All posts by Cecil Burch

Don’t Limit Yourself pt. 1

I know I should probably stop reading internet discussion forums, but I can’t help myself. I do know in general that most of them are populated by people hiding behind their keyboard and who would never act or talk face to face the way they act online, or people who have a greatly inflated sense of their self-worth. It would certainly keep my blood pressure down if I left them alone. However, there are a few reasons I go back. On the one hand, there are sometimes great nuggets of useful information. Finding a mention of an article or a video clip I never saw, or some piece of technical information is often worth wading through the chaff. Also, there are those online who are honestly struggling to find good information and act in good faith. A third reason is that sometimes the idiocy is wonderfully amusing and brings a laugh to my heart.

There was a recent one I was reading on a gun-centric “tactical” forum where many people were voicing their opinions on what type of empty hand fighting systems should one study to be as functional as possible in a self-defense situation. Now, I guess I should be thankful they were having the conversation at all, because it was not all that long ago that the prevailing thought on gun forums was that there was no need for H2H when you carry a gun. So, the fact that they have matured in their thinking process is a good sign. However, many of them then proceed down ludicrous rabbit holes. There were two conspicuously bad ideas that I want to address for any reader of this blog who might stumble across a similar argument in the future.

To keep this post from being too long, I will break into two parts. Let’s address the first issue now.

1) The first idea propagated by a bunch of the posters is apparently that only an elite athlete in his mid-20’s could ever successfully even train, let alone use, H2H stuff. It is fascinating that people who have never stepped foot in a modern MMA/BJJ based gym absolutely KNOW what it is like, and that they cannot ever succeed at it, and they then take the attitude of so why bother? If you made a similar statement regarding pistol instruction when you never took a pistol class, all of those guys would be on you like white on rice for your effrontery. I guess the fact that I am a middle-aged, asthmatic non-professional athlete is irrelevant. I guess that the 71 year old retired dentist I regularly train with is an anomaly. I guess that all the Masters level divisions in BJJ competitions should not be counted. I guess that paraplegic that just got his blue belt under Rener Gracie should be ignored. The simple fact is this: ANYONE can train in H2H skills. Obviously, the 65 year old with physical issues is not going to train the exact same way, or with the same level of intensity, or put in the same amount of time that the 25 year old elite athlete does, but it is still putting effort in the same methodology and getting similar results. Will it make the 65 year old capable of winning a match in the UFC? Of course not, but it will absolutely make him far more capable of dealing with a violent physical threat than he otherwise would be. Almost any moderately sized BJJ/MMA school in the world will have a number of students who are older or who have physical limitations. That is not a valid excuse to stay away from putting in a bit of effort.

For example, take a look at this video. Not only is the guy in blue blind, he does not look like a spring chicken either. Yet, those handicaps are not a brake to him performing good jiu-jitsu:

Or this one of a 61 year old man practicing:

And here is a man with cerebal palsy getting out on the mats:

Why someone would purposefully tell themselves that they are too old, too weak, too injured, too frail to do anything is beyond me. I believe in always working to be better than you were the day before, even if that is only by 1/10th of one percent. Always move forward.

One of the benefits of taking control of your right to self-defense by carrying a gun is that you make a statement that you will stand up for yourself and will not let anyone take your life or well-being, or the lives and well-being of your loved ones away. Why would you then abdicate that responsibility by letting yourself believe that you are less than you are capable of by not trying to doing something that pushes your own boundaries of comfort? If you agree that there are bad people out there that may try to hurt you and you will not be able to have or use your gun, then not trying to fix that is a lapse in your determination to defend yourself.  I just don’t get that.




Early 20th Century Combatives

Here is a terrific article on Combatives use in WW1. A really fun read.




What the article clearly demonstrates, much to the chagrin of those who dislike grappling, close quarters combat, even in a weapons bearing environment, is a necessary skill set. Check out this quote from someone who was actually there:

“After a bayonet attack in nine cases out of ten trench or open warfare the men grapple. The man who has never been there before doesn’t know what to do”

We Are Not Yoda

We are fortunate to be around at a time in history when great training and information in the self-defense and tactical communities is more accessible than it has ever been. With just a quick use of our Smartphone or tablet, we can be in touch with the best training in the world. It only takes a moment to find a video clip, find a research article, or schedule to attend a seminar with a top instructor.

And make no mistake; there is so much awesome information out there. However, I think there is one overriding pressing issue that is rarely addressed, and in my opinion, is a huge gap in many otherwise great training programs and methodologies. That issue is that too many instructors make a huge assumption that is full of fail.

What assumption? That we will know what is going to happen, and when it will happen.

There are far too many training scenarios and techniques that are set up with the underlying idea that you will be able to tell when the bad guy is going to attack. And, having started with that idea, methods are presented that REQUIRE that forewarning. Unfortunately, real life is not that way. As much as we would all like to pretend, we are not some omnipotent Jedi Master, that can use the Force to sense when bad stuff is heading our way. And, on top of that, the realities of modern life impose such a high amount of cognitive overload on a daily basis, that too much of our brain function is occupied with anything but being prepared to sense trouble.

It would be awesome if we could be in tune with the Force, or even that we could be 100% situationally aware at all times. But neither will happen.

So what do we do? The main thing is that we have to have a robust set of responses we can rely on when we are assaulted by surprise. And, then train them in a manner that makes it as tough as possible to succeed. We need to dig as deep a hole as possible in training so we can learn to get out of it. Do that enough and we will have installed some responses that you know will be accessible under the worst conditions, rather than stuff that will only work when everything goes our way.

Though if someone ever invents a functional lightsaber, all bets are off.

Competition vs Fighting? Is it that different?

A great number of people in the Self-Defense/Martial Arts/Tactical communities love to pontificate about the differences in competition and “real” fighting.  There are endless debates and articles on it. I just read a truly awful and wildly superficial one by a well known personality. Everyone always makes points about the differences and whether they matter or not. I want to address something that NO ONE has ever addressed.

The simple fact is this: ALL training, whether it be firearms, knife, H2H, self-defense oriented, or competitor oriented, are exactly the same in one critical area that I have yet to hear most reality based self-defense (RBSD) focused proponents deal with. That area? The simple and undisputable fact that every time a person trains, he KNOWS HE IS TRAINING! And therefore, the training has little to do with RBSD and in fact, is identical in preparation to a competitor!

You can be working eye gouges and pre-emptive strikes. It does not matter, because when doing so, you and your partners know it as well. There is an acceptance of what is happening. That is the exact same situation as preparing for competition. Trying to argue that there is something inherently different based solely on the physical techniques is ludicrous and has no bearing on reality.

Rather than using your intent or physical actions to differentiate yourself, you should be focusing on the actual performance under the same conditions in which you need to use the actions and intentions. That is how you get better.

And guess what? The jury is in. We have  an overwhelming amount of evidence as to what works for real, in the stress and chaos of battle. What works are the same things that work under the stress and chaos of high level competition. Those are the things we can rely on, not the unproven methodologies based on how we would like things to be. That is documented fact.

Rely on stuff you can work consistently in training against a resisting opponent, with opposing will, malevolent intent, and freedom of action.  Not fantasy.

Belt Promotion

You can’t be involved in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu for very long without hearing people talk about belts. Not belts to hold up pants, or belts as in what you use to hold the holster for your pistol, but belts as in the ranking system.

There are all kinds of topics involving the belt – anything from “does that guy deserve to be an x belt” to “what are the criteria for each belt level”. However, the single greatest amount of time when belts are discussed is spent on the eternal question “When will I get to the next belt”. This drives me insane and I genuinely get saddened whenever I hear that kind of talk.

On the one hand, I understand the tendency. We all like to have an external validation of what we are doing. That is exacerbated in a method like BJJ because the belt levels genuinely mean something. Unlike a lot of traditional and modern eclectic arts, the vast majority of people involved in BJJ agree on what a legitimate belt holder performs like, and is called upon to demonstrate that performance every time he or she gets on the mat. There is not much chance of hiding if someone promotes themselves, or buys his promotion. Anyone can order any color belt they want online, put it on, and put up pictures of themselves with the belt on Facebook. But at some point, they are going to meet up with a legitimate holder of that color rank (or higher) and will have to justify their promotion. So with that permanent credibility check comes a desire to be recognized as being in the same group. I get that.

However, spending any time thinking about it is a waste of time. Because it is based on demonstrated knowledge and performance, you will get the appropriate belt when you deserve it. Thinking and planning on it won’t really help. Here, out of the goodness of my heart, I will give you the secret to getting to black belt – TRAIN! Further, train consistently. If all you have time for is to train BJJ once a week, then train one day a week every single week! You will improve, and when you improve enough, your coach will signify that by giving you the next belt. It is a simple plan, but like the best plans, it works. It might not get you there as fast as you would like, but it will get you there, and you will deserve it when you arrive at your destination.

Perhaps I come from a different perspective, become my coach only promotes once a year, at the yearend Christmas party. No other time. So there is little to be gained by thinking about how to get the next belt. You can totally deserve the promotion in February, but it won’t matter because you are not going to get it until the next December, so forget about it and train. That has been a pretty successful way of going about it. It puts the premium on getting better, and nothing else. When you get better, you get promoted. Simple.

So please, when you step onto a BJJ mat, focus on getting better, not about the color wrapped around your waist.

Here is a clip with one man’s opinion:

And, while we are on the subject of belts, here is a good tutorial for tying the belt presented by my friend and ATT black belt and champion Muay Thai fighter Adam Kayoom (BTW, I prefer the first way he shows, but honestly do the third way most of the time because it is faster and easier):

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.