is very, very low percentage.

Not definitive, not absolute.  Especially not prescriptive.  I think I got more out of arguing where to place these than I did from the list itself.

But there was one other thing, and I want you to look at it-- it's not a perfect correlation but it looks very much like most training spends effort in the opposite order of effectiveness, or near enough.  Far more hours in most schools are spent on blocking than on positioning, for instance.  Is this because of misplaced priorities?  Or a lazy tendency to teach the things that are easiest to teach regardless of effectiveness?  Or some belief that the low percentage options require more training so we train them more.  But I don't think the math works on that excuse.

More to think about.


nry said...

8. Disabling the limb. If you can pull it off.

I think pulling off a limb is probably quite difficult :) I guess it would reduce the chance of being stabbed though!

Anonymous said...

Only notable omission I can see is "wear armor". If you have to go to a place where you may be stabbed then wear the best protective gear you can get.

Rory said...

Anon- Nice. Thanks.

AndrewS said...

A few more additions:

-keep the goal in mind- escaping with minimum damage- be ready to run
-arm yourself- improvised weapons can create threat and change the range
-wrg to 'wear armor'- use the defenses available to you- while a thick jacket is great, a t-shirt or sweatshirt between the hands can foul a blade and up the percentages on a disarm


Unknown said...

7. Compromise structure. This may be better than positioning or worse than limb disabling or not. I think where this goes on the list depends a lot on your fighting personality. But either destroying a leg or twisting the spine have their uses. And their dangers.

Mightnt that be a little difficult without avoiding being stabbed first? By which i mean, this is a brainstorm on how to not get stabbed, but (and im open to being corrected here) it seems like it might be low-return to try and compromise structure before you stop yourself from being stabbed/as a way of stopping yourself from being stabbed?
After youve done that, absolutely.

Jim said...

A couple more thoughts on how not to get stabbed... take 'em for what they may or may not be worth.

If you must go places or among those who might stab you -- don't go alone. Have a trusted buddy around to cover you. A couple more buddies to cover him aren't a bad idea, either. When you do have to go there -- don't be the guy someone will want to stab. Don't look like prey.

Armor/protective clothing is good. A gun is good, too, if you're prepared and willing to use it. It's not a magic talisman... but it's a damn effective way to adjust the odds.

RXian said...

I think the order of the list as presented is the most sound. Here's some of my thinking (in a somewhat random order):

Minimizing chance and maintaining internal loci of control through use of space and time seems to be the thread I've focused on.

Space is a dominant theme, and there are many levels of controlling space. Avoid the place. Avoid the threat and the threat's effective range (maintain or increase space between threat and self). Avoid the weapon. All address range in different contexts. Fewer options exist as distance to the weapon decreases. Time also decreases with space. Space increases with time.

De-escalation involves maintaining space long enough to influence the Threat's motive.

Controlling the self (not being someone who's likely to be stabbed) is ultimately the area in which we have the most control. The decision-making processes are measured in decades as opposed to fractions of seconds. This gives more time to create "space" ("distance" from a personality that could make getting stabbed more likely).

If that came across a bit jumbled or too's well past my bedtime.

RXian said...

One more thought:

If you can't be a person no one would *want* to stab, be someone who others wouldn't want to try to stab. A risk outweighing reward type thing.

This could be as simple as not appearing to be an easy target (like MacYoung's "I want him to look into my eyes and see the cost of admission").

It could be as complex as having standing similar to a protected political figure (too well liked, too well protected, too inaccessible). Some people might want to kill certain political figures but would never make an actual attempt.

This is still about controlling the self, but it does give up a little bit more control. Maybe though of as Number 1.5

Rory said...

Clarify-- "I want him to look in my eyes and see the price of admission" was from Mac (Paul McRedmond) not Marc.

Also, since I was recreating the list from memory I left out simple evasion, which would go very close to blocking.

Josh Kruschke said...


My thoughts on using appropriate tools for the situation.

A gun while good in certain situations is not always the most effective option.

Factors of consideration:

1. Distance. Do you have time to draw and engage, if so, do you then have time to disengage instead? (There's linked video of officers reaction times verses a knife, simulated, somewhere on this blog.)

2. Brandish. Depending on state laws a lot of states limit how you can carry. In Texas we do not have open carry, we are required to conceal carry with a CHL license. This limits the guns effectiveness as a deterrent. This also means the gun has to stay in the holster till the moment it is needed adding time of draw, and like blocking this is low percentage.

3. Even if the gun is in hand, you have to hit some very soecific targets, thigh bone or brain stem. At the close in distances of a knife fight, anything other than the immediate destruction of their ability to continue fighting could allow them to get strikes in before bleed out & shock get's them. 

I too am probable missing something.

My 2 cents,

Rory said...

Tarcek-- It's hard to pull off _any_ of the close range things mentioned here without being stabbed. I put it there on the list for a couple of reasons, number one being I've used it. Just as one thought, for a handshake shanking, the best defense I have is pure structure control through the shaken hand. It's not just spine control nor snapping knees, but both fall under the category.

Anonymous said...

More hours are spent on blocking than positioning in most schools, because most students find position work difficult and boring. Since most schools are businesses they have to worry about retaining students.

nry said...

Never take a knife to a gun fight...Mythbusters reckoned on needing (I think) at least 18 feet between you and the knife wielding maniac for you to have enough time to draw and shoot...any less and the knife attacker stabbed you before they got shot.....

Jim said...

The Tueller drill has shown that it takes about 20-21 feet to draw and place two shots center mass. OK; no argument there.

But I can survive a stab or slash -- even multiples -- and pull a gun out, and even in a grapple, discharge a round.

I expressly said that a gun wasn't a magic talisman, and described it as an "equalizer." As in a tool to balance the odds, especially if I've already been hurt.

Thomas M. said...

I understand why you chose this order of the pysical options.

One thought, however: how much training/experience needs it to see these options and to be able to pull them of under the stress of a sudden knife attack?

I think this is the one advantage of the decison to control the weapon arm. Grabbing on to something and keep it away from you is in my opinion much more an "easy" gross motor skill than all the options higher up (brainstem, attacking structure, limb disabling or disarming).Stepping off-line is already hard enough for many people in the "stress" of sparring. Off-lining plus an action to do the things above? How much training is necessary to get to the point where these is a good chance to be able to pull it off?

And while you are in my opinion right with the statement "whishful thinking is not a strategy", I do think that "eleminate the biggest, lethal danger and take the chance that he may still hit you" is a legitamate strategy under certain citumcances.

Given: I consider this from the specific perspective of police officers with two-men patrols, so help should hopefully be close.

In this specific field I still consider it a useful approach, especially for people who don't train in matial arts on a regular basis. In this case I would prefer to train them in a gross motor skill to which they may likely default anyway under stress/panic. It doesn't solve the situation but it buys time for the second officer to help if it works. And the chances for work are in my opinion higher than for the other options, if the person doesn't spend much time on training.

Im not exactly happy with this approach, but I still haven't found a convincing argument against these thoughts or a better solution (with a realistic chance despite little training time) for this specific field.


Josh Kruschke said...

But Jim the question put forth was, "How Not To Get Stabbed." Not win or survive the fight, and if you bleed out after did you still win?

Josh Kruschke said...

PS. Jim, I didn't make myself clear. A tool is something you overlay or plug onto the matrix/list, and I tried to short cut my explanation(Both times). I was being lazy.

Let me try again.

Rory's / Mac's question could have been, How not to have someone try to hurt or kill you. A knife is just one of the ways someone might try to do this.

A gun, knife or other tool only makes the attacker/s more or less effect in their goal of causing harm, death or compliance in direct proportion to how effective the deffender/s is/are able to mount a defense.

I think of it this way; [Rory's list falls under skills. This is also a work in progress.] 

Scaling & Force multipliers****:
•Unarmed vs. Unarmed = Skill*, luck** and advantage goes to whom ever acts first.***
•Unarmed vs. Armed w/knife or other hand tool = skill*, luck** & the advantage goes to the Armed & to whom ever acts first.***
•Unarmed vs. Armed w/gun or other distance weapon = skill*, luck** & the advantage increases as the unarmed has to close distance with the armed before a defense can be initiated & to whom ever acts first***.
•Both equaly armed = skill*, luck** & advantage goes to whom ever acts first***. 

Force Multipliers**** effecting all:
• Ambushes*** = Advantage goes to those who initiate them. Ambushes or the proverbial sucker punch are not a viable legal defensive strategy though. 
• Physical & Mental Skills & abilities*; i.e., capacity to deffend or carry out actions taken = advantage goes to those physically & mentally stronger (Mentally disterbed has their own weakness & strenghts).
• Numbers**** = here the equations get really complicated as the combination are infinate. Numbers of Assailants & defenders.  How are they armed & unarmed. Skill levels & age. Youth are usually physicly weaker & mentaly not prepared for violence.

• Environment = advantage goes to whom ever uses it most effectively.

•Luck**= Sometimes you just get lucky!


To me Rory's list is: the first part/half is don't be stupid, if it can be avoided, and the second part are actions/strategies, to mitigate or prevent oneself from being harmed,  we can use, if we fail or can't avoid the first part. These strategies become more or less effective or down right impossible depending on the actual situation we find ourselves in.

I think there is one more strategy that needs to be added to the list. I'm kind of surprised it's not on there all ready, as it's something you have talked about before and that is attacking the mind/OODA loop.

Rory, I don't think you can put the list into any kind of an order or flow chart; as, the variables are endless.


Is controlling the knife arm more or less effective or a good strategy if there's multiple attackers?

Is a gun a viable defensive strategy against a knife attack in a crowded room?  

One further note: The law and our own moral codes fall out side this matrix, and determine when and if it is appropriate to implement the strategies with in it.

Clear as mud?

My 2 cents,

Josh Kruschke said...

Ooopsy, correction.

Rory's/Marc's question.....

Ben Cerasi said...

Create witnesses. Grab a stool or trashcan lid. Be aware. Is he touching his belt or pocket a little to often?