Avoiding Dogmatism as Best We Can

I have a deeply ingrained allergic reaction whenever I hear someone in the self-defense world speak in absolutes or with a dogmatic implication that they have all the answers and that there is no reason to go anywhere else. I have to make sure the Benadryl is close by whenever I go on YouTube or read some internet forums.

Let me be real clear right now. NO ONE PERSON HAS ALL THE ANSWERS. Fighting/self-defense is so chaotic and has so many variables that there is no way that one single person has figured it all out. Not one. Period.

I am blessed to have a ton of good friends who are involved in the combative/tactical training community. All of them are terrific instructors, or brilliant researchers, or long service LE or MiL veterans, or amazing martial artists, or fantastically accomplished shooters. All of them have spent long years honing their skills and understanding of the world of violence. People like Craig Douglas, Claude Werner, Tom Givens, Paul Sharp, Larry Lindenman, Nathan Wagar, Mick Coup, Chris Fry, and many others have so much of value to bring to the study of self-defense. Any one of them would be worth moving Heaven and Earth to train under.

Even more so, I rely on all them to make sure I myself stay on track in my own training and research. I value their thoughts and ideas. But here is the thing. I don’t agree with 100% of everything they all say. Nor do they agree with 100% of what I say. And more to the point, none of them have the complete answer to all things self-defense wise. And NEITHER DO I.

There is no way, even over a lifetime of deep and dedicated study can one person understand all the variables to the question of combat. It is just not possible. For example, I have over 20 years of training in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu. And that training is under the close eye of a legendary coach, and involves multiple hours per week every week. I think I have a pretty good grasp of the applications of BJJ. However, over the last few years of travelling and doing seminars, I have run into a number of unique circumstances that really forced me to think about things. How can I be sure what I am teaching is accessible by someone who does not have the ability to train weekly in a BJJ gym? How do I know that I can make a woman who has never done grappling before will be able to understand what I show her? How do I know that I understand how someone with a physical disability can perform the techniques I am showing? And this is just in the tiny microcosm of specific BJJ work. If we expand that to the whole world of self-defense, those problems multiply exponentially. There is just so much to understand that it is beyond one person’s ability. So that is why I loathe those “gurus” out there that act as if they know everything.

So how do I approach what I myself teach in order to make sure I am not presenting some defined dogma of “my way is the only way”? What I try to do is approach it like building a house.

There are all kinds of houses – single story, multi-story, circular, square, rectangle, small square footage footprint, large square footage footprint, etc. Some are made from brick, some wood, some made primarily of steel. They can have all different types of facades, and different roof types. The interiors can be completely different from each other, even ones that have the same basic floor plan. And of course they can be painted differently. There is no cookie cutter one type of house. However, they all essentially have to have the same foundation. It must be level, and it must be incredibly strong and can resist wear and tear and stress over a long period of time. Most homes generally have some kind of poured concrete base, and then have a structural framework to hold up. After that, the house can then go in a myriad different ways to meet the desired end type. But the foundation is the same.

I approach my coursework in the same manner. Especially the coursework I teach the most, which can be referred to as Immediate Action Combatives 101, generally split into two modules, one for the ground and one for when you are upright and mobile. The goal behind this coursework is to have fundamental movements, a conceptual roadmap, and training drills that are focused on the specific area of surviving, defending, and escaping from a surprise assault. The idea is to have some things that can be performed by even the everyday person in a worst case scenario. If we can build in high percentage actions that can help us survive, deal with, and get through an ambush, and we know in our heart of hearts that we can survive such a situation, then the more fun and cool and flashy things can be added in later. And the idea with my coursework is what you want to add after the survive-defend-escape part can be whatever you wish. You really like what Craig Douglas has to teach? Awesome, go for it! Or you really did the Filipino stick and blade oriented arts? Great! And ad infinitum. Whatever you wish, including looking into my next level of coursework (where we start to take the initiative back from the assailant). You can add whatever you want to your “house” as long as you know your foundation is solid and can weather any storm.

I Carry a Gun. I Don’t Need That H2H Crap!

 Every now and then, someone posts a question, either directly to me or on some internet forum I may look at in which they raise the basic question of why should they bother with any sort of hand-to-hand training since they have a CCW permit and carry a firearm.  Isn’t that good enough? Well, many times, the answer is no, it isn’t. As a matter of fact, the gun solution might be a really, really bad idea.

The firearm is the great equalizer, for sure. It is the easiest way for a physically handicapped person to deal with a violent assault from a big, strong, young attacker. In many instances, it gives us the best chance of coming through a violent situation with the least amount of harm (partly due to the fact that the firearm gives you “stand off” capacity to defend yourself, something no other weapon or empty hand solution can offer). However, there are times it may not be possible to use a firearm, and there are some instances where it may actually be a bad idea.

To my way of thinking, there are three contexts where having an unarmed answer is a good idea. They are:

1)      You may not have a gun – If we plan on living in the real world, there will be circumstances where we won’t have a gun. Even if you are a LEO, there are many times when you can’t be armed. Being on a plane for instance. Some types of buildings/facilities even refuse to allow LEOs to be armed. I for one refuse to be helpless and reliant on someone else to save me and to always have some way to defend myself, regardless of where I am or what I am doing. No one can ever disarm you of your H2H skills/knowledge/training.

2)      It may not be justified – Not every confrontation meets the legal standard for deadly force. Shooting Cousin Ernie because he was drunk and disruptive at the family Thanksgiving dinner might not make you that popular in your family. And, more importantly, there are some situations where the legal standard for deadly force may be met, but you will still suffer consequences of your actions that may be worse than a legal punishment. Does anyone want to trade places with George Zimmerman? He was eventually found not guilty, but how much money did he have to spend to defend himself, and how much of an emotional toll did he endure? There was absolutely a valid and functional H2H solution for his problem that could have easily avoided the need to employ deadly force. I try to avoid clichés, but this one fits –  “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail”.

3)      You may not be able to access the gun – Even if we are legally and morally justified in using deadly force, and it is a good idea to do so, and we are carrying a gun, we may not be able to deploy it. Especially if the attack is already under way, we may not have a clear pathway to using the gun in the manner we need to. Remember, if you introduce the gun into the fight and you do not have 100% control over it, it is now available for the other guy to use as well. You may very well have to fight your way to the point where you can access, deploy, and use the weapon.

In my opinion, if we want to be truly prepared to defend ourselves, having the ability to utilize an unarmed physical response is just as important as carrying a gun and being able to use it.

I Don’t Care if the Move Works! Wait! WTF?

In the medical field, there is a concept known as the placebo effect. Essentially, if a doctor prescribes a treatment such as a drug for an illness and the drug is not actually a real medicine (but rather something like a sugar pill) but the treatment acts as a cure or as relief anyway, that cure or relief has to be attributed to something other than the actual treatment. It can be chalked up to the person’s own mind accomplishing the goal, or it was a freak act. This phenomenon is well known and accepted. It does occur, more frequently than you might think. So why don’t doctors attempt to ever use this a normal course of treatment? Because there is never anyway to judge if it is actually working, and how often, and to what extent!  Sure, the placebo effect can work on occasion, but more often, it utterly fails. So therefore it can never be taken seriously as a factor when trying to cure a patient. If you can’t plan on when it works, or to what level, it is useless as a treatment.

So how does this relate to self-defense? Bear with me for a moment and I will tie it in. This past week, I was participating in an online discussion forum (yes, I know how problematic that can be at times, but sometimes, you can get good information from doing so) related to self-defense and firearms/shooting, and there was a thread in which one of the posters made one of the classic blunders in the SD field. Now this particular poster has a huge chip on his shoulder and has a tendency to bolster his debates by referring to his own experience (he has some field work in this area). However, he continually will try to end the debate over a particular technique/tactic/method by saying “x worked for me”. Now, to him, this is his trump card, his “gotcha” moment. In truth, it is the fighting world’s equivalent of the placebo effect. What he fails to realize that IT DOES NOT MATTER IF IT WORKED IN THE STREET.

What the heck did I just say? Have I taken leave of my senses? Have I stepped into the realm of mystical approaches to combat? Am I suddenly going to start wearing a ponytail and wearing giant muumuus and talking about all the chi in my belly? Not at all. What I am saying is this: if the entirety of your justification of whether a technique is good or not happens to be if it worked, you are missing the larger point.

Just pointing out that something worked is not good enough. Let’s examine this for a moment. A couple of years ago, there was an MMA fight where one of the participants ran up the side of the cage to where he was almost horizontal, jumped off of it, turned in mid-air and threw a kick that not only landed, but almost knocked the other fighter out. Does anyone out there think that would be a good technique to add to their toolbox? It worked didn’t it? So why don’t we all start practicing that move?

There are also documented instances where a person has been shot in the face with a firearm and the bullet did not penetrate the skull, but rather skipped along the bone and came out the skin on the back side of the head. Absolute documented fact. Anyone want to base their gun defense on that? Why not? It “worked”, didn’t it?

I have a video clip I got off of YouTube. It is from Eastern Europe or Russia and shows a person robbing a store at knifepoint. The clerk did a spinning kick and knocked the knife out of the bad guy’s hand. So how many people are going to practice and advocate that move as a good knife defense move?……Anyone? …….Bueller? ………Bueller? Again, why not? I have video proof a spinning kick can knock a knife from a hand. So let’s all jump in and start working on being Chuck Norris.

Hopefully, the gist of my point is starting to come across. Using what works as justification (if that is our only criteria) is as irrelevant to optimal training as the placebo effect is to medical treatment.

For anyone who has studied fighting for any length of time, one conclusion can quickly be drawn – sometimes the goofiest stuff will actually work. Combat is so chaotic that almost anything can happen at any given time. However, just because anything can happen, does not mean it will happen at a given moment, and therefore “anything” cannot be relied on, just as a doctor cannot rely on the placebo effect to cure his patient.

What we need to focus on is what are the things that work in the most situations, against the widest variety of opponents, and that can be trained with the least outlay of training time, and with the highest chance of predicting the effect of the move on the other person. In other words, we need to look at what are the most efficient methods/techniques/systems that still have a high amount of efficacy, especially when we are speaking of the everyday person and his limited time to train.

A few years ago, I was involved in another online debate in which the other person was trying to say that the superman punch was a valid SD move because it worked in MMA. So I went and took a look at the prior two years of EVERY UFC match and looked at every instance of the superman punch. What I found was that, yes, the punch worked in MMA – 30% of the time! The other 70% it failed! And that was when executed by professional fighters whose job it was to do nothing but train, and even then, with all of that on their side, they could only land it a third of the time. Is that really a good use of training time if we only have a very limited time to train, or should we focus on techniques that we can make use of a lot more often? Certainly the move “works”, but does that even matter?

So, did the technique work because it was a good technique? Or did it work because the other guy did something really stupid? Or was it blind luck? Or was it because you are a 300 pound powerlifter and you are fighting a 140 pound tweaking methhead? I have a terrific escape when someone has the knee on belly position on you. It is a high percentage move IF you are bigger and stronger than the person on top. If not, and he is bigger and stronger, there is no way the escape works. Should that be a technique that everyone should practice as part of their fundamentals? No? Why not? It “works” – albeit under a narrow contextual range.

In summary, we most certainly need to take into account if a technique works in the real world. But, far more importantly, we need to look at a number of other factors as well before we judge said move as something that should be put into the personal arsenal.