Four veteran martial artists — Kelly McCann, Mike Janich, John Riddle and Mike Gillette — answer tough questions about how well a martial artist might fare against a terrorist.

Question 9: How is fighting a terrorist — a person who’s willing to give his life for a cause — different from fighting a mugger, a gangbanger or a rapist? Kelly McCann: Fighting a person who has already given up their life to their cause is significantly different from fighting anyone else. Criminals want to live to continue to do what they do or enjoy the reputation they create for themselves. The concept of martyrdom includes the death of the perpetrator, so it is different. There are crossovers — a criminal may not care if he goes to prison or even dies rather than be seen as having lost a fight — but there’s not a religious element [to most criminal acts]. When confronted by a terrorist, it would be unwise to think the incident will end up any other way than someone dying.

Kelly McCann photo by Robert Reiff


Mike Gillette: You just have to play the hand that’s been dealt to you. The idea of being willing to die for a cause is not unique to terrorists. As a cop, I encountered any number of street criminals who wanted to die. They would actually scream things like, “Shoot me, I want to die!” There is a unique element of risk when dealing with anyone who does not care whether they live or die, but a gang member can kill you just as surely as a terrorist can. It is up to you to use your powers of perception to assess what you’re dealing with and to respond accordingly. The idea of developing different strategies for muggers, bikers, skinheads or terrorists takes what is already a difficult task and makes it unmanageable. So make it simpler. You are a good guy (or girl) and you may one day have to deal with a bad guy (or girl). If that happens, there won’t be time to do anything except respond to whatever threat is presented to you. And only after the fact will there be time to analyze whether your attacker was a gang member, a mugger or a terrorist. Mike Janich: Criminals look for victims and are generally motivated by personal desires. Terrorists look for body counts and are motivated by a cause that they believe goes far beyond the individual. Because they believe they have a greater purpose and have often accepted their own deaths, they are much harder to stop. It’s possible that you could deter a criminal by fighting back and convincing him that you’re not easy prey. A terrorist will typically be much more determined. Against that type of threat, you only have two choices: You stop him, or you let him.

Mike Janich Photo by Rick Hustead

John Riddle: Having to fight a person willing to give his life for a cause is different than fighting a mugger, gangbanger or rapist. A person who has a cause is usually more motivated to get the mission finished, no matter the circumstances. This person enters into the assignment usually after being recruited and programmed with propaganda and promises of a “good life,” and then is set free into society to do his/her deed for a certain reward. That can make the individual a formidable opponent. In my [law-enforcement] career, I have taken down many muggers, gangbangers and rapists. Yes, they too have a motivation — money, revenge, sex or the next fix. These types work on opportunity. If the opportunity is there, they will take it. If they feel it is too risky, they will usually wait for another time. They do not want to get caught for fear of incarceration. This group works on a different level than a terrorist. Question 10: In regard to the lone-wolf threat, does it make sense for martial artists to devote additional time to weapons defense? Kelly McCann: Training dedicated to weapons defense is critical — not only because of the remote possibility that you will be dealing with a terrorist situation but because of the greater likelihood a weapon will be present during a physical assault or other crime. But remember that mere familiarity with techniques is not enough; intense training under varied circumstances is necessary to pull off a disarm when you’re frightened.

Stream a no-holds-barred seminar by Kelly McCann, Black Belt’s 2008 Self-Defense Instructor of the Year, to your digital device! Click here to watch a teaser for Kelly McCann’s 5-Volume Combatives Self-Defense Course.

. . . . Mike Gillette: If a person trains in the martial arts and doesn’t train to defend against weapons, I consider them to be either recreational athletes or historical re-enactment enthusiasts. You will never be attacked one-on-one in the daylight, with ample warning and without the potential for weapons to be involved. Statistically, you are far more likely to be confronted by multiple attackers, and they will be armed with something. If you don’t train for those contingencies, that’s fine. But self-protection is unique in that you don’t get to define what it is. It is ultimately defined by whatever is circumstantially thrust upon you.

Photo Courtesy of Mike Gillette

Mike Janich: At the very least, you should explore the potential of adapting your art to modern threats. Shaolin monks never saw an AK-47, but if they had, they would have trained to defend against it. Don’t just “preserve” anachronistic techniques; figure out how to apply them to today’s problems. John Riddle: If you practice weapons defense, you need to include defense against impact weapons, handguns, long guns and edged weapons. Understand the options you have, such as escalation, de-escalation, movement and use of angles. Train in every range. You need to be able to work in the ambush range and midrange, as well as long range.

Photo Courtesy of John Riddle

Question 11: Realistically, what chance does an unarmed martial artist stand against an armed terrorist? Mike Janich: Against an armed attacker, committed, effective violence can be a very viable answer. However, if your study of the arts and your personal image as a “martial artist” don’t support that, you will fail. In simpler terms, against a lone-wolf terrorist, nobody — especially the terrorist — will give you any style points for a perfectly executed kick that didn’t actually stop the threat. Conversely, burying a thumb in each of his eyes and bouncing his head off the concrete doesn’t make you much of a “martial artist,” but it’s a more effective way of solving the problem. John Riddle: It depends on the martial artist and how hard he trains in scenarios involving armed attackers. Everything needs to start with situational awareness. If you have your head stuck in the sand and not on a swivel, you will be caught. If the attack does happen and you are not armed, you need to understand improvised weapons and be able to get to them. Understand the importance of barriers — getting something between you and the bad guy. It is these types of tactics that will keep you alive against an armed attacker. Mike Gillette: The martial artist will have a chance — which is more than an untrained, unprepared person will ever have. And it is for that reason, for that chance, that we train. Read Part One of this article here, Part Two here and Part Three here.
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