Saturday, February 23, 2013

Self-Defense Blunders #7 - Emphasis on Joint Locks

The first step to identifying effective self-defense options is to determine who will be learning these skills. I am not so much worried about gender or age as I am about the types of situations or environments this person may be forced to face. Is this person a law enforcement officer that will be required to use these skills to apprehend criminals? Maybe this person is a sport-based fighter that will test these skills out in a cage fight? Or this person might be a civilian that will some day be required to fight for his life against an armed attacker? The reality is that each of these people will require different skills that are applicable to their specific needs. The law enforcement officer will likely never need cage-fighting skills, the cage fighter will most likely not be required to apprehend criminals, and the civilian will probably never need those skills that contradict his objective of surviving violence.

The need for task-specific skills is nothing new. Yet, there are so many systems out there that continue to offer these “one-size-fits-all” approaches to self-defense. Then there are self-defense systems that while relatively good, still include techniques and tactics that contradict the primary goal, to escape violence or survive when escape is no longer an option. One such tactic that is commonly included in modern self-defense systems is the “joint lock”. As the name implies, the idea is to place the attacker’s joints in compromising positions that create pain, misalign the skeletal system, or simply dislocate bones. These types of techniques are most often used by law enforcement and security personnel to aid in the apprehension and containment of common criminals. However, they have been included in numerous civilian self-defense programs since the early 1900’s. These systems were originally based on the Japanese martial art of Jujitsu, which emphasized joint locking techniques. While Jujitsu was fairly unheard of by many during those initial years, its popularity grew during WWII due to it’s effectiveness in combat. Many military instructors and Jujitsu black belts took advantage of that popularity by writing numerous books for the civilian market. As they say, the rest is history. That said, it’s important to note that while Jujitsu is known for its joint locking capabilities, these techniques are not exclusive to jujitsu. In fact, joint locks can be found in hundreds of martial arts from numerous cultures, some dating back thousands of years.

So, if these joint locking techniques were so effective for war, wouldn’t that make them just as effective for modern self-defense? To be blunt…yes and no! Joint locking techniques can be used for a variety of situations from a low level threat up to an armed attacker. Obviously their versatility would make them good for self-defense. However, there are a number of issues involved that make joint lock techniques less than ideal for general self-defense. Let’s address the issues.

Joint locks require many years to master.- The reality is that many of the joint locks taught during periods of war were simplified so they could be taught relatively quickly. However, even these simplified locks required above average skill levels. What’s important to note is that the soldiers spent many hours each week learning and practicing these skills before they carried them into battle but most people that seek out modern self-defense training do not have the time, energy, or desire to invest in regular weekly practice. As a general rule of thumb, the greater the skill that a technique requires the more time and energy a person must invest in it. That said, these types of techniques may not be ideal options for those seeking crash-course self-defense programs.

Joint locks generally engage both hands- While there are many highly skilled Jujitsu masters out there that can perform joint locks with only one hand, they are few and far between. The reality is that the majority of effective joint locks require the use of two hands. This means that both of you hands will be occupied while attempting to lock or control an aggressive attacker. The result is a reduction in reaction time should you need to use a hand to block or deflect an incoming strike. It also means that you are more vulnerable to attacks from a second or third assailant.

Joint locks are inappropriate for many situations- The biggest issue with joint locking techniques is the fact that they are not appropriate for all situations. Imagine being assaulted by two or more individuals. Now imagine that each attacker is bigger, stronger, and more aggressive than you. Do you think joint locking techniques would be appropriate or even effective in such a case? The fact is that joint locks are appropriate for only a handful of situations. Essentially these would be law enforcement and security situations. There are only a couple of situations that would be appropriate for a civilian to use joint locks or other restraint techniques. 1) during scenarios that involved low level threats, such as a drunk uncle 2) during a scenario where someone intended to harm themselves and a civilian was the only person available to intervene. However, in either case there are better and more easily learned options that don't pose potential injury to the recipient. The truth is that realistic self-defense is about awareness and avoidance which can lead most people away from bad situations before they have to resort to physical self-defense. This being the case, I see very few reasons or situations that would require a civilian to have to use joint locking techniques in defense of themselves or someone else.

Joint locks require prolonged contact- Not only do joint locks require the use of two hands but they also require a prolong period of physical contact. Yes, a lock can be used to damage or incapacitate the attacker relatively quickly (with proper skill) but it still requires more time to do than to simply strike a vital target. The problem is that the effectiveness of the lock will be dependent on numerous factors to include the user's skill and strength, the attacker's strength, pain tolerance, etc. Due to all of these factors a simple joint lock could turn into a wrestling match for survival. The more time you spend with an attacker, the greater your chances of sustaining major injury or loss of life.

Joint locks can cause tactic fixation- This is a common phenomenon amongst many martial arts and self-defense practitioners. They get so caught up in specific techniques and tactics that they become fixated. As an example, those that overemphasize joint locking techniques will often try to find a way to employ a joint lock even when one is not necessary or even appropriate. They may also fixate on a specific technique to the point that they will continue to try to make it work even after it has failed once or twice before. The issue here is that while they are fixating on these locking techniques they could be using techniques and tactics that are more efficient as well as more appropriate.

Joint locks require more strength and energy- This should go without saying but anytime we attempt to wrestle with an attacker our strength and energy expenditure drastically increases. Even with a high level of skill it still requires more strength and energy to lock and control joints than it does to strike a vital target on the attacker. While this isn't a huge concern in general martial arts training, it can mean the difference between life and death during a violent encounter.

Joint locks are less likely to slow or stop a determined attacker- Statistically speaking joint lock techniques are less likely to slow or stop the threat than other more efficient means of defense. This can be due to numerous variables such as pain tolerance, attacker's strength, heightened adrenal response, impaired senses from drug and alcohol abuse, mind-set, etc. Many of us have seen the cage fights in which joint locking techniques resulted in broken limbs, yet the recipient was able to continue to fight, often unaware of the injury. There are also dozens of police reports where officers share similar experiences of attempting to subdue a highly resisting assailant that was able to resist multiple officers in spite of having a broken limb. Obviously these variables in conjunction with the other issues make joint locks less than ideal for slowing or stopping a determined assailant.

While joint locking techniques should be included in comprehensive martial arts programs and they most definitely should be taught to law enforcement and security personnel, I believe that they have very little relevance to civilians that require the knowledge and skills to keep themselves safe from crime and assault. As mentioned previously, they require more time and energy than other more effective tactics and they are less likely to slow or stop a determined threat. If instructors feel strongly that joint lock techniques need to be in their self-defense curriculum, they should at least simplify the techniques and focus on those most likely to work under stress with the least amount of training. Instructors should also avoid fixating on joint lock techniques and emphasize that locks are lower on the list of priorities, reserved only for those situations previously mentioned.

Steve Zorn, ICP
Monday, February 04, 2013

How much do you value the safety of your children or the children in your care? PART 2

Many years ago I had set up a booth at our local downtown days. I was handing out flyers for an upcoming Kid Escape presentation that was going to be held at a local martial arts school. This was going to be free-of-charge to all children and their parents. As parents would walk by I would hand them a flyer. I recall this one mother walking by with two small children. I handed her a flyer. She paused and looked at it intently, then turned back to me, handed the flyer back and said "my children don't need this". I was caught totally by surprise. How in the world can a mother truly believe that her two children didn't need to know how to keep themselves safe from predators? In reality, it had nothing to do with the children not needing this knowledge, but had everything to do with the mother living in a constant state of denial. It's what I call the "ostrich syndrome". People try to ignore the reality of the world we live in. They think that if they don't acknowledge the crime and violence that exists that it will just somehow go away and they will never be forced to deal with such issues. In other words, if they don't think about it, it will never happen to them, their children, or to anyone they know. Unfortunately, this is far from the truth. In fact, those living in denial are more likely to become victims. Why? Because they are not physically or mentally prepared to deal with crime or assault. This is exactly what predators look for when searching out a potential victim. The sad thing is that in this particular case, it's the children that could ultimately suffer because of this denial.

A couple of years after the above situation I was at a local private school. I was talking to a group of teachers and parents about the Kid Escape program. I was explaining how I would present the program, what the kids would be learning, and what was involved. I remember that someone asked how much the program would cost. At the time I was charging a very small fee of $1 per child to present at the schools, just enough to cover the cost of handouts and a little (very little) for my time and that's what I told them. Then I remember a father raising his hand to ask a question. Here was the question..."who is going to pay for this?" Wow! All I could think of is that I was trying to provide life-saving information to his children and he was worried about the cost, a whole $1. In other words his children's safety meant so little to him that he didn't want to pay $1 to possibly save their life. This man probably spent money on himself every week buying frivolous things but $1 was too much to empower his children with knowledge and skills they would have for the rest of their life. Wow! Keeping in mind that this was a private school which costs way more than the average public school, tells us that he wasn't hurting for money.

A number of years ago I had contacted a nearby elementary school asking them to allow me to present the Kid Escape program for their students. They just blew me off. Not more than two weeks later a predator attempted to abduct one of their students as she was leaving the school. The only thing that saved her was the fact that an adult nearby just happened to see what was going on and chased the predator off. If the adult hadn't been there, it would have likely ended in tragedy.

These are just a few examples of the "ostrich syndrome" and the reluctance of parents and educators to seriously consider the safety of their children or children in their care.

If you have the "ostrich syndrome", please take steps to eliminate it now, before it's too late.

Steve Zorn, ICPS

How much do you value the safety of your children or the children in your care?

I have been striving to get the Kid Escape abduction prevention program to as many children as possible. I have been contacting schools, churches, and any other organizations that directly work with children. To be honest, I am shocked at the number of organizations that care so little about the safety of the children in their care. To say I have been extremely disappointed is an understatement.

One of the churches I recently contacted made the following statement in response- "the time allotted to us for any special events for kids outside of Sunday services are intended for discipleship opportunities to help further grow kids in their relationship with Christ. We try to stay within those guidelines when providing additional programs through out the year."

Let me be perfectly clear here...I believe that assisting children to have a better relationship with Christ is very important. However, this alone will not prevent these children from becoming victims of abduction or abuse. This alone most certainly will not prepare a child for the pain and violence they may be forced to endure at the hands of a predator. To think otherwise is not only misguided, it's flat out wrong.

Who is ultimately responsible for the safety of all children? Schools? Churches? Parents? Or are the children supposed to just suck it up and take care of themselves? Actually it doesn't seem that anyone really knows or cares. School officials often say that they don't have time to teach safety to children and academics take priority. Church staff usually say something similar to what I quoted above. Parents? Well there are a couple of issues there. In most cases parents lack the knowledge or experience to properly educate their children on how to stay safe, especially from abduction and abuse. Also, considering that due to many parents working full-time jobs, the children actually see their school teachers and church educators more than their parents.

The reality is that ultimately ALL adults are responsible for the safety of children, especially if they regularly have children in their care (school educators, church educators, youth group leaders, childcare providers, etc). While children can learn simple skills to keep themselves safe as a last-ditch option, it's the adults that are responsible for making sure the children receive this education. If you oversee or provide care to children and you don't take steps to directly keep them safe or to empower them with the knowledge to keep themselves are part of the problem rather than the solution. As long as there are adults out there that feel safety should take a back seat to some curriculum or overall objective, there will always be child victims. However, it doesn't have to be that way.

A portion of my life has revolved around providing safety education to children with hopes that those I reach will never be the victim of abduction or abuse. However, I am only one person and I can't do it alone. I need help from those that work with children and those that can reinforce the message that I share. Without the support of educators, church leaders, and parents...children will always be vulnerable. Please open your eyes to this fact!

Knife Disarms, for real???

I use the term "disarms" very loosely because it gives people a general idea of what we are trying to accomplish, an attempt to prevent the attacker from shooting us. However, I do not teach disarms in the traditional sense, stripping the weapon from the attacker's grip while they stand there looking on in amazement. This is great for that WOW factor and getting people interested in self-defense, and it works great in a controlled training environment. However, these fancy techniques don't always work as well when the attacker intends on killing you and has a convulsive death grip on the weapon. There is an easy litmus test to verify this...use training firearms that shoot some kind of projectile such as airsoft, paint rounds, or even rubber bands. Set up the scenarios so that the attacker is acting and moving like a real attacker, no standing around with the gun just hanging out there waiting for the disarm. Then tell the attacker that he makes the decision whether or not he wants to shoot the victim and tell him that if he sees any aggressive movement toward the gun that he is to shoot.

Can you guess what you will find? The defender will be shot more often than not. Even if it's only 50% of the time, this is too high of a probability for the techniques to be applicable for surviving a gun attack.

What about the knife? Same thing applies. While many martial arts instructors will show these cool disarms where the knife is stripped from the attacker's grip, even while sparring, I wouldn't bet my life on them during a real attack. Why not? Because real attackers move and act differently than fellow martial artists. They generally don't comply like a good training partner and what often works in training doesn't always work in real life.

What's the real problem with the "disarm" strategy? Well, to be blunt, this causes the intended victim to be weapon-fixated. In other words, they focus on the weapon that the attacker is holding rather than doing what is necessary to slow or stop the attacker that is holding the weapon. In short, we need to focus on interrupting the central nervous system (aka the brain) because this is the most efficient route to disarming the attacker. The longer we focus on or struggle to take the weapon away, that's precious time we are wasting and this increases the likelihood we will be severely injured or killed.

While traditional disarms have been known to work in some situations, there are better and more easily learned options and tactics that have been shown to work more frequently and with less risk.

So, don't get caught up in the weapon "disarm" illusion, especially if your focus is on the ability to survive lethal force situations.

Self-Defense Blunders #6- calling it "Street Fighting"

There seems to be a common misconception regarding the terms "self-defense" and "street fighting".  Many will talk about the terms as if they are one in the same, when in fact nothing could be further from the truth.There are a variety of books out there and even internet discussion forums devoted to "street fighting". Unfortunately, few that promote the term actually understand what it is that they are promoting.

Let's begin with some simple definitions-

Street Fighting from Wikipedia-
"Street fighting is hand-to-hand fighting in public places, between individuals or groups of people."
"The main difference between street fighting and a self-defense situation is that a street fight is avoidable, whereas a self-defense situation is not. "

Self-Defense from online dictionary-
"The act of defending one's person when physically attacked, as by countering blows or overcoming an assailant: the art of self-defense."

As we look at the definition of "street fighting", especially the second statement we see the word that that clearly sets "street fighting" apart from "self-defense", and that word is 'avoidable'.  A "street fight" is what is commonly referred to at a symmetrical match fight. Everyone that is involved in a symmetrical match fight has agreed to be involved. They have provided consent, either verbally or implied. The typical scenario involves two or more guys. They begin with the pre-fight rituals of flaring their chests, flailing their arms, and pecking their heads. Typically this will include the exchange of verbal abuse and threats, leading up to the physical engagement. When all parties have agreed to participate in these rituals and engagements, not a single participant can claim "self-defense" by any legal definition. So, in other words, "street fighting" is about engaging in consensual combat. It's not any different than boxing or wrestling with the exception that it takes place on the street or in some public place.

"Self-defense" on the other hand is what is referred to as an asymmetrical assault. Generally during asymmetrical assaults, one person has initiated the attack and the intended victim has not provided consent in any way, shape, or form. They have been forced into the situation and generally look for opportunities of escape rather than engage the attacker in a physical manner.

So, "street fighting" can easily be avoided. It's a matter of avoiding those people and places that will likely lead to confrontation. If confrontation is expected, it's just a matter of walking away and choosing not to feed the ego. However, "self-defense" situations can often be avoided as well by simply using awareness and prevention strategies. Although, even if these strategies are regularly employed, there are no guarantees. In that case, escape should be the first priority and physical engagement should only be considered after all other options have been exhausted.

As you can see, there is is a difference between the two terms as well as the potential outcome for each. If effective self-defense and personal safety is what you seek, I suggest avoiding those instructors that promote the term "street fighting". Not only does the term confuse the student but it reflects negatively on the objective of the training and could even lead to legal ramifications should a person be forced to use their "street fighting" in defense of themselves or someone else.

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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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