Swing For the Fence

When we examine the use of an impact weapon to defend ourselves we find a lot of complicated ways to approach something that should be fairly simple. I know I spent quite a few years doing a lot of things that were little more than a fancy choreographed dance routine with an impact weapon as an accessory. Through trial and error my training partners and I were able to boil impact weapon work down to a few essentials.


Impact weapon work is similar to any other weapon we might use to defend our life and limb. Some principles are universal such as; 1) Choose the right tool for the job. 2) If you aren't regularly practicing with the tool don't expect skill to magically materialize when you need it. 3) Hit what's available until something better to hit becomes available.


Coach Matt Thornton, president of the Straight Blast Gym, International streamlined impact weapon work within the SBG in the early 2000's using the acronym SMAC to best summarize our approach. Through the process of constant pressure testing we had discovered a few truths regarding impact weapon work. We found a target hierarchy of; 1) weapon bearing arm, 2) lead leg, 3) the head to be the best way to deal with an armed opponent. Particularly if our opponent was armed with an impact weapon, aka we were stick fighting, the best way to deal with them was to beat on their weapon bearing arm to take away their ability to hit us, attack their lead leg to reduce their mobility, and finally attack their head to knock them out. We found it worked best if we used this hierarchy within our stick fighting strategy.


(It was also through this impact weapon testing process in the 1990's that I discovered the Helmet, now called the Default Response by master trainer Craig Douglas. We learned a lot of valuable lessons beating on each other with sticks… mostly that it hurts. A lot.)


When it comes to using an impact weapon to defend ourselves outside the arena of a consensual stick fight, there are a few things we need to understand. (Beyond the legal aspect. For that you'll need to speak with an attorney that understands the law and self defense). I'm a believer in attacking the limbs with impact weapons. A shot from a sap across the wrist or top of the forearm will make it difficult for your attacker to hold onto you. The same can be said for shots to major muscle groups. A baseball bat or table leg to the outside of your attacker's upper arm or thigh will most likely cause them to alter their immediate plans, and a second and third shot will create some mobility issues for them.


Regardless of the size of the weapon I try to keep my hand within the four corners of my upper body meaning I don't lift my hands above my shoulders or let them drop below my hips. If I'm swinging an impact weapon in an X pattern I won't let my weapon bearing arm go outside of the four corners of my upper body. Power is generated by rotation of my upper body, weight shift of my lower body, and the weight of the tool I'm using. This really becomes important when using the shorter impact weapons such as an extendable baton, a sap, or a short improvised impact weapon. With longer impact weapons that require two hands we can loosen this rule a bit however, it's never a good idea to develop bad habits.


In the next post we'll get into some specific concepts and principles as well as some training ideas we can use to develop our impact weapon skills.


What is First?

First Things First by Stephen Covey is a great book on time management. It takes us deeper into Covey’s system for managing our most valuable asset; time. During a seminar on time management one of the presenters said something that pertains to working towards our goals and objectives that stuck with me. He said; the first thing you do upon waking is the first thing. If the first thing I do upon waking isn’t taking me towards my goals, then I need to think about my goals, and what’s really important to me.


If one of my goals is to improve my Jiujitsu escapes from bottom then the first thing I should be doing upon waking is something that takes me closer to this goal. Get out of bed, and get the coffee brewing. While I’m waiting for my coffee I can do hip escapes/shrimps,  bridges/upas, sit-outs or any number of solo drills that prime my mind and body to think all day about my goal of improving my Jiujitsu.


This also applies to any other goal in the multidisciplinary practice. If we want to improve our pistol skills then the first thing I should do is dry practice. If I want to level up my standup game then I should be shadowboxing as soon as I’m awake enough to move around. The mental act of starting to work on reaching my goal as soon as I’m awake is important. It sets the tone and pace for the day. Coach Cecil Burch of Immediate Action Combatives has spoken and written quite often about using every available minute for our daily practice as we are all on a time crunch. Those moments while waiting for our coffee to brew, or the shower water to regulate is a few more minutes or reps.  It’s a simple way to get into the mental state of using every available moment when we start our day working on our goal.


As I recall the presentation on time management, and reaching goals I think about how many times I have started my day looking at what others are doing. I surf social media to see what my friends, and family are doing, check emails, or my RSS feed. While these things are all interesting, there is a good chance none of these things are helping me reach my goals. I have effectively told myself what others are doing is more important than my goals, and what I want to do. It might sound self serving yet, I think it’s okay to focus on ourselves and our goals for the first few moments of the day.


Think about your goals. Think about how you start your day. If those two things aren’t congruent maybe it’s time to put yourself and your goals first, at least for the first part of your day. Try it for a few weeks, and see if it doesn’t move you closer to reaching your goals.


If You Can Dodge A Wrench

If you have watched the movie Dodgeball; A True Underdog Story, then you are probably familiar with the scene with Patches O’Houlihan. If you haven’t watched it I have to wonder what you’re doing that could possibly be more important than studying this film but on the off chance you didn’t here is the relevant clip;


In all seriousness there have been times in my training career when I have really wondered what we are doing or trying to accomplish with cross-training or hybrid training or whatever you want to call it. Some of it seems as absurd as Patches throwing wrenches at guys to get them ready for  dodgeball. I get it, everyone is on a time crunch so if we could find a way to make one training session cover multiple disciplines then that’s a win on several fronts.

However, specificity and adaption to imposed demands is a real thing. If we want to excel at shooting a rifle accurately at 600 – 1,000 yards, shooting clays with a shotgun everyday for hours instead of shooting our rifle is counter-productive. Yes we are working with a long gun but there isn’t going to be enough carry-over between the two to make the shotgunning beneficial to pursuing our goal of precision rifle work.

Fortunately when it comes to impact weapons any time we work with any impact weapon it seems to benefit all of the impact weapons we use. Whether we are using a baseball bat, an expandable baton, a sap, or a piece of rebar the body mechanics are virtually identical. We will have to adjust for the weapons characteristics yet the rotation of your upper body, weight shift of the lower body, and path our arm travels is the same. If we use weighted clubs, maces or bells we can also incorporate some strength and conditioning into our impact weapons work.


Hanuman with a  mace similar to the ones often found in pictures of the Great Gama. A fantastic strength and conditioning tool with centuries of history, it also works great as an impact weapon workout. Quite a few companies are making maces now but if you can’t afford one at the moment a sledgehammer will do just fine. 


There are a number of impact weapon schools and lineages out there, and since you are reading this it’s safe to assume you probably have some background in impact weapons. However, if you aren’t already practicing impact weapon work there is no reason you can’t get started today. The fundamentals of impact weapons work is forehand strikes, and back hand strikes. The easiest place to start is with the X angle. For X angles using a forehand strike, (if you’re right handed), visualize striking from the 2 o’ clock position to the 8 o’ clock position. The other side of the X, still using your right hand, would be a backhand strike from the 10 o’ clock position to the 4 o’ clock position. This is a very simplistic approach to impact weapon work, and finding a coach to help you learn proper technique would be well worth your time. However, swinging an impact weapon with power can look a lot like a good baseball or tennis swing. Transferring power from the legs, through trunk rotation, and into the impact weapon is something athletes in baseball and tennis have spent quite a bit of time and money on developing to a high degree. If you don’t have a coach or background in impact weapons I won’t leave you hanging, we’ll go deeper into impact weapon training in future posts.

It’s Just A Knife

When it comes to gun safety we’ve got it down. Most folks can recite the four rules of safe gun handling, and spot a safety violation immediately.

The same can be said of our driving skill set. Most know the rules of safe vehicle operations and we can see an unsafe driver a mile away.

When it comes to knives, whether it’s for personal protection or it’s utilitarian, we see a lot of behavior that would at best be described as apathetic. I have cringed as I’ve watched folks use their pocket knife to open a box or package by pulling the knife towards their body. Never a good idea. This is usually made worse by the fact that their knife is incredibly dull, as a result they are now driving the blade with great force towards their own body. Imagine how many ways this can and will go wrong. Now think about the outcome if we are hiking miles deep into an uninhabited area and have to cut something? Sure we have our expedient med gear on us however, this scenario is going to get complicated if it involves temporarily losing the use the use of a limb or worse. Again, never a good idea. It’s also completely avoidable by simply practicing safe knife handling.

We routinely see folks handle training guns as if they are live guns, (which is a great idea), yet handle training knives as if they are, well, made of plastic. This is where unsafe knife handling practices begin. We should treat the knife, to include training knives, with the same care as we treat a firearm, vehicle or anything else in this endeavor that could cause serious bodily injury or death. We want to build safe knife handling skills, and through good repetitions make these safe skills habit.

Here’s a summary of safe knife handling rules;

  • Always handle your knife with respect. The knife giveth and the knife taketh away. Particularly when you are hunting, fishing, hiking, and/or camping miles away from the nearest medical facility.
  • Cut away from your body, not toward it. Only always.
  • Let dropped knives fall. Murphy’s law dictates you will cut yourself badly trying to catch a dropped knife. On a hiking/fishing trip a few years ago I dropped a favorite, and expensive, knife while trying to cut a tangled line. I tried to catch the knife before it went into the river. I collected a nice cut and still lost the knife. It would have been better to lose the knife then have to deal with an injury miles out from the nearest aid station.
  • Keep your knives sharp. Bad things happen when we exert too much force due to a dull knife. Also, if you have to use that much force maybe your chosen knife isn’t the right tool for the job.
  • When handing a knife to someone it’s best to set the knife on a flat surface. They can pick it up. If you can’t do that then handing the knife to them handle first, with the blade facing outboard from the palm of your hand is your second best option

These are just a few safe knife handling rules we can implement immediately into our daily practice. Build these habits by applying these same rules to training knives as well. It’s never just a knife.

Plan? Forget the Plan

As multidisciplinary trainees we are trying to cover a lot of ground as efficiently as possible. We want to be as proficient as possible in everything from verbal skills to driving to expedient medical skills, and everything in between. To accomplish this we have to plan our work and then work our plan. Organizing everything into bite sized chunks, setting, and reaching goals is an absolute necessity. If we don’t approach this endeavor in such a manner, we can quickly spin in circles or spend most of our time on things we enjoy rather than things we need to develop. A plan keeps us on task.


However, there are times where it is beneficial to scrap the plan. Have you ever had a moment during a practice session where things really started clicking? A moment when you had a breakthrough? Has that moment happened at the last few minutes of a scheduled training session? If we stick with the plan we have to end the practice session right when we are hitting that Flow state and that seems counter productive. Unless we are on a time crunch, I would recommend forgetting the plan and flow with the go. Even with a time limit on the session unless there is something pressing I would stay with the flow. The purpose of our training plan was to bring us to this point where we begin to do things we previously couldn’t do… why would we want to stop? 


One of the moments that helped me realize it’s okay to stray from the plan happened during a squat session. My planned session was 10 sets of 2 reps using 75% of my 1 rep max. After the third set my training partners noted that my squat speed was really fast, and the weight appeared light. I agreed, and we decided to add weight to the bar. Before the session was over I was working multiple sets of 2 with heavier weight than my previously projected 1 rep max. I experienced a breakthrough in technique, and strength. For whatever reason everything was working together, and all systems were go. I said to my training partners, and coach that we were deviating from the plan. I was concerned this might derail my training plan. My coach told me that the purpose of the plan was to get me to this point so now is not the time to stop, let’s keep going, and ride this wave for all it’s worth. We can always re-write the plan based on this breakthrough. That’s when something my coaches have always said finally sunk in; the plan is just a template. Keep it fluid, learn to adjust on the fly, and when those breakthrough moments happen ride that wave. We’ve all experienced this in different ways during our training evolution like that dry fire session when everything was going smooth, we forgot how many reps we had done or how many were left to do. We lost track of time, and just worked. When those moments happen it’s time to forget the plan. We can re-write it later. For now, it’s time to flow with the go. 

How Do You Know? 

An important question to ask ourselves as we self-audit is; how do I know? 

How do I know this information is legit? 

How do I know these things work? 

How do I know I’m adept?

There is only one way to know. Experience. We gain experience by taking action. 

The action of daily practice. The action of training evolutions. The action of real world application. 

Talking about it, even in-depth technical discussion will never give us the understanding, and ownership that taking action and gaining experience will. Once you experience it, you own it. 

“If we didn’t experience a loss, we would never know what we are capable of.” – MuhammadAli 

There is a price to pay for experience. Losses. Injury or worse. This is also the price of ownership. Some folks are afraid of this part, and will miss out on valuable opportunities because losing sucks. However, you know what doesn’t suck? Having a definitive answer to the question: how do you know? 

“Self knowledge is best learned, not by contemplation, but by action. Strive to do your duty, and you will soon discover of what stuff you are made.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe 

The scars on Coach Richard Hawthorne’s shoulders speak volumes on the subject of experience. Years under the bar gaining experience, owning it. If you want to know how Coach Hawthorne knows, look at his shoulders. Picture by Craig Douglas, and used with permission.

Take action. Do the work. Then you’ll know. 

What Would You Do?

*Disclaimer – My attorney really appreciates when I stay out of these discussions. However, a few friends have sent this one to me and asked my opinion. I won’t get into any kind of discussion that will cause Tim or Suyash to call me. I promise.*

Usually when friends ask my thoughts on a use of force or response to resistance incident that makes the news they will ask, “what would you have done?” It’s difficult to answer these questions because I’m not there, and having done this for some time I’ve watched a lot of people jump to conclusions on either side only to find there is more to the story. For those reasons, and more I tend to avoid these discussions.

However, I will discuss training issues I see, (admittedly from the luxury of my Monday morning quarterback position), and how I think this could be handled better in a world of good, better, and best options. Also understanding that my perspective is skewed because I’m pretty good at Brazilian JiuJitsu, Wrestling, and Judo so I’m confident in my ability to out grapple most people I encounter, and the ones I can’t out grapple I can still hang with for a little while before they catch me. I realize that might sound arrogant but it’s just a fact that also colors my perspective when it comes to these things.

Okay, lets dive in…


1) I wouldn’t use a baton/impact weapon at that point. The suspect is on the ground, still resisting, (I think), but not throwing punches. Now is the time to switch gears and establish control. More pain in the form of strikes won’t, and isn’t gaining compliance. We have to guard against fixating on the tool driven action we’re performing. When it’s time to transition we have to be ready to transition quickly to a more effective tactic. The strategical objective is to get the suspect into cuffs, not ineffectively swing a baton.


Coach Chris Haueter covering the fine points of the knee ride with me circa 2002. Although I’ve been perfecting this position for quite some time even a rudimentary understanding of this position would help officers control the vast majority of the folks they encounter in a use of force incident.

2) He was set to knee ride, which is a dominant position. Use it. We use it all the time in JiuJitsu for a really good reason. It allows me to maintain control and have mobility in case a bystander gets involved. They weren’t getting involved beyond verbally so on to the next step. BTW, I’ve used the knee ride on actively resisting people to pin them, and wait them out. If I can knee ride athletes that train everyday to get out from under that pin, I can knee ride someone that never trains to get out. Criminal offenders for the most part are not athletes and in this video there seems to be a size/weight disparity that favors the officer so use it. Knee ride until they burn out/gas out, and they’re done fighting. Which leads me to number 3.


3) Control one of the arms using a Kimura/double wrist lock, using that hold to lock down her upper body turning her while moving the arm behind her. First cuff goes on.

Kimura aka Double Wrist Lock while in the S-Position. This is a photo from a SWAT Magazine article written by Ed Lawrence. Photo credit M Abonce

4) Turn again while maintaining control of the cuffed arm and she’ll go flat on her stomach, in the ISR Matrix series the guy’s call this the S-Position. S stands for safety. It’s safe for me, because from there I have a lot of control over the suspect, I can assess my surroundings to make sure no one else gets involved, and it’s safe for the suspect because they can’t do anything. They’re pinned. They can squirm but they’re not going anywhere. At this point in my career I’ve cuffed a metric ton of people from that position, quite a few of those people were much larger than me. 100% of the time there was no fight left in them because mentally they knew it was pointless since they couldn’t move.


5) This is why I keep beating that JiuJitsu drum. Everything I wrote above could be performed against a resisting opponent by any Blue or Purple belt in any JiuJitsu gym anywhere in the world. That’s not an exaggeration. Maybe even most seasoned White belts. Heck man, by the time I was a Blue belt I rarely used the tools on my belt because I had this supreme confidence that once I made contact with the suspect I would be able to outperform them, get them under control with minimal effort, and get them cuffed up. 99.99% of the people I ran into on the street that resisted were nowhere near as hard to deal with as most of my daily training partners. I felt no need for most of the tools I had to carry, and only did so because it was dictated by SOP.  Again, this might sound arrogant yet it’s the truth, I’ve never encountered anyone outside of the gym or competition that was a problem. To paraphrase Rickson Gracie; for someone trained in Jiujitsu a fight or use of force incident is the ocean, the JiuJitsu trained is like a shark and most people can’t even swim. 


6) What training would I recommend for most Police Officers? I’m biased because I am one of the co-creators of this system, (although I am no longer involved), I think the ISR Matrix is one of the best systems out there. We filmed the first series in the late 1990’s where we preached the message of pressure testing, incorporating Brazilian JiuJitsu and MMA into Police Officer’s training. I also highly recommend Cliff Byerly of Hill Country Combatives. Cliff has a wealth of knowledge and experience, and is highly dedicated to seeing the standard of training in Law Enforcement pushed to a higher level.

Just for giggles here is the original ISR Matrix trailer filmed in the late 1990’s. I make an appearance or three in this clip. Enjoy.


Thanks to Greg Ellifritz of Active Response Training for encouraging me to make this a blog post.