Edged Weapon Defence

Knife fighting as portrayed in the movies is a fallacy and one that will get you injured or killed if it is your idea of self defence against an edged weapon.  There are some basic rules when is comes to facing and surviving an edged weapon attack. 

Some Basic Rules About Edged Weapons

  1. Treat every attack as a knife attack.  Criminals will not necessarily want or let you know they have a knife.  This is one of the reasons why limb control and taking the initiative is so vitally important in a fight.  Even in combat with a single adversary, a third person may get involved and stab you.  Good self-defence is about escaping not fighting.
  2. If you are involved in an altercation involving a knife, you are going to bleed.  Accept that and make the decision now that you will continue fighting, even if you are bleeding.  In fact, make the decisions that you will continue fighting as long as there is air in your lungs.
  3. There are only two types of attacks with an edged weapon, slashes, and thrusts.  Slashes are far harder to deal with but thrust do far more damage as they penetrate deeper into vital organs.
  4. We have at some time in our life cut ourselves and experienced the pain of a cut.  Even a papercut can be incredibly painful.  This can create a larger psychological fear.  Even more then that of a gun.  Also, at the ranges we are talking about for self defence the knife is deadlier than a firearm.

Primary Uses Of A Knife

On the street a knife will be used for two primary reasons.  1. To intimidate, threaten or coerce.  Or 2. To cause damage.  And each require a different approach to defending yourself depending on the situation.

  1. To intimidate, threaten or coerce.  A criminal will present a knife to facilitate a crime more easily.  Easier for them.  Regardless of the crime being committed, robbery or rape as examples, the criminal’s hope is that by brandishing a blade it will encourage you to acquiesce to their request.  The fact that they are showing you the blade, suggests (at that moment of time) that they are not going to use it (this may change).  The blade has been presented to frighten you. 

How you deal with this situation, can only be made by you, in the heat of the moment, weighing up all the variables and it will be a decision you will need to live with.  There are too many variables to consider them all in this article.  However, you will be faced with two options, acquiesce or fight.  In any situation only you can decide what is the correct course of action.  By handling the goods over in a mugging or not fighting in the case of a rape attempt, there is no guarantee that the criminal will be true to their word and not escalate the crime.  A mugging can turn into an assault, or an assault can escalate into a rape.

Your 2nd option is to fight.  The one great advantage we have when defending against anyone with a weapon is the element of surprise! Now that surprised you, as it’s likely that you were not thinking that when facing a violent offender armed with a blade or club that we held the element of surprise – well we do. It’s all to do with the psychology of weapons.

Anyone armed with a weapon maintains certain expectations. We’re also told that the more powerful the weapon, the greater the expectation, specifically, that the person standing in front of them will be compliant and do as they are told. What they do not expect is to pull a knife, demand your wallet and find themselves on their back with their throat crushed.

Remember ACTION BEATS REACTION. Acceptance of this is the fundamental basis of all proactive defence. “who starts it wins it.”

Reaction times are not absolute. However, when a person’s reaction time is dulled in the mistaken belief that you will comply because of him being armed, the reality is you have all the time in the world to attack the attacker. There are certain absolutes with this concept and the predominant one is distance. Action won’t be guaranteed to beat reaction unless you are within touching distance. It may, but your opportunity to seize the initiative lessens with distance.

Sidenote:  Criminals are Masters of Economy, they want to commit the easiest crime.  They do not want a fight.  If you look like you will present a challenge, they will blindside you, usually hitting you with a tool.  Many criminals soon learn that scaring someone into handing over their belongs is an inefficient way to commit that crime.  Victims get scared and fail to comply or fail to comply quickly.  Hence some criminals learn it is easier/quicker to hit/stab first, take the goods, strike/stab again to cause damage and hide their escape.  This brings us to the 2nd primary use of an edged weapon.

  • To cause damage.  The blade is now used to cause damage.  Having committed the crime as outlined above the criminal then inflicts damage to aid their escape or for enjoyment. The blade may also be used as mentioned above in the sidenote.  Simply to expedite the crime.  Slashing or stabbing reduces resistance, induces shock, and limits witness identifications after the event. 

This blitz-attack should be defended against in the same manner as all self-defence situations with awareness and use of pre-incident indicators.  By correctly observing someone approaching you and passing you by, being alert, making eye contact, maintaining awareness of them, or even turning to face them as they pass you, are all steps that can limit the assault from happening.  More on how to defend against an attack later.

Another sidenote:  Many combative groups love talking and training for the “Shank Attack” or prison type attack, repeated aggressive stabs from behind.  And while I am not claiming that these attacks cannot happen, or even with the greatest self-protection system in place that we can find ourselves “in the wrong place at the wrong time.”  I feel there is an over-emphasis on this type of training, with correct self-defence procedures in place we do not need to be unduly concerned with these types of attacks.  Avoidance and awareness should limit the opportunities for this type of attack.  There is an element of “live by the sword, die by the sword”.  Most reasonable everyday people (and I include myself in that description 😊) who are not involved with the criminal world do not have enemies who want to kill them.  Criminals kill this way and its usually for business or personal reasons.

Different types of edged weapons

            Edged weapon defence does not always mean a knife.  A knife is a tool, and many other everyday tools can be used as a weapon.  Scissors, nail files, beer bottles, pint glasses, and garden shears are examples of everyday objects that can be used to slash or stab, even a set of keys held between the fingers may be used.  But the most common items you are used will be knives, screwdrivers, razor blades, and Stanley blades/carpet cutters.  The blade length does not have to be very long to cause a lot of damage.  Even an edged weapon of less than one inch blade length can inflict a lot of damage.  Likewise, not all edged weapon attacks happen on the street.  It is conceivable that weapons can be improvised in the home or a bar/nightclub scenario.  What will alter how we deal with these improvised weapons is more the range the weapon has rather than the angle of attack.

            This brings us to how traditional martial arts approach the topic of edged weapon defence.

Mistakes in traditional Martial Arts.

            There are many legitimate and different reasons that martial artists can train with knifes.  Many of which I shall cover here.   

However, either from ignorance or a genuine belief their systems knows best, much of what is taught is dangerous and ineffective.  Not preparing a student for a violent altercation is bad but teaching material that is blatantly wrong is worse because it could get them killed.

We know from the Martial Map, that not everything must fall into the category of effective on the street.  Some traditional martial arts have a history and a lineage of techniques handed down through the generation from the warrior techniques performed on the battlefield.  Many of these techniques were performed in armour or with edged weapons not in everyday use anymore, such as spear or swords. (Yes, I realise I could be attacked by someone with a sword in the 21st century, but the odds are so slim of that event happening, I am not going to spend decades training in the martial arts on it) This type of training falls under the historical or cultural aspect of the martial arts.  I have no issue with this type of training once it is explained as such and not as realistic knife defence.

When you look at the issue through the prism of historical/cultural viewpoint rather then a practical approach, much of the mistake perpetrated can not only be forgiven but also understood.  Here ends the lesson once it is not taught as realistic.  Convincing them what they are teaching is not realistic is a whole other issue.

Some of these issues are as follows.

  • Attacks from the wrong range.  Typical of the extended karate type attack. 
  • Wrong type of attacks.  Exaggerated slashes or downward/overhead strikes, single stabs or thrusts, with the arm fully extended. 
  • Attacks where the limb is left out or only a single strike is performed.
  • Attacks are cold and stale with no passion.  There needs to be a difference between practice and doing.
  • Attack training that starts with bowing.  And doesn’t simulate realistic situations.
  • Attacks where the knife is shown and in full view as the attacker slowly closes range.
  • Attacks that are defended with unrealistic techniques, such as x-blocks, where the attacker stands stationary waiting the counterattack, wrists-locks or disarms that are initiated before any impact had been delivered.

All training practices/drills have flaws.  Some of these examples may be a legitimate way to train, if and only if, the flaws are explained to the student and they understand how the drill may be part of a training matrix.

  • Distance means time.  Giving lower grade students a longer distance, gives them more time to learn a technique.  May be valid once they realise, they cannot rely on learnt techniques in a real situation.
  • Using a knife as a teaching tool.  Put a (fake) knife in your opponent’s hand can raise the stakes for the student meaning they change to a better mindset.  One they should be encouraged to keep after the lesson.
  • Training by stealth.  Practising a skill or attribute against an empty hand and then adding a knife, can allow a student more repetitions without realising they are practising the same thing.
  • Adds interest or entertainment value for a student.  Learning locks against a knife attack seems more “real” to lower students.
  • By learning (correctly) how to use a knife can give deeper understanding to how to defend against one.
  • Techniques may be a grading required.

The above 6 bullet points are examples why certain training methodologies may be used the way they are.  Many of those examples are only valid as martial arts training not self defence training.  And I would further argue only for lower graded students.

Concealment

One major area that traditional martial arts fall on is concealment.  As well as the above-mentioned errors, most traditional martial arts attack scenarios start with the knife in full view as the attacker slowly advances.  This may reflect a historical battlefield duelling situation, but it is not how a knife is used in modern society.  The modern criminal will not show you his blade and will not run at you from a great distance.  The blade will be hidden.  Generally, if you cannot see their palms you must assume, they have a knife.  (I make it easier; I just assume everyone has a knife).  Even if you can see their palms the knife may be concealed.  It can be up a sleeve, in their belt, in behind their neck and only the limits of imagination restrict where someone may be concealing a knife.  And I am not going to list all the conceivable places because they are all dealt with in the same way.  Impact plus

What do I mean By impact plus?  Impact plus cover the limb reaching for a weapon. 

Assuming all the pre-incident indicators have been met, you feel threatened, you may or may not be able see the hands.  A pre-emptive strike is the soundest tactical decision.  If the threat reaches for something, regardless of where, you need to explode into action, cover the limb that is reaching and deliver (hopefully) a finishing strike.  To do anything else exposes you to an edged weapon.  You cannot allow the threat to pull a weapon.  The hand must be stopped, and you must deliver impact to allow you to escape.  There are many ways this should be practiced that I will not cover here.  Remember that criminals use deception, bending down to tie their shoelaces may be hiding the fact that they are trying to withdraw a knife from their boot.

Core Principles of edges weapon defence

As mentioned previously the knife will be used for two primary reasons, intimidation, or damage, and the first may progress to the second.  Obviously, I am not going to recap all the principles of self-protection, but we are assuming that your awareness, avoidance, and de-escalation skills have failed you and you are now employing the fence or have a blade pressed against you. (this was covered earlier)

If you are employing the fence with no knife in view (assume there is one) the usual rules of de-escalation or pre-emption apply, with one caveat, if it looks like they are reaching for something, you must act, immediately. 

If you have distance between yourself and a knife, what are you still doing there. RUN and run fast.  This is not a movie folks.  If you see somebody carrying an edged weapon from a distance, get out of there.

You read a lot about getting or using an equaliser.  Using something to defend yourself from a knife.  I don’t agree with this model as it does not consider realistic scenarios.  Unless you have the tool in your hand and have trained to use that tool defensively you will not use it under stress.  You will not roll your magazine up to hit with, use your briefcase/clipboard/chair as a shield or hit them with an umbrella.  As for picking up a chair to hold him off like a lion tamer, if you have time to get a chair you have time to escape.

If that distance is less or around 1 meter, forward is the only way to go.  Of course, escape is the first option if a knife enters the proceedings, but unless you have a ten-foot gap as a head start, turning your back is not a good idea.  Your attacker can move forward faster than you can move backwards.  So forward is your best option.  Close, control and strike.

Remember action beats reaction. 

If they are using the knife against you, you have several options. 

  • Move inside the strike while striking yourself.
  • Parry the strike while striking yourself.
  • Impact (block) the strike while striking yourself.

All these options can be summed up at pat and attack.  The most important part of defending against an edged weapon is to get control of the limb and to shut the computer down.  This is done by deflecting the blade, (martial artists use terms such as blocking, parrying, or entering) and an endless barrage of blows with the first blow using the maximum force possible, to stun, knockout or discombobulate our attacker.  When, I say control the limb I do not mean grab the wrist.  This you will not be able to do and is bad tactically for many reasons, least of all your attacker can switch the blade to his other hand.  However, maintaining a sensitive pressure against the limb will enable you to feel your opponent’s energy and redirect the blade away from your body all the time delivering devastating blows.  This initial deflecting action must be done as a heavy slap.

 Here the Filipino strategy of ‘Defanging the snake’ may come into play.  If you cannot head, hit the limb holding the blade.  The aim here is to destroy the limb, which may result in them dropping the knife.  However, once you have hit the limb the priority should be to clear the limb to attack the head.

Disarms and locking even throws may be taught as advanced skills.  But like all self-protection they should be considered gifts presented by your opponent, fit your strategy, can you escape while holding a lock?  And should be redundant if your initial strike knocks your opponent out.  There are 3 principles of throwing someone, karate invented a fourth, shut the brain down and there is nothing to hold the body up. 😊

This article will not try and teach blade defences but here are some final points in relation to the body mechanics.

When facing a bladed weapon keep your limbs close to your body to protect vital organs and turn your palms towards you.  When defending against the blade you want your inner forearms protected.  Here is where your veins and arteries are and the ligaments controlling the hand, specifically closing the hand.  If you get defensive cuts you want them on the back of your forearms, firstly this area bleeds less then the inside of the arm, secondly there are no arteries close to the surface, and thirdly if the slash is deep enough to severe ligaments, it means you will not be able to open your hand.  The result of this you will not be able to grab, but your fist will still function as a club for impact.

This hand position with the palms on your head can be used for crashing in and closing distance.  Ideally combined with striking with the elbows.

If thrusted at, pull your stomach in and round your back to create more space. 

In relation to violent thrusts to the stomach.  One hand blocks the strike while your second arm takes the power out of the strike by striking the shoulder.  This needs to be practiced.  At a higher skill set the shoulder strike may be directed at the head/neck instead.

Why Martial Arts Fail To Teach Good Self Defence

            Firstly, a clarification on terminology.  I recognise that the majority of the general public, happily and ignorantly use the phrase Self-Defence.  For reasons that will become apparent later, I do not like to use this phrase.  I prefer the phrase Personal Protection. 

Firstly, the word defence implies that we must wait for our attacker to initiate an attack before we act.  And as you shall see this is clearly untrue. 

Secondly, use of the word self, implies only the defence of ourselves, and again this could be untrue as we may have to protect our loved ones or come to the aid of a 3rd party.  Personal protection implies the protection of the person without the specific limitation to the ‘self’, the person referred to could be us or another person.  Hence it is more general than self-defence.

Therefore, Self-Defence is a misleading term.  I will use the term personal protection instead.  Protection is defined as ‘being provided to physical objects, organisms, to systems, and to intangible things like civil and political rights.  Systems is a key word there, because good personal protection is about putting a system in place to insure you that any confrontation is a matter of last resort.

A word on martial arts.  I have studied Martial Arts for over 35 years.  I adore the martial arts and I would not be the man I am today without the journey to understand myself and my art of Karate.  However, the term Martial Arts is quite a large global umbrella term that can cover broad spectrum of topics and skills.  It can mean different things to different people, Fitness, Fighting, Culture, Self-Defence, Personal Development, or Sport.

This is the beauty of the Martial Arts it can be whatever you want/need it to be.  I came across Sensei Iain Abernethy’s ‘The Martial Map’ several years ago and it clarified this subject more clearly than any other explanation.  It drastically improved me as a teacher.  The martial maps divides the martial arts into 3 distinct areas, each with their own training goals, methodologies, and mindsets. 

1) Martial art, historical and cultural –

2) Self-protection – non-consensual violence

3) Fighting/Sport – consensual violence

Exclusively training in only one area is acceptable as is training anything simply because it is fun.  It gives clear understanding that each area may be a study in of itself, and also shows where key skills, attributes and mindsets may cross over, be mutually beneficial, and in some cases dangerously opposed.

  1. martial art training for self-improvement, fitness, mental training/abilities, stress relief, martial skill, strength, flexibility, self-confidence, self-esteem, historical or cultural reasons and good old simple fun.
  2. 3) self – protection firstly to instigate practices and procedures to increase situational awareness and threat awareness to insure you are not a victim of non-consensual violence and secondly training to be able to deal with the physical and mental effects of that violence and the legal/mental/physical aftermath.
  3. fighting / sport for competition of consensual violence between two consenting martial artists with agreed upon rules.  Training timing, distancing, speed, strategy, fitness, flexibility, strength, self-esteem, and good old fun.

With this map in mind in can give all martial artists, students or teachers, a clearer insight to what, how and why they train. 

Put any drill, skill, or training video online and within seconds someone will claim that ‘wouldn’t work on the street’.  Martial artists have a particular habit of not seeing something as a drill or misunderstanding it and referring to its effectiveness to how it works on the street. 

For example, a boxer posts a training video of how to improve your skipping or make it more enjoyable.  Other boxers do not immediately comment that he is an idiot because you would not fight in the ring in that manner.  Bouncing with your feet close together and your arms spread wide at hip level.  Neither does the poster of the video have to explain that skipping is a drill to improve cardiovascular fitness and muscular strength in the shoulders, not a fighting technique.

Understanding the martial map allows us to appreciate the arts within their own context, without always referencing personal protection.  Tai Chi in the park in the morning for mental health and physical fitness, or Aikido for personal development, martial skill or cultural understanding, MMA or Kickboxing for fitness and sport.  All these simple examples may be studied for years for their own merits without having to misrepresent them as personal protection training.

The reason Martial Arts fail to teach personal protection correctly is much of what constitutes personal protection falls outside the purview of any particular martial arts.  Irrespective of whether you think your Martial Art is perfect for the street or not, most Martial Arts only deal with the fighting aspect of personal protection.  And in some cases, the student is actually learning only how to fight with another person from the same style, something which can be fun but very different from a non-consensual altercation on the street.

Consensual violence/sparring/kumite can be fun and doing it as part of your martial art is justification enough.  But the skills your style of sparring develop has no or extremely little cross over to the skills of personal protection.  For example, going to the ground in BJJ or MMA may be tactically good in the sporting context, but is never the place we should choose to be on the street.  And the mindset is different too.  If for no other reason than when sparring, if in I dominated my opponent 100% into submission, every time, all the time, it would cease to be fun, we want a back-and-forth contest.  However, with personal protection, regardless of whether it is in pre-emption or after being attacked, we need to cease the initiative and dominate our attacker until we can safely escape.

Non-consensual violence accounts for about 10% of any personal protection system.  The bulk of a good personal protection system must consist of awareness, avoidance, de-escalation, and escape skills.  Much of which is only paid lip service, with token lines, such as, “run away if you can.”  Breaking away or escape skills need to be taught and trained.  Lip service is also paid to avoidance and awareness.  Avoid what?  Be aware of what?  Here again danger signs and warning signs need to be understood to help a student manage a real situation.  And unconscious skills like ‘commentary walking’ and ‘people watching’ need to be practiced to develop awareness skills. 

Other skills that need to be trained include understanding pre-emption strikes, the fence and the legal ramifications.  Legal issue in particular, generally falls outside your traditional martial arts class.  One of the worst statements you are likely to hear is, “It is better to be judged by 12 than carried by 6”.  This wrongly implies that it is not possible to legally defend yourself.  Defending yourself, including pre-emption strikes, is legal under Irish law is covered in the Non-Fatal Offences against the Person Act 1997.

Another failing of many martial arts is the type of attack scenarios that they train.  This can amount to little more than martial arts in jeans, where unwitting instructors, highly skilled in their art, teach attacks that showcase the best of their and the arts abilities.  Karate lunge punches from outside touching distance and the attacker leaving the attacking limb extended or totally freezing.  The fact that these drills are pre-arranged and with a consenting partner attacking from the wrong range limits their effectiveness.  And may lack a certain level of pressure testing. 

This pressure testing also applies to the techniques taught, constant drilling in line, punching the air does not give the student effective feedback on the technique.  Restrictive punching and uncomfortable ranges and positions should all be practiced on some form of impact training device. 

Also, the type of techniques taught can be ineffective.  So called “dirty fighting” techniques get their name from being banned in sporting competitions.  Many of these “infighting” techniques work perfectly adequately in personal protection and should not be labelled dirty or illegal.

What is personal protection and how is it different to martial arts?

Personal protection is an open system. In a closed system there are known factors and there are right and wrong answers based on these factors. In an open system there are many ways to be right and wrong.  Martial arts are a closed system.  The difference between personal protection training and martial arts training is that personal protection teaches students what they need to know, and martial arts teaches subject matter.  By their very nature Martial Arts styles have a syllabus which teaches the philosophy, techniques, skills, and attributes that those learning the style must learn. 

Here are 2 simple examples.

  1. Personal protection teaches power generation principles, martial arts teach multiple different strikes or techniques.
  2. Personal protection will teach a 20stone man differently than an 8 stone female, martial arts teach everybody the same syllabus. The reason for this is a 20 stone man doesn’t need to worry about being dragged into the back of a van and raped, an 8 stone female will not need advice with how to deal with a monkey dance.  A male is more likely to be attacked outside the home, a woman more likely in a home and by someone she knows.  Different realistic attack scenarios require different response.

Personal protection training must give each student the tools and freedom to solve their problems in their own way.  Techniques that suit the individuals physical and mental makeup.

To understand and defend yourself correctly on the street these days, you must understand the difference between social and asocial violence, and the tactics that must be used to deal with each.  The tactics used to avoid/de-escalate social violence could increase your risks with asocial violence.

Social violence = the monkey dance, the interview, sparring/duelling, sorting it outside, have a knockabout. Social violence is violence used for social status, dominance or to teach a lesson. Examples “Dave’s mad, he took on that huge bouncer last Friday”, or how dare he do that, “I’ll teach him.”

All predatory animals have social violence or some sort of play fighting. Think dogs, foxes, lions, or tigers wrestling and playing. This is how they learn to fight, hunt and display dominance. It is never lethal.  Humans social violence is designed not to be lethal and when it is it is usually from falling and banging their head. With social violence it is for dominance/status or to teach a lesson, i.e., punching someone to teach them to show you respect. The mindset for this must be justified. You will subconsciously be hitting to communicate, not to eliminate.  This could include martial arts sparring

Asocial violence = the group monkey dance, violent crime, a predator. If you go to kill an insect do you need to get worked up or get angry? Do you need to convince yourself that this is a bad insect? Do you need to justify it like its justice? Do you give the insect a chance and fight or just kill it? This is asocial violence. This can be lethal. Experienced violent criminals have gotten past this and treat people like animals, which gives them a huge advantage. Most people defending themselves cannot. Unless you train to flip the switch.  Sometimes you practice a technique, but it is important also to do it with a more realistic mindset.

The things that can prevent or de-escalate social violence can invite asocial violence and vice versa.  In a predatory approach you must be able to distinguish between a crime motivated by cash (resource predator) from one motivated by cruelty (process predator).  And in this scenario the criminal (asocial) wants you responding to them with a social mindset. 

Bad guys don’t fight, they’re not in this to lose. They use surprise or blitz attacks. Martial arts work well in social violence where you have time and choices.  Asocial violence comes as a surprise and you will be surprised, don’t kid yourself that you won’t, especially if you’re awareness skills have failed you.  As the Japanese saying goes, “Even monkeys fall out of trees.”  We should be training for when things go wrong, having a default position to aid recovery when we do not know what to do.  So, when taken by surprise and we do not know what to do, we have a technique to fall back on.

Personal protection is not a physical skill it’s an emotional skill, it is all about how fast you can recover when injured or surprised. What to do is almost never the problem. Acting, or beating the freeze is the issue.  And this takes a change in training, teaching and methodologies that are used.

Traditional martial arts are “ancient” codified forms of warfare or civilian protection.  Some of the techniques were employed on the battlefield using weapons that have now been replaced, spears and swords for example.   Or were designed for personal protection in the days where there were no streetlights, police forces or laws governing self-defence.  The modern form of criminal assault has also changed and the types of attacks they use.  With that in mind, many of the traditional martial arts and not equipped to deal with modern society crimes and laws.  The skills needed to quick draw a sword from a scabbard and slice a bandit or ninja 😊 are vastly different from those skills needed to avoid a fight with a drunk outside a takeaway or deal with 3 guys circling you on a darkened street.  If violence has changed then so too do the martial arts claiming to teach us how to protect ourselves from that violence.

For martial artists to improve the teaching of personal protection within their classes they would need to incorporate the following.

  1. Understand the way in which criminals work?  And train to use their skills against them.  The criminal will generally use the 4 D’s, Dialogue, Deception, Distraction, and Destruction to facilitate their assault.  We can use them same techniques back on them, which they are not expecting.  Dialogue to de-escalate, or deception to play submissive in the fence to draw them in.  Asking opening ended questions to distract their attention to facilitate our pre-emptive strike, destruction to break their will/posture/mental state to insure our escape.
  2. Legal overview of what is legal and illegal, the ability to explain/justify the use of force, modify training to reflect the law of the state, example kicking a downed attacker in the legs rather than the head.
  3. Grappling skills both standing and on the ground.  With the goal to be competent at all ranges not a master at all
  4. Breakaways and escape skills against singular and multiple opponents
  5. Verbal de-escalation skills and some tolerance training for verbal abuse
  6. The fence and what to do when it goes wrong, this can also include other techniques like the modified columbo and the head scratcher, so students can select the one they feel comfortable with and train it
  7. Techniques for when we are surprised or taking damage such as Dracula’s cape, or entry techniques such as the opening moves of Kushanku or Naihanchi
  8.  Understanding the training matrix, the flaws inherent in every drill and how to cross train correctly to compensate
  9. Gifts in a fight such as trapping and locking, and how does locking incorporate into your goal of escape?
  10. Impact drill including restrictive punching/positions and punching whilst in motion
  11. 3rd part perception.  What you say?  Kiai’s may make you look like a madman and the possible aggressor.  How you retreat?  “I’m gonna fuck you up!” or “stay away!! I don’t know you.  I don’t want any trouble.  Leave me alone.” And what message is your body language sending as you retreat?
  12. Conditioning or fitness training.  Having a good cardiovascular base is good, but the ability to fight anaerobically is vital. 
  13. Training against multiple attackers, in escape drills, use of the fence, pre-emption skills where the student is taught the roles attackers will assume, the mouth, snipers and the pack.
  14. Training to protect others against single attackers and multiple attackers.
  15. Training against weapons both blunt and edged weapons
  16. The use of the environment and improvised weapons
  17. Ground fighting and different ranges.  Insure we are not beginners at any level.  Judoka should be able to impact, Karate able to ground fight and regain their feet.

Adding all this into your training will make your art more practical and allow students to have a comprehensive understanding of all the parameters of personal protection/self-defence.  This type of training can be added onto a practical syllabus or taught in the form of top up specialised seminars on topics such as self-defence and the law etc.

With the proliferation of martial arts and styles and instructors teaching gospel what they learnt from their instructors and not knowing any different, there are generations of students who believe what they do is real, and they are prepared for the street.  Therefore, I firmly believe in the martial map theory and why many martial artists are not qualified to teach self-defence.

Self Defence & The Law

The “Essence of Self Defence is a thin list of things that might get you out alive when you are already screwed.”  SGT Rory Miller.

Self Defence is a big topic covering areas such as domestic violence to hostage taking, not just an assaults on the street.  It is impossible to train for every scenario.  But correct physical and mental training through Karate can help you be ready mentally and physically.

All Self Defence should be based on avoidance.  Good awareness, posture, confidence, and common sense should keep you out of trouble.  Never delegate your safety to someone else.  And never ignore what your eyes see.  You are an expert on human behaviour, trust your gut.  Awareness, avoidance, escape, and verbal de-escalation are the bedrock of good personal protection.  Good personal protection is more about mental preparedness then physical skill. 

Rule for life, you don’t get to pick what kinds of bad things will happen to you. 

Self-defence is never a choice.  And It is an emotional skill not a physical one.  If you are a victim of a violent assault it will be a surprise.  And don’t kid yourself that you will not be surprised.  You will always be surprised.  If you’re not surprised, then you had some warning and could/should have taken measures to escape or avoid the situation.  Real self-defence is about recovering from the shock and surprise, whether that is a punch to the back of the head or a hand wrapping around your mouth.  If your awareness is good, all confrontations should be in front of you.

If you put yourself in harm’s way and are the victim of a surprise assault.  You are a rabbit to the wolf.  The attacker is in predator mindset.  They have planned, trained, and rehearsed for this encounter.  They know what they are doing with cold logic.  They have a goal to rob or rape for example.  The attacker is ready for the fight and you are inconsequential.  The shock of an attack can cause you to freeze, wondering what’s happening and why.  Reasons or excuses are irrelevant when you are fighting for your life.

The predator is looking for weak, distracted, & passive victim.  Practicing good awareness on the street is vital.  Be alert to your surroundings and those around you.  Look for places where attackers could hide.   Display confidence in your body language.  Avoidance is far better than fighting and know that if you do fight, you will fight far less effectively then how you trained. 

To understand and defend yourself correctly on the street you must understand the difference between social and asocial violence, and the tactics that must be used to deal with each.  The tactics used to avoid/de-escalate social violence could increase your risks with asocial violence.

Social violence = the monkey dance, the interview, sparring/duelling, sorting it outside, have a knockabout. Social violence is violence used for social status, dominance or to teach a lesson. Examples Dave’s mad he took on that huge bouncer last Friday, or how dare he do that, I’ll teach him.

All predatory animals have social violence or some sort of play fighting. Think dogs, foxes, lions, or tigers wrestling and playing. This is how they learn to fight, hunt and display dominance. It is never lethal.  Humans social violence is designed not to be lethal and when it is it is usually from falling and banging their head. With social violence it is for dominance/status or to teach a lesson, i.e. punching someone to teach them to show you respect. The mindset for this must be justified. You will subconsciously be hitting to communicate, not to eliminate,

Asocial violence = the group monkey dance, violent crime, a predator. If you go to kill an insect do you need to get worked up or get angry? Do you need to convince yourself that this is a bad insect? Do you need to justify it like its justice? Do you give the insect a chance and fight or just kill it? This is asocial violence. This can be lethal. Experienced violent criminals have gotten past this and treat people like animals, which gives them a huge advantage. Most people defending themselves cannot. Unless you train to flip the switch. 

The things that can prevent or de-escalate social violence can invite asocial violence and vice versa. In a predatory approach you must be able to distinguish between a crime motivated by cash (resource predator) from one motivated by cruelty (process predator).

Bad guys don’t fight, they’re not in this to lose. They use surprise or blitz attacks. Martial arts work well in social violence where you have time and choices. Asocial violence comes as a surprise and you will be surprised, don’t kid yourself that you won’t be surprised.

Self-defence is not a physical skill it’s an emotional skill, it is all about how fast you can recover when injured or surprised. What to do is almost never the problem. Acting, or beating the freeze is the issue.

And remember there are always two fights to survive.  The first initial violent confrontation and the second legal court case, sometimes years later.

The Irish law on assault and self-defence is covered in the Non-Fatal Offences against the Person Act 1997. The offences that may be committed against a person vary in degree from a threat to do injury to the actual infliction of violence resulting in bodily injury. This legislation outlines what actually constitutes an assault and the levels of severity. It also outlines the position where an assault may be justified by self-defence.

A person commits an assault if he, without lawful excuse, intentionally or recklessly
(1) directly or indirectly applies force or causes an impact on the body of another or (2) causes another to believe on reasonable grounds that they are likely immediately to be subjected to such force or impact (Section 2 NFOAP Act 1997). It is interesting to note that force is not limited to striking a person, but also includes applying heat, light, noise, electricity or other forms of energy in solid, liquid or gaseous form.

There are three levels of seriousness of assault. They are simple or common assault (Section 2), assault causing harm (Section 3) and assault causing serious harm (Section 4). The punishments increase as the seriousness of the assault rises. The level of assault is, counter intuitively, determined by the nature of the injuries caused by the assault and not the actions of the assault itself. A simple punch could end up in a more serious category than a simple assault based on the injuries sustained.

An assault, of any nature, may be justified if the person is protecting themselves or a member of their family from injury, assault or detention caused by a criminal act based on all the circumstances surrounding the incident (Section 18).

A number of other scenarios may also be justified, but the one mentioned above is what is commonly referred to as the self-defence justification. This defence is what is called an affirmative defence. This means that if a person charged with an assault and claiming self-defence must raise and support the claim with evidence. It is then up to the prosecution to disprove the defence beyond a reasonable doubt. In reality, the judge or jury will decide if the self-defence claim is valid.

In layman’s terms this means that an assault is striking a person or making them believe that they are going to be struck. A person is entitled to defend themselves if they are physically attacked or they reasonably believe that they are going to be attacked immediately. The person’s defence must be reasonable and proportionate to the level of aggression shown by the attacked and cannot descend into revenge if the upper hand is gained by the defender.

As mentioned above, Self-defence is an affirmative defence, what this mean is that you are admitting to an action that is a crime and arguing that you should not be punished because it was justifiable under the circumstances. This shifts the burden of proof to you.  The prosecution does not need to prove you committed a crime.  You did this by claiming self-defence.  You must prove that you had no choice but to react the way you did. 

Knowing the law and understanding the legal jargon can be difficult, even reading the law can be difficult.  Therefore, we must understand and teach the I.M.O.P. Principle.  This principle has the benefit of being useful and are also easy to remember on the streets.  If you meet these four criteria, Intent. Means. Opportunity. Preclusion, before taking action, you will have a good case for claiming self-defence.  If one or more are missing you may be on shaky legal ground.  Knowing these elements are in place may not be enough to prevail in court.  We must be able to explain how we personally knew that each element was present in a way that the jury will believe. 

Let’s take a close look at what the I.M.O.P principle is. 

Intent

You must be able to show the threat wanted to do you harm and tell how you knew.  Someone screaming “I’m going to kill you” is fairly clear especially if their body language backs this up.  If they make a fist and draw their arm back you can make a case they where about to hit you.

Intent is critical in claiming self-defence.  People have the chance to kill you every day.  A waiter bringing a steak knife in a restaurant has a deadly weapon and is within range, but we do not leap into action. To be a legitimate threat, the person must have intent and you must be able to explain how you knew that.

Means

With all the intent in the world, will not matter if the threat couldn’t hurt you.  Most people have some means – fists, boots or size or they may have a weapon or say they have a weapon.  A 2-year-old throwing a temper tantrum may have a lot of intent but lack the means to do anything severe.  Claiming you feared for your life will not be enough if you cannot prove why you where afraid.  Somebody wearing a bikini and shouting they are going to shoot you clearly does not have the means if they have no gun in their hand.

Opportunity

Intent and means matter little if the threat cannot reach you.  Someone shouting they are going to kill you outside your house cannot get to you.  If you leave your house to confront them, you cannot claim self-defence. 

Situations in reality are subject to change, often quite rapidly, and it is important that we can articulate how those changes affect the threats intent, means or opportunity.  Intent, means, or opportunity are the desire, the ability, and the access to hurt you.  You must be able to show all three to justify using force in self-defence.  Even if all three do exist there is still one more requirement that needs to be satisfied.

Preclusion

You must be able to show you tried all other alternatives before resorting to force.  Awareness, avoidance, escape, and de-escalation are all viable options before wading in with your fists. 

You cannot claim self-defence if a threat screams, “fuck off or I’ll hit you!”, and you did not leave.  The threat clearly gave you away to avoid a fight, ‘fuck off’ and clearly outlines what would happen if you did not, ‘I’ll hit you’.  It is not self-defence if your ego would not allow you to leave.  To quote the ageing reference of Mr Miyagi, “The best way to block a punch is not to be there”.  Don’t let your ego draw you into something.

However pre-emptive strikes are legal and covered under law.  Just be sure you can articulate why you felt the need to strike first.  From a 3rd part perspective, they witness will claim you struck first and started the fight.  Pre-emption is legal but do you have and train the skills needed to articulate that case?  We will come back to third part perception later.

Preclusion includes questions such as could you have left?  Could you have run?  Did your actions contribute to the situation getting out of hand?  Knowing the law should help you make good decisions, but fear of the law should never stop you defending yourself if your life is in danger.

Consensual violence, the Monkey Dance/The Interview (scripted social violence encounters that are designed to be non-lethal), Street fighting (whatever that is), all fall outside the purview of Self-defence.  Do not let your ego force you into a situation where violence become inevitable.  And you may not succeed on a claim of self-defence.

Attacks in your home (the Irish perspective)

What are your rights?

The Criminal Law (Defence and the Dwelling) Bill 2011 allows a homeowner, tenant, or visitor in a dwelling to defend themselves with reasonable force and specifically states there is no requirement for the person to retreat.

The Bill also states that reasonable force does not preclude any justifiable action taken in self-defence that later results in the death of an attacking intruder. This Bill therefore gives recognition to the unique circumstances which prevail when an intruder enters a property that is normally occupied for the purposes of a domicile. Concerns over liability for damages, an occupier using justifiable force against an intruder won’t be liable for damages if the attacker subsequently sues in respect of any injury, loss or damage arising from such force.

The issue of whether a person could use lethal force in defending his or her home arose in the case of Co Mayo farmer Pádraig Nally, of Funshinaugh Cross, Claremorris, Co Mayo, who shot dead John “Frog” Ward in October 2004 in controversial circumstances. Mr Nally claimed Mr Ward had come to his farm to rob him, and that he had shot him in self-defence.

He was jailed for six years for manslaughter. He served 11 months of that term before the case was taken to the Court of Criminal Appeal, where he was acquitted after it was accepted, he had acted in self-defence.

The case prompted a major public debate about what level of force is reasonable in situations where people act to defend themselves from robbery or attack and the led to the The Criminal Law (Defence and the Dwelling) Bill 2011 being put in place to address this issue clearly.

A court has recently upheld the right of a person to use reasonable force to defend themselves against a home intruder.

In a landmark decision in 2018, a Central Criminal Court jury acquitted Martin Keenan (20) of the murder of an unarmed man he stabbed to death with a part from garden shears after finding him in his bedroom.

It is the first time a murder charge has been defended using the Criminal Law (Defence and the Dwelling) Act 2011, which removed an obligation on householders to retreat, and allows for the use of reasonable force against intruders.

Mr Keenan said he was frightened to find “two junkies” in his bedroom and hit Wesley Mooney (33) with half a pair of garden shears after he came running at him.

The defence relied on the act and a Court of Criminal Appeal judgment, which stated burglary was an act of aggression.  My question is why did he have part of a shears in his bedroom?

The following article from Irish Independent December 6th 2006, gives a very interesting insight into the Nally case mentioned above and the use of reasonable force or extreme lack of in my opinion.

Outlining the general facts of the case for the prosecution, senior counsel Paul O’Higgins said the incident had occurred after Nally heard a car revving outside his house.

When he went outside to investigate, he found Tom Ward, a member of the Travelling community, and he asked “words to the effect of ‘Where was the other fellow?’ believing Tom Ward was not likely to be on his own.”

Mr Ward said another man – his father John Ward (42) – was round the back “having a look”. At this point, Mr O’Higgins said, “Nally said words to the effect that ‘He would not be coming out again'”.

He said jury members would hear of the suspicion of the farmer that Ward was “up to no good” and was there to commit burglary or steal from some part of the farmyard. Padraig Nally got a shotgun from a shed and went to his back door, where he found John Ward. He shot at him from a distance of four or five yards and inflicted a wound on his right hand and hip.

It was not fatal.

The two men then got involved in a struggle, before Nally started to hit the other man with a stick. “He then beat John Ward black and blue,” Mr O’Higgins said.

He said there were eight full lacerations to Ward’s skull, exposing the underlying bone. He said there were more than 25 bruises to his body and his nose was broken.

There was also a break to his left forearm, suggestive of a defensive-type injury.

Mr O’Higgins said Nally had described the beating as “like hitting a badger or a stone. You could hit him but you could not kill him”.

There would be evidence that Nally had heard Tom Ward drive away, he added.

John Ward was lying in a bed of nettles and had begun to attempt to stumble out of the yard when Nally went back into his shed, got the shotgun and three more cartridges.

By this time, John Ward was either out on the roadway or stumbling or limping towards it and had turned right onto the road when Nally followed him and shot him again.

The second shot went through his left arm, back out and through the left-hand side of his chest into his lungs, “killing him almost immediately”.

Mr O’Higgins said Nally then took Ward’s body and “heaved it over some wall” before driving to a neighbour’s house, where the gardai were called.

Mr O’Higgins said it was the prosecution’s case “that the killing in these circumstances was not and could not be a lawful killing”.

“There is not a death penalty, so to speak, for burglary in this country,” he added.

It is interesting to note that Mr Nally was originally sentenced, served 11 months before winning an appeal that he acted in Self-defence.  Heading to a shed to get a gun, reloading and shooting somebody from behind as they are limping away does not constitute self-defence in my book.  Irish law begs to differ.

This brings up the issue of Reasonable Force (or lack of)

Exceeding a reasonable level of force may well turn a victim into a perpetrator in the eyes of a court.  As mentioned earlier, justifiable self-defence is a victim’s defence to a criminal charge, then a reasonable person would only use reasonable force.  Using a higher level of force infers intent to needlessly harm the other or seek revenge.  This allows the perpetrator turned victim to use your defensive actions against you.  Even if you win a criminal case you may still lose in civil court.  Remember your affirmative defence was to admit what you did in the proceeding criminal case. 

The level of force we use must be considered within the context of 3rd part perceptions.  Unreasonable excessive force, biting, eye gouging, stamp or kicking a head of a downed attacker, screaming (kiai) may all play poorly in court when described by the little old lady who witnessed the event while standing at the bus stop across the road.  But who’s attention was only drawn after the altercation had begun.

Disparity of Force

This in some jurisdictions there is a legal expectation of a fair fight.  As a side note, John Steinbeck said, “if you find yourself in a fair fight, your tactics suck.”  But legally, in some places, the law clearly states equal force must be exactly equal.  Regardless of what the law states a person cannot respond to an assault of slight degree with deadly force.  If they attack you with a feather, you cannot respond with a bazooka.  In practice, however, you will want to respond with a degree of force sufficiently, but not greatly, superior.

Proportional Force

There are two advantages to proportional force. 1 It places the defender in a more secure tactical position, and 2 is discourages the assailant from continuing to attack and escalating the levels of force.

You often hear the phrase, “It’s better to be judged by 12 then carried by 6.”  While this is correct.  It is also misleading and wrong and should never be uttered by anyone claiming to teach realistic self-defence.  It implies, incorrectly, that it is not possible to act in self-defence and remain within the law. 

As martial artist, if we train correctly and develop the correct habits, that will kick in unconsciously, we can defend ourselves and remain within the law.  Stamping on legs, to incapacitate your attacker, to facilitate your escape, is legally a better option then stamping on their head or body, as many traditional martial arts may teach. 

There were no laws or civil courts back when those martial arts where developed.  And stamping an attacker’s head may have been the correct option in those bygone days.  Good luck trying to proof that in this day and age.  But remember every case is different, my 13-year-old daughter may be quite justified in kicking her attacker in the head and escaping.  Me as a 6th dan may have my actions viewed very differently two years later in a court of law, with a criminal who lies.

I must say here for legal reasons, if you are attacked and forced to defend yourself, your first action after you have escaped are to call an ambulance for the attacker and to report that you have been assaulted to the police. Remember, you are the victim. The police will investigate all the circumstances of the incident.

There was a case in America in the early 1990’s, the Judge’s summation terrified so much it is embedded in my brain forever.  A professional criminal, a mugger, ran out of an aisleway and attacked a passerby.  The victim, many years previously, had trained in Taekwondo and in the course of the altercation, managed to score a lucky shot and knock out his attacker.  Who fell unconsciously to the concrete and banged his head.  The attacker died.

The victim was taken to court and convicted of manslaughter.  In the Judges summation he said. “up until and including the moment you hit him you were acting in self-defence.  But by not rendering fist aid (on his attacker) he was guilty of manslaughter.”

Now if that does not terrify you, I suggest you read it again.  The alternative versions of those events is having knocked out his attacker and bending over to render first aid.  He is stabbed in the back by his attacker’s accomplice.  Remember every d**khead has a friend.  Do not hang around the scene of an attack unless it is safe to do so.  Escape is the goal, and you must insure you are safe before your thoughts turn to looking after the health of your attacker.

All in all avoidance is your best policy.

Please note that above is an interpretation of the available legislation and practice. If in doubt advice should be sought from a reputable criminal law solicitor.

Handling Fear & The Chemical Response

            Fear, what is it good for?  To misquote Frankie goes to Hollywood.  Well, quite a lot.  It can be thrilling.  Make us feel alive?  Keep us alive? Get us killed.  Oh wait, that’s the bad one.  And that is the problem with the perception of fear, it gets a lot of bad press.  But without fear “man would have survived in the world only four minutes, not the four million years we have supposedly walked the earth”, to quote Peter Consterdine.

            Before I continue, I must stress that whole books have been written on this subject and will cover the topic in far more depth than I intended to in this article.  (A selected list of recommended books will be at the end).  Obviously, we are looking at fear in respects to personal protection.  What fear is, what happens within the human body and what we can do to mitigate its effects. 

Before we get to that, I want to mention, the two rules that Gavin De Becker puts forward in his excellent book, The Gift of Fear.  In it he states:

            “There are two rules about fear that, if you accept them, can improve your use of it, reduce it frequency, and literally transform your experience of life…

Rule 1.  The very fact that you fear something is solid evidence that it is not happening.

Rule2.  What you fear is rarely what you think you fear – it is what you link to fear.”

That’s fear in the large, take chances in life kind of way.  Not the dry mouth, sweaty palms, feel the need to relieve yourself, when faced with some scumbag spiting and shouting in your face.  Fear keeps us out of situations and consequences that would cause us harm.  Fear is what made our ancestors run when a sabre-toothed tiger jumped out in front of them.  We come from a long line of survivors.  There are no future generations from the humans, when faced with that sabre-toothed tiger, went “Oh what a pretty putty cat”.  Our ancestors were already running away, knowing they didn’t have to out-run the tiger just the schmuch who stood still a fraction of a second too long admiring it.

We come from a long line of survivors.  Its built into our DNA.  Our ancestors listened to their instincts, their intuition.  Something modern society is less good at doing.  Anxiety and stress are ripe in our culture as people worry, make themself sick, and live in “fear” of things that may never happen.  The downside of this is people wander around, never listening to their instincts, ignoring the signals fear is sending them, until a threat appears in front of them and they become a victim of crime.

Fear is now a weapon of the criminal.  Fear of violence or violence itself causes fear.  And fear is a powerful emotion that can seriously affect how we perform (or not) in a violent situation to tragic results.  There is nothing wrong with fear, as I teach in our word of the week program, courage is not the absence of fear, but continuing despite it.

Fear can be a good thing, it keeps us safe, given time is allows us to weigh up options and stops us putting our lives in danger.  In life it is sometimes seen as a good thing to face your fears, causing us to learn from those fears and rise above them.  Fear of failure, fear of loss, the fears we associate with our identity can cause us to push ourselves to stive to do and be better.  It all depends how we manage fear.

An attacker uses fear and surprise to hurt us.  To cause panic, diminish resolve, make you feel helpless and in general freeze.  But we can cause him to freeze when we explode into action, bust his nose, reset his OODA loop, and make him freeze.  If we can manage our fear. 

The more awareness we have on the street, the more time/distance we will have to observe a threat, the more we observe the less we will be taken by surprise.  The less surprise the better we can handle the fear.

It is important to understand the difference between the emotional effects of fear and the chemical responses of adrenalin.  We call it adrenalin, or the adrenalin dump, but in reality, it is a cocktail of chemicals that floods the body.  Under extreme stress various glands in your body release hormones into your bloodstream that have a profound effect on you physically and mentally.  This is one of the hardest things to address in training.  The mind you train with will not be the one you have when attacked. 

This means skilled techniques degrades under stress.  And it degrades a lot.  This means trained martial artists degrade more than untrained people.  This sound counter intuitive but here is why.  If an untrained person gets attacked, freaks out and flails about wildly.  Their drop in skill is small because they had no skills prior to the attack.  However, if a martial artist is attacked, someone with good “fighting” skills, and they freak out and flail and flap about wildly, their skills have degraded more because they were supposed to be a good fighter.  Evolutionarily there may be a reason for this, “no amount of fine and complex motor skills will drive that sabre-toothed tiger away, but flailing (gross motor activity), focused (tunnel vision), repetitive (behavioural loop) attack might”, says Rory Miller in Meditations on Violence.

The reason for degradation is the chemical cocktail in the body.  And they can produce some profound effects both good and bad and ugly.

The good

  • Increased heart rate
  • Increased blood flow to major organs
  • Increased glucose for immediate energy
  • Increased awareness
  • Increased sweating to warm the muscles for action.
  • Less bleeding, as blood is pulled from the limps into vital organs.
  • Less Pain.
  • More speed.
  • Increases strength.

The bad

  • Dry mouth.
  • Decreased blood flow to the skin.
  • Increased pupil dilation.
  • Broken or high-pitched voice.
  • General clumsiness from loss of motor skills.
  • Muscle twitching and shaking.
  • Peripheral vision is lost, resulting in tunnel vision.
  • Depth perception is lost or altered.
  • Auditory exclusion occurs.
  • Blood pools in the internal organs.
  • Perception and memory can be wildly distorted.
  • Time seems to slow (tachypsychia).
  • You can have irrelevant thoughts.
  • Behavioural looping is quite common.
  • Out of body experience can happen but is uncommon.
  • Post incident fatigue.

Let’s look a little closer to the chemical cocktail.

Adrenaline – This hormone increases the heart rate, air supply to the lungs and blood supply to the muscles, also promoted the supply of glucose into the blood for immediate energy.  In effect it prepares the mind and body for immediate action and help counter some of the effects of fear, stress, or violent exercise.

Endorphins – These natural painkillers are produced at times of stress such as trauma, and strenuous exercise.

Dopamine and Norepinephrine – These natural “uppers” bring the brain to full attention and speeds up nerve impulses in the part of the brain that controls muscle contractions. 

Noradrenaline – causes vasoconstriction and raises blood pressure.

Cortisol – Reduces the effects of shock.

The combined effect of all this on an untrained person with no time to fight or flight is to simple freeze.  There is an optimal stage of adrenalization.  Bruce Siddle, author of Sharpening the warrior’s edge, has listed stages of adrenalization and indexed them by heart rate.  He states that around 115-145 BPM reaction time and fighting skills are maximized.  Knowing these numbers won’t help you if you are taken by surprise and your heart rate hits 220 BPM.  If we have conditioned an effective response, one our attacker does not expect (because of their poor victim selection) it can kick their heartbeat off the chart and level the playing field.

If we have not conditioned a correct response fear and adrenalin will result in stoppers.  Therefore, we train action triggers.  Predetermined response and decisions made well before any assault.  Deciding what is worth fighting for, a spilt pint, hopefully not, your life, hopefully yes.  Decide to get angry.  Anger can suppress fear.  Break the freeze and get you moving.  Remember self-protection is 90% mental.  With decisions made possible years before an assault ever happens.  So, flip that switch in your head now to decide to fight for yourself, that you are worth fighting for.  Practice hard in the dojo but also get used to doing it in the dojo.  Here your kata and partner drills come into the fore.  You bow at the start of your kata and immediately switch to a focused, determined, aggressive mindset until the kata ends.  The same must be done within partner drills.  Of course, practice is essential but also essential is doing it for real with the correct visualisation.  Our brains are not good at differentiating between real and imagined.

Proper training and or experience can maintain a good level of skill in an encounter and beat the freeze.  If you have trained for the real things, understood what happened within your body, why you behaved a certain way, that you tactically did the correct thing, escaped (relatively) unharmed, that you did not choose this encounter, that it was forced upon you by a criminal, these things will severely reduce the PTSD you will feel after a violent encounter.  And unless you are a psychopath you will experience negative feelings after the fact.

Understanding fear and the chemical response should change the way you train, change the way you react in a real encounter, and change the way to deal with the aftermath.  All in all, a vital piece of information.

Recommended Reading

Streetwise by Peter Consterdine

The Gift of Fear by Gavin De Becker

Meditations on Violence by Rory Miller

New Procedure for Dojo Elite Karate Academy

  • If you have a fever, fatigue, cough or generally feel unwell, stay away.
  • Social distancing will be enforced. 
  • Hand sanitizer must be used on entering the dojo
  • Temperature will be taken on entry.  Anyone running a temperature will be refused entry
  • Masks will be optional and can be bought at the Dojo
  • Students will not be required to log in for class.  Sensei will do this
  • All students must come and go in their Karate suit
  • There will be no toilet or changing facilities for the foreseeable future.  Please insure younger children go before leaving the house and they understand this rule
  • No spectators allowed.  If you are waiting for younger students, you must wait outside
  • All students must queue outside (socially distant) until previous class has left or wait in their cars
  • No car-pooling
  • Classes will finish 5-10 minutes earlier depending on class size to accommodate a smooth change over.  Please insure you are there to collect smaller children
  • In the short-term there will be no partner work training.  When partner work training resumes, students must train with the same partner for the whole class   
  • Communal focus mitts, paddles, pads, and gloves etc will not be available.  All equipment we use in the Academy is available to purchase from the Academy.  Going forward all students will be required to have their own
  • Lockers will not be in use for the foreseeable future
  • You will enter and exit through different doors
  • Learn to respond, not react
  • “Come to the edge,” he said.  “We are afraid,” they said.  “Come to the edge,” he said.  They came.  He pushed them.  And they flew
  • Like the mother of the world, touch each being as your beloved child
  • Your future does not have to be the same as your past
  • Seeing is not believing, believing is seeing
  • Our own worst enemy cannot harm us as much as our own unwise thoughts.  No one can help us as much as our own compassionate thoughts
  • In the intervals between battles the warrior rests
  • The trouble is you think you have time
  • Most people fear rejection
  • Why questions lead nowhere.  Great men ask different questions, they ask “how” & “what” questions
  • There is the path of fear and the path of love.  Which will you follow?
  • A day spent judging another is a painful day. A day spent judging yourself is a painful day. You don’t have to believe your judgement. There simple an old habit
  • Karma is the pain, the suffering that results from clinging to the static patterns of the world.  The only exit from the suffering is to detach yourself from the static patterns
  • Stay centred, do not overstretch.  Extend from your centre, return to your centre.
  • Know the importance of intuition
  • Know you have much to be grateful for
  • The assimilation of learning is called knowledge and the proper use of that knowledge is called wisdom
  • Don’t keep searching for the truth, just let go of your opinions
  • Each morning we are born again.  What we do today is what matters most
  • Take time every day to sit quietly and listen
  • Abraham believed by virtue of the absurd
  • Whatever the mind can conceive and believe.  It can achieve
  • Mistake upon Mistake.  Not failure but continuous practise
  • Do one thing today that makes your life better
  • To thy own self be true
  • Don’t sweat the small stuff and remember it’s all small stuff
  • What would I do if I knew I couldn’t fail?
  • No man is an island
  • Remember to smile and say “I never did mind the little things”
  • Simplicity brings more happiness then complexity
  • Generosity brings joy.  Honesty brings peace
  • They conquer, who believe they can
  • All things are like a river.  We never enter the same river twice
  • Love in the past is only a memory.  Love in the future is a fantasy.  Only here and now can we truly love.
  • Everything that has a beginning has an ending.  Make your peace with that and all will be well
  • In the end these things matter most: How well did you love? How well did you live? How deeply did you learn to let go?
  • The heart is like a garden.  It can grow compassion or fear, resentment or love.  What seeds will you plant there?
  • Sometimes you can’t make it on your own
  • A gem is not polished without rubbing nor a man perfected without trials
  • Principles emerge from ritual, not the other way around.  We don’t perform religious rituals because we believe in God.  We believe in God because we perform religious rituals
  • Avoid the company of deluded people when you can.  When you cannot, keep your own counsel
  • Joy and openness come from our own centred heart
  • Karma can change life like the swish of a horses’ tail
  • Give before you are asked
  • Things to do today.  Exhale, Inhale, Exhale, Ahhh
  • To know the outcome, Look to the root.  Study the past, to know the future
  • Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies
  • Learn to let go.  This is the key to happiness
  • I am capable of creating abundant wealth, health and happiness in my life
  • A warrior of light does not always have faith
  • Seek not to know the answer but to understand the question
  • If you wish to know the divine, feel the wind on your face and the warm sun on your arm
  • Two roads diverged in a wood, and I, I took the one less travelled by, and that made all the difference
  • At the bottom of things, most people want to be understood and appreciated
  • People do not achieve what they are capable of, but what they belief they are capable of
  • All of the circumstance in your life are a reflection of your subconscious beliefs
  • No one can make you feel inferior without your consent
  • Friendship doubles joy and halves grief
  • It’s not how hard you can hit.  It’s how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.  That’s how winning is done
  • When you get to the end of your rope.  Tie a knot and hang on
  • Be the change you want to see in the world
  • Yes, I am an agent of Satan, but my duties are largely ceremonial
  • Achievement requires effort, determination and commitment
  • Life rewards action
  • If you wish it, it is no dream
  • The only reason people get lost in though is because it’s unfamiliar
  • Miracles happen to those who believe
  • There is no reality, only perception
  • For every minute of anger, you lose 60 seconds of happiness
  • Life is a journey not a destination
  • I stopped fighting my inner demons.  We’re on the same side now
  • The map is not the territory
  • Enlightenment is always preceded by confusion
  • The person with the most flexibility in a system influences the system
  • There is no failure, only feedback
  • People are more than their behaviour
  • Your unconscious mind can’t process negatives
  • Your values can either drive you towards pleasure or away from pain
  • If you do what you always did, You’ll get what you always got.  When you know better, you do better, and you get better
  • A warrior of light knows that they have much to be grateful for
  • The warrior of light is a believer
  • The assimilation of learning is called knowledge and the proper use of that knowledge is called wisdom
  • Seek not to know the answers but to understand the questions
  • There is power in forgiveness
  • You create your own experience
  • You are now accountable.  You have always been accountable.  You will always be accountable.  That is how it is.  That may not be how you want it to be but that’s how it is
  • People do what works
  • You cannot change what you do not acknowledge
  • Life is managed; it is not cured
  • We teach people how to treat us
  • You have to name it to claim it
  • You are the most powerful magnet in the universe
  • Thoughts become things
  • You either get it or you don’t

Book Three in the Series : Love You Love Life: 5 Stages To Create The Life You Deserve available here or €7 in the dojo

Your future does not have to be the same as your past. What would you do if you knew you could not fail?

How can you learn to be the best version of YOU? How can YOU learn to be happier, healthier, and calmer? Do you wish for more in life?

In this book, martial arts 6th Dan Gareth FitzGerald answers all of these questions and more. Having spent 35 years studying martial arts and their mental abilities and teaching these lessons to thousands of students, he now draws from his personal journey and wisdom to inspire you to :

Reclaim your authentic self and become a shining light to others
Motivate and inspire health goals and the mindset that guarantees success
Change your beliefs about wealth and how to create it
Develop positive lifestyle habits, including mindfulness and meditation
Change perceptions and explain basic life laws
Live with gratitude and flow with the universe

In this book, Gareth FitzGerald will show you that when you change the way you think, feel, speak, and act, you begin to change the world.

Book Two in the series : Martial Arts & Mental Health Kindle or Paperback

What does success mean to you? Health? Wealth? Relationships? Happiness? Success is a mindset. Successful people control their minds and create the life they want. Do you want to be a healthier, happier more successful you? Let me show you how.

Your mind can make your life a heaven or a hell. It can push you to the heights of success or sabotage your dreams. Does life feel like you are swimming upstream not with the flow? Life can damage your self-confidence, self-esteem, relationships, physical fitness, and mental health. Martial arts are renowned for the physical prowess but also their personal development and mindfulness. Let me show you the secrets.

Are you interested in improving your mental health?

Do you want to learn why martial arts are great for improving self-confidence, self-esteem, self-control, and self-discipline?

Do martial artists have super mental abilities and how do you get them?

Would you like to learn the secrets of the martial art without ever having to train?

Then this book is for you…

Over 35 years, the martial arts have changed my life and made me a better person. Martial arts increased my confidence and made me a happier, stronger, and calmer person. Every success in my life came from the lessons the martial arts taught me. I have taught thousands of students how to succeed in life. Now I want to teach it on to you. Buy this inspirational and motivational book now.

Do you want to learn why martial arts is great for mental health?

Do martial artists have super mental abilities and how do I get them?

Are you studying a martial art or thinking of starting?

Then this book is for you…

The Japanese usually refer to people having 3 masks or faces. The first mask (public) is the one we show the world. The second mask (private) is the one we show to the people closest to us. And the third mask is who we are inside. This is our authentic self. Our true self. The one with all our strengthens and weaknesses, all our good points and bad, all our desires, loves and hates. When your authentic self, behaves in-line with your public and private masks then you will be at peace, you will be happy, and life should feel easy. If, however your authentic self is at odds with the mask you show the life may feel like you are swimming upstream not with the flow.

This book aims to show how correct training in the martial arts can improve your mental health, your relationships and improve the way your interact with the world around you. It will show how martial arts can increase self-confidence, self-esteem, physical fitness and mental abilities. How students all over the world become calmer, more centered, self-disciplined and self-aware. It will show how perception is different to reality.

This book is available as both Paperback and as Kindle e-book. Click the kindle link to read a sample. Available in the dojo for €10

Book One in the series : Lessons From The Mats Kindle orPaperback or in the dojo for €8

Revised and extended: Now with more chapters

“If you do what you always did, You’ll get what you always got. When you know better, you do better, and you get better”

Your mind can make your life a heaven or a hell. Life can take its toll on your self-confidence, self-esteem, relationships, physical fitness, and mental health. Martial arts are renowned for the physical prowess but also their personal development and mindfulness. Learn the life lesson of the martial arts without the need of blood, sweat or tears. Let me show you how.

This book brings together in small easily digested chapters life lessons taken from over 35 years training in the martial arts, covering topics such as, mindfulness, perseverance, inspiration, motivation, and character education. Life lessons to live your life by and make your dreams come true.

Over 35 years, the martial arts have changed my life and made me a better person. Martial arts increased my confidence and made me a happier, stronger, and calmer person. Every success in my life came from the lessons the martial arts taught me. I have taught thousands of students how to succeed in life. Now I want to teach it on to you. Buy this inspirational and motivational book now.

This book is available as both Paperback and as Kindle e-book. Click the kindle link to read a sample.

As you may have heard Clondalkin St Patrick’s Day parade has been postponed.  So the Academy will not be walking next Tuesday.  There will be no classes on St Patrick’s Day, all other classes continue as normal next week.

Unfortunately this years Expo will have to be postponed until later in the year due to the Caronavirus. I have taken a provisional date of July 5th as our alternative date.  I have no plans to close the Academy at present, especially due to the small size of most classes.  However any students presenting with flu like symptoms should avoid classes until the feel better.

The gradings in April will go ahead as before.  Students will grade in their regular classes the week of the 7th of April.  Grading in their 1st class and results and certificates in their 2nd class that week. 

The list of those eligible to grade that was sent out last week was based on students having completed near or all the required time between grades.  Students still must meet the required standard of their respective grade.  Some students on the previous list will not be eligible to grade, if the are not of the required standard regardless of the length of time since their last grade.  Please check with Sensei if you are unsure if you or your child can grade.  Below is the minimum time requirement for each grade.  Checking in your attendance every training session is vitally important to insure you can grade.

Yellow tip -Yellow belt must do min of 15 classes and 45 days between grades

Orange – Green Belt min 25 classes and min 90 days since last grade

Blue – Brown Belt min 50 classes and min 180 days since last grade

Brown Belt + min 110 classes and 265 days

The sparring competition will also continue this month in class, but the finals will be held over until the Expo goes ahead.

Esteem, give it to others, earn it for yourself.

Lesson 1

This relates back to our 1st word of the week, Courtesy. This is an extra special courtesy. Self-esteem means you feel good aout yourself and esteem for others means you look up to them.

We ask who deserves our respect? We talk about how parents spend most of their time and effort taking care of us. Working so we can have food, a house, taking you to school and karate lessons etc. They deserve out thanks. and we could never get a job and be able to repay them for all they have done. |So we repay them by showing them respect. So we follow their rules and treat them with respect.

Lesson 2

So we know showing respect is important but what is the best and easiest way to show respect? It’s when we use our courtesy words. What are they again? There are other ways of showing respect, like listeing when someone is talking, making eye conact when you are listening, sittig still and using black belt focus.

Definition “That which is known” “applied knowledge is power”

Lesson 1

We explain that knowledge is everything we know and learn. We ask how do we get knowlede? We learn in school, from other people, from TV and movies. We gain knowledge by studying martial arts. We teach our students that “Knowledge is Power”. Knowledge allows us to do great things. By gaining knowledge in school and getting good grades, which can lead to going to a good college and then getting a good job. The more knowledge we have the more choice we have on the sort of life we want to live.

Lesson 2

We teach our students that reading is one of the best ways of getting knowledge. Reading is like riding a bike, it can be hard at first but gets easier the more you do it. It doesn;t matter what you read once you read. And when you learn to read you have a gift for life. We teach that in some parts of the world people don’t get the chance to learn to read. Imagine if you could not read a street sign or sign your own name? We encourage students to learn to read and try their best.