Counter-Blade Tactics for Real World Survival

A number of years ago, I was tasked with assisting a large Law Enforcement agency with edged weapons defense training. As I reviewed their existing program, I quickly discovered a number of deficiencies in both their tactics and training methodology. This caused me to rethink my own methods of teaching people how to survive an edged weapon attack, especially those with minimal training.

Coming from an extensive edged weapons background, I look at edged weapons defense from an attacker’s perspective rather than a defender’s. I think about how I would attack and defeat the other person’s defense. It’s amazing how quickly things break down when you study edged weapons defense from this perspective. The problem is, most edged weapons defense programs approach the subject from the defender’s perspective. Doing so results in short sightedness and the inability to see all of the attacker’s options.

Common Problems With Common Approaches


“Time Contexting” is a term I use to describe the process of placing trained fighting responses into the proper context of time. The time context should account for reaction time (action beats reaction) and the speed at which the attack would likely occur, including extension and retraction time.

Many edge weapon defense programs train to perform techniques using unrealistic time contexts. They usually looks something like this: a cooperative partner attacks in slow motion and/or leaves the attacking limb extended, many times overextended. The defender executes a series of movements which attack the limb or the opening created by the limb being extended. These techniques may appear to work during training, but as soon as an aggressive opponent who isn’t content with losing enters the equation, these techniques fall apart. If it doesn’t work against a full-speed attack from an uncooperative opponent, it doesn’t work.

Time Contexting doesn’t mean all training needs to be conducted at full speed; it simply means training must be based on realistic speed equivalents. When performing cooperative training at slower speeds, both parties should move at the same speed equivalent. Attacks shouldn’t be overextended or left in place after reaching full extension. They should be executed in the same manner they would be during an actual attack. Performing attacks in this manner not only ensures realistic responses are being trained by the defender, but also reinforces proper mechanics on the part of the feeder.

Many edged weapons defense programs also fail to recognize that, unlike a punch or kick, which requires a certain amount of distance to generate power, very little distance is needed for the delivery and recovery of a bladed attack. In addition, the angle of the attack can be changed in a split second. Such disregard for these truths results in inflexible and overcommitted defenses that focus on the blade and quickly break down once the anticipated attack changes course.

Things To Remember


If you are ever faced with a blade-wielding attacker, there are a few things you should remember that will drastically improve your survivability.

  1. Stay mobile. Distance is your best ally against any contact weapon, so use your footwork to stay as far away as possible. Run if you can.
  2. Place barriers between you and the attacker. A barrier is anything your threat has to avoid or move around to get to you. This can be done by moving behind a stationary or moving object, such as a park bench or a car, or by physically placing an object between you and the attacker, such as a chair or shopping cart.
  3. If contact is made, do your best to protect your vital organs and arteries. Keep your hands up and guard your centerline, which encompasses your throat, neck, lungs, heart and arteries.
  4. Don’t get fixated on the weapon. Like the tip of a whip, the blade is the fastest moving piece of the attack. Train your eyes on the attacker’s sternum, because any movement of the arm will originate with the upper torso. Allow your motion-sensitive peripheral vision to pick up the movement of the blade.
  5. Stay in the fight. There’s a good chance you’ll get cut; don’t focus on it. No matter what, fight through to the end. You’re not dead until the coroner says so. 

Check – Disrupt – Seize – Neutralize


The edged weapon defense I teach in CFS Counter-Blade Tactics (my subsystem of empty-hand blade defense) uses the process of Check – Disrupt – Seize – Neutralize. This systematic series of actions is designed to address the attack from start to finish. However, any step in this process can be skipped (with the exception of the last one) depending on the dynamics of the situation. I’ll give you an overview of this approach, but realize that I’m just scratching the surface.


The check is used to intercept an incoming attack when a full evasion isn’t possible. Assume a neutral position with the hands up halfway between your chin and sternum with your palms facing outward. As the attack comes in, deliver a quick, retracting strike to the attacker’s arm between his wrist and forearm using the palms of your hands. (I advocate using both hands because it provides the most surface area to prevent the attack from slipping through.) Once contact is made, return to the neutral position and prepare to stop the next attack. Be sure to move off the line of attack as much as possible during the check.

Many edged weapons experts advocate only using the outsides of the forearms to stop or deflect an edged weapon attack in order to protect the arteries and tendons located in the arms. This isn’t a bad tactic, however, having trained thousands of Law Enforcement officers and civilians in edged weapons defense, I’ve found this is difficult for most people to do under pressure unless they’ve spent years training this way. People react with their hands.


A rhythm disruption is anything that disrupts an attacker’s rhythm of movement and resets hisOODA loop. One of the quickest and most effective rhythm disruptions is an attack to the eyes on the half-beat. The purpose of the disruption is to create an opportunity for you to move in and control the weapon arm. You may have to deliver several checks before finding an opening to execute your rhythm disruption. With training, you’ll eventually be able to execute a check and disruption simultaneously.


Once the opportunity presents itself, move in and seize the attacker’s weapon arm to gain control of the weapon. Always strive to move to a position that places you outside of the attacker’s physical weapons. There are several ways this can be done depending on the situation and your level of skill and training. However, as a general rule, I advocate the following as the default method:

Grab the wrist of the arm holding the blade using a thumbless grip (aka Monkey Grip). With your opposite arm, grab deep behind their elbow. This gives you optimum control of the arm because it closes off the dead space and prevents them from being able to pull their elbow back to break free. From this position, maintain constant pressure to drive the attacker off balance.



The final step in surviving as edged weapon attack is to neutralize the threat. This could mean disengaging and employing a firearm, but once you have seized the attacking arm, it’s best not to let go until you have removed the blade from the equation. One of the high-percentage techniques I teach is an arm-bar takedown.

From the position I described above, bring your inside arm over the top so the attacker’s tricep is in your arm pit. Stack your inside hand on top of the hand securing the wrist and drive your inside shoulder toward the ground. From this position, drop forward onto your inside knee and straight down as if trying to touch your elbow to the ground; keeping your weight focused over the attacker’s shoulder. From there, you can lock the attacker’s wrist against your outside thigh and walk it up to lever the arm and secure the weapon.


What I’ve presented here are a few basic fundamentals for surviving an edged weapon assault, as well as a brief overview of my way of teaching Counter-Blade Tactics. If at all possible, avoidance is always your best defense. However, life doesn’t always offer us that opportunity. Train your mind and train your body so you’ll be prepared for whatever life throws your way.

Photos © Bill Bahmer Photography

Chad McBroom is the owner and founder of Comprehensive Fighting Systems and specializes in the practical application of edged and impact weapons. Chad is a freelance writer who regularly contributes to Black Sheep Warrior, and other publications. He’s also the author of the book Solving the Enigma: Insights into Fighting Models and has contributed to several books on blade combat. Chad is a blade designer and consultant, using his extensive knowledge of edged weapon tactics to help design some of the most versatile edged weapons on the market.




Make yourself a hard target, or even better, a non-target.

Psychological warfare is undoubtedly an extremely important aspect of self-protection training, and perhaps even more important than any physical skills. You should always be able to get yourself out of more fights than you get in. Comprehensive self-protection training, including both the psychological and physical aspects, is like car insurance; it’s better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it. And just as most people don’t look to have a car accident on purpose, neither does a proponent of self-protection look to get in a fight or to escalate a confrontation to the point of physical violence. They will maintain a general awareness and an appropriate distance away from others, monitoring for the unexpected behavior of other “drivers” that might otherwise result in an “accident”. If someone swerves in front of them or cuts them off, they take avoidance measures. In another scenario, maybe you’re the one who inadvertently cuts someone off, and a road rage incident ensues. You try your best to calm the guy down explaining that you didn’t see him and apologize. Or at that point you may need to de-escalate the situation by force. As you can see, driving is a suitable analogy for self-protection. It promotes a healthier understanding of the matter, compared to the paranoia and fear mongering tactics used by many. The keys to what Bruce Lee referred to as “The Art of Fighting without Fighting” are awareness, avoidance and verbal de-escalation, and allow you to defuse the proverbial bomb before it explodes.

All this rolls off the tongue nicely, and often it is easier said than done. Some practical guidelines to raise your awareness in order to avoid a confrontation completely and if that fails, to verbally defuse a situation, are warranted.

Shark Bait
Before even getting into the things mentioned above – awareness etc – the way you carry yourself either screams “predator” or “prey”. That may be overly simplistic, but the simple fact is if you act like shark bait, you’re going to attract the sharks. Predators do not tend to prey on other predators, where the potential for harm can be mutually reciprocated. It is a Yin/Yang relationship. Predators tend to prey on those they perceive to be meek and helpless, those who restrict their awareness. These types of targets are “easy targets”. Target hardening first starts with the way you carry yourself, and the key attribute that tells would-be predators that you are not their prey is confidence, and that is something primarily communicated through your body language. There is a ton of research out there on this topic, so I will not go into too much detail save it to say this: your body language is a physiological matter. Physiology and psychology are inextricably linked, such that the body and mind are not separate entities, but rather one unit. Studies have shown that your mindset (thought processes) have the capacity to directly affect your physiology, and vice versa. The simple (I didn’t say easy!) idea of changing the way you think can have dramatic effects in your body for the better or worse. There is actually something to all that material out there on positive and negative thinking, and it most certainly has an impact on your readiness to protect yourself at any given point. You’ve heard the phrase “you’re your own worst enemy”, and unfortunately this is often the case in self-defense. Fear, doubt, panic, apathy, denial, etc are all mental obstacles that need to be overcome in order for you to take appropriate action to protect yourself. In any endeavor, your internal dialogue will either “make you” or “break you”. In any combat sport, there is always a coach on the side yelling instructions, encouraging you to keep going when you feel like giving up. In self-defense, you must be your own coach. It’s not really about “thinking positive”, but rather to encourage (read as bring forth your courage) yourself to focus on strategy and tactics instead of the mental obstacles. Focusing on the mental obstacles degenerates into a downward spiral of self-defeat; you truly become your own worst enemy. The mind can only truly focus on one thing at a time, so focus on strategy and tactics and you will be on your way to overcoming those mental obstacles and taking appropriate action.

Conversely, adjusting your posture and body language as if you truly felt confident in that moment has the capacity to positively affect your thinking. The net result is you will exude a confidence that will increase the chances that an attacker will be dissuaded from choosing you as his victim. The next layer of target hardening is to enhance your awareness and discover your inner predator.

Predatory Awareness
When talking about awareness, many people talk about Jeff Cooper’s Color Codes of Awareness. The Color Codes describe different mindsets relative to the degree of danger you perceive yourself to be in. While it is a nice description of different alertness mindsets, I’ve personally never found it very practical; even after understanding the color codes, I did not come away feeling like I knew “how to” be aware. After all, it is one thing to tell someone to always “be aware” when they are outside of their home and they should be prepared to defend themselves (Code Yellow), but this does not give them practical mind tools they can actively use to raise their awareness. What I find much more useful is something I gleaned from Barry Eisler’s John Rain series of novels, and the basic premise is that effective awareness, and therefore self-protection, is based on the ability and willingness to think like the opposition, to think like a predator. How, when, where and why would you attack you? This will give you insight into the vulnerabilities of your daily routines and habits that would make it easier for a would-be predator to attack you. US Marine Corps’ General James N. Mattis’ quote: “be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everyone you meet” captures the essence of this mindset wonderfully. Of course it does not need to be so extreme, but the alertness that comes with this mindset will certainly raise the odds in your favor.

Making yourself a hard target necessarily involves addressing your vulnerabilities and taking some “corrective” action. For example, if you typically find yourself at a restaurant and sitting at a table while listening to your iPod in a location people can easily approach you from the rear, then “corrective action” may be to stop using headphones, and to choose the seat in the restaurant that allows you a view of the entrance and with your back to a wall so that nobody can approach you from behind.

Criminals tend to overlook a hard target in favor of an easier target, and their motivation, or the “why”, according to Tony Blauer, is your property, your body or your life, or a combination of these. Blauer further expands on this by counter-balancing the notion of what a criminal wants with what they don’t want: to get hurt or caught. You can use this information to your advantage. The biggest surprise you can give an attacker is you fighting back. This obviously increases his chances of getting hurt, which he won’t want, as well as his chances of getting caught, as fighting back prolongs what they want to be quick and easy.

While understanding these concepts may go some way towards enhancing your survivability through deterring an attacker, you must actually apply these ideas and be willing and able to physically engage your attacker in order to effect the change in your physiology that will tell a predator that you are not an easy target, or a target at all.


Preclusion is a legal term meaning to take steps to avoid or retreat from the action that can lead to violence. It’s a term you won’t hear bandied about that much even in martial arts or self defence schools. You will hear the phrase. As Miyagi would say, “Best defence, don’t be there”, but even then it’s pretty vague on how far you have to go to not be there.

Some will ask why bother discussing a legal term and quote the often parroted “I’d rather be judged by twelve than carried by six”. Just remember, those twelve judging you will probably know as much about violence as a ten-year-old does about sex (the media is there to entertain, not educate) and will be judging you accordingly. Secondly, if you’re training for self-protection then you might want to look at the entire process of a violent altercation rather than only what occurs in the heat of the moment. For example, you have managed to disarm your knife-wielding attacker and now hold the blade, but the attacker is still coming at you. What do you do? Stab him? You just broke the law. Throw the knife away? Food for thought.

The other thing I’ve run into is the “I’m a good person and good people will instinctively do the right thing and I’ll only be violent if I think I’m in danger” mindset (if you have a chance have a look at Joel and Michael Stovall’s interview ca. 28 September, 2001 and how they killed a deputy; you might be surprised how it sounds very familiar).

Some go to the extreme of avoiding trouble spots. A friend of mine in Ninjutsu equated this with the famous Godan test of avoiding the sword strike from behind “just don’t go to class on that day you avoided the sword. Of course, you also avoided all other lessons and you can just avoid life and raise cats”.

Richard Dimitri teaching the finer points of preclusion.

Richard Dimitri teaching the finer points of preclusion.

But yes avoiding trouble through being situationally aware and through avoiding certain behaviour patterns that might get you into a bad situation where you get an educational beat down (or “EBD” – a great term I learned from reading Marc MacYoung and Rory Miller books) is a solid foundation for self-protection. “But”, I hear you say, “I don’t hang around bikie clubs and dens of iniquity (you don’t know what you’re missing out on), as if those are the only places you might get an EBD. The worst EBD I have ever seen was from a few old Italian ladies when they heard a young man make a disparaging remark about a younger female of their family; the old ladies got to him before the males, and nothing much was left for the males to do except call him an ambulance.

Then you have preclusion once the scenario begins. I won’t discuss it from a bouncer’s perspective mainly because I’m contractually obligated (I’m an idealist, I do it for the money) to be there in the thick of it and can only retreat so far (please note venues are obligated by law to keep out those who are under-age or intoxicated, as well as those who they think may start a fight (sorry if your feelings get hurt). If we don’t, not only do penalties apply to us staff, but venues can be shut down and consequently, people lose their jobs). So when I refuse you entry I’m not always being a complete prick for the sake of it.

Now there are many different scenarios that can become violent and I can’t cover them all, but Iet’s look at a few which I’ve recently had some discussions about.

Scenario 1: this actually came about because I stated that real knife fights are not like sword duels in the French country side, but more like a knifing in a parking lot. My friend commented but what if you use your situational awareness, spot the danger and deploy your knife?

You’ve done your shopping and you’re walking towards your car, and your situational awareness goes ping. The would-be assailant is standing six to eight feet from you between you and your car, He isn’t carrying shopping, isn’t holding car keys and isn’t looking for his car and his hand keeps checking the same part of his body. You recognize this as a red flag, now what are your options ?

As my friend commented, drop your shopping, deploy your knife, travel the eight feet and rush him before he can draw his weapon, keys, mobile phone? (even if he was Jack the bloody Ripper, you had no proof he had any violent intent) or go back inside and get security (Preclusion).

Scenario 2: you’re a young woman walking down the street and feel someone is following you. He hasn’t said anything but you feel uncomfortable so you turn around and mouth off at him or attack him pre-emptively, neither of which would be considered justifiable or intelligent. The mouthing-off would probably create a situation that didn’t exist or cause a potential situation to escalate, and the pre-emptive strike? Well, that would be considered an assault.

Scenario 3: you’re at home and someone breaks in. How far should you retreat? The following quote shows how some perceive retreat to a silly level.

Marc MacYoung recalls a case in Massachusetts where a home invader broke into a woman’s house, chased her upstairs, broke through the locked bedroom door, and was shot and killed by the woman. The prosecutor got her convicted for failing in her duty to retreat because she didn’t climb out the window.

Now let’s move on to the idea that the best defence is to not be there. This isn’t strictly “preclusion”, but it’s still something worth thinking about. I’ve commonly heard the phrase “you’re trained, so you should be able to avoid the strikes and stop the attacker without hurting them.” ….. are you insane? First, how long are you going to dodge the attack before the attacker gets a lucky shot in?… before Murphy rears his ugly head and you trip? …or before your attacker’s friends or even some stranger who decided you’re the bad guy jumps in?

So our goals must be to survive and take our attacker down as quickly as possible and make sure he doesn’t want to get back up. It’s not for us to teach him a lesson, but we should use attitude interrupters while we take him down. Just because I’ve managed to use a fancy lock and put someone down does not mean that in turn he suddenly realizes that taking my head off was wrong. That’s just naïve and only works in the old kung-fu movies. In reality, I’ve taken guys down who keep struggling and screaming to let up, just so he could continue his stupidity.

And if you think you’re ok once the police arrive, first find out what the response time is where you live then factor in that the police will see two people struggling and not know what happened and treat you like the bad guy until they know otherwise.

I’ve had the police tell me to release someone as they had arrived and all was good in the world. Even after I explained that the big guy I’m hanging onto for dear life is still holding onto his knife, they would insist I let him go. I’ve also had the police empty an entire canister of OC foam while holding one guy down as three big guys were beating me (me being in a three piece suit and wearing a security tag obviously meant I was the bad guy).

Hang on you didn’t actually write anything saying what to do, what gives? I wrote this to get people to think. I don’t want people to do something because I told them to; I want them to think, even disagree and explain why they disagree, but most of all I want them to think whenever anyone says something.


Marc MacYoung comment was taken from”Stand Your Ground and the slaughter of ‘innocents.’”

Exclusive Interview with Shin Koyamada

iC: Our new online magazine, iCombatives, is dedicated to reality-based martial arts. Can you tell our readers how and why you became involved in martial arts? What was your motivation?

SK: Hollywood. More specifically: Hollywood movies. Everyday after work my father would stop by the video store and rent a movie. (I think he loved action movies from Hollywood and Hong Kong more than he loved me, or my brother… Haha!) And the rest of our family began to really enjoy them as well, since there was only one television in our household we didn’t really have a choice. I mean, it was either watch with him, or go to our room and study. What else do you expect an elementary and Jr. High School student to do?

Keishinkan-Okayama-18 years old

When the film was over, my brother and I would immediately challenge each other and would horribly try to replicate the action scenes we just witnessed. Unfortunately, this would usually escalate into real physical confrontations between the two of us, and our mom would bust into our room and throw us out of the house until we were done.

SK-Gymnastics-17After years of watching these films, I too, wanted to be an Action Star. I couldn’t think of a career more exciting and exhilarating. In order to do so, I realized that I needed to excel better than anyone else. So I began training in gymnastics and Keishinkan Karate. My ultimate motivation was to become successful. To be successful, I needed to be better than everyone else. And to be better than everyone else, I needed to train harder and longer than everyone else. So I did.

iC: For our readers, could you tell us a bit about your martial arts experience?

SK: Well, I believe that a martial artist should have a solid core, so I trained in gymnastics. Subsequently, I figured that gymnastics would help soften my falls, should I get my butt kicked in training, which happened more often than I’d like to admit.

In my early teens, I began training in Keishinkan Karate under Master Tadashi Yoshii in Okayama, Japan. Currently, I’m a 3rd degree black belt, but am soon looking to test for my 4th. Upon arriving in the USA I immediately became enthralled with Northern Shaolin Kung Fu, and therefore trained at the Harmonious Fist: Chinese Athletic Association here in Los Angeles under Sifu Kisu. I spent the majority of my free time training in Kung Fu, specifically because I was mesmerized by the weaponry and techniques. From there I entered numerous competitions and ended up becoming a 5 time United States National Champion in Northern Shaolin Kung Fu.

I also have a 2nd degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do, and a 1st degree black belt in Kung Jung Mu Sul ( a Royal Korean Martial Art.) And in high school I also participated in Kendo and Judo, although I wouldn’t say I’m proficient in either. Haha. (They both hurt.)

iC: Have you ever had to use your martial arts in a real fight?

Northern-Shaolin-Kung-Fu-KickYes and no. I’ve never physically used my martial arts training in an actual fight, although I’ve used my martial arts discipline to (1) keep calm when problems arose, (2) deescalate potential violent confrontations in a subtle manner, and (3) knew when to walk away.

Prior to training in martial arts I was fighting all the time as a kid. That’s just how it was back then. I wouldn’t say any of us were disciplined, as we were all pretty much using the classic “windmill punch” for self defense.

iC: In your opinion, how much of your training in the various arts do you think would be useful in a street self-defense situation? How much of it was fantasy?

SK: Well, people have always told me that in an actual street fight you tend to resort back to your initial martial arts training and/or discipline. And I believe this. It’s a foundation that you build upon from. But when the proverbial “sh*t hits the fan,” people tend to rely and revert to what they know.

I think that there are a lot of elements of EVERY martial art that are applicable and aren’t applicable in a street fight / self-defense situation. People tend to forget that martial arts have countless artistic applications as well. Kata’s (forms) for example, which of course, if utilizing in a real confrontation could potentially get your butt kicked. Although, a persons confidence, self-discipline, and overall techniques of traditional martial arts could be all the necessary tools an individual needs as a deciding factor in a street fight. In the end… it really depends on the each of the combatants mind set and training.

As for the fantasy aspect, that’s where the showmanship comes in. And in my opinion, that’s what a lot of people like to see when they go to the movies. I mean… the fantasy aspect of martial arts is what really motivated me to get where I am today. I’m a fan, and truly enjoy it basically because it looks really cool in person and on film. Is it plausible in a real fight? Probably not. But it still looks boss.

iC: You made your film debut in the Last Samurai opposite Tom Cruise. That is a great
accomplishment. Can you tell us about the training you underwent specifically for that film? You looked Hawkeye-sharp with the archery in the movie!

SK Cover 1SK: Oh man, that was some scary stuff. At the audition I didn’t think I would get the role because of the lack of skills required. The casting director and producers began asking me about my archery and horseback riding experience. And I thought to myself there was no way I could land this role, so I was 100% honest with them (because I couldn’t fake these skills) and said I had zero experience. Luckily they liked me enough to hire me anyways, and immediately began my archery and horseback training for 2 months prior to leaving for Japan and New Zealand for the next 8 months.

I trained EVERYDAY in pre-production, and during production. I absolutely loved Kyudo (Japanese archery.) I was fortunate enough to pick it up fairly easy, which in turn, afforded me more time to focus on horseback riding, which scared the crap out of me… and still does. I never realized horses were so big. I mean, the thing is a real beast, and I was so scared to touch it. Learning to ride a horse proficiently took a ridiculous amount of time for me, in addition to recovering from my countless falls. Honestly, I don’t remember how many times the horse threw me off, but I do remember it was a long way down from on top of the horse, to the dirt track below. With each fall, time slowed down slower and slower. And each fall became scarier and scarier. If that wasn’t enough, they tasked me with learning Yabusame (Archery from atop a horseback.) I thought to myself: “Great. This is all I need. Another fall from the horse, but this time with sharp arrows in my hand.”

Japanese yabusame professionals said it was impossible for me to learn it in such a short amount of time, and that on average takes approximately 10 years of yabusame training to do so effectively. With strenuous training everyday, I was extremely fortunate enough to at least appear proficient, which seemed to blow everyone away. Could I do it again? I don’t know. Maybe I was just in the right mind frame where failure wasn’t an option. Then again, maybe I was just ridiculously lucky.

iC: In the Last Samurai, your character Nobutada tried to teach Tom Cruise’s character about the concept of “mushin” (no mind). It’s a concept that is hard to find an exact equivalent for in English but it’s an essential mindset for fighting. What does mushin mean to you and in what ways is it a useful skill to cultivate for real combat? Do you have any tips for developing mushin?

SK Cover 2SK: For me, “mushin” is an intuitive reaction. It’s all about “letting go,” and allowing your natural actions/reactions to take over, especially in an emergency situation. It’s extremely useful and beneficial on numerous fronts, but absolutely necessary in a life-and-death situation. For example, in a potentially violent confrontation on the street, you might just have a few seconds to decide the correct course of action. Although, those few seconds might also be the difference between life and death, mushin allows your natural instincts to take control and thus, the course of the fight. What I mean by this is, if you take a few seconds to (1) intake and decipher what is going on, and (2) without panicking, decide what you should do… it might already be too late. Mushin is that “split-second” where you react, before it is too late. It truly is a game-changer.

Reverting back to my earlier comments about riding a horse… mushin saved me day in and day out whence I was thrown from the horse everyday. Due to gravity, I only had a mere 1 or 2 seconds to “ungracefully” tuck and roll when the horse threw me to the ground. I could have easily broken multiple bones had I panicked and froze. Your body is very resilient, if you can relax and allow it to naturally takeover.

I believe everyone can develop mushin, and what works for me might not work for someone else. Everyone has their own way; they just have to figure it out for themselves. Having said that, the best advice I can give about developing mushin is to meditate. Meditate everyday before you start your day and before you go to sleep. Just close your eyes and don’t think. (It’s actually VERY hard to do, but does takes a lot of practice.) The simplest way is to walk without thinking. Just walk (unless you live in a rough neighborhood.) Or even just begin writing. Write without thinking. Don’t stop, just keep going. Its almost as if looking through your eyes is a distraction. There’s just so much more information your brain is processing, that its almost impossible to focus on this simple task. Eventually with practice, time will begin to fly by while meditating, walking or writing. For me, my way was to do martial art “forms” without thinking about the next step. I just allowed my body and mind to react naturally knowing and trusting that it would occur organically. And it did.

iC: Within the martial arts, there’s always been the classic “my style is better than your style”, and it’s sadly still like that today. The so-called “Traditional martial arts” (Karate, Wing Chun etc) often get looked down upon by the big tough MMA guys and even some reality-based self-defense (RBSD) circles. In your opinion, what do the traditional martial arts offer to the reality-based martial artist (MMA and RBSD)?

Northern Shaolin Kung-FuSK: Martial Arts was developed as a system of self protection for yourself, loved ones, and even your country. Traditional martial arts teach you discipline, manners, respect, how to achieve goals through the belt and ranking system, they condition you physically, building your health and making you mentally strong. Not to mention, it builds your character and morals to a higher standard than the average Joe Schmo on the street. More importantly you learn compassion for other people. What I mean by this is that you quickly understand what its like to inflict injury upon another person. You understand the consequences of your actions via live sparring in class. Now, I admit that you are taught to hold back quite a bit in traditional martial arts classes, and I believe that many people feel very comfortable with that (especially parents), although I do feel that it is creating a false sense of security in most individuals. And in my opinion, this is the major difference between traditional martial arts and MMA and/or RBSD. Traditional martial arts are not perfect, whereas MMA and RBSD are very practical. The only flaw that I see in the latter is that there seems to be a lack of morals in MMA and RBSD. I mean, after a guy is on the ground… there really is no reason to continue pounding his head into the mat nor permanently blind and/or kill someone in a self-protection situation. If your skills are good enough, and you’re as badass as you really think you are, then you should be able to inflict the right amount of damage to an attacker in order to get home safely without any further threat to yourself. (Insert any example of “Master Ken’s Ameri-Do-Te” videos here.)

iC: When not undergoing specific training for a film role, what does your general training consist of? What do you do to stay in fighting shape?

SK: Well, believe it or not I constantly practice my “forms” and “stances.” I do this to build up my legs and more importantly my stamina. (THIS is important so you can run away if possible.) I also like to practice endless kicks (from all angles) and extend my kicks holding them in position for as long as I can. At the gym I normally do lighter weights with a lot of repetitions. Also, I run and bike for an hour each, at least three times a week. Depending upon how my legs are holding up after all that, I jump rope for 20 minutes. As you can see, I’m all about legs. My rationale is if I were in an all out marathon (whether it’s a fight, or I’m running away) with my opponent… who would win? I’m not training to be the best fighter in the world, I’m training to survive.

iC: What does the near future hold for Shin Koyamada? What are your goals for both your career and your martial arts?

SK: Well I don’t have anything too extraordinary in the near future, although I plan on continuing to promote martial arts for underprivileged children. I want to pass the true meaning of traditional martial arts onto children, such as self-esteem, morals, respect, honor, courage, etc. I believe this is extremely important and beneficial not only to the children themselves, but to society as a whole.

I also plan on expanding the Koyamada Foundation to a point where we are able to grant hundreds of martial arts scholarships every year to children throughout the US, and eventually worldwide. This will take time however can be expedited should any of your readers decide to offer a helping hand. (Hint, hint.) Aside from acting and producing when I can, I plan on being a martial arts student for life.

iC: Martial arts student for life? Are there any particular styles / disciplines that you’re dying to try… once you have the time?

SK: Actually, I have really been wanting to try a military / special-forces type of combat training. Something that would force me to challenge and push myself beyond my wildest expectations. Something that would really scare the crap out of me, but wouldn’t kill me. Haha. I guess it would be like a hard core, REAL, and practical combatives boot camp.

iC: Do you have any parting thoughts or advice to our readers?

SK: I would just like your readers to question why they are doing martial arts in the first place. I think it’s very easy to be carried away. You see martial arts isn’t about hurting people… its to protect yourself as quickly and efficiently as possible. And in my opinion, more importantly it’s about controlling yourself. Something which is very hard to do if you’re not a martial artist. What I mean by this is that it’s very easy to become desensitized to violence by knowing and/or learning lethal techniques (via television, film, social media, etc.) People who don’t know how to control themselves tend to quickly escalate the level and severity of violence to a point of no return. (If you don’t believe me, watch any YouTube street fight. Time and time again, people are stomping or soccer kicking someone’s head while they’re already knocked out. Its unnecessary and utterly absurd to take violence to that level.) Our human anatomy isn’t designed to handle that much violence, although resilient, our bodies are still fragile. Someone who isn’t able to control themselves will most likely end up doing permanent damage to an opponent, which in turn, will probably land them in jail, not to mention a sea of legal fee’s.

At the end of the day, you’re basically training your hands and feet to be weapons… so my question to you is what do you really want to do with those weapons?

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Find out more about Shin at the following sites:                         (personal website)                                   (charity / foundation)              (production company)                                     (U.S. Martial Arts Festival)


Practice and BE What You Preach

Warrior warrior every where! Every other word in training seems to be the talk of the Warrior Mindset.  It is one of the most powerful labels to have when you achieve that title.
“a brave or experienced soldier or fighter”

But how many trainers or coaches actually have actually been in some type of fight or war?  When the words are thrown out there, does the trainer/coach back what they are?  Musashi once wrote: “It is false not to do so, and to die with a weapon yet undrawn”.  This simply means that a warrior should not give up his life to the enemy without having used all the tools at his disposal.

With the many “strip mall warrior” shops going up every few blocks and across the globe, one can only wonder what they are walking into once the doors open.   Some of the best fighters in the world are now training others giving back to the self defense and conditioning community.  While in other places there are those who have never been in any confrontation yet continue to teach the concept of preparedness and “returning fire” so to speak.

Through “real life” experiences where one has faced a controversial event in their life which required the person to use the many skills they were taught to neutralize the threat, it is an amazing learning curve and one we all should learn from.  For example: When I train clients in my combative conditioning fitness programs, the paces that they must go through replicate the “fight or flight” concept pushing them to their limits and taking them to an all new high.  In Law Enforcement it’s the theory of the “1 minute fight or flight” syndrome where the officer gets attacked and into the 1 minute fight.  At that point the fatigue from the explosive amounts of force and energy being exerted between the officer and the suspect now starts to elevate.   Will panic set in?  If you are attacked as a civilian will you panic? Will you lay on the floor and let the suspect get the best of you?   What is your conditioning level at the point of fatigue?  Does the punch become a punch or just a limp wrist?  What was the last piece of training you received from your trainer/coach that showed you how to last, regroup and counter?

MEDINA FGRAV(1)As an educator of tactics, fitness and self defense I can tell you I would never put a student/trainee in a position I have never faced before.  Being able to teach how to throw a punch is similar to teaching one how to draw, index and fire their weapon.  When I ask students in training “how many of you ever been punched in the face before?”  I am astonished at times to see the limited amount of people who have never been punched or even slapped in the face.  I normally would tell them “if you have not experienced it I would suggest taking it up and get to the know the feeling.”  After all how will you know what your response method is unless you are suddenly compromised for a moment.

Practice and BE What You Preach:  How can one teach SWAT if they have never gone through a door?  How can one teach self defense when all they have experienced is attending a class from someone else and then hone in those skills to teach others?  How can one teach surviving the ambush if they have never experienced an ambush? Or perhaps training someone how to do dumb bell curls yet never have lifted a weight in their life?  Many lives depend on the best educators and trainers to take them to the next level in fitness and survival/self-defense methods.  Do your homework and seek out the best trainers and educators in the world who have real time experience in the field they are teaching in.  Stay relevant, stay focused, stay on point.

Cut! It! Out! – Paradoxes of Knife Self Protection

The Paradoxes and Problems of Realistic Knife Assault Protection and Training

page3image628For my lead article I wanted to discuss a very controversial issue that seems to consume a lot of our industry’s time, energy and resources. Self Protection against the edged weapon. I decided to do this by fleshing out in more detail a lecture that I give in my courses for Weapon Protection Instructors.

Knife Self Protection presents the potential student as well as instructors with many paradoxes that we must embrace as well as problems that need to be addressed and understood in order to provide the best information and tactics to our students.

The Paradox Of Choice

When confronted with a knife threat or assault; you can choose to fight back or you may choose not to. It is a deeply personal choice that I leave to the student, however, if you don’t have options then you don’t have a choice.

In other words if you haven’t trained or prepared to both protect yourself from a knife assault, avoiding such situations, and / or intelligently fleeing from the same, you are no longer choosing, you are just experiencing it.

The Problem Of Choice

The problem of choice is that there is so much information out there with everyone claiming to be “the real” expert, that someone who is honestly seeking knife self protection training can very easily be misled into learning an inferior set of tactics and preparation.

My hope is that by presenting the rest of these paradoxes and problems, the reader may develop an intelligent format and filter through which they can put any knife self protection tactics and figure out if they will help them survive.

The Paradox Of Skill

page8image5136Having skill in knife self protection does not guarantee victory, and having no skill is not a sure path to defeat. Skilled people, and by that I mean people with all the correct skills and attributes for knife self protection, have been injured and died during knife assaults. And unskilled people have survived them. As you will see, as we explore further paradoxes, the variables and chaos factors in a knife assault sometimes lead to unfavorable results regardless of amount or quality of preparation.

The Problem Of Skill

When people dedicate a large amount of time and work into developing a skill, the human brain automatically seeks sophistication. That is a very human trait present in most of us that has very positive effects. Think of the person that starts drawing stick figures and eventually sophisticates more and more until…voila! They have the Mona Lisa.

However in self protection this trait can have harmful side effects. Someone looking into knife self protection skill may start with the best of intentions but after years of development may gain skills unrelated to real knife assaults or skills that are untransferable to others because of over sophistication.
For example in some Filipino martial arts systems, practitioners will train to defend against 18, and sometimes more angles of attack. In real knife assaults we typically see about 3 of the same angles being repeated over and over as evidenced by video footage from all over the world involving edged weapon attacks. Doing some quick math approximation, training this way they are spending approximately 85% of their training time preparing for something that will not happen.

We must endeavor to develop the correct skills against the attacks that are most likely to occur. By working the basics to a very high level of competence, if something deviates from the norm, our bodymind system is very likely to be able to make improvisational shifts to deal with the problem effectively. Seek to learn tools that handle more tasks rather than making a huge tool collection.

Another problem with skill is the infamous, to defend against the knife, you must be a knife fighter first mythology. Sure understanding of how to fight with a knife can be helpful, but it is not indispensable in order to develop solid knife self protection skill. People with the “knifefighter” train of thought tend to show two traits. On one side they tend to over sophisticate training. They will tell a student, “well if you do that, then a knife fighter will counter with this so make sure you counter with this instead”
The other trait they poses is that almost all of them have never been in a knife fight anyway. Beware of learning knife self protection from someone who claims to have been in “many knife fights”.

The Paradox of Fear

page5image280The subject of fear needs to be discussed when dealing with knife assaults but we need to discuss it intelligently. Yes, if you are threatened or assaulted with a knife, you are very likely to experience fear. Fear of death, injury and failure are very natural to have during such incidents. Most of the time that physiological fear will be helpful. However the fear that you MAY be threatened or MAY be assaulted by a knife in the future serves absolutely no useful purpose.

The Problem of Fear

There is entirely too much of what I call “Fear Based Marketing” being used by the self protection industry. Clips replete with “What really happens in a knife attack” are out there making the rounds after being posted by someone trying to sell their brand of knife defense. They tell you if you don’t prepare as they do you are likely to die etc. So to put things in perspective here is some clearer information.
Most people in the western world can go their entire life without a seriously violent incident happening to them. Out of those, a small percentage may involve weapons such as knives.

So barring you living in very specific parts of the world where they have a historical knife culture, the likelihood of you being attacked by a knife is minimal. You are more likely to be attacked by a tool or broken bottle or other items that have some characteristics of the knife. But still a very, very small chance of that happening.

Even less so is the chance of you being attacked by someone who has real knife fighting skill. You are more likely to be attacked, again given the very small chance that this will ever happen to you, by an angry spouse with a kitchen knife or friend with a broken bottle or maybe an emotionally disturbed person, than you will ever be by some skilled knife assassin.

The Paradox of Injury

In the knife incidents I have been in, observed, investigated and researched, I have seen the gamut of results. A person will receive several large, gaping wounds and survive where another sustains a single, small wound and dies. I have also observed the exact opposite. Importantly I have seen people emerge victorious AND unscathed. Getting cut or stabbed does not mean you lose but it could mean you die. Weird but true.

The Problem With Injury

As stated above, over the course of a knife attack, you may or may not be cut or stabbed. Having your skin pierced and broken does not necessarily mean you are injured to the point of dysfunction.

Some injuries may lead to a slow decrease in fighting proficiency through loss of blood, while others may cause more immediate results. You may lose the use of a limb or an internal organ may be struck sending you into rapid shock. The chest cavity may be perforated causing one or both lungs to collapse. Death may come quickly from severe arterial damage or direct injury to the heart.

Awareness of all of this may cause apprehension on the part of the defender. This in turn causes many people to remain in the “kill zone” of middle distance during many attacks. While trying to avoid injury they put themselves at a higher risk.


We have just discussed the paradoxes and problems of the actual knife incident, along with some issues dealing with general preparation. Now I’m going to address some general paradoxes of knife self protection training itself.

The Paradox of Choice in Training

page18image2632As indicated above even if you have all the correct skills to succeed in a knife assault, you may still die. So why train at all? Given that the chances you are involved in a knife assault are very small, and people with no training may still survive. Simply, there are no guarantees. However training to be competent in knife self protection, focusing on realistic skill set development, may stack the odds a little more in your favor. Also the attributes developed in empty hand vs knife training will enhance your efficiency and effectiveness when addressing unarmed attackers.

The Paradox of The Real Knife

Never, ever, use a real knife in self protection training! However, treat every training knife as if it was absolutely real. In knife self protection training, one of the key elements is to avoid letting a sharp edge or point come in contact with your flesh. Awareness and common sense dictate that the presence of a real knife in training increases the odds in favor of the knife. Why even try? Getting a permanent injury in training that would make you less effective should a real assault occur is just asinine.

There are plenty of training knives available that are safe substitutes for the real thing. I have three styles of training knives I use. First I like the dull aluminum knife, it has the heft and feel of the real thing minus the sharp and pointy bits that can hamper training. I prefer using them for high repetition drills and limit the amount of free styling with this knife as you can still be injured to the point of cracked ribs, and eye injuries.

Next I prefer the solid plastic knife. It doesn’t have the feel of the aluminum but allows for more free form drilling and scenario training.

Last on the list is the rubber knife. This one I use only when doing full force improvised scenario training. Using even a plastic knife here can break bones. And advantage of using a rubber knife while wearing protective equipment is that even if you get “stabbed” in scenario training, you hardly notice it. It feels more like getting punched, which incidentally, is something that real stabbing victims report all the time ” I thought I was being punched!”

The Problem With The Magic Marker and The Shock Knife

Some instructors will dress out students in a white t shirt, hand one of them a red felt pen and have them assault the other student while they try their knife defense tactics. The end result? The unarmed student returns to the starting position displaying dozens of “cuts” on their face, arms chest and backs. They see such marks and respond with what can sometimes be seen as amazement, sometimes amusement, but also frustration and despair, not knowing that they have participated in a drill that serves no purpose whatsoever.

The same can be said with the latest knife protection fad. The buzzing, sizzling, snapping world of the Shock Knife. Many self defense trainers put their students through this exercise in futility believing they are helping them when really they are helping them develop poor habits.

The issue with both of these training methods is that so often they are misused as a learning tool rather that a testing tool. When we set students’ goals within a drill they need to be congruous with the skill we want them to achieve.

When someone sees the magic marker, the mental focus automatically shifts in the participants. Subconsciously one decides well I want to put as many marks on the other guy as I can whilst the other sets his mind on not being marked. Neither one of these actions reflect the real acts of a knife attacker or what a real person defending against a knife should be doing.

The Shock Knife has a similar effect in that students, upon hearing the sizzle and snap, and seeing the blue sparks, immediately enter a state of fear reactivity where no learning is taking place. Also the construction of the knife simulates slashes well but does not realistically simulate stabbing which is the more dangerous and prominent type of attack.

The Paradox of Speed

If ever you have the very rare, bad totality of circumstances that add up to you facing an attacker armed with a knife, you must move with speed, decisiveness, commitment, and speed. Yes I said speed twice. However training must be slow the majority of the time. Mind you there are several versions of slow, but people are not really aware or apt to use them correctly. Here is an example, ask a random training partner to execute something at “half speed” and observe how quickly they move. Every time I ask a group to do the same, I find myself making the same comment; “I must be in the presence of the fastest humans in the planet because if that was just half of your top speed, you are one of the X Men”

Half speed, quarter speed, and ultra slow motion are very beneficial for knife protection training. It allows for “real time” analysis of what all the parts of your bodymind system are or should be doing as the attack unfolds. The more you can minimize mistakes and “injury” in slow motion training the less mistakes will manifest in fast training. Train often at a speed in which perfection or near perfection always results and your skill at high speed will exponentially increase.

The Paradox Of Training Injury

page21image2752During training endeavor fervently to avoid cuts and stabs, while still executing proper distance management, weapon control and countermeasures. However, if you do get cut or stabbed during training, continue executing your tactics as if nothing happened. The chemical cocktail that will course through your body in a real attack has very high doses of natural pain killers anyway so you may not know you’ve been injured until after the incident is over and you have managed to survive. You have precious seconds in which to execute your survival strategy, don’t limit it in your training by dwelling on “Aw you got me in the gut there” or “I cut your arm there” dialogue. You keep fighting until you can’t fight. Let your body’s collapse indicate that, not anything your mind is imagining.

Do train often with one hand, from restricted positions, minus the use of one leg etc. this will prepare you in case one limb is injured and taken out of the fight to the point of dysfunction.

How to Cut It On Choice

Some instructors will profess asinine strategies like, “if you see a knife just run”. Running is a good strategy in SOME knife incidents, but can put you at more risk in others. Some will even say something as weird as , there is no answer for a knife assault, there is nothing you can do. A lot of times this is brought on by the “super trained” mentality of the “knife fighting expert. Remember, if you training intelligently you do have a choice. Do not let anyone dictate your right to take action to survive.

Know this:

if you make the correct lifestyle choices and have good awareness, prevention and avoidance skills and discipline it is very unlikely that you will be threatened or attacked with a knife in your lifetime; barring very specific professions and certain cultures. In the event that you do face such an incident, you will more likely face an untrained emotionally disturbed person, an angered spouse or relative or an inexperienced criminal. In the event that all the wrong events line up and you face a trained and skilled knife fighter, then having superlative skill with the fundamentals of knife self protection is your best chance to reduce injury and hopefully prevent death. Remember no guarantees.

If you choose to take action, remember to commit. Be decisive and don’t hesitate. Do not stay in the middle distance. Either be way too far away or close that gap to intimate range. Keep moving and acting until you attain victory or your body gives out.

If you are in a physical altercation and suddenly you feel you are being punched in the body, side or back or place other than your head repeatedly, assume your assailant has produced a knife or other edged weapon and escalate your force appropriately. Humans in fist fights tend to be head hunters but when armed with knives or other sharp objects tend to go after the body, side, back or neck area. Repeated body punching is often what victims describe what getting stabbed feels like.

During training a useful way to know if you are adequately challenging yourself, without engaging too much fear reactivity, is the 80-20 rule. The pace and intensity of the drills should be that you are successful about 80% of the time and fail around 20%. This encourages enough alive resistance that your skill level rises with every training session. As your skill level goes up. So does the resistance.

Use drills that allow for improvisational movement over rehearsed tactics. Drills like this will improve your chances when dealing with the chaos of the real knife assault.

Most importantly remember that a knife threat or assault is a very serious matter. If you are going to prepare commit seriously to the preparation. Chose simple over complex. Get better at the basics rather than embellish them. Train with focus on success, not failure. And certainly never forget, if you choose to protect yourself never quit.

“if you are going through hell, keep going!” – Winston Churchill

Going To Hands; A LEO’s Most Vital Tools Next to Your Brain!

Time and time again, when traveling across the country and training SWAT team members in different tactical programs as well as general police officers in the field, the first question I ask the class is: “how many of you go on SWAT call outs for warrant service execution and every time you shoot someone? (show of hands please)”! Very rarely would you see multiple hands flying up in the air. Of course when the same operators are asked “how many of you make entry into structures doing the same job and when confronted by subjects of any type you go to hands?”

Cover Image Medina

Many of the students will now look around and many hands go up in the air. Why? It is because our job field, whether SWAT related or patrol etc, when dealing with people we use our hands the majority of the time. The next question is: How well prepared and well versed are you in making entry into a structure, ordering subjects to the ground and transitioning to hands to place handcuffs, zip ties or simply control the subject/s while on the ground.

In an incident where a SWAT team made entry into a target location looking for a biker gang member on a no knock warrant, the team goes operational throughout the residence and suddenly two operators enter the room where the target is located. The target plants his feet in the deep corner wedged between two walls with both hands showing and yells to the SWAT operators: “comon mother f–kers, lets do this”. One operator looks at the other, one operator luckily has pepper spray and when applied on the subject, it does not affect him in any way. The subject throws a small chair and yells “you are going to need more than that to stop me!” As the team members advance slowly forward and on angles, they are trying to decide the next move due to the fact they have M-4 rifles and they stated later in the debrief that they have never trained in quick transition to hands and deal with hostile threats who are not armed and just want to fight.

As they stood there frozen in the room trying to work their next “reactive response” and what to do, a third and larger SWAT member who was just a “hands on guy” suddenly bursts into the room and tackled the subject plowing him through the wall and subsequently placed under arrest. True story or fiction? Nope…true story and in the aftermath of the event, major lessons were learned in later classes by these operators and many others we share this story with when we train.

You see, in our world of tactical teams along with police operations and response, not everyone will comply with a rifle to their face especially when they know they have no weapons in their hands and its either fight or flight type situations. We know bean bag rounds could be deployed, the team can back away a few feet, stand their ground or attack the threat but in the end when the sudden threat becomes a “reality” right before your eyes, thinking on your feet and learning the art of “Defensive / Reactive” skills is paramount. What I mean here is you turn the corner in a room and suddenly a person comes out of no where and attacks you with what appears to be open hands. You enter with a long weapon in your hand. Your training set should take you into a fast reactive response such as quick dropping of the long weapon with one hand and creating fast space with the free hand. At this point other team members should be entering the room or structure and should be hearing your verbal commands. This will alert the operators to come from another position and assist in taking the subject to the ground. Some operators have the reaction of creating space by quick barrel strikes to the chest area pushing the subject back then going to hands. The bottom line is, you still have to go to hands, and you cannot handcuff someone with closed fists (try it out). The world of MMA has brought to us some advantages of training on the ground however many operators when attending our Basic SWAT programs respond that they have never experienced or trained in all their gear using their loaded tools on their vest in such fast methods. Part of our Fgrav (Force of Gravity) DT/Use of Force Instructor programs allow for operators to learn to train with their gear on, learn fast defensive / reactive methods and help fellow operators establish a faster use of force platform in their arsenal. There are so many schools and rules of thought out there as we all know. But from every class you attend, you should be absorbing at least one great thing that can create an additional platform of response methods into your arsenal. “Options, not absolutes” should be part of your vocabulary and if one instructor tries to make their program the “catch all” of programs, make sure to do your homework on their background. Why? Simply because when an event happens, and you are called on the stand to testify on your actions whether good or bad, the questions will be asked on “where did you receive your training Sir/Ma’am?” If the subject matter expert is a knowledgeable and power resource of information, then it will make your case even that much stronger in the end.

In summary, we all know firearms training in the SWAT and Law Enforcement arena is a major and vital piece of our operations. However, we must start to broaden our horizons and start educating ourselves on how to defend, react, diffuse and quickly secure unarmed potential threats. Training in Force Option (my version of Force on Force) does not just consist of training rounds such as Sims, Air soft, etc. The presence of the threats combined with “reality based” entry scenarios using an unarmed combatant will test you and fellow officers in their skill set and gear placement. We are held to a higher standard so shouldn’t our training be?

The Knife – What is it to you?

The knife, now a days almost everyone carries one either in the form of a pocket folder whether it’s a public friendly E.D.C. (Every Day Carry) variety or a Tactical folder favored by most. Everywhere I go, I tend to notice more metal clips hanging out of people’s front pockets which indicates a folding blade of sort. It amazes me when you ask someone why they carry a knife and the answers are always that same, “I use it to open my mail”, “I cut cardboard with it”, or “It was a gift.”Yet you hardly ever hear that they carry it for defensive purposes, it seems taboo to admit that it could possibly be used as a weapon.

The fact remains that if you choose to carry an edged weapon you may at some point have to use it to defend your life or the life of a innocent third party in a violent altercation. I personally carry two large folders from COLD STEEL to back up my sidearm, of course I have close to 29 years of training and experience in a variety of combative systems.

For a decade I’ve been a Close Quarter Combat instructor under W.Hock Hochheim in the areas of Hand to Hand,Edged weapons,Impact weapons and firearms. I have also worked as a corrections officer, S.R.T. member, contractor for the United States Marshal Service and a contractor for the Department of Homeland Security. My experience and education has made me more comfortable carrying a knife as a self preservation tool.

Under the instruction I provide via my company Check Your Six: Counter Measures Consultants, I teach the philosophy of “If you are to defeat your enemy’s tactics, you should know your enemy’s tactics”…”Utilizing a blade whether it’s a tactical knife, hunting knife or even a kitchen knife as a defensive/offensive tool takes on a whole different dimension and requires specific training from a qualified instructor.

Truth be known, the chances of going blade versus blade in a “street fight” is a rare occurrence in this country, however it is not rare in places like the Philippines where citizens walk around with knives and machetes on their hips. That’s not to say that “the duel” can’t occur in the C.O.N.U.S., after all most of us have experienced violence in our home cities and seen it in the media, a short time ago we had an individual randomly stabbing people here in Tucson AZ & a non-related machete attack out in broad daylight.Remember the day may come when you have to put an end to violence being brought upon you or a loved one and the only weapon you have access to may be that nifty little tactical knife you just ordered online. The question I pose to you is will you be prepared to take the fight straight to the devil if you have to?.

The Bouncer’s Skill Set

doorworkBouncers….. You’ve probably seen them standing behind a velvet rope, or standing on the door of some venue. Steely eyed, serious thuggish men, all brawn and no brain. That is far from the truth … Ok, some are meat heads, but its not an industry you can survive for long without brains.

I’m a bouncer, with brains. When I am not chatting with the lovely ladies or checking ID’s, you will find me trying to defuse an altercation, or removing the trouble maker from the area. I’m going to let you in on some of the things I do to keep the peace. You can use these same ideas and skill sets, to keep you safe and sound. I prefer to defuse or de-escalate a situation rather than allow escalation of a situation to occur. I wont be covering de-escalation in this article . I’ll leave that for a future article. I share the following with the hope you may never need them.

Interview stances; The few moments preceding a fight can be considered like an interview. Your trying to defuse the situation and the other guy is deciding whether he can take you in a fight, or not. If you fail the interview, he launches his attack. The following are my six favorite interview stances. These also happen to be the most common postures taught by combatives instructors.

The Bodyguard: Place both hands in front of your groin. The back of one hand resting in the palm of the other and hang them naturally. This posture is more of a standing your ground at a distance. This posture is good for launching the chin jab and other close combat strikes. It is good for clearing clothes out of the way to gain access to weapons worn on the belt.

The Ed Sullivan: Named by Charlie Nelson. simply fold one arm over the other loosely, not crossed, and not one in front of the other. The Ed Sullivan is a great launch pad for the edge hand strike.

The Jack Benny: This is also one of Charlie Nelson’s postures called the police interview stance. One arm across your chest with palm up, elbow of the other arm, resting on the palm and hand resting on the chin This posture provides protection to chest, throat and chin, and is a great launch pad for the tiger claw.

The Reverse Jack Benny: This posture is formed by crossing one arm across the chest and one arm hanging loosely down and in front of the groin. I learned this posture from some Indonesian bouncers and they used it when standing in a crowd and is more of self defensive stance. It’s tactical advantage is a combination of the Bodyguard and the Ed Sullivan.

The Fence: Named by world famous bouncer Geoff Thompson. This is formed by putting both hands out in front of the chest with palms facing down. In my opinion this is one of the best postures to use as the hand position acts like its name, as a fence your attacker has to go through, over, under or around your hands, to get to you. You can use your hands to block, or parry, in-coming strikes and launching hammer blows, tiger claw or cupped hand strikes. The more commonly used, is to grab someone and put them in a hold. This is the one I prefer the most, as I am Italian and talk with my hands a lot , I find it the most practical in my work.

The Natural: This is a natural posture that you find yourself in most of the time, with your hands loosely relaxed, hanging at your side and most likely the position you will be in when a surprise attack strikes. It has very little defensive qualities, but is a good posture to clear clothes for weapons and to launch attacks.

Circle of Defense: I try to have as much space between myself and someone who may want to hit me. I want to be close enough that I don’t raise my voice and far enough that he needs to take a step to hit me.

The most common question I am asked is; Why make your attacker come to you? I’ll give you a number of reasons, first and most important is for legal reasons. We not only deal with attackers, but have to justify our actions to the police and maybe to a jury later on.

If your attacker has to move towards you to strike , he cannot claim self defence later and you can rightfully claim you made an attempt to disengage and avoid the fight. I am hoping you did all you can to avoid a fight. Second his shifting weight and moving, telegraphs his intention to attack and makes it easier to defend.

Pre-assault indicators; Some people will give pre-assault indicators, whilst others will just attack out of no where, or smile and attack. I bet you are happy you gave yourself some space to see the attack coming. Shedding clothes, shouting aggressively, making big arm gestures and exaggerated bouncy walks, are all pre fight indicators, meant to intimidate an opponent. Some people do a primal stalking display, pacing side to side, like a caged animal, making pointing or stabbing gestures with hands and yelling and swearing. These are all a primal intimidation tactics, that means they feel trapped. Now just because the fool has created a situation he feels trapped in doesn’t mean he isn’t stupid enough to ratchet things up to even stupider levels. If you don’t show fear, (A classic de-escalation technique is confidently standing your ground showing neither anger or fear, showing a lack of emotion is more threatening to people because we are hard wired to fear the unknown) he may gradually move away, still yelling and swearing and occasionally taking a step in your direction, in an attempt to try and scare you. If he leaves, thats good and no need to follow up. You have done what you’re paid to do. To keep the peace and go home safe . Should you follow the advice I have given, then you too will go home safe.

Altitude Masks

mask-fullAs a Strength and Conditioning Professional, I frequently get asked questions about the efficacy of various pieces of training equipment. Certainly the most popular equipment over the last few years has been the ‘Altitude Training Mask’ (and other ‘Altitude Training Devices’. These devices have gained particular popularity within the Martial Arts and Tactical communities.

Let’s take a look at the claims made by producers of equipment: The major claim by manufacturers of such equipment is that devices like altitude masks replicate training at high altitude locations, and provide the same results such as an increase in Vo2 Max…

The theory behind training at altitude is that as altitude increases, the concentration of oxygen in the air decreases. This causes you to work harder to achieve physical work, which in theory, over time will adapt your body to increase its red blood cell count. An increased red blood cell count has been associated with improved aerobic capacity and improved recovery. The concept here is that the more red blood cells you have in your body, the more oxygen you have to circulate through your muscles.

There are a number of altitude training methods that have been studied in scientific research, and these can be described as;

  • Train Low, Live Low (TLLL )– the majority of the population would fall under this category
  • Train High, Live Low (THLL) – the concept behind the Altitude Training Devices
  • Train Low, Live High (TLLH) – this method allows athletes to perform higher intensity workouts
  • Train High, Live High (THLH) – The concept behind the various Sports Team training camps

There are numerous studies available that demonstrate the benefits to athletes who ‘live’ at high altitude (TLLH and THLH); however, for the purposes of this discussion we will focus purely on the Train High, Live Low (THLL) methodology, as it is the methodology the majority of us would be employing if we were to utilise Altitude Training Devices.

A quick review of the available scientific studies on this topic (links provided at the bottom of this article) suggest that although this type of training (Respiratory Muscle Training or ‘RMT’) has been shown to strengthen the respiratory muscles, these effects do not carry over to improved performance. Studies have shown that there is no significant difference in Vo2 Max improvement between control groups and those using RMT devices.

The reason for this is quite simple; the mechanism in which your oxygen is restricted in the mask is completely different to the mechanisms at play when living and training at high altitude. When we are at high altitude, we are breathing in air that has a lower density than at lower altitudes. Although the percentage of oxygen in the air around us is consistent regardless of altitude; due to the change in air density we do not get as much oxygen into our bodies when we are living or training in higher locations. In other words, we can still fill our lungs to capacity – we just aren’t getting as much oxygen for our efforts.

RMT devices on the other hand, operate by restricting your lungs ability to fill themselves to capacity – making breathing more laborious on a muscular level. Those utilising these altitude masks in their training routines will report that their training sessions are much more difficult than if they were doing the same session without a mask; of course it’s more difficult, you’re restricting your ability to breathe! The problem is that with this reduced oxygen intake, you are not able to complete the same workload as if you were training normally (ie – without a mask) and your performance will suffer as a result. If you continue to train this way, you will in essence be regressing your strength and/or endurance (dependant on what you are training) which is surely the exact opposite of what you are trying to achieve.

What about Tactical Athletes who utilise respirators / breathing equipment in the line of duty?

Again, in terms of conditioning, and for the reasons pointed out above – the answer is no, you will not increase your performance utilising these devices. That said; there is probably some merit towards mental conditioning with altitude mask training. Having to work in the tactical environment at 100% effort, whilst wearing an altitude mask can be a daunting prospect – and you could very well improve your ‘mental toughness’ by throwing a mask session into your training routine every now and then. Just make sure it’s not too frequent, as you will potentially regress your training unintentionally.

In conclusion: If you are looking to utilise mask training for the purposes of preparing for your specific tactical environment, then we’d suggest you use your workplace respirator and become familiar with your specific MEE (Mission Essential Equipment).

If you are simply looking to get the most out of your Strength and Conditioning training, then throw the mask away and keep your training simple. – Ash


What If You Only Had 4 Hours To Teach Self Defense?

When Trevor first asked me if I was interested in contributing to his Online Magazine I was hesitant, wondering if there would be much interest in the people SAFE International specializes in teaching. The majority of our clients are women ranging in age from 13 to 83 and we teach approximately 13,000 high school students each year along with our SAFE Self Defense Parties, Corporate Self Defense, and Private Instruction. We have certified partners in Australia, Ireland, USA, and Canada where we are based. SAFE International is a mobile self-defense business that travels teaching our clients. The majority of my self-defense associations are with those who teach their students on an ongoing basis all year round. And the majority of my friends mostly teach men and very often it is from a Combatives approach. But Trevor is building an online magazine that I feel will cover all segments of the population and if I can add any thoughts, tips, or advice that might help a few people, then I look forward to contributing.

imageMany think that self-defense has to be a full time practice in order to really benefit from the training. In martial arts circles, many think self defense even has to be done for years and years in order to become proficient. While this might be optimal, in my early years of teaching I quickly realized that there was lack in courses for those who might just want a quick self defense course. As much as I wanted to believe that people would continue to train with me on a regular basis, I stayed open minded and came to the conclusion that while I had a passion for self defense, the vast majority of people just wanted a few hours of instruction that could make them feel SAFE. Thus our 4-hour self-defense course was born.

imageWhat can someone learn in just 4 hours? Lots, but it depends on where and how you focus your instruction.
I have found in my years of learning self-defense that most courses jump right into the physical skills of self- defense, skipping the most important segments in my opinion. I mean, before one is attacked, are there not most often many warning signs that an attack may become a reality? Most often it starts with someone simply walking home when they might get a gut feeling that they are being followed, or they get on an elevator despite their intuition telling them not to, or maybe approaching their car in an underground parking lot. There number of possible scenarios is unlimited, so SAFE International likes to address the most likely scenarios based on the client’s lifestyle and daily routines, both personally and/or professionally. If I had to only teach one aspect of self defense, it might surprise you, but I wouldn’t teach how to get out of a choke, wrist grab, or how to avoid being punched, BUT rather I would focus on how to be aware of, and avoid a possible attacked based on how attackers choose their victims, why they choose who they choose, and how they do it. Is not preventing an attack the priority? If not, I think a self-defense course is being irresponsible, possibly even being negligent if they sell their program as “reality based self-defense” (a term I am not fan of) without addressing the steps that lead up to a likely attack. Why do most self-defense companies skip this step? There are many possible reasons, but I believe that either a) they aren’t knowledgeable on the topic OR b) they don’t know how to make the topic interesting. When I begin a SAFE Women’s Self Defense Party the women are usually very eager and not afraid to express their interest in wanting to knee someone in the groin, lol. I always point out that if they are truly interested in how to avoid a violent encounter, then we must address the Awareness & Avoidance phase first. During our 4 hour course, it is usually structured to spend 50% of the time on this topic alone, but it is not uncommon for me to spend up to 75% of the time based on this topic because the women are so passionately discussing it, asking questions, or sharing their own personal stories of abuse, assault, or close calls in these areas.

Another priority in self-defense instruction that is often skipped or given lip service is the verbal stage of conflict. If one can’t avoid conflict, would there not be value in learning the strategies to possibly avoid an attack through speech? The majority of self-defense instructors teach the basic strategy of yelling “Back Off” as the sole skill in preventing an attack. Don’t get me wrong, this can work in a particular scenario, but can also be the worst strategy in many other scenarios. Again, the reason most skip teaching this step is their lack of knowledge or discomfort with creating self-defense drills that recreate realism with the verbal attack that may occur. On the surface, to the uneducated, yelling “Back Off” appears to make sense, but fails to take into account so many of the variables of any self defense scenario. What can affect the strategy one should use? Here are just a couple examples:

How about the location of a possible attack? If one is isolated which is a common want of the attacker, you can yell all you want, and most likely no one is around to hear.

How about the personality of the attacker? I reference this below in one of the 4 Verbal Rules we teach, but if an attacker is in a heightened state of aggression, and you command them to do something like “Back Off”, this will often backfire because most people, even when in a calm state, do not like to be told what to do. Do you like to be told what to do?

With limited time to teach I prefer to discuss and teach strategies that don’t just increase your chances to avoid an attack, but if things do go physical, you have set yourself up to give you best chance of success in defending yourself.

Don’t Challenge
Don’t Threaten
Don’t Tell Them What To Do
Don’t Tell Them They Are Wrong

In a future article we will go into more detail, but breaking any of those rules can often result in violence coming much faster, but again most skip any real instruction on the verbal side of self-defense.

imageLastly one should address the physical side of self-defense. This is another area where I feel 95% of self-defense instructors are missing the boat. I was guilty for years of making the same errors I will point out. Actually, guilty is not the right term to use. I should say that “I taught what I knew” at the time. In my early years I taught what most self-defense instructors taught. I thought why would I do something different than many who had been doing it for years. Then I realized that if I only had a couple hours to teach someone who would likely never do another course in their lifetime, what would be of the most benefit to them. That certainly got me to shift my focus. To teach dozens of different reactions or defense to dozens of different attacks was not only too time consuming, but also required the client to memorize material and moves, which would (when I was honest with myself) quickly be forgotten a few short weeks after I left. I believe that the focus should be on a few basic strikes that can address the majority of possible attacks. Also, taking the conceptual approach along with the principle of “Attack the Attacker” gives the client the highest chance of success if one has to physically defend oneself. So, a few strikes attacking the most vulnerable areas of the body along with basic, but understandable mindset principles, and practical, realistic drills is the key if one only has 4 hours of instruction time. Time and time again I have found this to be much more practical than the typical self-defense course. I have had students tell me years later that they still remember what they taught, and they remember because of the conceptual approach and our unique teaching methods which I will discuss in a future article.

Keep SAFE!

Primal Threat Indicators *(reading the level of intent)

by Wayne Roy


If you’ve ever watched the television series ‘Lie To Me’, you would have seen some interesting insights into reading body-language and micro facial expressions. These are both valuable tools that can help in conflict avoidance.

This post is about a primal expression of body-language that comes down to one simple principle. Let’s call it the inside/outside threat indicator… and it works like this :

  • threatening gestures that are displayed inside the body’s frame express a serious intent, and a confidence to carry out the threat (see photo above)
  • threatening gestures that are displayed outside the body’s frame express a lack of confidence in the person’s ability to carry out the threat.

Look at the photo below (from Lie To Me). The aggressor in this case is holding his firearm inside his body’s frame, his body is turned side-on to minimise body targets, and his mouth is straight and emotionless. This primal threat indicator sends the message that he is very serious in his intent to shoot.


It would be a very different message if he was extending his firearm outside his body’s frame (gangsta style), and shouting verbal threats. That would indicate an attempt to intimidate, rather than shoot. He would still be potentially dangerous, but basically he would be trying to frighten people into not opposing him!

Such a primal display of aggression is common in all primates. To understand what I mean, imagine a monkey jumping around, waving a stick, and screaming loudly. The monkey doesn’t really want to fight (in case it gets injured or killed), so it tries to avoid a physical confrontation by using bigthreatening gestures and lots of noise.

Here’s a story that highlights how the tactic of using a primal threat indicator can be used to actually de-escalate a confrontation…..

A friend of mine was involved in a road rage incident. He was an experienced martial artist and streetfighter, so he was no stranger to threats of violence.

When the other driver got out of his car he raised an iron bar outside of his body’s frame, and moved towards my friend with an aggressive scowl on his face.

However my friend simply took a short step forward, pointed at him and confidently announced “If you don’t put that down I’ll take it off you and shove it up your a#se.”

In response the other driver immediately lowered his weapon and said “I’m going to call the police on you.”

So why did the attacker back down so easilly? Because he was all bluff and bluster…. and he knew it. He was like a monkey waving a stick and trying to intimidate… but not really confident in his ability to carry out his threat.

My friend on the other hand, turned his body side-on, leaned forward, pointed a finger from inside his body’s frame (a stabbing intent), and spoke in a cold and confident manner.

It was a primal threat indicator that sent a clear message that he was ready to physically engage his opponent… regardless of the fact that he was armed.


Here’s another story that highlights a similar de-escalation….

A martial arts instructor I know was walking home from gym one night, carrying a gym bag in one hand, and an umbrella in the other. He was walking down a street that’s popular with prostitutes and druggies, when a young man approached him with his head down… not looking where he was going.

As they got close, the martial artist side-stepped the young man, but gently used his umbrella to simultaneously guide him away and avoid physical contact.

The young man stopped and turned around with a tirade of verbal abuse. He then extended his arms out to the sides (a primal display of aggressive intimidation), and started shouting threats.

In response the martial artist simply took a short step forward, lowered his chin, pointed his umbrella at the young man’s face and confidently shouted “Hey!”

In response the young man started apologising… then turned and walked away.

Why did he back-down so quickly? Well let’s look at the primal threat indicators:

  • firstly, the martial arts instructor took a short step forward which turned his body side-on and showed his opponent that he was prepared to engage *(this is also a tactic in Japanese sword combat)
  • secondly, he raised his umbrella inside his body’s frame and pointed it at his opponent’s face *(another sword combat tactic)
  • thirdly, he used a loud and confident shout, which was a clear indication that he wasn’t intimidated by the young man’s bluff and bluster.


It’s Primal Protection.