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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.