Sunday, May 27, 2012

Tomahawk...Practical for Self-Defense?

When teaching combative skills I tend to follow the basic philosophy of 'weapons first'. In other words, we should always strive to maintain the tactical advantage by using modern and improvised tools when the situation warrants the use of such tools. One of the tools I like to promote is the tomahawk, a uniquely Americanized tool originally designed for utilitarian purposes as well as warfare.

A common question I get asked when discussing the tomahawk is "a tomahawk isn't practical to carry, so why teach a weapon that most of us don't own and that we are unlikely to have on us when it's needed for self-defense?" That's actually a good question. The tomahawk is a pretty unique tool and weapon and most people aren't likely to own one. That being the case, few of these people appreciate what a tomahawk has to offer in the way of practical application for self-defense. They don't recognize it's value or or it's need. I get that. However, there are people out there that own and utilize tomahawks for various utilitarian purposes. This can range from the weekend camper/hiker to the life-long hunter. The carrying of a tomahawk is even more common amongst US soldiers who carry them into battle. Although, the use of the tomahawk for self-defense is not limited to just these particular groups. Anyone that would like to have a simple but effective tool for personal protection should take a look at the tomahawk.

I agree that even if we own a tomahawk there is a chance that we won't have it on us when we need it most. While walking around the streets with a tomahawk strapped to our side isn't illegal, it would definitely be frowned upon. However, we need to look at the big picture. We could very easily find ourselves protecting our family in the confines of our own home. A firearm would be a suitable defensive choice in such a situation but it may not always be ideal. A tomahawk could fit this situation nicely if there is the potential to injure family or neighbors through friendly fire. A tomahawk can also be kept in a vehicle within arms reach if needed. So, while a tomahawk may not be the ideal tool to carry on our person, it makes an excellent tool for home and vehicle protection for those who prefer not to use firearms. It's also a very useful defensive tool for campers, hikers, and members of our armed forces.

However, tomahawk training is about more than the tomahawk itself, it's about the underlying concepts and principles that form the foundation of the training. I call one of these concepts "universal adaptation". In motor skill research this is similar to what's referred to as 'transference'. This is essentially taking a specific movement pattern and it's underlying body mechanics and applying them to another activity. In this case we take the movement patterns of the tomahawk and apply them to other similar tools like common hatchets and hammers as well as empty-hand techniques. In other words the skills we practice are not restricted to the tomahawk. This basic idea isn't new and it's found within many Filipino and Indonesian martial arts. The point is, we shouldn't get so caught up in the literal application of the weapon but instead focus on the concepts behind the training. It's these concepts that will save our lives, not the weapon.

So, if you have an interest in a relatively simple but effective self-defense tool, a tool that is strong, inexpensive and easily obtainable...look to the tomahawk.

Steve Zorn, ICPS
Saturday, May 19, 2012

Self-Defense Expert Banned from UK

This was recently brought to my attention.

There is likely more to this story than what is being told but this goes along with my previous post on the promotion of "the most lethal self-defense system in the world". I wasn't referring to this particular instructor when I posted those remarks but this proves one of my points. It's not whether or not an instructor teaches lethal force options or vicious techniques designed to injure. It's how they promote their systems that really matters. The more they promote the vicious and killing techniques to the  public the more negative attention they are going to receive.

Remember, there is so much more to real self-defense than the physical skills. In fact, if an instructor is doing his/her job properly their students will almost never be forced to use physical self-defense. Instructors should be emphasizing the more important components of awareness, avoidance, and prevention rather than the last-ditch survival tools. Learning to injure someone is the easy part but learning how to deal with or avoid potentially violent altercations before they escalate is the part we all need to work on.

Take care and stay safe,
Steve Zorn, ICPS
Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Unrealistic Training of Edged Weapons

I have been a student and instructor of offensive and defensive knife skills for over 15 years. I have been exposed to numerous methods of knife defense and use, some good and some bad. I have read dozens of books and viewed hundreds of video clips regarding this subject. However, I am still amazed at how many knife instructors I see on youtube and other sites demonstrating these fast and flashy knife techniques, dancing around their “opponents” slashing and stabbing while their “opponents” remain still like statues. Sure, such techniques are very impressive to watch.  In fact, viewers of such videos are often lead to believe that these instructors actually know what they are doing. Well, that may be true…but only to an extent.  

The knife is a lethal force tool designed for lethal force situations and should be treated as such. Keeping that in mind, I have no use for those flashy techniques that require dancing around an attacker while wildly slashing and stabbing at random targets. Often these video demonstrations show the instructor slashing at the arms, the torso, or the legs in a haphazard fashion with no obvious objective in mind. Other times the instructors can be seen targeting vital areas only to turn their focus back to non-vital areas. A good example of this is the application of the blade to the neck immediately followed by fancy slashes to the front or back of the torso, often times using both hands to accentuate the power used for the slash.  I honestly don’t understand the purpose for such tactics other than the fact that they look cool to unsuspecting students and onlookers. They provide that WOW factor that so many people search for in their training. In reality these types of techniques have little carryover to true survival altercations where every move we make could mean the difference between life and death. Like everything else in life, we should strive for quality over content, especially when our lives may be on the line.

Like a firearm, a knife should not be wielded or applied in a haphazard manner. Neither of these tools should be deployed unless the situation warrants their use.  Once we have determined that the situation legally supports the use of lethal force, each move we make should be based on one simple objective…to end the altercation as quickly and efficiently as possible. This means emphasizing those targets that offer the highest potential for stopping the threat. Choosing targets that don’t fit this objective are nothing more than superfluous movements designed for show. I am sure that many instructors will claim that it doesn’t really matter what we aim at. After all we are using a knife and in most cases it‘s likely to cause damage to anything it touches. That is true, BUT the overall objective isn’t just to cause damage, it’s to end the altercation as quickly and efficiently as possible …period. 

Many instructors of these flashy dancing-style techniques are quick to point out that real attackers are rarely incapacitated by direct shots to vital targets. They claim that they teach their students to continue their movements until the threat has stopped.  I understand and promote this concept myself. However, if these instructors truly believe this then why do they train against cooperative “opponents” that just stand there getting slashed and stabbed? Why do they focus on non-vital targets that offer next to nothing for actually stopping the threat? 

Instructors that promote some of these techniques often neglect important points regarding this topic. One thing often neglected is the legal ramifications of using such haphazard techniques. Obviously they have never had to use their knife or justify it's use in a court of law. While these types of techniques would be acceptable in war they would be frowned upon elsewhere. The resulting damage of wild slashes and stabs would in fact make the attacker look like the victim. Who else would have injuries to the limbs, the upper torso and the back, if not the “victim”? What these instructors fail to realize is that many of the wounds that they inflict on these random targets are often considered by the courts as “defensive wounds”. These are wounds sustained by the intended victim while trying to protect themselves. If the attacker appears to have more defensive wounds than the actual defender, it could be turned against them in court. They could be considered the aggressor and end up facing jail time. Therefore many of these techniques would not be considered appropriate for civilian self-defense situations, even when lethal force is justified.

What about war? Would these techniques be appropriate for battlefield situations? Yes and no. The overkill mentality would definitely be appropriate for war. However, in many cases the techniques themselves probably wouldn’t. Why not? Simply because there is an emphasis on too many non-vital targets. Also, on the battlefield many of these targets are well protected by heavy clothing, body armor, and battlefield gear. A wild slash to the chest or back will most likely go unnoticed, even when two hands are used to increase slashing power.

With all of this said, the objectives of using a knife for war or self-defense must be considered carefully and the techniques and tactics taught should be appropriately geared toward that objective. While there are many flashy and fancy skills that we can perform with a knife, we should instead focus on the basic essentials that are most likely to save our lives when we need them most.

Take care and stay safe,
Steve Zorn, ICPS

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Indiana Martial Arts Seminar

I am currently working to schedule a unique martial arts seminar to be held in the Warsaw, Indiana area on August 4 & 5, 2012. This event will feature several martial arts/self-defense instructors covering different topics. While this seminar will focus on techniques and tools that go beyond basic self-defense it will be suitable for anyone interested in martial arts or personal protection skills. Beginners are welcome and encouraged to attend.

Currently the topic line-up includes-

Essentials of the Fighting Tomahawk
Muay Thai for Street Defense
Fighting Bandanna  and Other Flexible Weapons
Trapping Skills for All Styles
and much more.

Details will be posted here and on my website as things solidify.

Take care and stay safe,

Kid Escape Program

I have been teaching the Kid Escape abduction prevention program for close to 10 years or so. It's one of the best programs of it's kind. I am now an official Kid Escape instructor for the northern Indiana area. Please feel free to contact me if you are in this area and would like to have a Kid Escape presentation conducted for your school or  youth group.

Most Lethal Form of Self-Defense? Give me a break...

I frequently come across outlandish claims being made by self-proclaimed experts of self-defense. One such claim is that their system is "the most lethal self-defense system on the planet" or something similar. Why anyone would want to make such a claim is beyond me. Even if it were true (which it isn't) why would anyone brag about their self-defense program being lethal which contradicts the whole concept of "self-defense"? Obviously these experts don't understand their own intended audience. If they did, they would know that the majority of men and women that need and seek out self-defense training have little desire to hurt others and most have no interest in taking a human life. Therefore the act of marketing a program as "lethal" will increase the likelihood of turning away those people that likely need the training the most.

Now, to be clear...I am all for the application of lethal force during those situations where lethal force is both warranted and required to save lives. However, the entire training program should not be based exclusively on lethal force techniques because the reality is that 99% of the altercations a person may be forced to face will require less-than-lethal force. Even when a program includes potentially-lethal techniques it should not be promoted in such a way to lead people to believe that they will be forced to kill in self-defense which may go against their belief system. People should also not be lead to believe they will become some super-duper unstoppable killing machine which could ultimately lead to false confidence and undesirable consequences like engaging a threat when they should have run away.

The point is, any legitimate self-defense instructor will avoid marketing scams like this. If you come across one of these scams while looking for self-defense training do yourself a huge favor and keep looking.

Take care and stay safe!


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-27 years training in personal safety -Multiple martial arts black belts -Multiple instructor certifications -Certified law enforcement trainer -Crime Prevention Specialist -Previous self-defense trainer for one of the country's largest airlines -Child safety specialist -Certified Fitness Trainer -TACTIX Fitness Trainer -High Intensity Training Specialist -FAST Defense Instructor -Kid Escape Instructor
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