February 27, 2009 by Chris Ranck-Buhr
Those who hit the mats ask questions based on that experience; those who don’t hit the mats ask questions from the depths of their imagination.
As instructors (who are only ever speaking from our experience on the mats as well as the street) this is our constant vexation. There’s nothing worse than having someone walk up and ask a question that is clearly from the realm of their darkest fears and imaginings… “How many unicorns are in the Land of Gumdrops and Rainbows?”
I don’t know about you, but I sure as hell have no idea.
Questions that arise from experience jibe with similar experience, meaning that I can recognize a mat-induced question because it’s probably something I’ve wondered myself after a particularly good (or bad) session and then been motivated to explore, physically.
Mat time is your own personal violence laboratory – if you find yourself wondering about something (“What if he has the knife in his other hand?” or “Would that really work with a gun?”) then all you have to do is grab your partner and work on it at your next session. If you still have questions (and doubtless you will), then those questions will be based on your physical experience – how it went, the problems that stopped you cold, new ones that arose from doing it with another human body in motion. Those are questions we can answer. We can give you hints and ‘tricks’ to try at your next session. And if you still have questions, well, then we’re just working the problem, aren’t we?
I vividly remember a phase where I was intensely interested in grabs, holds, and grappling in general. I asked my partners to come at me with tackles, takedowns, try to restrain or pin me when it was my turn. It wasn’t long before I had answered all my questions for myself – in the end I was no longer worried about such things. I had exhausted all the possibilities (or nearly so, or at least to my satisfaction) and was confident in my ability to seriously injure someone who wanted to wrestle me, with little or no effort on my part. If I had any leftover questions they were to the point and very specific – meaning that I could expect a useful answer to my query.
Later I did the very same thing with firearms, with identical results. Guns became a fad, I worked it to death, and left with not only questions answered, but a skill and the confidence to execute it.
Questions that come from physical experience are based on the facts of the matter – how the human body moves and can’t move, the limitations of the laws of physics, the gravitational constant. Mat questions are questions about reality. Questions that come from movies, TV, videogames, comic books, the Internet, ‘helpful’ friends, or your own fears are best tested against the realities of the mats first, before you open your mouth. Most times they vanish with something as simple as ruptured testicles. If they persist and vex you on the mats then at least you’ve worked through the stupid/obvious stuff before asking for help. And that means that our answer is both targeted and useful to you.
Getting back to the Land of Gumdrops and Rainbows, so many times I’m asked questions where the real answer is, “It doesn’t matter.” Of course, that’s incredibly unsatisfying and does nothing to fill in the blanks of the one asking. But it would be the truth. When a question so obviously comes from the imaginary world in their head instead of the real one we’re standing in, there’s not much more I can say. It’s maddening to try to argue a hypothetical with facts that are not a shared experience; in other words, if Mr. A has no idea what he’s talking about, then no amount of factual advice from Mr. B is going to change that. We have to share some level of real, physical experience in order to communicate physical action. Otherwise it’s just a bunch of gas and wasted time.
Am I saying you shouldn’t ‘bother’ us with questions? Of course not. You know me better than that. What I’m saying is that you’ll get the best, most useful answer if your question is based on physical experience instead of the fairy dust of ‘what-if’ worrying. If you have a question the first place you should go is to your own personal violence lab – the mats – and grind it out with your favorite reaction partner. Then you can ask us about the specifics of what went wrong. And then we can give you the why, and how to fix it.
This is the process of improvement, not “But what if he has a knife and a gun?”
February 19, 2009 by Chris Ranck-Buhr
The words we choose to describe things shade and flavor our perception of those things; this can be to our benefit or detriment. Any given word gives rise to a whole cloud of associations, some better than others. For example, take the words attacker and defender. It’s easy to associate speed, aggressiveness, initiative, strength, power and evil with the role of the attacker and tasked, hounded, reactive, protective and good with the role of the defender.
So which one is better to be, if you had the choice?
Again, this is one of those trick questions where everyone shouts, “Attacker!” and then turns around and uses the language and posture of the defender when it comes down to action. Why? Especially when you know it’s better to be the attacker — it works great for the criminal, the killer, the survivor… it means you have the initiative, you are, by definition, in the cause-state, doing instead of getting done.
And all it gets is lip service.
You do it because socially, it’s wrong. It’s evil, it’s immoral, it’s not what your mom, your clergy, or the cops would like you to do. Such behavior is corrosive to the social fabric; behaving like a killer is to take on the mantle of the killer. It’s unsporting. It’s unfair. It’s the very definition of cruel.
And you can’t think of yourself in those terms.
Now, I’ve tried to talk about this before, but maybe I’ve been too vague or too nice, I don’t know. But I’m here now to tell you:
You either see yourself as the person stomping on the downed man or you are the downed man.
No ifs, ands or buts.
And again, before you protest, check yourself. A lot of the language I see floating around when people talk “reality self-defense” is the language not of killers, but of people trying to justify that role, to feel better about it. Trying on the mantle of the killer, finding it distasteful, and then looking for logical constructs to make it fit better, to give yourself sufficient reason to try it on in the first place.
Justification can only effect mechanical performance in one direction — to make it poorer.
The attacker has no justification. This is why, socially, we find it distasteful, wrong, and evil. But all the attacker has to do is attack. One simple thing.
The role of the defender is a justifiable one. We can explain away our need to behave in a socially unacceptable way by virtue of being attacked. Because we have accepted the number two slot, and dumped ourselves into the effect-state, it’s okay with mom, et. al. The only problem is that being a defender is a very busy job, with lots to try to do. We have to register the attack, attempt to counter it, and only then may we attempt a counter-attack. If you’ve seen our live “knife-defense” demo, then you know how well that works out… And for those who haven’t seen it, here’s the breakdown: it works like gangbusters for the stabber, not so great for the stabee.
Even if you are resolved to be a bloodthirsty and vicious defender, you’re still applying the loser moniker. Best of luck with that.
Ultimately, you have to ditch even the idea of being an attacker — lose the attacker/defender dichotomy entirely. Because really, what makes a difference in violence is not self-defense, or even fighting — it’s all about hurting people. It’s what you’ll do when there are people around you who need to get hurt. Who need to get maimed, dropped on the ground, crippled so they stay there, and maybe even killed.
That’s all I train. When people ask me what I do, the simplest answer is, “I teach people how to kill sociopaths.” Not only is it the simplest, it’s also the most accurate. And after that, I don’t waste my time or breath trying to justify it — and most people demand justification after a statement like that — because trying to make them feel better about it is really just me trying to make me feel better about it. And there is no feeling better about it. In a social context, it’s wrong.
But we’re never talking about a social context, are we? Not unless the Virginia Tech shooting was a garden party. So there’s no feeling good or bad about it — there’s only what’s mechanically correct. And trying to make it sound or feel better just convinces us it’s okay to be in second place. We all know that’s a lie.
Or do we?
Depends on how much mat time you get. The more you actually model the behaviors we present, the more comfortable you’ll be with the mechanical facts of violence, and seeing yourself as the person doing them. At that point it stops being words and becomes the only way to be in violent conflict.
February 12, 2009 by Chris Ranck-Buhr
How hard would you stomp on a man’s neck if your life depended on it? Hard enough to break it, right? And how hard to you think that is? Probably with everything you’ve got. You’d do it as hard as you possibly could, and that’s the right answer. The human body is tougher than you’d think — it can take an awful lot of punishment before it breaks.
What about the eye? It’s far more fragile than the neck, and much easier to injure, if by “easy” we mean “requiring less effort.” Does this mean we can get away with striking the eye less hard than we would the neck?
Well, yes and no.
Yes, in an absolute sense — it’s possible to cause serious injury to the eye with an almost trivial engagement of effort. If you lacerate his cornea with your pinkie nail, you’ll effectively blind the man. His eyes will squeeze shut and begin to water profusely. He’ll have trouble keeping them open.
While this injury is sufficient, meaning we put enough effort into it to overcome the natural resiliency of the tissues involved, it’s far from optimal…
So the answer is no in a real sense. While there’s a good chance we could get away with doing less to the eye than the neck and still ending up with an injury, there’s also a chance, because we’re coming in at the weak end of the scale for effort, that we might not make it over that threshold for injury. What does this mean?
It means that if I believe I can “go light” on the eyes and still cause an injury, I might not go hard enough to actually get that injury. And then I’m screwed.
Far better to go after his eyes the same way you’d break his neck: put everything you’ve got into it. Not only are you guaranteed an injury (as long as you actually hit the target and follow all the way through, like a bullet would), but you stand a good chance of getting additional injuries from the sudden motion of his head (concussion) and a knockdown if you successfully take his balance in the bargain. None of that can happen if you go easy just because it’s the eye.
That initial stomp to the neck — with all your body weight over it, driven down and through as hard as you can — is a great reference point for all striking to all possible targets. No matter which important piece of anatomy you’re going for, from crushing the throat to crippling the arm via the radial nerve, you must strike them all as hard as you can. Same goes for joint breaks and throws.
“Getting away with something” means you were lucky that one time; crushing it beyond functioning takes all the luck out of it and gets you the desired result regardless of how the dice roll or the cards fall.
When you max out the laws of physics you know you’re going to break that neck, rupture that eye, put that man down so he can’t get back up again.
Anything less is leaving injury to chance. Most of the time it won’t make any difference — until your life is at stake.
February 3, 2009 by Chris Ranck-Buhr
Violence is simple.
How simple is it? We can answer that with two more questions:
1) How can untrained people prevail? and
2) How is it that untrained people can prevail over trained people?
Because for all their blissful naivete the victorious untrained have a firm grip on the tool of violence. This fact stands because violence is much simpler than people would have you believe; it’s much simpler than you want to believe.
The idea that violence is difficult and requires years of training — and that years of training will protect you from the untrained — are comfortable, comforting thoughts.
I read somewhere once that the little lies we tell ourselves on a daily basis, the small untruths that shape our subjective realities are what keep us happy. That the people who see the world and themselves as it all ‘really is’ are the clinically depressed.
Accepting the simplicity of violence is an unpalatable dose of hard reality. To learn that you are never immune and that someone who is completely and conspicuously untrained can murder you is acutely unsettling. Even depressing.
If, that is, you’re a blood-bucket-is-half-empty kind of person.
I like to look at it from the other side — the blood bucket is half full, and I’m going to use him to fill it the rest of the way up. If violence is so simple that even the untrained can use it and survive, then even a little bit of training is going to make you really, really good at it. And if you’re reading this, you’ve probably already had a little bit of training. You’re way better than you think, if only you’d let yourself be.
(The only thing that could possibly hold you back is a lack of intent; what the serial killer lacks in technique he more than makes up for with a monomaniacal will to get the job done. But you already knew that.)
Violence is much simpler, even, than we present it to be.
We spent a lot of time teasing out the common elements and finding ways to communicate them to you. It comes across as a ton of material that people mistakenly believe they must master before they can be effective.
For all that, we’re only ever really talking about the rock to the head… and what is the rock to the head but a big hunk of kinetic energy driven through a vulnerable target?
Everything else is just detail work, an exploration of all possible combinations and configurations for using your body as a human tissue wrecking machine, with and without snap-on tools. Violence seems complicated if you think this detail work is required to be effective. If you think you need a black belt before you can seriously injure someone.
Forget everything you think you know about how it should go down: violence is you injuring people. It’s throwing yourself at him to break things inside of him. You are the bull in his anatomical china shop, the Enola Gay to his Hiroshima. It’s you violating every tenet of polite society and destroying the only thing that any of us ever really own.
It’s simpler than you think because it has nothing to do with thinking.
Violence is all in the doing.