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Five Beautiful Deaths
The Biomechanics of Survival
© 2012 James LaFond
I have been involved in a number of self-defense programs as a student and instructor, and have read hundreds of books and articles on the subject. For the most part I prefer discussing self-defense on the behavioral level. That is a huge subject that I have addressed in numerous books and articles. In this piece I would like to address five fantasy attacks [biomechanical scenarios] that self-defense practitioners spend valuable training time preparing to counter.
Self-defense training should focus on more likely attacks, not less likely, unlikely or imaginary ones, as it is going to take a lot of work to develop your muscle memory. There is no sense in building suicidal muscle memory. Below you will find the five most common fantasy attacks, upon which thousands of martial arts and self-defense demonstrations, magazine articles and books have been based. First let me use a recent self-defense class to illustrate this point.
Sensei’s Weapon Pile
One of my favorite self-defense instructors occasionally makes a weapon pile at the end of class. Each student in their turn advances to the front of the class and turns their back on the pile. The other students then take turns advancing to the pile and picking up a weapon. The defending student must then turn and immediately defend against an attack. Now, the instructor employs creative and novel attacks to challenge the students. The students however, when called upon to play the attacker, all use the weapons in the least likely manner, behaving as if they are a self-defense student approaching a dangerous situation, rather than as a criminal aggressor. There are some very simple reasons for this which have nothing to do with these students being mentally deficient or lacking in creativity. In fact, these students unconsciously reinvent the same fantasy attacks that have been promoted as reality by self-defense instructors since at least 1901.
The Factual Basis
The statements below are based on a study of 1675 acts of violence documented between 1996 and 2000. This database is extant, with a record of between 8 and 48 particulars and additional notes on each incident.
(#1) The Lapel Grab
In 1675 acts of violence the lapel grab has been used one time. This was in the men’s room of a community college during a martial arts tournament. We can call the aggressor Eric ‘The Impaler’, for no other reason than that is what his friends at a certain bar called him. Now, Eric ‘The Impaler’ was a 235 lb mechanic with hands of stone. The other instructor was a 140 lb man who had not yet realized that he was taking lightly the unrepentant reincarnation of a 15th Century Prince of Wallachia who had once preferred his dinner served with war crimes. Eric seized the small bemused mortal by the ‘lapels’ of his gi and snarled apocalyptic nothings into his face.
End of encounter.
Yes, that is it; the only lapel grab on record. Now, this begs the question, who invented this? Was it in fact imported from the Orient after World War II? Also, where did the notion to intimidate the smaller man in this specific fashion originate in the subconscious of the aggressor? Did he grab in this manner based on his hundreds of hours of ‘uke’ duty under his master? Might the biomechanics of this singularly rare attack have had their roots in Eric’s self-defense indoctrination?
Or, could the lapel grab, which seems a relatively civil form of aggression in our own age of pack attacks and serial killers, have its origins in a more civil age; when men, even poor men, attempted to dress for success, which implied the wearing of a jacket, even in the heat of summer?
Old Dead White Guys
Recently, while looking through my boxing archives for a photo of Robert Fitzsimmons, former world Middleweight, Heavyweight and Light Heavyweight Champion [in that order] I turned to a sequence of self-defense poses just after page 64 of his 1901 book Physical Culture and Self-Defense. In one of these photos Fitz neutralizes a smaller man pointing a finger at his chin in anger by grabbing the man’s unbuttoned jacket by the lapels and pulling the collar down the back, thus pinning the man’s arms with the sleeves of his own jacket.
Can we blame tens of thousands of hours of wasted self-defense training all on a nifty trick used by a boxer to frustrate the drunken fans of his opponents? Who knows, but Fitz is long gone, and in case you are a rude boxing hooligan, and his successor has happened upon this book of secrets, I think I can trust you not to point your finger in Wladimir Klitschko’s face. There, I have provided you with the arcane behavioral secret for avoiding the lapel grab all together so that you can practice defending against something else.
Disclaimer: In all honesty, I haven’t completely protected you from the lapel grab, as I have no sure fire tips for avoiding the attentions of the reincarnated 15th Century Balkan warlords who walk among us disguised as karate instructors.
(#2) Defense against Arrest & Military Assassination
People who threaten us with pistols do not do it like a police officer unless they are a law-enforcement, military or paramilitary operative. And, it is my considered advice not to attempt defending yourself with your empty hands against any such aggressor. Deal with these people from behind the sandbag rampart that cordon’s off the entrance to your doomsday bunker with your Barrett .50 Caliber. Never-the-less, everyone who snaps up the rubber pistol from Sensei’s weapon pile threatens with it as if they are making an arrest or drawing down on Osama Bin Laden while he cowers behind his 74th virgin wife. The class and its reality-based self-defense pursuits would be better served if the students role-playing the gunman imitated the hand signals used by hip hop artists in their videos.
(#3) Pirates of the Ghetto
Everyone who picks up a knife from Sensei’s weapon pile proceeds to ‘fence’ with it like they were Dan Inosanto or Errol Flynn. Just buy The Logic of Steel if you want to know how you are going to be menaced with a blade. In 314 documented encounters a trained knife user has never advanced on an unarmed victim using integrated offensive and defensive strokes from a lead-hand position.
How many people have been robbed on American streets by kali, arnis or escrima instructors? That’s right, zero.
Is preparing to face John Bias in a death-match really a sound use of your training time?
(#4) The B-Movie Murder
The most common knife attack depicted in self-defense demos is based on an old Alfred Hitchcock movie. The ‘Norman Bates’ stroke is a staple of horror films to this day and is a vertical overhand ice-pick stab.
This use of a stabbing weapon was not documented a single time in 314 encounters.
(#5) Geek with a Knife
The second most common edged weapon attack depicted in self-defense demos is a lead-hand stab done with a robotic step.
In 314 encounters it has never happened.
If we are going to promote and practice self-defense I do suggest we engage in a bit of useful fantasy. How about we pretend that we are actually trying to stay alive?
Maryland Cage Brawl, April 2012
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The Baddest Man on the Planet (Sidebar)
buzz bunny
the first boxers
behind the sunset veil
by this axe!
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