Self-defense instructors often recommend running away as the best option when facing a knife. That’s not wrong. But have you been trained in how to run away? It's not always easy.

Defensive instructors generally advise running away as the best or maybe the only realistic option when facing a knife. That’s not wrong. But has anybody studying martial arts been trained in how to run away? Most have not. It’s not strictly a physical problem. It’s that we don’t have the right mindset for running away.


In the army, there’s a procedure for orderly and safe retreat. There are many considerations. For example, you could be shot in the back, you might need to use or move weapons appropriately, and so on. Soldiers are trained to run away, make turns, change positions and establish safe sectors. That’s easier, in a way, than a lone individual because your team provides cover.

Facing a knife, it’s difficult. For instance, how far would you run if an attacker showed a knife, perhaps threatening to rob you? An attack may be launched by a younger, fitter person. An elderly person may have issues in running from that kind of attacker. Furthermore, there may be constraints of environment, obstacles and the presence of other people to consider.

At systema camps, we have trained attendees to run away. We began with an ideal open and clear site, a huge field. A group of five or so people were facing an “attacker,” who stood 7 to 10 meters away. The attacker would scream and shout while running at the group and brandishing a knife. But even though the “victims” had sufficient distance to work with and they saw and heard the threat clearly, somehow they couldn’t run away. Two or three in the group were always “cut.”

It seems they didn’t know where to run even though they had the entire open field available. People from the other groups were running, as well — more than 100 people from all the different groups crossing one another. Now imagine this had been conducted in the forest — how would they have run away?

In another variation, instead of the victims standing in a line, they’d be more naturally arranged in a semicircle or, even more challenging, a full circle. This left them at a loss as to where they should run. An attacker would charge toward them, and once again, some would get cut every time.

“Most people who observe this Russian fighting style will appreciate the spontaneity with which practitioners can fend off armed and unarmed attacks. It’s practical and effective without the nonessentials.”
— Floyd Burk, 10th dan

After those drills in camp, it was clear that although people can physically run, they are psychologically unprepared. The students themselves began to realize how hard it can be.

One thing that helped them is doing exercises with their legs, such as walking or running backward with proper breathing. This includes walking and running with and without breath holds, stretching their breath, and breath actions over different durations to match the movements.

This is one of many self-defense situations in which running away is not an option.

It also helps to practice balancing exercises and running through, over and around obstacles. It’s very important to learn not to give up. Sometimes people become aware of their own weaknesses or limitations and get so discouraged that they give up on themselves. That’s never good.

In some situations, walking away works better than running. Learning to walk with maximal speed and efficiency is good training for sensitizing your body to a number of different elements of movement.

If you’ve trained to walk with maximum speed and efficiency, it may not always be necessary to run and incur the greater energy expenditure of that response. Fear makes you want to run, while fast walking reduces tension and fear in your body and in the situation.

Running away can be the best option against a knife. But it's also good to have a response in case you can't run.

Do you know how to walk fast? When you step, you need to step with the body right away. The key is to bring your bodyweight directly over the front (stepping) foot. You don’t let your body lag. You do not step and then bring the body along afterward. If you step with your bodyweight integrated with your foot movement, you will move significantly faster. Move with your entire body.

Systema is big on deleting tension from the self-defense equation. “You should use your movements to remove excess tension,” Vladimir Vasiliev says. “This way, you are always ready and free for your next action.”

The same applies to moving backward. You have to move back in such a way that your body catches up to your feet so that your feet are always under the center of gravity of your body. No matter how you turn, the body remains soft. Your movement is calm, without irritating your psyche. That is how you avoid restrictions in your body and unnecessary cuts.

Text by Vladimir Vasiliev and Scott Meredith • Photos by Robert Reiff

Sponsored post • Excerpted by permission from Edge: Secrets of the Russian Blade MastersOrder here.

A DIFFERENT KIND OF SYSTEMA DRILL

“A new student joins in. We begin a mass-attack drill, where everyone comes to the center of the gym and is hitting in all directions. Right away, the new guy gets punched on the head, turns to see who did it and gets ready to hit him back. At that moment, he receives a punch from the other side, and, with anger building, he turns to that side, his fist ready to fly in that direction. And then he is hit again from the opposite side. Finally, he realizes that ‘punch for punch’ doesn’t work in a mass attack, so he exhales and starts punching those who are close by and not those who hit him. Unfortunately, most of us have an almost automatic response: When a strike touches us, we immediately go to retaliate. This is caused by pride. Systema training for taking punches deals directly with this pride.”

— Vladimir Vasiliev

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Do you want to maximize your self defense skills? Learn the game of combat chess and most importantly the queen of all moves.

Allow me to intercept those who would object to the title of this article. I'm not claiming that there's a secret move, shortcut or hack that will give you the edge in any fight. Even if there was an ultimate weapon or strategy, you likely would avoid it because you
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Looking to buy some weights to gain some strength?

Looking at Dumbbell, Kettlebells or Weighted bar? How about an all in one that won't just save you some good amount of money but also space? Look no further, we bring you the GRIPBELL!

Let's face it, when we do want to work on some strength building, we don't want to go around shopping for 20 different weight equipment things. That would just not want us to even do any sort of strength training. But what if we only needed a few, a few that can do the things we want without having 20 things lay around? That's where the GRIPBELL comes in. Let me clarify with you first, these are not some heavy duty, muscle exploding weights, they are for building the level of strength we as martial artists want without going crazy and insane in bulk sizing!

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Many different types of "blocks" are taught in most martial arts school. We are taught high blocks, low blocks, middle blocks, knife hand blocks, etc. Some schools will also teach how to use the legs to block an attack, as well.

The purpose of this writing is to possibly open some minds to the possibilities of going outside the box and considering alternatives to the basics.

Blocking is taught as a way of protecting oneself from harm. Truly, we don't "block" anything, as a non-martial artist would think of it. What we call "blocking" is more of a redirection of an opponent's attack, or even a counterstrike against the opponent's attacking limb.

To block something would mean to put something, like your arm, leg or other body part directly in front of the attack. That would certainly hurt and possibly cause some damage. The goal should be to move the attack out of the way in order to prevent injury and provide a way to fight back. For example, many schools teach blocks as a limb moving toward the strike such as a circular high block.

The movement required for a block might have other uses, if you keep an open mind. The blocking techniques can also be used as attack techniques. For example, your "low block" may be used as a striking technique against the outer thigh of the attacker. Your high block might be used as a strike to the jaw. The set up for a block can be used as a deflection, as well as the actual block.

Doing a block or a series of blocks will most likely not end an attack. A block needs to be followed by a counterattack. While the block is usually taught as a separate technique in order to learn it correctly, it should also be used in combination with a counter.

The more you know, the more you realize how much you don't know. Intensive books can and have be written about basic techniques. With this writing, I am hoping to create interest in exploring the additional possibilities for what we have been taught and what we teach others.

About Grand Master Stevens

GM Stevens has been training in taekwondo for 47 years under the tutelage of the late legendary Grand Master Richard Chun. He holds an 8th degree black belt and is certified in the USA and in Korea. Grand Master Stevens is a member of the Board of Directors of the prestigious Richard Chun TaeKwonDo World Headquarters organization. He has been very active in his community and has been a volunteer with the Glen Rock Volunteer Ambulance Corps for over 11 years. He is a certified member of C.E.R.T. (Community Emergency Response Team).

Gary Stevens Taekwondo is located at 175 Rock Road in Glen Rock, New Jersey.

For more information: call (201) 670-7263, email: StevensTKD@aol.com or go to www.StevensTaeKwonDo.com

Having partners at or above your skill level is important for improving in your martial arts training. At some point, however, you will probably find yourself with a shortage of skilled partners, especially if you are an instructor.

This can happen for any number of reasons: students can move away, change their work schedules, start a family, etc., and just like that, you find that you're the highest-ranked student, or sole instructor, in your gym or dojo. This doesn't have to be a bad thing. In fact, if you take advantage of it, even working exclusively with lower-ranking classmates or students can improve your skills.

I used to host a twice-a-week training session at my dojo where I invited mostly black belts from other schools (as well as a few of my advanced students) to come and run drills. It was a blast. These were tough two- to three-hour sessions where I got to work with fighters of all different sizes, speeds, and technique preferences. My sparring improved dramatically over the next few months, and I don't think I've ever been in better shape. But unfortunately, it doesn't always work out that way. And as the old saying goes, "You gotta work with what ya got." So, make it hard on yourself.

I like to set handicaps when fighting my students. Specifically, I focus on forcing myself to work on improving my weak areas. Is you right leg weaker than the left? Then only kick with the right leg when sparring your students. Not much of an inside fighter? Don't kick at all. Training with partners of lesser skill not only helps you improve your weak points but gives them an opportunity to improve as well by working on strategy. It's also great for building their confidence. It can also be a low-cost opportunity to test new techniques and combinations, which benefits you as well.

In grappling, just like sparring, there is little benefit to wrapping lower ranking classmates into pretzels over and over, for them or you. Instead, let your partner put you in a bad situation. Let them get the mount; help them sink in that choke or armbar. If you start standing, such as in judo, allow your partner to get the superior grip before attempting a throw. This way you will get comfortable working out of a weaker position and your less-experienced partner can perfect their technique (and get experience using multiple techniques, if you get out of their first one).

You might think that giving advantages like these to students who may be far beneath your skill level is much of a challenge. Trust me, you'll reconsider that sentiment when you wind up sparring a 6'5" novice with zero control over his strength after deciding to only use your weak leg, or have a 250-pound green belt lying across your diaphragm trying to get an armlock after you let them get the pin. Remember, this is exactly what you signed up for: a challenge.

If you find yourself at the top of the heap without partners who are sufficiently challenging, there is no need to despair. Use it as a low-stress opportunity to improve your weaknesses and develop avenues to help your less experienced classmates and students to grow. You may even be surprised. One day they might present more of a challenge than you ever imagined!
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