Some Thoughts on The Pikal Jab

What is the Pikal Jab? Essentially, it is closed fist strike that is very similar to the attack line when you properly throw a straight line jabbing strike with a knife with the blade held in the “pikal” grip (where the blade point is projected from the bottom of the grip. The strike, while not unique to the Filipino Martial Art style of Pekiti-Tersia, is heavily used in that system, and it is where Craig Douglas (aka Southnarc) did much of his knife training. And even though I had seen it and used it for decades from my previous FMA training, Craig is the one who really taught me and made me understand the tiny details of its proper execution. He is also the one who with I started throwing around the concept of an empty hand version that could actually work in a real environment, and could be taught without years of study.

So after many months of heavy, intense work, I have a few observations.

The punch works, and works well. It is very useful, and with the right coaching, it does not take too long to develop into a solid tool.

I think one of the reasons it works so well is that you are using the strike to move, so that you are using a high percentage and safe move to enable the movement, rather than the typical method of moving and then striking. It is safer and easier for a less experienced person to use. Provided they throw the strike correctly in the first place.

It is absolutely a knuckle punch. The trajectory of the strike is a straight punch, so the knuckles are the intended tool. Now, if you step out correctly and get the angle that we are trying for, there is a good chance that you will actually land it as a hammerfist, but that is an outgrowth of the correct directional move, not the strike itself. If you try to throw it as a hammerfist, I guarantee one of two things will happen. You will either throw it as an angled strike, which will open up a counter straight punch, and will NOT camouflage your intentions, or you throw it in a weird semi-straight way and you will not be able to get offline to the outside angle. Either results in a failure of the entire point of the strike. If you attempt to replicate the exact line of the knife in hand version, you will make impact with the bottom of your fist with the wrist cocked at a particularly weak angle. With a piece of hard steel in front of it, it is no big deal. Without that little bit of extra “oomph” though, it is a big deal trying to make impact that way. Either the blow will be severely weakened, or you will do enough damage to your hand that further follow-ups (including going to weapons) will be extremely problematic. We had a lot of issues early on before I got OCD about making sure it is a linear knuckle punch. The directional change happens because your shoulders rotate around the axis of that linear strike. And being linear, you are much more covered and protected from a counter punch should it fail, or if your opponent has superior attributes.

I can predict that some people will attempt to crowbar their own pre-set belief into this technique. A person with a boxing-type background may very well try to minimize the shoulder rotation and upper body opening, because that part is so contrary to their base. In doing so, the ability to step to that long Positional Dominance angle will be retarded. A person with a FMA background could try to insist that it does not have to be launched as a boxing punch and try to hijack the knife movement more directly, but that would be a complete misunderstanding of the differences in what can happen when someone is punched versus what will happen when someone is stabbed with a long, pointy, metal thing. Someone with another MA style (non-boxing) may try to change the launch of the punch as well. Sorry, it does not work. I have a student with an exceptionally strong Okinawan Karate background (he actually regularly travels to Japan and Okinawa to compete and train) and when he first learned this, you could see him visualize it as a hammerfist or backfist. I let him go a couple of weeks hoping he would see the light. Not only could he not get the angle, he was repeatedly countered punch and smashed in the face over and over. Until I showed him why it was not working for him, he was frustrated. Once he put aside his own prejudices, it worked for him.

It needs to be understood that this is hybridized technique that is contextually driven and tactically specific. The pikal jab is neither “this” nor “that”. It is its own thing that works where it is intended in the manner it is intended. I am not saying this is the final word on the technique, but if someone wants to argue about it, they better put in some actual work. I have months of diligent training with multiple people (anywhere from 4-8 per night) for multiple hours per week in that time to arrive at these conclusions/observations.

Another View on Boxing for Self-Defense

My friend John Mosby has an excellent article discussing the utility of boxing in a self-defense context. As is usual with his articles, he makes some really cogent points and does so with a good sense of humor and a no B.S. attitude. Check out the article, and while you are there, read all the rest of his stuff too. And take an extra look at the two books he has authored – more great stuff.

Recommended Holsters

Here are a couple of video clips that show two of my favorite holsters. Both are made by a buddy, Spencer Keepers. The first one is Spencer himself pointing out details about his slick Errand holster that is meant for slipping on and off when you have to make a quick trip out of the house and don’t feel the need to put on a belt.

The second clip shows his standard EDC holster being used by a terrific shooter named Gabe White, out of Oregon.

I am a regular user of both of these holsters. Either come highly recommended.

I Sucked At Jiu-jitsu

International Masters Medal stand

I was the worst white or blue belt that ever stepped on a jiu-jitsu mat.

That is completely true. I tell people that often at seminars, and I know many of them (perhaps most) think I am exaggerating. I absolutely am not. Not one bit.

In fact, I have a strong belief that I was my coach’s first pity blue belt. That is, he felt so sorry for me, and how hapless I was, and that all of my peers had passed me by and long had their own blue belt, and there I was still wearing that ratty, dirty white belt. I think Professor Megaton took pity on me and went ahead and gave me the next belt, undoubtedly assuming I would continue to suck and he would soon regret being a nice guy. My bud and hetero life mate Paul Sharp knew me back then, and he can tell you I was a joke as a martial artist. That is not fun to admit, but it is all too true.

Here is the true timeline of my jiu-jitsu journey. It took me seven years to go from my first day with Megaton to a one stripe blue belt. It took me four and a half more years to go from one stripe blue to black belt. So obviously for those first seven years I sucked. Bad. I fully embrace that and refuse to rewrite history to make me sound like more of a bad ass.

You may ask what changed. How did I suck so badly, but then make the switch and got good enough that I received a black belt from a man that most knowledgeable people in jiu-jitsu will tell you has some of the most stringent standards, especially for higher belts?

There is actually a specific moment and action that I can point to in answer.

In the spring of 2005, I competed in the BJJ Pan-American Championships. I had competed in some tournaments before and never really did well. This time, I exceeded any previous depths of awful-ness. I remember little about the match itself (thankfully), except that it was one of the most pitiful performances by any jiu-jitsu practitioner in history. All I can remember is thinking I should give my blue belt back to Meg, and take the team patch off my Gi so no one will know that I trained with him. I did not want to embarrass him any more than I already had (as a side note – Meg never made me feel bad about the match. He greeted me when I walked off the mat and patted my shoulder and simply said that it was time to get back to training. Most people don’t know that he has never said a bad word about any of his students when they compete, even when they fail badly. He believes that just honestly trying is worth a pat on the back. He truly believes that winning comes from being willing to try).

I left the venue pretty quickly and got in the car and headed home. Driving by myself through the desert towards home over the next six hours gave me plenty of time to think. I realized that I could never let what had just occurred happen again.

I had two options: 1) I could quit jiu-jitsu and never be humiliated again, but I would also forever be a quitter. Which unfortunately was how I had a tendency to handle things through my life. It was the easy path, but it also was deeply soul crushing. Or 2)I could suck it up, commit true energy towards jiu-jitsu (rather than just being there to get my ticket punched), lose weight, and get in fighting shape.

Most of the six hour drive was spent with the argument raging in my head. Finally, I decided – I was going to actually put real effort into something and push myself in a way that I had not really been tested.

The first thing I did was decide that no matter what, I was going to make BJJ class three times a week, and do all the training, even when the asthma was in full swing. I was not going to use that as an excuse to miss 1/3 of class, or even just miss a session entirely.

Second, I decided that I had to lose some of the 250 pounds plus of blubber I was rocking. Not just wanting to lose it, but truly take the steps to do so.

And third, start regular training at a sports performance facility under the eye of a coach who would hold me accountable and force me to work towards greater strength and cardio.

All that was cool, but I had done some of those steps before. We always “want” things. But we don’t always follow through. What I needed was something this time that would keep me in line and focused on the goal even when I mentally drifted. My solution? I was going to compete! But not just any competition – oh no. I decided I would go to Brazil and compete there, against the best in the world.
I was going to spend a good chunk of money on airfare, hotel, and various travel expenses and if I failed, it would all be a waste. And it would be a pretty public humiliation, because I decided to tell as many people as possible what I was going to do (this was pre-social media, or I would have posted it all over). I saw that the International Masters Championship was going to be held in Rio in August. Perfect! Four months to prep.

So I had a goal, and a fairly painful penalty for failing to meet that goal.

Not to bore people, but over the next four months I did follow through. I lost 35 pounds, got much more athletic and actually started to improve (finally!) at jiu-jitsu. And at the tournament in Brazil, even though I was actually forced to fight in the heavier weight category (that I spent the last four months getting out of!), I ended up taking home a silver medal, and even beat a Brazilian in the earlier round. And I only lost in the final by two points.

The most important thing that happened though was that I fell in love with jiu-jitsu. I began to see all the beautiful things that are part of this wonderful art. And in that realization, I began to steadily improve. Weird how a bit of focus and commitment actually can make a difference………….

What was my point in publicly revealing this painful admission? My point is essentially this: if we have an activity that is worthwhile, we owe it to ourselves to make some commitment to that activity. If the activity does not merit that commitment, we probably should not be wasting the time on it at all. It is either important, or it is not. Only the individual can decide for themselves what is worth the time and energy.

Whatever you do, put some effort into it.

That Pajama Stuff Only Works on Mats

One of the tropes the RBSD/Combatives crowd loves to drag out is the idea that grappling is really nice in the gym, but in the “real world”, will only get you killed. An oft-repeated comment is that it is okay to do jiu-jitsu moves on soft, comfortable mats, but Da Streetz don’t have mats.

I guess the implication is that those of us who do jiu-jitsu are giant wimps and need to have the equivalent of a Tempur-pedic mattress to train on!

Not only is this wrong, and incredibly short-sighted, it also shows an immense (almost willful) ignorance of history. Which is even more damning of their intellect since that history is easily discovered with the ease of the internet and search engines.

I can safely say that there are literally a metric ton of videos showing real world applications (on typical hard surfaces) of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu. In addition, the US Army recently released a huge report on H2H usage by troops since the era of Modern Army Combatives (a report I plan on covering soon in a blog post).

More so, this kind of thing goes back to literally the dawn of the age of BJJ and is part of it’s very beginnings, where it was only advertised as a fighting and self-defense method. In fact, on the video tape that served to widely introduce the Gracie family to the world outside of Brazil (released in 1989 in the US), there was a lot of footage showing exactly that. One of the clips I particularity loved was that from a series of challenge matches held between representatives of Gracie Jiu-jitsu, and a large karate school in Rio.

To understand what set it up was that this took place in the early 1970’s during the karate/kung fu movie explosion led by Bruce Lee and Enter the Dragon. The head of the karate school was doing pretty well, and went on a localk TV show in Rio and talked about how perfect Karate was, and that jiu-jitsu was okay but could not stand up to Karate. Of course the Gracies disagreed and agreed to settle the dispute in the challenge matches.

The rules were no biting or eye gouging. Other than that, anything went. No gloves, and no other limitations.

Here is what I found so interesting. The event was help on an uncovered CONCRETE floor! And guess who insisted that it take place there? The Gracies. That’s right. The Karate people wanted it to be on mats or in a boxing ring. It was the grapplers, who planned to take the fight to the ground, who wanted it on a “real world” surface.

And so what was the result? See for yourself:

Wait! How was that possible? The grapplers completely dominated and were not bothered at all by the hard surface. How could that be?

Because it is no big deal! Only someone who does not train for the groundfight and does not understand it would think it matters. Sure, we train on mats. When you are actually practicing for hours upon hours a week, it would be hard on the body to roll on concrete all the time. So in training, we prefer someone a little more forgiving. Just for longevity sakes, if nothing else. But when it comes to the real world, there is nothing at all that is the matter with fighting on a hard surface. Especially if you are a knowledgeable grappler, and can control the direction of the fight, a hard surface can actually be your ally (as in the above video). Notice in the video how every single one of the karate practitioners hit the floor extremely hard? Anyone want to think that that did not help the jiu-jitsu practitioners? Being able to take the fight to floor when they decided was a pretty good tactical decision, wasn’t it?

So the next time you hear the self-defense guru trot out the “no mats in the streets” cliche, you will understand how absolutely meaningless it is.

I Hate Competing!

BJJ warm up area

I hate competing, in whatever facet the competition is. Whether it is a Brazilian Jiu-jitsu event, a USPSA pistol match, a local two or three gun event, or anything where I can publicly lose, I hate them all.

I have no issue with anything about it technically or philosophically mind you. I don’t think it leads to bad habits, or gives you training scars, or makes you a thuggish meathead. To the contrary, on all those points – I think those are all low percentage things that will only happen when we are lazy. So why do I personally hate competing?

Because it scares me to death, every single time I do it!

I know that may sound odd, considering that I compete fairly regularly. In fact, as I write this, I am five days past participating in the BJJ Pan-American Championships. And not only did I compete; I took home a silver medal where I was particularly proud of my performance in my first match (where I controlled and dictated everything that happened in the match).

And in all truth, I was a nervous wreck right up to the moment I walked towards the mat for the first match. The previous hour or so spent in the warm up area, waiting for the call up was hell on me emotionally and mentally. As was the day or two prior as I started to realize my time was coming. And even after doing this for years (my first BJJ competition was 1996), it was about as tough as the first time I ever competed. I truly believe that it may very well always be like this, no matter how much I participate in these tournaments.

I spend the vast majority of that time in the run up to a match at mental war with myself. “Hey, just leave. No one will miss you.” “You are hurt. That knee/wrist/elbow/shoulder/back thingy is bad and you should not push yourself this way.” “What do you have to prove?” “What if you get hurt?” “You are in L.A.! There are so many more fun things to do. Let’s go to Curry House or Pinks and pig out!” And on, and on, and on. Those kind of thoughts are a constant train running through my brain. Torture. Just plain torture.

So, having said all that – how it pains me so much, and how flat out scared I am – why then do I continue to do it? As a matter of fact, just last night I was looking into how soon I could repeat the process and was thinking about going to the Las Vegas Open in May.

Why put myself through all that? The answer is simple. I do it BECAUSE I am scared!

Here is my thought process. If I am so disturbed –physically, mentally, and emotionally, no matter what, but I am still able to go out and perform to some degree, then how can I consider that anything but an overwhelming win? Does not that indicate some form of fighting mindset? Or a triumph of will? George Patton said “Courage is fear holding on a minute longer”. And shouldn’t that sort of thing be practiced, the same way we practice a throw, or a draw stroke, or a weight-lifting movement?
If the ability to fight through all the negatives is a skill we need to work, then we should not shirk as many opportunities as we can to do so. That is how I base my choice to compete.

Now, I am not suggesting that competing is the only way to do this. Nor am I saying it is mandatory. For me, though, it is. Even if I am close to peeing myself waiting to have my name called………..