In the first post of this series we talked about some fundamental technique. In this post I want to expand upon some of those elements. In the first post I wrote about techniques that work well if we have a bit of distance between ourselves, and our opponents. This time I want to share with you a tactic that works well when we want to keep our opponents off of us, and maintain striking distance particularly when using a shorter impact weapon.
The challenge in impact weapon fighting aka stick fighting has always been to keep our opponent in that sweet spot, that perfect range where we can apply the most force to our target. Hitting them at the peak of our swing so they experience the joy of that pain train crashing up their spine, and into their brain, shutting them down or at least making them want to quit. Every shot we can land of that order is a deposit into the making-them-quit bank account. However, on the receiving end we are looking to crash through that range or stay outside of that range while pot shotting their lead arm, and leg.
Enter Piston Striking. This is a simple tactic that keeps your opponent right there in the sweet spot. Think of how a piston works. If one piston is up, the piston on the opposite side is down. Watch this if you need a mental image. Even if you don’t need help understanding how pistons work, watch this because it’s pretty cool. You’re going to mimic this action with your arms. Your non-weapon bearing arm comes out in a straight shot essentially stiff arming your opponent, keeping them off of you, while the rotation of this shot cocks your weapon bearing arm by rotating your weapon bearing arm back. Fire the weapon bearing arm striking your opponent with the impact weapon while retracting your non-weapon bearing arm. The movement is still on the X so your firing a 1-2 combo however, in a rotational path due to the nature of the impact weapon. This is a non-stop salvo. You want to be firing lefts-rights repeatedly, one after another. Non-weapon bearing arm popping your opponent off of you, and keeping them off of you while the weapon bearing arm is landing clean shots with the impact weapon.
For a simple training progression I would suggest starting on a heavy bag in what would usually be boxing or striking range. Practice slowly throwing a jab with your non-weapon bearing hand then throwing a strike with your weapon bearing hand similar to a cross as you retract your jab. Begin with 5-10 rounds to work on your sense of range, and timing. This is where having solid Boxing mechanics comes into play. There is a lot of carry-over from throwing hands with bad intentions to striking effectively with an impact weapon in this range. After some time on a heavy bag, it’s time to work this tactic using Thai pads. Have your training partner feed by trying to slowly crash the range, making you work to keep them off of you with straight shots with the non-weapon bearing arm while landing shots with your impact weapon. Again, work 5-10 rounds a session, getting a feel for the timing, and distance now with a live feeder. Once your good to go with a feeder it’s time to add some more resistance. Using soft sticks agree with your training partner to stay in this range. Don’t allow yourself to be sucked into a full on sparring session. If you crash the range have a set time to work to get yourself unentangled. If you can’t get unentangled, break clean, and restart. Have your training partner simply work to crash, so you can focus on keeping him or her off of you, and in that sweet spot where you can land clean shots. Use your imagination and continue to add resistance until you go to integration phase where you incorporate this tactic into full sparring to test your ability to apply this against full resistance.
Give it a whirl, let me know how you like it, and how it works for you.
During my first trip to The Tactical Shooting Academy to train in the Fist-Fire shooting system with D.R. Middlebrooks the subject of running a long gun came up. I had always been trained to pull the long gun tightly back into my firing side shoulder to keep the gun from lifting or moving excessively under recoil. This works fairly well but in a world of good, better, best? I’m not going to rest, I’m going to keep looking for the best way. By the time I went to D.R.’s for the first time my agency had already spent quite a bit of money sending me to various schools to take my long gun skills further than I ever thought possible. I had also paid my own way to every long gun training course I could afford. Even though I had learned several approaches to running a long gun, the best way for me at that point was still to simply pull the long gun back into my shoulder aka “the pocket” as hard as I could.
D.R. Middlebrooks recommended I try a method espoused by Rob Haught which is based in a push-pull approach to mounting the shotgun. Essentially D.R. instructed me to mount the shotgun, (I was using a Remington 870), directly under my dominant eye to economize movement. By bringing the shotgun up to my dominant eye rather than moving my head to meet a rising shotgun I am able to mount the shotgun in a consistent manner every time. Once I make my cheekweld I pull back with my firing side arm while pulling forward with my support side arm. This creates a tension between the arms that absorbs practically all the recoil. I was immediately impressed, and became a fan of this approach to mounting a shotgun, as well as any long gun.
A few performance points I’d like to share with you. Don’t apply the isometric tension until the long gun is mounted, and you’re prepared to press the trigger. The tension will slow your mount speed. Once you do mount the long gun, and are ready to apply the isometric tension do so with gusto. Some folks suggest various percentages regarding the amount of tension to apply between the hands. I prefer to go for 100% tension from each hand. I pull back as hard a I can while pulling forward as hard as I can. I’m trying to pull the gun apart. Isometric holding exercises where I mount the long gun while applying as much isometric tension as possible, and then hold it for one minute followed by a two minute rest period have been extremely valuable in training myself to learn this method. I do five holds for a total of five minutes work, ten minutes rest. When in doubt grip a little harder, push-pull a little harder.
Give it a try, and let me know what you think. I’ll post some dry, and live fire demonstrations of my approach to this method in the near future.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.