The place for no-gi in self-defense

It is not a secret to many people that know me that I am not a huge fan of no-gi training, especially in a self-defense context.

Mostly my opposition to it revolves around a couple of things.

  1. Unless we are anticipating fighting a greased up naked dude, there is a very good chance we will have handles of some kind that we can use to improve our chance of survival. This is not to say that those handles will always be the exact equivalent of gis, but more than likely they will be something that can be used in a similar fashion. Just having the knowledge and capability of controlling the sleeves/arms of the other guy and tying him up in a way that makes it hard for him to do something violent and offensive towards you  may well be the single greatest technique to use in an entangled fight. I regularly teach, and have taught for more than 14 years, the ability for someone to use the choking strategies of BJJ and apply them to something as simple as a t-shirt. To this day, even against someone resisting violently, I have yet to have a t-shirt rip and render the choke impossible. With all that, it just makes sense that if we are truly focused on self-defense that spending the majority of our training time in the gi is a good thing.
  2. No-gi, as even its most vociferous proponents will agree, is a young man’s game. It relies on strength, speed, aggression, mobility, cardiovascular conditioning, etc. to be consistently successful. A heavy reliance which is great if you have those things but not so awesome if you don’t, and, let’s face it, it is far more likely to be true for those of us in the real world and just everyday people and not professional athletes in their physical prime. We cannot rely on those things to pull us through. In fact, we need to start with the premise that all of our opponents will be bigger, stronger, tougher, faster, meaner, more aggressive, less injured, have the initiative, and any other attribute we can think of. That needs to be our philosophical starting point.

Does that mean I am dead set against no-gi, or that I believe that is has no value at all for self-defense? I am in no way saying that. I think there are some spots that no-gi training shines, and while those spots may be less important or less necessary, does not meant they should be ignored.

Where no-gi shines is:

  1. You must actively and continuously be trying to control the other guy’s arms. Because there is no way to grab and lock down and just hold them, no-gi forces you into a very aggressive and constant attempt to secure as much control over the arms as possible. And if that control only lasts a moment, then you have to go right back to retrieving it. This is a great benefit in a self-preservation context because we must make sure that the other person cannot freely strike us or have free reign to deploy a weapon into the fight. Gi work gives you a better idea of how to control. And no-gi gets you used to fighting for it all the time.
  2. It is difficult and somewhat low percentage to fight from the bottom in no-gi. Even a great guard player is extremely restricted in his ability to attack, so the better strategy is to fight from the top or have back control. So in no-gi, you have to put a premium on constantly working to drive your hips over and to come up and be upright. And of course this may very well be the single best tactical plan if we are fighting for our lives in the street.

Even though I dislike no-gi, I do think that not only does it offer some value for self-defense, but it also is just good practice to work it on its own anyway. I follow Stephen Kesting’s dictum that BJJ training should be 80/20. 80% of the time do your preferred type or work, and 20% do the other, regardless of personal taste or preference.

Guard Attack – for Self-defense and sport

This is one of my most used guard attacks. It works across all contexts – sport competition (gi or no-gi), MMA/Vale Tudo, and self-defense, even in a weapons based environment. Note a few things: 1) with his arm locked down and in my closed guard, he is effectively limited in what he can do. Even the dreaded headbutt (a potential issue in closed guard generally) is completely prevented 2) if he tries to free his trapped arm, he gives me plenty of space to hip out to that side and presents me with multiple attacks 3) I have my other hand free to control his free arm preventing strikes, and along with the fact that the closed guard positioning of legs makes it really hard for him to access weapons, I keep safe from almost any offensive thing he can do.

In short, this is a very powerful control, and the sweep that I show flows easily from it, and typically arises from my opponent’s actions to get out of that control. It is one of my favorites.

(kind of) Daily (kind of) dozen

Bob Hoffman was a pioneer of strength and conditioning training in the US. He was possibly the single most important person when it came to the dominance of the US Olympic weightlifting program from the 20’s through the late 60’s. He published a long running magazine called Strength and Health (a clear reflection on his fitness beliefs), and wrote numerous books and strength programs throughout his life. It is truly sad to me that few people, even ones intimately involved in strength and conditioning, barely know him.

One of my favorite books (and training programs) he wrote was called The Daily Dozen. It was a two part program where the first six exercises were done everyday no matter what, and the second set of six, made up of barbell exercises, were done three times a week. What is so fascinating to me about the program is the emphasis on health, not just physical prowess. Hoffman had almost a religious fervor about making everyone more fit and healthy, not just competitive athletes. That is something that tends to get lost in the desire to improve. We get hyper-focused on what the perfect routine is to make us swole and massively strong, but few of us are professional athletes, and we have to deal with the issues of being an everyday person. Hoffman’s Daily Dozen is a nice way to address this.

I have been doing (unknowingly) a version of this for years. I do some training every day. While this may entail two to three hours on a jiu-jitsu mat, it may also only be a five minute dry fire program, or a handful of exercises that take a couple of minutes. Regardless, I do something every day. Even when traveling, I manage to fit in something. A few months ago, I decided to be a little more consistent in what they would be, and follow Hoffman, at least conceptually.

I did his half-dozen every day, but rather than his exercises (forward fold, twist, twisting toe touch, waist circle, squat, and up/down dog) I picked some more specific and directed ones. Since January 1, either I was on the mats teaching or training or I did this workout – hip lift (upas) – 10 reps, hip escapes – 5 reps to each side, hip lift to turnover to base/posture – 5 reps to each side, hip heist – 5 each side, technical stand up – 5 each side, and squats (goblet style without the goblet) – and holding the deep position for extra time each rep for 10 total. This entire sequence takes no more than five minutes when you are used to the moves, and needs no equipment and very little space.

What I have found is that the couple of chronic things that have bugged me the last few years – lower back, knees – have not been bothering much, if at all. In fact, there are times I go days before realizing that I had felt no tightness or pain in those areas. I am going to keep playing with this idea (maybe tweak a few exercises or amounts) and see where it takes me.

I strongly suggest you look into something similar, whether you already have chronic issues, or just want to prevent that from even coming up as an issue.

Link to a PDF version of Hoffman’s program:

https://sites.google.com/site/l7xeminentassistanygy/free-daily-dozen-by-bob-hoffman-ebook

If you are unfamiliar with the BJJ exercises I talked about above (this is a playlist so the first two videos are the ones to watch):



goblet squat:

Putting words in my mouth

I try to not let it bother me, but when people who have only a passing familiarity (if even that) with ECQC/entangled fighting comment on things they do not understand, I get irritated.

Part of the problem is that I, and a few friends along with an exceptionally tiny number of a handful of other folks, have been studying, working and teaching solutions to this problem for decades, and it is more than mildly annoying to have words put in my mouth. We all have put an incredible amount of effort and study into this, and not one of us has ever come to a conclusion in an intellectually lazy manner. We challenge each other and our ideas constantly, and put it all up for grabs in the crucible of legitimate pressure testing over and over again. Frankly, it is personally insulting to hear someone say that I say this or that or that I endorse this or that and implies that I have put little thought into those opinions.

Take hardware/gear as an example. I have heard more than a few times someone opine that those who teach 0-5 feet gunfighting don’t like clips on holsters because they break rolling around in contact. That is a complete falsehood. Not one of us has ever made that statement. As a matter of fact, most of us even personally carry at least some of the time in holsters with clips. My “take the dogs for a walk/go to the store/gym/gas ‘n sip” holster is the Dark Star Gear Hitchhiker with a large metal clip. I trust that thing implicitly. I have rolled against high level grapplers who know I have it on, and are asked to try to take it away or break it, and have not been able to do so. The actual hook on the clip itself digs in to soft material and can withstand really hard contact. The smaller metal clips from Discrete Carry Concepts are almost as sturdy and I know of a number of switched on guys who use them. So we don’t reject clips. There is not a shred of fact in saying different.

We do, almost to a person, reject plastic clips. However, it has almost zero to do with them breaking! That does happen, and too often for comfort, but you can go plenty of sessions without a properly made plastic clip breaking. What does happen time after time is that the clips fail at their most basic function – to hold the holster in place. As you fight in contact with another adrenalized human who wants to harm you, your body torques and compresses in odd ways and stressors happen in angles and positions that never occur when you are just standing upright on a flat shooting range (or even just walking around day to day). And the result is that those clips which have little tensile strength inward cannot fight the pressure and start to shift. Then the issue is that when you need to access your pistol, it is not in the orientation you think it is. How many times have we fumbled a draw standing with no movement doing a shooting drill? Now amplify that 1,000 times and have your life dependent on that draw. A little disconcerting don’t you think? Sometimes that holster shift is so drastic that the gun actually comes out and falls away, or the holster itself comes off. I cannot begin to list the number of times I have seen that happen during countless force-on-force sessions with quite literally thousands of people at this point. It is not a random or occasional thing at all. It is something that can pretty much be counted on. That and that alone is the issue with plastic clips and why those of us who have depth and breadth of knowledge and decades of experience in this area stay away from them. It is a deeply informed and learned opinion. Not some throw away lazy thought.

Another aspect of the attempt by some people to belittle or diminish this concern with clips is to say something along the lines of “well, the ECQC event does not happen that often so it does not really matter if you wear those clips. You won’t run into the situation where they fail.”  That is arguable, but not something I will comment on here (a brief aside – you know what else is a rare event? A private citizen using his firearm for self-defense, and yet that low risk does not seem to bother these critics. They will scream until they are blue in the face that you need to carry 24/7, but ignore working the skill set to deal with a non-gun focused event that also can occur. I find it interesting how they mentally cherry pick with their risk analysis and only bother with the things they choose to concern themselves with, rather than a true assessment) but I will address this aspect. Why would I dismiss equipment that can withstand the worst situations and use equipment that is far more likely to fail? Do you not want to know that your seatbelt has been subjected to multiple high impact crashes by the carmakers, and will still work? Do you really want a seatbelt that can hold up to a fender bender but may not work when you need it to save your life? That just makes zero sense to me. If the ECQC approved gear is hard to get or costs substantially more, than you may possibly have some room to argue, but the fact is that exact gear is no harder to get and costs the same as the lesser gear. So why would you choose the lesser? Laziness is the only conclusion I can come to.

In sum, I personally don’t care what you carry. I am not the Tactical Gestapo. Do whatever makes you comfortable. However, do not put words in my or my peers’ mouths in order to let you validate your personal choice. It is offensive and insulting.

CPR – the missing element

One of the best and most satisfying trends in the tactical/self-defense/firearms training community is the move to understand the importance of medical care.

While carrying a firearm and training it its use is important, the fact is that for non-professionals who follow noted trainer John Farnham’s (modified) dictum of “don’t go to stupid places at stupid time and do stupid things with stupid people”, the fact remains that the chance of having to use one to defend your life is pretty small. On the other hand, it is fairly likely that we will all either face an emergency medical situation to ourselves or to someone we know and being able to handle that situation deserves the same effort and thought that we put into working our defensive handgun or hand-to-hand fighting skills.

Fortunately, there is a surge in courses that teach “dirt medicine” and dealing with traumatic injuries, and a concurrent rise in the carry of specific gear. For the most part, the piece of equipment most often seen is some kind of functional tourniquet. For those who dive a bit deeper, you will sometimes see a pressure bandage, chest seal, or some sort of blood clotting agent. All terrific trends and it makes us all a bit safer.

There is one thing however that is sadly underplayed along these lines. That too often overlooked topic is CPR (and the related aspect of running an AED machine). I am not so sure why these things are rarely, if ever, mentioned, but I suspect part of the reason is that there is no way to virtue signal that you know how to do CPR the way you can show by carrying a TQ that you are “in the club”.

The sad part is that we are far more likely to need CPR or an AED machine that a tourniquet. That is not arguable in any way. The numbers – most likely cause of death in the US – prove it. I think we need to prioritize CPR and AED by reframing how we think of them. They are to the heart and lungs what a TQ is to bleeding. Like the TQ, CPR or even an AED machine is not the cure, or the final fix, but it may keep someone alive long enough for the higher level of medical professionals to come into play.

If you know how to run a tourniquet or a pressure bandage, but can’t do CPR, or operate an AED, please rectify that. Now. Ac

Knife sheath

Some of you may know my affinity for what I believe to be the most functional self-defense knife, the Craig Douglas designed Clinchpick. I have carried one almost everyday for over twelve years. It fits the niche of a knife that can be used in the real world for a specific fighting purpose better than anything I have seen.

One problem I had with it was the original sheath that came with it was developed with speed and ease of access/deployment in mind, and less about concealment. A later sheath that did a great job of dealing with this is the one from Dark Star Gear. I have used that extensively since it first came out (I was probably one of the first handful of people who had one). It is much better than the original, and it is super comfortable to use because it has some flex on the belt. The drawback for some people though is that shirts can drag on it while accessing it fouling the draw, or the concealment is still a bit compromised.

When Tony Mayer of JM Custom Kydex asked me if there was any improvements I could think of for a Clinchpick carry mode, I realized it was my opportunity to maybe take care of this need. So I designed one with some input from Tony, and the result is exactly what I wanted. The access and deployment of the blade is still there, but it is extremely concealable and is set up so clothing rarely interferes. I am very happy that we pulled it off.

And now you can buy it for yourself. Here is the direct link:

https://www.jmcustomkydex.com/p/CT-ClinchPick-Sheath.html

And here is a short video where I go over some of the features of the sheath, as well as some tips on setting it up:

Just show up

When I started my Martial Arts/Self-defense odyssey some 40 years ago, I was obsessed with getting better and I thought the main way to do so was train a lot and with a lot of instructors. Just find the best teachers, and do whatever it takes to be able to train with them. As a ridiculously poor college student, I was scrimping pennies and selling blood and plasma to get enough money to make monthly trips to southern California to train with top people for an entire weekend, from Friday night to late Sunday afternoon. Then when I got back, my life revolved around blocking out time to train and practice what I learned, and even to teach. I passed up going to parties at times, or seeing cool local bands like the Gin Blossoms at local clubs, or even ticking off women I was dating who could not understand why I could not meet them at the bar on Tuesday night because I had a three hour session of sparring and hitting the thai pads. I even quit my part time job at Kentucky Fried Chicken, where I had worked for four years and could write my own schedule, because it was starting to interfere with my workouts.

Then after a bit of maturity and seasoning by life, I realized that pathway was not available or even applicable to most people, myself included. Getting married, having kids, having to work to make money and keep a roof over my family’s head or food on the table tended to take needed time and energy away from training. So I began to realize that the way to long term success had more to do with consistency, and the idea that just putting time in and punching the clock allowed you to make that trip down mastery while staying in the real world. If all you could do was go to the gym once a week, then go to the gym once a week no matter what, and put in 100% effort. And that would keep you moving down the path. It might take you far longer to get “good” than your buddy who goes to the gym five days a week, but who cares? His journey is his, and your journey is yours. The important thing is to keep going.

Now, I still think this plan is correct, but as I continue down this road, I realized it lacks some nuance. The part I think I fell down conceptually on is the effort aspect. While putting in 100% is ideal, the fact is that life has a tendency to get in the way. After a really tough day at your job, with clients yelling at you, and your boss riding your posterior, and worrying about how your kid is doing in school, and why your wife has seemed so distant the past few weeks, can you truly put in that full effort? Of course not, it is impossible for almost anyone.

So I have come to the conclusion that the only realistic way to get better at almost anything is this – JUST SHOW UP. Go and show up at the gym, or the golf course, or pick up that musical instrument, or get to the shooting range, and do the best you can. If one day the best you can muster is just going through the motions, fine. Don’t let that impact the effort to go to the next session. Again, just show up. Put in the maximum effort that you can muster, and keep at it. You might be going through a long plateau or valley where it seems like you will never get better or have total focus, but that day will come AS LONG AS YOU KEEP SHOWING UP. The day you don’t show up is the only day of failure. And more importantly, each day you miss makes it easier to get knocked off that journey to mastery.

This is not an excuse to be lazy. It is not a get out of jail free card to excuse you from putting in the work. Not at all. You are still trying as hard as you can, but you accept that some days the best you can do is 20% effort. Keep plugging away, and you will improve in time. Don’t quit.

Old School BJJ

Anytime I hear or read about someone talking about the supposed difference between self-defense oriented BJJ and competition oriented BJJ, I throw up a little in my mouth. Rather than write a lot to explain why, I will show you why I have that perspective. Watch this:

What kind of jiu-jitsu was that? Self-defense? Or sport? Here is the answer – yes, to both. It is just jiu-jitsu, the way it has been trained for 90+ years.

This was how I practiced for years with Professor Megaton Dias. This video was filmed around 1994 and most of it was shot in the old Boys and Girls club backroom south of Bethany Home Road. No windows, no A/C, and not much mercy from the instructor! Please tell me what parts of that were sport only, or were self-defense only. You won’t be able to, because Jiu-Jitsu encompasses all of it.

BJJ is like guitar playing. If you can truly play the guitar, then you can play different things without a problem. It does not take much to play a hard rock riff or solo like Eddie Van Halen, or a jazz line like Pat Metheny, or a classical part like Andres Segovia if you are already good at guitar playing and understand the underlying principles. It is all guitar. The techniques to play one of those are fundamentally the same as one of the others. You may certainly concentrate on one, and not pay much attention to the others, but that is solely on the individual, not the methodology or system.

Further, look at the video again. Note how part of it was filmed at a local karate school that Mega gave a workshop at. Look at the flooring. Carpet, not mats, and thin carpet at that, laid directly on concrete. But wait! That must mean the jiu-jitsu cannot work, because there are no mats. And yet, there they are, doing the techniques with no issue. We also sparred with all the lights off, and sparred in the parking lot. We even had Vale Tudo Friday nights, where we put on gloves and trained.

Note also that how we generally ended up on the ground – by being taken there. No guard pulls, no starting on the knees. We fought for the takedown and continued the fight. And you see the results – that often the fight is ended right away within seconds. THAT is Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

So please forgive me when people who have quite literally never ever spent one minute on BJJ mats try to tell me how my art is not about true “fighting”. And all that is why I just laugh when people who have never trained tell me that “fighting on the ground will get you killed in the street”.

Guard pull redux

I posted this a couple of years ago, but I want to revisit it because it is a topic that unfortunately keeps coming up.

There is current mantra being circulated in BJJ circles that essentially tries to demonize someone for pulling guard. The thought goes that if you are just pulling guard, you are missing a substantial part of Jiu-Jitsu and are taking the lazy path. Don’t misunderstand me, I am all for working the takedown and being on top and I absolutely despise the current trend (especially in the lighter weight divisions) of someone just dropping their butt to the ground to start the match. I think being on top is an optimal place to be, whether in competition or for self-defense. However, optimal does not mean “100% of the time”. There are extremely good reasons to at times pull guard, and I go over them in the following re-posted article. Please try to keep in mind that context is king (as I regularly try to get across).

Here is the original article:

Recently, on the Strenuous Life Podcast by Stephen Kesting,

available here:

http://kesting.libsyn.com/116-should-you-pull-guard-in-bjj-competition-or-not

he talked about a question that often is argued in BJJ circles – should you pull guard in competition? He and his guest spent a bit of time on it and covered a few things pretty well (though the guest really needs to get some depth of experience with realistic self-defense because he missed the mark completely there), but I think they completely skipped over the single most pertinent answer to that question. And that leaves me to give it a shot.

Should you pull guard in competition? Of course you should, IF THE CONTEXT SAYS IT IS THE BEST RESPONSE. That goes for street oriented self-preservation tactics as well. So what is the context?

If pulling guard gives you a more optimal way to win, then that is the correct context. It is a simple mantra, yet one that seems to be overlooked most of the time the idea is brought up, but it is the only real reason to have any particular move in your arsenal. No move of any kind, standing or ground, works every time, so we need to make sure that the move we choose has the best chance to lead us to victory.

What are examples of the context? The most obvious is when you are sure your opponent is substantially better at takedowns that you are. If you are facing someone who is superior there, why would you try to match his strength? Just because some fighting expert said we should always look to execute the takedown and end up in control? Great idea, but against someone better than that, what is the chance it will work for us?

Check out this video compilation of a person going up against superior Judo players and using a guard pull strategy to negate their advantages:

https://www.watchbjj.com/rolling/ryan-vargas-put-on-a-display-of-sweeps-and-guard-pulls-at-the-2017-world-judo-championships/

Case in point. A couple of years ago at the IBJJF Pan-Ams, in my first round match, I was going up against a guy who I found out was once a member of an Eastern European Olympic Judo Team. Now, I think I have some decent takedown skills that have worked for me, and I certainly train them on a constant basis in order to get even better at them, but come on! What were my chances of ending up in a good position if I fought an Olympic level judoka for a throw? The answer is slim to none, and slim already left town. Most likely I would have ended up at least two points down and in an inferior bottom position. Instead of wasting time, and/or getting thrown by fighting him on his strengths, I took another path. I got both good grips, and pulled him hard into my closed guard where I was immediately was able to get an overhook on one arm and grab part of his far collar with the overhooking hand. I went straight into an excellent position and ended up winning the match (I lost later in the finals, but that is a story for another day). I am still waiting for someone to say that was a poor strategy.

Think about it with a good critical eye. Jiu-jitsu is about using your opponent’s strengths and attacks against him. Going head to head in opposition to his strengths are the exact opposite of that mindset. It makes zero sense.

What about in a self-defense context? Exactly the same focus!  If pulling guard can lead to a faster and surer way to win (i.e. survive and prevail against a violent attacker). Then that is what we should do. For example, if you are being attacked by a bigger, stronger criminal, and you are on ground that is unstable or slippery, are you really going to be able to turn into your pet koshi-guruma without ending up falling over with your feet coming up from under you? What of you knew with almost absolute certainty that your attacker knew almost nothing about the ground? How well is he going to be able to defend when you pull him into your guard and then immediately transition into an armbar? In actual fact, my own coach did that when he was assaulted once on the street about 1997. He did essentially a version of a guard pull that resembled a failed yoko-tomoe-nage and as soon as they hit the ground he shifted to a straight armbar and broke the attacker’s arm. Guess who stopped fighting at that moment? I will give you three guesses, and all three should be gimmes.

Why not exactly “street”, here is a guard pull in an MMA context where the grappler negated the striker’s superiority by taking him a different part of the pool:

(skip to the :50 second mark to see the guard pull, and note how after that the grappler had the edge in controlling what was going on. Something that probably could not have been said if the grappler had stayed standing against the striker)

Make no mistake about what I am saying and please don’t put words in my mouth. I am not advocating guard pulls 100% of the time. I am advocating  to have the skill set and experience to be able to choose in the moment what is the path that gives you the best chance of success.

Kind of like life in general, huh?

Down on yourself?

Within the last few days, I have been reading a number of online posts as well as having some private discussions through email, text, and PMs with people all roughly about the same thing. There are a good amount of people out there putting in effort to be better, safer and more dangerous but stumble along the way.

Whether someone feels like they are not training as much as someone else they read or hear about online, or if they did a competition of some kind and don’t do as well as they hoped, or they took a tough training course and got wrecked, or shot some hard drill and put the result up publicly, they use a lot of negative talk. “I really got my butt handed to me in that class”, or “I let my team down by my performance in that tournament”, or “I will never be as good as –fill in the blank- because I just am not as dedicated in my training as he is” are typical statements.

Here is my statement to all of you talking like this – STOP IT. NOW.

Stop wasting thoughts on “if only”s , or that you are not good enough, or that you do enough. If you are authentically doing the work and putting honest effort in, regardless of how much time you are spending doing it, you are winning! Being honest to the problem and trying to do something about it is the win. Everything else is just the process result. The journey is the win, not what comes at the end, because in our quest to become more capable/safer/dangerous, there is no end state. We keep on keeping on, and take pride in the blood, sweat, tears, money, and time we put in. Nothing else is worth worrying about.

And STOP COMPARING yourself to others. Your journey is yours and yours alone. So what if I put in more mat time than you? Or that Paul Sharp shoots more than you? O that Larry Lindenman or Chris Fry or Craig Douglas has been working real world fighting material longer than most of you have been adults? Or that Jouko Ahola spends more time lifting weights than you do? Or so-and-so has better genetics/more time/more money/easier access to training?

None of that matters. You are not in competition with any of them, nor do you need to measure yourself against any of them. Hell, you are not even in competition with that violent criminal actor out there waiting to do harm to you. You have no control over that. The only thing you can control, which means it is the only thing you need to compare yourself to, is the you of yesterday. The only question to ask is “am I better than I was yesterday?” If the answer is yes, even if you are only 1/100th of one percent better, than you are wining. Period.

To sum up, please listen to this. If you are actively, honestly working to be better than you were yesterday, you are doing great. Pat yourself on the back for a second, and then put your nose back to the grindstone. And stop belittling what you are doing.