Training to stop an armed attacker is very different from gearing up for a karate competition or practicing your martial art for personal development. This guide will put you on the path to self-defense proficiency.

The threat of violence is a fact of life for everyone nowadays. Training to protect yourself against violence is very different from gearing up for a martial arts competition or practicing for personal development. That realization led to the rise of what’s now called “reality-based fighting.” Popularized by Black Belt Hall of Fame member Jim Wagner, it’s defined by him as: “Training and survival skills based on modern conflict situations that the practitioner is likely to encounter in his environment, in an accordance with the use-of-force continuum of that jurisdiction.” In the reality-based world, empty-hand fighting is crucial but no more so than weapons defense, which often receives short shrift in martial arts schools. This article will remedy that by outlining the five categories of weapons and presenting strategies for using and defending against them. If you’re serious about self-defense, you need to study them whether you like weapons or not because most violent crimes involve weapons. Rule No. 1 is, Always expect your attacker to be armed — with one of the following: Projectile Weapons This category includes implements that launch an object that’s intended to injure. It might be a man throwing a rock at you or an assailant firing a gun at you. Although the threat levels are obviously different, the concept is the same. It’s imperative to learn the basics of how firearms function before you undertake the study of disarms, escapes, cover and concealment, room entries and building searches. Exposure to guns will give you a better idea of what an armed attacker is able to do and, therefore, a better chance of surviving. Edged Weapons Many martial artists consider a knife the most frightening thing they’re likely to face on the street. It’s hard to convey the ugliness of the blade as a weapon. Anyone — trained or untrained, male or female — has a great advantage when wielding one and a great disadvantage when facing one. That also applies to broken bottles and other sharp objects. Remember that an attacker doesn’t need a $200 limited-edition ninja knife to kill you. Any implement that can cause a puncture or laceration — whether it’s made of metal, glass or plastic — falls into this category. It’s essential to train with a variety of edged weapons so you can understand their strengths and weaknesses. Your tactical training should include case studies of criminal attacks, especially those that take place in jails and prisons. Don’t think for one second that a criminal is going to feed you a dojo-perfect overhead assault and wait for you to block or disarm him. Impact Weapons Weapons used to strike are the most readily available fighting tools. We’ve been using them since we began killing animals with sticks and stones. These days, impact weapons are used for a multitude of purposes: riot control, prisoner control, military operations, civilian self-defense and, unfortunately, criminal activities. Although they suffer from limited range, impact weapons can be deadly. Their effectiveness is enhanced when they’re used to attack bony protrusions and nerve centers. Chemical Weapons They offer a relatively easy way to escape from a dangerous situation — or to attack an innocent party more effectively. Think about it: If you wanted to rob somebody or beat him to a pulp, what would be simpler than first incapacitating him with a blast of pepper spray? Once he’s blinded, he probably won’t be able to mount a defense. Chemical weapons come in various forms, including liquid, gas and powder. Pepper spray is the most common one. It’s an aerosol that contains the extract of hot chili peppers. When correctly formulated, it’s the most effective nonlethal weapon available. It will blind a person, create breathing difficulties and induce extreme pain — all temporarily. Weapons of Mass Destruction It may sound odd to include WMDs in an article about self-defense, but such devices, especially bombs, are the weapon of choice in global terrorism because such attacks always generate media attention. If you must live, work or travel through large cities, the possibility of a bomb attack is part of your reality. Although there’s little you can do to protect yourself against the more extreme types of WMDs — nukes and nerve gas, for instance — there’s plenty you can do to boost your chances of surviving a hand-grenade attack, including detecting it before it’s used, minimizing your exposed cross-section as it goes off and recovering afterward. Training Time It’s imperative to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the most common weapons from the five categories. The best way to do that is by training with them. That will teach you the offensive side of the equation as well as the defensive side, and it will develop your ability to improvise. In training, it’s also important to evaluate your reality. In other words, know who you’re up against. The reality faced by a martial artist in the Middle East won’t be the same as that faced by a martial artist who lives in Nashville, Tennessee. Rule No. 2 What looks good isn’t always effective, and what’s effective doesn’t always look good. Realism is the key. Most martial artists train primarily to be able to fend off a face-to-face movie-style attack. Forget about it. You need to distinguish between what looks good for demonstration purposes and what works on the street. Most modern weapons training is complicated and unrealistic. If you think that applies to you, take a hard look at how you work out. Devise ways to modify your sessions so they focus on the skills and attributes needed to deal with high-speed attacks. Weapons training is virtually useless if it’s not balanced with knowledge, realistic training methods and functional techniques. Research has shown that fine-motor skills require awareness and timing, and that’s a lot to ask in a self-defense situation. The best techniques are those you’ve tried and tested over and over in a realistic environment. Rule No. 3 Heed the words of jeet kune do instructor Burton Richardson: “Knowledge is not power. The ability to apply your knowledge under pressure is true power.” You can bolster your ability to function under pressure by engaging in sparring and scenario training. Because street fights occur at combat speed, you must strive to be effective while operating at full speed. Note, however, that drills that allow for creative, relaxed and playful training can also be beneficial. Don’t neglect them but focus most of your energy on training that takes place in a variety of environments against a resisting opponent, both with and without weapons. Wear street clothes and experiment with different lighting setups and surroundings, including situations that put you at a disadvantage. Step by Step Against a Weapon 1      Use awareness to avoid danger. Your training has honed your ability to sense danger before you become ensnared in it, and your studies of the criminal mind-set will enable you to further analyze the situation. 2      Escape. Because your training included a variety of scenarios, you always look for a way out of the danger zone. You’ve ingrained that habit by constantly forcing yourself to mentally create threat situations so you can plan a way out. 3      Use the environment. Your experience with impact, edged and chemical weapons has taught you the importance of throwing found objects as a means of defense. You also know how to orient yourself so that an obstacle lies between you and your attacker, and how to locate an improvised weapon that can be used to hit the attacker’s weapon hand. If you’re facing a firearm, you know how to use cover and concealment for protection. 4      Stay mobile. Your reality-based workouts have taught you about distance, timing and accuracy. To gauge the safe distance you need to be from an assailant, you’ve studied edged, impact, projectile and chemical weapons. As you know, mobility is crucial when you have a loved one to protect. 5      Engage. Your training has taught you that fighting is the last resort, to be used only when a life is on the line. You know it’s foolish to think you can dispatch an armed attacker as easily as the heroes do in the movies. And that, in a nutshell, is the “reality” of reality-based self-defense training. Morné Swanepoel is president of JKD High Performance Street Fighting and founder of the Urban Tactical Weapons program. He’s the South Africa representative of Burton Richardson’s JKD Unlimited, Jim Wagner’s Reality-Based Personal Protection and Erle Montaigue’s World Taiji Boxing Association.

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"Unlike karate training outside a combat zone," Cpt. Yoon explained, "it is important here that the troops be able to turn their techniques into devastating, bone-crushing blows. There is no place for mild strikes in combat when a VC is trying to push a bayonet into your stomach."

For that reason, the compound is peppered with makiwara punching boards, and the Korean Tigers spend much time conditioning the weapons of taekwondo. Also, throughout Vietnam there are plenty of sandbags, which are used to protect all kinds of constructions. They make excellent striking bags for a karateman.

The next unit in the schedule is to display free fighting. The commander again explains that this form of fighting is used to test the Tigers' skills against one another rather than to demonstrate the actual methods of close-quarters combat, as a fight on the battlefield is nearly always over in an instant.

The sparring matches are exhibitions of technique and control. Perhaps the only recognizable difference between these and matches held in tournaments is the consistent power the soldiers put behind their blows and their concentration on hard taekwondo techniques rather than elusive ones.

Against Weapons

At last, a final group prepares to show what happens when an unarmed Tiger meets a VC with a knife or a bayonet fixed to his AK-47 rifle. Two pairs of soldiers stride to the center of the hard-dirt arena, face the commander and render a snappy salute. Then they fall into a four-man square and await orders.

Sgt. Lee barks a command, and the best of the best explode into action. One gladiator leaps for a knife that has been thrown into the arena. He jams it, hard, at another, who violently kicks the striking hand and jumps shoulder height, scissoring the attacker's neck and tumbling him forward onto the unyielding ground with a crash. The knife spins away.

Meanwhile, another black belt catches a rifle with a fixed bayonet that is thrown to him from the sidelines. With a guttural shout, he lunges for his opponent. The defender spins to the left, brings his knee sharply inward against the weapon and rolls the attacker onto his own shoulder while tearing at his windpipe. It's over in seconds.

The couples repeat the performance again and again, smashing full tilt against each other. Every time, the attacker thrusts hard with his weapon. It's just less than miraculous that the practice doesn't turn into a blood bath.

Korean Budomen

Initiated as the Capital Infantry Division, the Tiger Division was activated on June 20, 1949, in Seoul with the mission of providing security for the capital. It was charged with additional security of the 38th parallel in Ongjin in September of the same year. When the Korean War began on June 25, 1950, the division began to prove itself in heavy fighting during battles at Ahn-kang and Kyung-joo along the defense line of the Nakdong River in the southeastern part of the country.

Following the successful Inchon landing by Gen. Douglas MacArthur's forces, the division penetrated deep into the North across the 38th parallel, overrunning enemy strongholds and advancing close to the Korea-Manchuria border. As their ability became recognized, the division was committed repeatedly and saw the armistice signed while fighting at the front in the spring of 1952. They captured more than 9,920 enemy, killed more than 91,000 and seized more than 31,000 weapons. As a result of their valor, the division was awarded five ROK Presidential Citations and a U.S. Presidential Citation, an ROK National Assembly award and 42 other plaudits.

After the armistice, the division had already been dubbed with the Tiger laurel and was deployed along the front line of the central part of the Korea DMZ. They remained under continued training and constant combat readiness.

Upon approval of the National Assembly, the division was directed to combat in the Republic of Vietnam on August 20, 1965. Three separate elements arrived at Qui Nhon on November 1 after four weeks of preliminary training. That month, it received its tactical area of responsibility, which consisted of 1,400 square kilometers in Binh Dinh Province in central Vietnam. The division's general mission objectives are to protect travel routes, military installations and facilities within its TAOR and to assist the Republic of Vietnam in its pacification plan by eliminating Viet Cong in the area and helping the people rebuild their destroyed homes.

Since 1965, the Tiger Division has stabilized security within their area to an impressive degree. The TAOR itself has expanded from 1,400 to 3,800 square kilometers. As of mid-June, the Tigers had killed more than 9,000 enemy, captured nearly 3,000 and counted 4,500 defectors, as well as seizing nearly 4,000 weapons.

All this leaves little room for doubt about whom historians will count as the true elite of Vietnam combat. In the ranks of the VC and the NVA, mention of these ferocious Koreans brings shudders to the comrades. Even as he fights those from North Vietnam and the Viet Cong, the Tigerman knows that he has full command of his body and his mind. When he's faced with hand-to-hand combat, he need not rely only on the ferocity of his rifle to equalize the score. He can hammer out punches with machine-gun rapidity or swing a full-flogging kick with sufficient force to gain the advantage. When a man is trained in karate, or to be more specific, taekwondo, he's ahead of the game and the Viet Cong, that crap-shooting armada of insurgent forces, and the crack North Vietnamese troops who come to do battle. They know full well that the Tigers with their taekwondo as well as armaments are tough to beat.

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The roots of taekwondo are in Korea, and for the ROK GIs who enter the Tiger ranks, the intensive routine of training in the martial art is strictly par for the course. No doubt every Tigerman hopes to use his martial arts training sometime in a tournament as well as he does in combat. That's the dream of every GI in the ROK division.

The Tigers, under Maj. Gen. Lew Pyong Hyon and with taekwondo's Capt. Yoon, have been making headlines throughout the world. They are the only troops, it's been said, who fight fire with fire, who use guerrilla techniques and ambush techniques in much the same manner as the Viet Cong. In a war such as this — where the boundary lines are questionable, where there is no front line and where your neighbor can turn into your enemy — such techniques are indispensable. Thanks to the hand-to-hand techniques and the combat-karate emphasis of this militia, the odds are clearly shaping up in the Tiger Division's ledger. Thanks to taekwondo, the Tigers are smashing the enemy with no holds barred and, if anyone doubts it, plenty of contact!

Read Part 1 of this article here.

text by Jack E. Swift

(This article first appeared in the November 1968 issue of Black Belt.)

Scene: A group of soldiers is gathered for a bull session. The subject under discussion is the Tiger Division of the Korean army. The soldiers are engrossed. One, a lean, tanned GI, pushes back his beret, squints into the darkness and looks out to see a mountain of burning embers.

"We were on recon operations in southern Binh Dinh Province," he explains. "One night, we caught the sounds of a skirmish. My squad leader held up his hand and when he smiled, we knew we were in for some action. As we approached the area, we were a little surprised that there was no small-arms fire, but we could hear a lot of guys yelling.

"When we got there, it was an unbelievable sight. Here were those Korean troops in close-quarters combat with what must have been superior forces, as there were [Viet Cong soldiers] all over the place. I've never seen so many broken necks and caved-in ribs in my life. We helped clean up what was left."

So goes the legend, and just in case you're casting a cynical eye as to the Tiger Division's aptitude in the use of martial arts, the record speaks for itself. If there was ever a primer on combat karate, these troops would write it. In two grueling periods daily, every troop in the Tiger Division trains in the taekwondo method, the official karate of Korea.

At one time, there were many factions, but in the past year or so, they've all been absorbed by the International Taekwon-Do Federation, with its headquarters in Seoul. In fact, with the Koreans, and even in many areas in Vietnam, taekwondo is synonymous with karate. Numerous Vietnamese do not even understand the word "karate" — but mention taekwondo and their faces light up with recognition.

Way of Life

At Qui Nhon, division headquarters, visitors are surprised to see sparkling white uniforms — and a sea of black belts — virtually in the middle of a combat zone. While on actual operations away from their base, the Tigers work out in field gear, but at the training center, everyone wears a gi and keeps it as immaculate as any other military uniform.

On the left side of the gi, each person wears the proud division emblem of a roaring tiger. On the other side, if he's an instructor, the soldier wears a black insignia of a fist with white dots above indicating how many degrees of black-belt rank he holds.

Commander of the massive taekwondo corps of the Tiger Division is Capt. Yoon Dong Ho, himself a third dan. But the rugged, intelligent captain is no armchair commander. He's on hand daily at the dirt arena, watching the troops go through their paces and often teaching a special class of officers.

Capt. Yoon is responsible for the official taekwondo training of more than 15,000 Tiger troops in Vietnam. Although popular belief holds otherwise, there are actually more than 200 black-belt holders in the Tiger ranks. Of them, three are fourth dan, 29 are third dan, 57 are second dan and 115 are first dan. There are roughly 600 red belts and 2,300 blue belts, as well as 9,000 troops holding degrees of white belt. Approximately 2,900 men recently began their training in Vietnam. Many of these, of course, already hold rank they won in Korea.

Deployment

Each element of the Tiger infantry arriving in Vietnam goes through intensive schooling at Qui Nhon. The 26th of these classes began in July, to run just over a month. The sessions lead off with classical techniques under the direct supervision of Sgt. Jun Jae Gun, head taekwondo instructor for the Meng Ho in Vietnam. Sgt. Jun, one of the division's tough trio of fourth degrees, displays a certificate signed by Gen. Choi Hong Hi, International Taekwon-Do Federation president.

When a trooper is promoted in Vietnam, however, he's awarded a military certificate of training by his supplement company commander, who acts as a representative of Lt. Col. Jai Chun Ko, division field commander. All promotions are recognized by the federation. In cases of promotion to the higher grades, however, special recognition is often meted out. For example, Sgt. Kim Duk Ki was recently awarded his third dan by Lt. Gen. Chae Myung Shin, field headquarters commander for all ROK Forces in Vietnam.

"The major objective of our formal taekwondo classes," asserted Cpt. Yoon, "is to take the minds of our troops and replace civilian thinking with military spirit and fierceness. 'Tiger' is the nickname the division has been tagged with because of the fierce nature we have demonstrated in combat. We intend to live up to it."

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Cpt. Yoon reinforced that statement with an impromptu demonstration of his own favorite techniques. Choosing a brawny trooper with a bayonet, the captain rushed him, parrying the weapon with an onslaught of power strikes with the elbow, palm, heel and fist. He ended with a forearm strike to the windpipe, which he explained is effective when one wants to silence the enemy quickly.

Key elements in hand-to-hand combat, the commander explained, are attacking the weapon directly or the hand that holds it while simultaneously attacking the most vulnerable spot within reach, then pressing the assault to keep the enemy off-balance while finishing him.

Field Testing

Stressing physical fitness in preparation for the application of these techniques, Cpt. Yoon said his troops rely heavily on powerful, smashing blows against the smaller Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Communists. He explained that the enemies are often undernourished because of their long treks from the North and therefore may fall easily under a strong attack.

"One particular situation where we encounter hand-to-hand fighting," Cpt. Yoon said, "is when the VC hide in bunkers and Tiger patrols do not have heavy weapons available to blow [the bunkers] apart. In such a case, the troops simply go in after them. The VC stand little chance against my men in close-quarters fighting."

In addition to the training of their own infantry, Tiger taekwondo instructors teach U.S. and Republic of Vietnam soldiers, as well as other Allied Forces infantry soldiers. Presently, some 1,250 Vietnamese and 150 U.S. soldiers are being taught by the Tigers at Qui Nhon alone. At other installations throughout South Vietnam, the Koreans teach their art to Allied Forces and Vietnamese civilians of both sexes and all ages.

There are scores of Korean black belts who are not members of the Tiger Division but who teach taekwondo to the local troopers and civilians. Many of these men belong to the larger White Horse Division. Especially in populated places such as the Tan Son Nhut Air Base–Saigon area, taekwondo has become as popular as baseball is to Americans. Today, self-defense is serious business to the Vietnamese, as no one knows when a VC terrorist squad will break into his home.

The Tiger Lair

Several miles away from the main training area on the Qui Nhon Air Base where the new arrivals hold classes, the Tiger instructors have their own compound, carved out of the verdant Vietnam countryside. Bordered on two sides by mountains and banked by the South China Sea, the encampment nestles into a serene and clean-smelling natural cradle, somehow out of place amidst the turmoil of war. The site has never been successfully attacked, and no one remembers the last time even a single mortar landed within the perimeter.

The perimeter itself is defined by roll upon roll of barbed wire, machine-gun posts and sandbag-reinforced bunkers. When not actually leading class, the instructors perform most of their military duties wearing their gi, often barebacked in the all-pervading heat. Somehow it doesn't seem quite right to see a fierce fighting man carting pails of water for the makeshift shower or spreading rolls of concertina wire — until you recall how budo masters of ancient times made their charges perform menial tasks before they would be accepted. Perhaps this accounts in part for their dedication and the respectful attitude the troops invariably display.

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Cpt. Yoon decides to review the instructors' training methods, so he has the select corps organize into a squadron to demonstrate their prowess. Sgt. Lee Jin Ho, whose official title is post instructor, leads the formation. They fall swiftly into ranks. The commander steps forward and receives the squadron's salute, then turns the command over to Sgt. Ho.

At a signal, the Tigers break ranks and rush into new formations with precision reminiscent of the Roman legions. The first squad is directed to show taekwondo forms. They snap through the kata in coordinated pairs, demonstrating the adroitness that can only come from military discipline. The forms are technically the same as classical Korean karate but are executed with the confident power of soldiers who have seen what their stuff can do to a man.

The next group forms behind a line of boards, bricks and tiles. Stacks of four and five bricks, up to 15 tiles and four 1-inch boards lie before them. The unit is called to attention, salutes again and assumes a ready posture. Sgt. Lee barks a command, and a dozen heads, hands and fists smash into the solid objects. Not a single one remains unbroken.

Read Part 2 here.

text by Jack E. Swift

(This article first appeared in the November 1968 issue of Black Belt.)

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