The practice of self defense and defensive tactics is almost always conducted in physical terms. A group convenes, usually a warm up is conducted, and then the instructor has a plan to follow for the group: “today we are working on X tactics for the Y situation.” These can be anything from a cooperative or resistant arrest in law enforcement terms, maybe a takedown to ground control and cuffing, or in self defensive terms it could be pushing an attacker off and creating distance, or defending a tackle to either avoid being taken down or to get back up quickly if need be.
In other words, the practice is no different than training in “martial arts.” Whether that term conjures visions of people doing aikido or stick fighting or doing a combat sport like judo or jujitsu, “martial arts” are the model for almost everything I have ever seen and done in defensive tactics and self defense training for the past 19 years. On the basic level this makes sense: there really is little or no difference between physical martial techniques and what will be used in a streetfight. This is why the line gets blurry.
Defensive tactics are but a patchwork of various arts: Stick dueling and knife fighting from the Filipino arts, “lock flows” that also came from Filipino styles (but were originally taken from aikido), aikido proper, boxing, muay Thai, Krav Maga, and Brazilian Jiujitsu have been taught over the course of my career. There has rarely been integration, drills were simply taught for the discrete physical skills they imparted, and many of the drills and skills taught are wildly unrealistic for the context and the force parameters (stick dueling and knife fighting?) expected of law enforcers or people defending themselves. In some cases, the training is and can only be useful in extreme circumstances.
Or in a situation with no variables, no articulation, and no decision making required. It is of course much easier to run training this way, but it is problematic to base a self defense methodology on physical skill sets either de-linked from or confusing inclusion for context.
Training grappling skills inclusive of the weapons based environment, for example, is not context. Context would be grappling over a knife against a burglar in one’s kitchen in one case, or as a police officer wrestling over a shank held by an 90 year old WWII veteran in a care facility. Context is using striking and grappling skills in a ring competition versus using them against two guys that you yelled at when they were driving recklessly in your neighborhood. And context is having to either stay within the rules of the grappling match you are playing, or to stay legally sound in your efforts to defend yourself from a drunken neighbor that swung at you on his front porch when you were simply asking him to turn his music down.
Recently in an interview titled The Gracie Way, in the current Jiujitsu Magazine, Rener Gracie of the famed Brazilian jiujitsu family addressed this topic – in a way. He said:
“You have to ask the question, like, if I had a student of mine who was a blue belt and he was going to fight somebody in the street. If I’m going to give him a piece of advice before getting into a street fight, what am I going to say? I’m going to say: “Listen my friend, number one, keep a good distance. When you get a chance, get ahold (sic) of him, stay close, but don’t throw any punches out here on the wing once you’re in. Don’t throw any punches, kicks, headbutts, knee strikes, nothing. Matter of fact, don’t go for any armlocks, don’t go for any chokes, don’t go for any submissions.”
Most people go, “What do you mean don’t go for submissions? When you are in a fight, or wherever you are, go for a submission.”The question is, do you have more control over somebody? Are you less likely to be punched, or more likely to be punched? Are you less likely to lose control, or more likely to lose control if you are striking or going for submissions?
The answer is obvious. If you are on the side of somebody, or if you are standing trying to grab them, wherever you are, if you’re focused on punching and kicking, you’re not focused on not getting punched or controlling your position. When it comes to a street fight I want my blue belt friend to do nothing., just only hold the person down, just hold and stall forever. The only time my friend, my student, should go for a submission is when there is no other option. Eventually, the person they’re fighting will expose their back, or an arm in such a matter (sic) that they’re saying “please armlock me.” Exhausted, the arm or the submission will be there to take.”
This is a curious mix, and a great example of the blurry line.At least there is an understanding that the dynamics of a self defense encounter are usually more about evasion and avoidance than dominance and submission. Keep distance, be more concerned about not being punched (or stabbed…) and about maintaining a good position than about trying for striking or submissions.
The advice of holding the attacker down is good, not creating openings to be hit or choked or locked yourself. That “stalling” could mean the difference between being stabbed or even shot, in fact, with a subject armed with a gun. And with the ability to do this comes opportunity to disengage is possible. To go back to making that distance recommended as the first option.
For a police officer, a control hold may be necessary to take the subject into custody – but it’s not their expectation to disengage and make good an escape most of the time. Though how the cop chooses to go about control can be important.
Where the advice – and training it – gets blurry is that does not take context into account . Consider watching a video of a police officer in this situation. Let’s assume that the officer followed this advice: no striking, no submissions, controls the subject on the ground, then exhausted, the subject exposes his back and the officer then decides to use a lock or choke. That is, continuing to use force on someone no longer capable of fighting with you or presenting a threat…
We know what it would look like if he used strikes…
I imagine it would not go so well had he strangled her, either.
Now imagine yourself in a street encounter. And you decide to use a lock or choke on someone clearly not able even to escape from you, let alone posing a current threat. Would you really want to say – to responding officers or in open court – that he was by his actions saying “please armlock me?”
Of course not. The issue is both the out-of-context attitude toward a “street fight” (what most self defense training is, actually, as opposed to defending ones self) and whether or not contextual considerations are being recognized. (And I know Rener isn’t actually saying that: but he is thinking it, and that is the point…)
How often in your self defense class is articulation addressed? (I am specifically addressing dedicated self defense or defensive tactics training here, not just a regular day at the gym):
How often when practicing grappling with weapons, for instance, is your instructor asking you to articulate the when and why you decided to escalate to lethal force? The right time to go for a weapon is not simply when it is tactically feasible – it is also when it is legally justifiable based on factors of the situation.
How many of those factors are taken into account in your self defense training? Are you given a circumstantial scenario sketch and then making decisions based on that? (Burglar in the middle of the night in your kitchen-jumped in a crowded bar – at the park with your young niece and nephew – dark, empty street walking back to your car after clubbing…)
Or do you just get together and bang until someone goes for a weapon? There is a time and place for pure skills training, certainly, but even then, context should be appended, at least conceptually. And it should be clear, with more than a simple blanket statement of “lethal force is justified.” That may be okay with people who have a lot of experience, but for most students there is a great deal of hesitation and confusion surrounding these decisions. Sometimes listening to podcasts and hearing people give foggy advice on when to “use a gun,” for example, is cringeworthy.
Just like advice on striking or going for the submission …
There is a great story in the Carlos Gracie biography about a fight that Carlson Gracie got himself into. It’s on the beach, and he was staying with his father resting up before a major challenge fight. Carlos was being very strict with him, not letting him go out and ensuring he rest up. Carlson saw his girlfriend down on the beach from the balcony and went down “just to say hi.”
With his girlfriend now he saw a man down the beach obviously staring at her and trying to flirt. Not a good thing in Brazilian culture…. and a fight eventually began with Carlson throwing sand in his face. (His jiujitsu apparently did not extend to being calm and composed and not aggressive in the face of insult, but that is another matter…)
The man washed the sand out and came back and attacked Carlson.
Carlson repeatedly took him down, mounted him, then got off. He made no attempt to strike the man or lock or strangle him into submission. After a couple rounds of this, the exhausted man gave up and walked off.
This is actually an ideal demonstration of jiujitsu skills for self defense as opposed to turning it into a submissions match or free fighting ground and pound. Had the man begun to present more of a threat, Carlson could have done those things. But he did not pose more of a threat. Could not pose a threat.
It is an illustration of skills-in-context, even if the motivation to not get into a fight (hint, hint) was simply in order to rest up for a professional match.