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Hock Hochheim teaches hand, stick, knife and gun combat to military, police and savvy citizens in 11 allied countries each year. He's the author of more than 250 dvds on self-defense and more than 12 books on how to protect yourself. His products sell in more than 40 countries.

Body Templates, Angles of Attack and Targets

     All knife and stick systems have some form of template training, dating back to gladiator times. Maybe even back to smarter cavemen?Sticks, swords and knives. Hands too! And we sure do shoot a lot of paper targets, though live fire doesn't fit well with the following onbservations. 

     Remy Presas used a 12 angle of attack system in his Modern Arnis. He would say” Head-head, stomach-stomach,” and so on up thru eye-eye, top of the head. He would also at times just use the numbers, “one, two, three….” and so on. So would his brother Ernesto. Despite their differences in doctrine, they  still used the same 12 angle drill. But in regards to the body target approach, Remy also said once not to worry about landing onto and into those specific targets. He advised that the angles were meant to describe an attack delivery motion, an incoming direction, not just hitting those designated targets.      

     Remy explained in his entertaining broken English that the targets were named to help describe the angle. He (and others) would say that "Angle 12" for example, the downward strike, nicknamed “top of the head” could really land on any target, like a forearm strike on a weapon limb, or the back of the neck if the opponent was bent over from a previous hit. Angle 12 was any downward strike landing on any appropriate target down below. 
     Okay, glad he cleared that up, but I still thought this target naming was a bit misleading for all systems to generally name/associate body parts with angle deliveries. And I was happy to see Remy explain all this one afternoon. His explanantion worked for me, but the misleading approach for all continued and continues still in many systems. Some might dismiss my complaint as semantics, but I don’t. Then some other Filipino systems and fighting programs will describe their angle system as simple “high, high, medium, medium, low, low” and so on, avoiding the associated body part targets. I am not sure they all understand why, but they do it.

     Now if you are on the receiving end, training to counter against incoming attacks, I think it’s important to label the approaching attack as a “stomach” stab. And if you absolutely want to stab someone in the eyeball, that is a specific technique, that should be different from bigger, generic multi-delivery patterns.
     Perhaps I should list what I’m saying to best explain:
        1: Generic angles of attack training
        2: Working specific attacks training
        3: Countering specific attacks training

     To me, these are 3 different things. You don’t load 6 missiles on an Apache helicopter and say, “Missile one is for the walls of the fort. Missile 2 is for the oil tanker. Missile 3 is for any enemy aircraft….” Instead, you shoot whatever and where ever you need too. Nor do you say, “there are 7 angles of attack in my system because the name of my system has seven letters.” Huh? Such thinking is not clever or applicable. Should a tank be designed to only shoot 4 ways because there are four letters in the word “tank.” These are short minded, almost thinking disorder plans when compared with the demands of real fighting and combat, that you will find in martial systems. A certain…detachment.

     All this and a few other reasons are why in 1996 I converted over to the military combat clock for angles of attack. This way instantly is all about developing the delivery and not associating the delivery with a target. Basic training 12, 3, 6 and 9. Advanced training the whole clock 1-12. Thrusts or hooks. Standing, kneeling and grounded. This clock freedom is also a main reason why I had to retire from all the martial systems I was in. I could no longer teach these mandatory angles of attack in these systems, as ordered, as required. And, all other these angle of attack systems are vast in style and numbers and often illogically organized. And they are quite forgettable. You’ll never forget the clock  numbers.

Those other angle systems, and my chosen clock angle system are usually practiced, or should be practiced:
    1: in the air (to check for proper body synergy)
    2: hitting training objects like bags or war posts
    3: on the body parts of training partners in various training speeds
    4: sparring/dueling

Now, on to these pesky templates.
Template training shares many of the benefits and downsides as angle of attack patterns. As mentioned at the beginning, templates have been used forever. I get it. It develops knife manipulation and bonding time with your edged weapon. Great. Body chart templates also create familiarization with the body. Great. We see the charts new and old. 

     Some systems REALLY over use them and way overdo it in my opinion. The template fanatics spend copious amounts of time declaring tens and tens, if not hundreds of multi-step combinations like “stab the stomach, twist the blade up and to the right, then stab the heart,” etc. Chores like that. Many, many chores like that with many slashing and stabbing steps. 

      Might I remind folks that once you really stab someone, HE MOVES! There’s a very good chance he was already moving when the fight started, or when he sees the knife coming into him. And those damn, reflexive arms of his! How dare they get in the way! I think those second and the third targets are usually gone. Gone! Changed. They just won’t be there like the flat piece of knife target template. 

     And you know guts are guts. Guts are some soft stuff and some bones. But even of this soft stuff, a preponderance of soft stuff can get goopey and slow you down, so all your twisty, innerd cuts from here to there and up or down are not so easy. Forensics, confessions, victim, crime and military oral histories tell us that clothing, vests and various belts, be they civilian, police or military, also inhibit the classic template paths. In other words the lower intestine stab and subsequent climbing “c” cut  into the upper gizzards, might be thwarted by some sort of a belt, or perhaps, a body twist, or an arm. 
     The gladiators, and samurai, the knights in shining armor, et al, were very concerned with the clothing and body armor of their enemy, carefully constructing attacks that their cuts plunged into the weakest points of their opponent’s protections. Many of us know that a lot of classic, unarmed and armed martial arts have katas and techniques dealing with grabs and attacks that are unique to the armor and clothing of an enemy and their times. 

     Also slowing template combinations down are problems of blade evacuation from the stabbing wound, as it might get stuck for a second or more than a few seconds in ribs, bone, clothing again and gear, etc. 

bug target

     Any template practice, using the target label method that orders up, follow-up, second and third attacks should be taken very lightly, not over-worked and at very least come with these explained caveats. We shouldn’t have novice instructors and students walking away thinking that they can stab and deep slash/cut specific targets in two, three, four or more exact places. Perhaps more time on the wooden or rubber war post would be more beneficial? After all, we all can’t work at a big animal butcher shop.
(By the way, much of this pertains to shooting paper targets with guns too, as people that need to be shot are often moving before, during and after.)
     Targeting formats aside, emphasizing knife manipulation skills allows a practitioner to keep the blade moving for all AVAILABLE targets after the first stab or slash. That is why I prefer a "Solo Command and Mastery" military combat clock instructional approach for handling a knife, versus doing so by naming targets and insisting on a series of follow-up targets.   

     I know you might still consider all this semantics, but I don’t. I worry about foundational doctrine and where it all leads later in courses, brick by brick.


     The end goal of the training format is to develop angles of delivery with good, smart body synergy, free from specific targets. They land where they land. The targets change and move. Hitting moving targets is another form of training. Then the idea of actually hitting multiple, moving targets as template training suggests is still very tricky. All do bolster knife manipulation, which is a good thing, but might I suggest you consider and worry about over-doing  the angles-to-target approach and the template, combination conundrum. 

     May all your enemies remain completely flat, face-forward, and without any motion.


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This is an excerpt from the upcoming Addendum to the Knife

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Escalation! “If I pull my knife? And he is carrying a gun…?”

If I pull my knife? And he is carrying a gun?

"If I pull my knife? And he is carrying a gun? Will this cause him to pull his gun out? Will I cause the problem to escalate?”

An attendee to a seminar in Kentucky, someone with zero martial or martial arts experience, just a regular guy legally walking around with a gun and a knife, asked me this question.

What did I say? I said “yeah, that could happen.”
“That’s pretty messy,” he said.
“Yeah,” I said.
And everyone stared at me for words of wisdom and solution. I have none.

So often people want Magic Bullet answers to a lot of self-defense questions. There’s always big talk in the self-defense industry about "avoidance." If too late to avoid, then next up in the event list is what they call "de-escalation." Avoiding and de-escalating a common knucklehead before a fight starts is a cottage industry. Some folks confidently dole out solutions to confrontations in three to five steps or present mandatory checklists.
“Say these things!” 
“Do this!”
“Do that!”
“Stand like this!”
"Don't ever…."

Now, I think it is certainly good to be exposed to all these ideas and methods. Sure. Do so. But as an obsessed skeptic, I see the caveats beyond the advice. I don’t know about certain kinds of solutions, magic words, or stances when confronted or attacked.

I have investigated a whole lot of crimes through the decades; and while there are identifiable patterns and surprises, chaos can sure still reign supreme. But let me summarize by calling it all “situational.”

In the end, solutions are situational. Like calling plays in a football game, it depends on the situation. How you stand and what you say or do should be situational. Custom-built. (This essay is primarily about pulling out a knife but does and could certainly relate to pulling a pistol, too. It's just that if this was a "pistol-centric" essay, I would be writing more about pistol situations.)

pajamaBoy knife copy

So there’s an argument! Then a fight! Given you have already performed all your pop/psych avoidance and de-escalation steps. You are armed under your coat or in your pocket with a knife or even a gun, and this verbal stuff just ain’t working! The mean man won’t leave! Or worse, the men (plural) won’t leave. Do you pull that knife out? That weapon out? There are some situational concerns with doing this; and these concerns certainly do involve his possible knives and guns and the overall escalating ladder of weaponry, violence, and legal problems.

Here are a few facts and related ideas on the subject to kick around:

Fact: Some people do leave. For many a year now, 65% to 70% of the time when a knife or pistol is pulled in the USA, the criminal leaves you alone. (old DOJ stats) Simple statement. I have often heard the easy average of 67% used (sticks, by the way, are not in these study figures.) I must warn folks that this is not as clean and simple an escape as it sounds. There are many emotional, ugly events that happen in this weapon presentation / confrontation, even if the bad guy does leave. In my experience and investigation, if the criminal is alone he might be quicker to leave, if he is in or around a gotup, “his” group, he puts on more of a show before leaving. Trauma and drama. We discuss these details in certain topical seminars and other specific essays.

Fact: Some people don't leave. The good news with the 65%/35% split is you may only have to fight about 30% of the time! So 30% of the time, the opponent does not leave and the fight is on, whether he is unarmed or armed. The bad news is when you are now in that "unlucky 30%," or you might say you are now a 100%-er. You are 100% there and stuck in it. A hand, stick, knife, or gunfight!

Fact: Some people are armed. General USA stats quoted for many years past say that 40% of the time the people we fight are armed. A few years back the FBI upped that anti. More being armed! And another gem to add in is that 40% of the time we fight two or more people. Hmmm. So 40% or more armed times 40% multiple opponents. Not a healthy equation. Lots of people. Lots of weapons. Lots of numerical possibilities. The "smart money" in the USA or anywhere else is always bet that the opponent is armed.

Facts: Times and reasons to pull. Logical and physical. Time and reason might seem the same, but defining times and reasons in your mind and for your training is smart. 
Time equals “when” and reason equals “why.” Two different questions. The motive and the moment to move. Either way, remember there must be some real danger to you and danger to others for you to take weapon action.
   * The Why? 2 Reasons to Pull: There are two reasons to pull your weapon out. The first is to stop violence before it happens. The second is to stop violence while it is happening. 
   * The When? 2 Times to Pull: There are two generic times to draw your weapon. The first is when you can predict problems and pull before the incident happens. It’s always said that the best quick draw is pulling out your weapon just before you really, REALLY need it. And the second pull is during the incident.

Some More Facts: Pulling during the incident. I have written and lectured in the past about why people do and do not draw weapons once a physical fight has started. They are in this quick review:

1: No Pull: He is carrying but does not draw because he 
actually forgets he is armed. Oh, yes, this happens.

2: No Pull: He is carrying but does not draw because he is 
smart enough to know that this incident does not 
deserve the legal and physical consequences of pulling 
a gun, knife, etc.

3: Pull: He does draw when he decides at some point in 
the fight he is losing. It may not actually or legally be a 
true life or death fight, but he thinks so.

4: Pull: He does draw when he loses his temper inside 
the fight.

5: Dominant fervor. He draws after winning. He’s essentially 
won but hates for the victory feeling and moment to pass. 
He further punishes the opponent by presenting a 
weapon and scaring him with his glee and threats.

Recognizing these five situational events should shape good training drills and scenarios.

So, What Should You Do?
Before, during, and maybe even after, when a weapon is drawn in the fight by you, it can definitely stop or escalate the heat with intensity and/or even more weapons. But back to the original, scary question..:
“I live in a state where ‘everybody’ carries a gun, Hock. If I pull my knife to scare someone off? Or I pull my gun? And he is carrying a knife or gun? Will this cause him to pull his knife or gun out?”

     Well, yes. Yes, that can happen. In the same way that your words, your facial expression, your clothes, or even your stance can escalate an encounter. But, yes, that can happen. Should you always pull your weapon with the first blush of a problem? Automatically? No. The problem must percolate to the level that reasonable and prudent people think it is justified. Police deal with this pressure almost on a monthly basis, or maybe a weekly basis, and in some tough places maybe even daily? It’s an acquired skill. A feel. A savvy.

     “Should I always throw the long pass or always hand off the ball to the running back." No. I can’t answer that on paper or at the lectern. Not even Tom Brady can tell you what play to call until he is on the field. How could we? We can guess. We can bet. We can propose, but it is situational. It is best to have a few handy plays up your sleeve and wing it. (you need some tricks. Look at Brady's forearm wristband below!) So I simply cannot answer that hypothetical question with a "do-don't do." It’s a “call.” A call you must make in the moment just like a quarterback. HIKE! What's the field look like?

Brady wristband

"HIKE! What's the field look like?"

I would like to start a list of very specific situations here to help out in the decision making, but then this little essay would grow to textbook size. But just for just one example, there are times that you might best-guess the enemy is or is not armed. One point is the physical assessment of the enemy at the moment – is he acting or dressed in a way to tip off a concealed weapon? This is tricky. I was almost shot one night by a shirtless guy in very tight pants – pants that I swore could not conceal a gun. A "Saturday Night Special" was in his front pocket. He shot someone else with it a moment later. Still, part of your draw/don’t draw decision is based on what you see and think and how well you are trained to think and see.

     And, this brings us right back to the “who, what, where, when, how, and why” questions I have used as a foundation for decades now on just about everything we do. And I see the need to re-post the "quick draw" list again here for your re-consideration. The progression-

There/Not There (why are you there and can you not go?)
Draw/Don't Draw
Point/Don't Point
Bark/Don't Bark ( as in say something)
Use/Don't Use
Leave/Stay (after the action)

"Draw-Don’t Draw." Then it becomes "Stab/Don't-Stab," or Shoot-Don’t Shoot?" So often people want a quick, magic bullet answer. There is none, and I'm sorry, I have no magic bullets like this for you. If anyone is selling you a box of those bullets? I wouldn't buy them.



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Some of these issues are covered in

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Countering the Home Invasion

     Home Invasions. It usually slightly annoys cops to hear people declare, "my house was robbed!" Houses don't get robbed. People get robbed. Or, we hear, “I was robbed!” when their house was burglarized. Houses get burglarized, or experience theft. But it is a problem for police dispatchers answering 911 lines and hearing some yell, “I’ve been robbed!” when their house was burglarized 7 hours earlier, discovered when arriving home. Other than that, I guess it’s case of semantics and impatient policing.

      But houses can be involved with robbery crimes – consider the home Invasion. Simply put, a home invasion is when a criminal enters a home for crime while occupants are there. Actually Wikipedia has a nice and true definition – "Persons charged with "home invasion" are actually charged with robbery, and, or kidnapping, or a homicide , rape , or even assault charges. But law enforcement has been seeing the increase in "home-invasion robberies" since at least June 1995, when "home-invasion robberies" were the topic of the cover story of The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin. They state the crime is considered an alternative to bank or convenience store robberies, which are getting harder to pull off cleanly due to technological advances in security. In this same article, the FBI recommends educating the public about home invasion. Before the term "home invasion" came in use, the term "hot burglary" was often used in the literature. Early references also use "burglary of occupied homes" and "burglar striking an occupied residence."


     Usually, often victims get shoved around, roughed up and hurt. Some killed. As a detective, I have investigated numerous, such, mixed-category "home invasion" crimes that included robbery, assault, rape even murder through the years. I have hunted down and caught home invaders. So, from experience, training and further research, I have some information for you. In the “who, what, where, when, how and why” of the crimes, there are some important patterns to worry over.

     Anywhere in the world, Omaha, NE or Budapest, Hungary, there are two kinds of home invasions. One is the premeditated home invasion, where the suspect absolutely knows, expects and wants you to be home. And then there are accidental home invasions when criminals break in, thinking no one is home and are as surprised as you are when face to face. Most thieves/burglars prefer an empty house. Many are unprepared for a resident to be home, or come home.  This shock on both parties makes for unpredictable results.

      While I really want to remain on the subject of occupied home invasions and not the common, empty house burglaries, some pre-hit basics must be covered that include both subjects.

      The criminal stake-out?  Was there one? Burglary victims often assume that burglars are stealthy masterminds staking out their houses from various clever vantage points for days or weeks on end. But more often than not, they skunks are not so movie-like, and the criminals are just quick creatures of opportunity. Some burglars do prowl a bit and quickly watch over neighborhoods for the easiest, superficial signs. One method is at early, common, rush hours, burglars try and catch residents leaving for work.  Some congess when caught that they follow a resident out of the neighborhood to ensure they do not return and head back for the house. (This is an issue especially for homes with garages that face front, as burglars can see how many cars are in the garage as the driver leaves.)

      Many burglars are not such early risers and will just do a quick visual inspection of your home looking for signs of interior life, and good cover to break in. They will knock on the door or ring the doorbell. No answer? They invade. Often through the covered, concealed areas of your house like the backyard, but there are plenty of bad guys that bust right in through the front door (certainly so in apartments.)  You, being home, hearing and then not responding to the doorbell, the knock or the phone, are assumptions of vacancy and parts of their invitation to bust in.

     Two types of home invaders. An official home invader either wants to creep around while you are asleep, or wants to ambush people to essentially take them hostage for other crimes. He strikes at evening, night or on weekends hoping people will be inside to capture and mess with. The creepers are a different breed of criminal. Some of these a.m. home invaders for example thrill at bring in your house and just stealing things, thrill at spying on you asleep. Their entries are quiet. And then some are rapists, and have other plans and crimes in mind. 

      Many home invasions occur when residents are present and awake! Daytime or evening hours. I would like to define here the three main ways in which criminals invade houses while you are there in the usual waking times. In old school, cop talk, this covers the big three – the surprise, the con and the blitz.

 1: Where? The front door. How? The con – a ruse at the front door.

 2: Where? Driveway/Garage: How? You are followed or waited for and rushed/attacked as you pull onto your driveway or into your garage.

 3: Where? Entry Points: All windows and doors. How? The criminal breaks into your house. The surprise entry into your house and your life is a shock and awe ambush. The blitz is being rushed and over whelmed and overcome.

The Con: The Front Door Ruse. The con is at the front door – any number of participants may get you to answer, to open the door or get themselves invited even to use the phone, bathroom, escape the weather, etc. One evening, in a gated, housing edition in Jupiter, Florida, a man answered his front door to find a young woman acting distraught.

      "I am lost! Can I use your phone?" The home owner kept the girl at the door trying to guide her out of the edition with verbal directions.

      "I can't keep track of what you are saying! Just let me use your phone."

      The home owner said, "don't worry, I just called 911 and the police will be here to guide you out."

      "What? 911?" she said, "you just called 911!"

     With that she ran from the front door and suddenly two men jumped from the bushes and ran off with her. Guess what they were up to? How did they get onto this gated community? We don't know, but these gated communities are not impervious to all criminal entries. Most likely the woman was going to pull a gun on the occupants once inside and then let her friends inside the house. Or, once the door was wide open, they all would barge in.

    Many of us have seen or recall the comical bug exterminator TV commercial where a giant insect rings a doorbell with a silly excuse to get in the house and use the phone. Funny, but a stranger at the door should be regarded with the same concern as a giant insect.These are classic examples of front door ruses. Not unlike all the others you should not fall for. No matter the set up, always be very suspicious of ALL people who come to your door with a story. They might not even ask to come in, but linger long enough for your door to open wider, then barge in.

      Remember to have and use a peephole on your door. Some people even have security cameras combing the front area of their homes. (Even a dummy camera high up over your front door bothers these ruse criminals and they chose another house.)

      An elderly couple in my city ate a very expensive, local restaurant one night. When finished, they got into their new, expensive car and drove home. They drove into their residential area of nice homes and pulled into the driveway. The man punched the garage door button and the door slowly open. He pulled his car into his garage. And with no great haste, hit the button again to close the garage door. As he opened his car door he was rushed by a young man with a pistol who ran into the garage, before the garage door was half-closed. The door’s electric eye stopped the descent and several others entered also. This began several hours of torment and hell. They were beaten, robbed, but were left alive.

     Within a month, after a few breaks in the case, I identified the home invaders. They were career criminals from Ft. Worth, TX.  Their MO (method of operation) was indeed to follow elderly people home from expensive restaurants and rush them in their garages before the garage door closed. I arrested them, but this couple was too afraid to fully press charges in this case. They simply denied the unequivocal identification of the robbers I presented them, my other collected evidence so they could dodge any further legal proceedings. The couple feared gang retribution. Fortunately, we had other charges on these thugs and they still did hard time.

     Home invaders use this method and many other similar schemes. So, you should identify places where you visit that might be construed as a victim, pick up for potential victims. Take note to see if you are being followed, from anywhere really but certainly from these "prime hunting" grounds locations. If you are suspicious that you are being followed? Make several, sudden turns to test your guess. If you are still followed? Use your cell phone to call the police and try to set up a trap. No phone? Shame on you! But, you might drive to a police station, or drive to a populated area to call the police.

     In August, 2010 in North Texas a group of thugs were out "on the hunt," trying to catch anyone pulling up to their house in the early am hours. It’s like fishing for them, and they netted a big one. They attacked a family returning from a vacation as they unpacked on their driveway. Do you see how this could have been a home invasion had the “fishermen” forced the family into the house. Instead, it’s just an outdoor, armed robbery. But what about such unplanned driveway attacks?

      What if you might be jumped right at your house? Front or back? What if they operated on some intelligence and identified you and yours as a potential and "just ripe" victim, coming home at a certain time? If it is driveway robbery or a home invasion, where around your driveway would attackers hide, within range of ambushing you and/or barging into your garage and house? Install lights there. Clear brush. Watch to see if someone sneaks into the garage as you pull in. Let your eyes run over your property. In some very familiar locales, you might even spot strange cars parked on your street, road or area.

      As a rule, don't exit your car until the garage door has closed behind you. This way you can stay in your locked car if confronted. Have a gun. Have a cell phone. If caught in your garage after the door is closed?, Open the door electronically. If criminals interfere with the door opening, hit the gas pedal and crash out. A new door is cheaper than the horrors to follow if taken hostage, and cheaper than any funeral.

      Are your doors locked in the daytime even when you are home? Or early evenings? Most people say no. They ask," why? We are home." But when you and yours are home, your most valuable possessions are inside your house. You! Anyone in policing (and crime) will tell you that most house burglars strike in the daytime, hoping that no one is home.

      But if the plan is an evening or weekend home invasion/robbery, multiple criminals are usually involved and they might enter your house anyway they can. Windows, doors, open garage doors, any way. And you won't have your alarm on either.

 The safety rules here are: lock your doors and that includes your garage door and the door between the garage and your house. Buy your doors solid! Lock your windows. In fact, follow the basic and common tips that deter and defeat house burglars, and you will slow down or stop the surprise entry. Common crime prevention pamphlets will wisely warn you that criminals break into the cars on your driveway to get your garage door openers. The invasion begins.

      Make a plan with your family about such a sudden entry. I will tell you one of mine since it won't matter. If I or my wife see a sudden invasion inside the house or even at the door, we plan to yell at the top of our lungs one word. One. "GUN!" Maybe we'll yell it a few times if we can. This way me or in your case, other members of your family deeper in the house have time to react. Get the gun. Have a plan for them to react. If you don't have a gun or two around your house? Well, you're an idiot or have a thinking disorder, or you are stuck in a naive, idiot's regime. Good luck with all that.

 A quick summary

    Be aware of cars and the heads/faces of the drivers and occupants when you are leaving your garage or just leaving your house.

    Be aware of cars following you at any time.

    Be aware of cars and the heads/faces of the drivers and occupants when you are entering your garage.

    Be leery of all strangers at your front door.

    Keep your house as secure as possible at all times, whether you are home or not.

    Have a plan to alert your fellow residents if you are blitzed anywhere in your house.

    Have weapons, phones and escape options.

    Good short video by Massod Ayoob, click here



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Coming soon, Dead Right There – the second non-fiction police book of Hocks' adventures and misadventures

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Face the Face Facts

Facial expressions.

     Scientists have proven that your dog studies your facial expressions and reads the slightest change. CNN, to name but one source reported dogs can recognize a person's emotions just by looking at his or her facial expressions. They have been quite adept at reading the micro-expressions of faces. Much like dogs, humans, whether we realize it or not in the moment of interactions, have become adept at reading the big and small facial nuances of people they interact with, also. How accurate is that read, though?


     We all know what a simple facial expression is, but maybe not a micro expression? “Micro expressions are very brief facial expressions, lasting only a fraction of a second. They occur when a person either deliberately or unconsciously conceals a feeling.” says Dr. Paul Ekman. (see a link below for his work.)     

     In the last fifteen years, some traveling martial arts instructors have wowed attendees with their revelations about violence and crime, and the wonders of psychology and fighting, But a pop topic on their amazing tours on violence is often “reading criminal intent” and facial and micro-expressions. And since old things need to constantly introduced to new people, and re-introduced to the forgetful, and tortured by the skeptics, I will expound a bit on the subject of faces, expressions and micro-expressions, and who, what, where, how and why you can’t completely trust your textbook judgements, or your seminar advice, and even tell a quick story about how tricky it all might be. Keep in mind, I am not a psychologist. I don’t even play one on television. In the end, resort back to the experts.

     A simple facial expression is defined as one or more motions or positions of the muscles beneath the skin of the face. Facial expressions are one form of nonverbal communication. It is universally regarded that there are seven micro-expressions, as mentioned above: 

1: disgust, 
2: anger, 
3: fear, 
4: sadness, 
5: happiness, 
6: surprise, 
7: and contempt.

     Facial expressions can change quickly, but last longer than a micro-expression. Experts report that micro-expressions are quick changes and are very brief, unintentional, involuntary moves on ALL our faces. A flash. The lab experts state that these emotions often occur as fast as 1/15 to 1/25 of a second. THAT…is fast. And we (and dogs!) can see them!

     “In other words, people in the US make the same face for sadness as indigenous people in Papa New Guinea who have never seen TV or movies to model. Dr. Ekman also found that congenitally blind individuals—those blind since birth, also make the same expressions even though they have never seen other people’s faces.” Reports Vanessa Van Edwards, a published author and behavioral investigator.     

     In my travels around the world, be it in international airports or even to the most primitive places I've been in Philippines, or isolated villages in South Korea, I saw so many similar expressions at appropriate times as Vanessa suggested. A smile at the right time. A frown at the right time. Very generic situations.

     People are fascinated by this face-reading subject, though it always seems though to lean toward the subject of lies, lie detection and salesmanship. People want to “read” other people and detect the truth. Oh, and sell stuff. Some folks sell you on how to do it. One ad for doing this said, 
“read people like a superhero!” Or, 
“be a mind-reader.”

And who doesn’t want to be mind-reader? But can you? Can you count on all this when push comes to shove? The human race is constantly trying to quantify and categorize everything. Laying a square grid on a round terrain. What do the critics of this say?

mad rush 2 ways 3

Critics of this “always happens” simplicity will state that the research test methods identifying emotions with expressions are too simplistic. Another criticism is that test takers and people can only identify what they are used to from their personal experiences. Another complaint is such studies on this are rare and more research is need.

Problems – Some Faces are indeed tricky.
Nick Morgan of Forbes studies politicians and communication and looked at politicians whose faces and words do not match, creating a distrusting awkwardness. “What happens when your words and body language don’t match? Audiences believe the body language every time. But they don’t consciously take the two apart. Our minds are constructed to infer intent from our unconscious reading of other people’s body language. That’s for obvious survival reasons. In other words, if someone starts walking toward me, it’s important for my survival to be able to decode his intent very quickly, and act on it, in case he appears to mean to do me harm. Our unconscious minds are very good at reading the intent of the people who come within our sphere of awareness. And when they’re talking at us, we unconsciously compare words and body language. When they’re aligned, we get the communication. When they’re not aligned, we believe the body language.”

Problems – Reduced Affect Display 
Sometimes referred to as “Emotional Blunting is a condition of reduced emotional reactivity in an individual. It manifests as a failure to express feelings (affect display ) either verbally or non-verbally, especially when talking about issues that would normally be expected to engage the emotions. Expressive gestures are rare and there is little animation in facial expression or vocal inflection. Reduced affect can be symptomatic of autism , schizophrenia , depression , post traumatic stress disorder, depersonalization disorder , or brain damage . It may also be a side effect of certain medications (e.g., antipsychotics and antidepressants).” – a quote used in numerous psychology and medical definition pages.
So, some folks (how many people are on drugs in our countries? A lot!) may not display their emotions "properly" on their faces. These people also confront you, fight you and break the law.

Problems – Acting
I am always intrigued by actors on TV and in films. (you can’t see their faces up close on the stage.) They play innocent, or they even play a nuanced guilty, or pretend to be innocent, etc. We viewers will comment, “she’s innocent.” “She’s not telling the truth.” “I believe him.” But hang on! Pull one curtain back. Remember they…are…ACTORS! And they fooled you. If people can be so damn convincingly deceptive on film, can’t people also in all your interactions?

Problems – The Trick Face – The Quick Story
When I was in police patrol I tried to practice a 50-10 rule. Fifty minutes of driving, ten minutes of just parking and watching/observing. That rule may vary, and of course most patrol officers are busy answering calls anyway. Who has a free hour? For many a year I worked in the “projects,” and all that, that term represents. Periodically, parked on the same streets of high volume people and car traffic, I would often see this black dude, late 20s, walking with a hideous scowl on his face. To me, a face of hate when he got close and his eyes passed over me. Race relations were bad at the times, but wow! When he got near me, near my patrol car? He must have despised me!

     One day, I saw this guy coming down the street again, sneering as usual. I decided to try something. I said to myself I am going to do something. See what happens. I am going to smile as big as I can and wave to him. He got closer and closer and looked at me. We made eye contact. I smiled broadly and flicked a hand for a wave.

     What did he do? He smiled broadly back, cracking the mad sneer into a huge, grinning display. He nodded his head, as his hands were full. Then as he passed, the smile disappeared and he returned to his mad face. Then I realized…that was just his face, his everyday face! I believe most of us would have thought he was mad and ready to fight! I was wrong.

     Then there's "Resting Bitch Face!" Yes, look it up or check the link below. This when your face, when expressionless, is best described as vaguely annoyed looking, maybe a little judgy, perhaps bored. 

     Anyone could get thess faces wrong. What is normal? What is abnormal? You need a base-line. You actually need a base-line that connects a specific individual with a specific reaction/emotion.

Trusting the Face Reads?
Have you ever tricked your dog with your expressions? 

As far as the face goes in a fight, I try to warn people that "the face is a mask. He may look worse then he can fight, and fight worse than he looks." The face is deceptive. (oh, quick tip – is he has a cauliflower ear? Gulp. Now there's a REAL working tip for ya!)


     We could really split some hairs here on several levels. Like with the difference between surprise statements to people and their surprise reactions. Or, what will actors (or prepped suspects) do when they know they will be presented with surprise questions. People "act" differently in an interview or interrogation room, than they do in a sudden "street" Q. and A.  And so on. But…ordinarily?

    Yes…ordinarily. There is an old joke about the Ten Commandments. The comedian says he could live with the Big Ten if God had just asked Moses to chisel in the word, “ordinarily” after each one.

“Thou shalt not covet they neighbor’s goods…ordinarily.”
“Thou shalt not….ordinarily.”

You get the drift. He adds the word "ordinarily" to each commandment.

     I have interviewed and interrogated hundreds of criminals and thousands of witnesses. Maybe even more in almost 30 years. I have my own set of instincts, perhaps hard to explain on paper, but thank goodness I can use the totality of circumstances to find more final conclusions than just a fluttering eyebrow or other teeny, micro-expression tips. You should too. I guess what I am trying to suggest is, you should trust facial expressions and micro-expressions…somewhat…”ordinarily.”

“Thou shalt trust all facial and micro-expression readings…ordinarily.”


Dr Palekman's Micro Expressions – Click here

Resting BItch Face- Click here

Read the new Secret Life of the Brain for more "revolutionary" discoveries in this topic – Click here

Read about "Countering Poker Faces" Click here

Hock's email is

This is excerpted from Hock's upcoming book, Fightin Words

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 Due out December, 2017

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Anatomy of a Common Street Fight and the Mysteries of De-Escalation.

     In this age of widespread interest in de-escalation and verbal skills to defuse any and all encounters, this is a tale about how convoluted a quick, on-the-spot verbal solution might be. It's a short story from back in the 1980s – a case I worked on.

     A driver pulled his truck up into a handicapped parking space to drop his wife off at a post office. He did not put his truck into “park.” She got out and walked away. He reached down, did something for a second, and was about to back out of the spot, when a man walked by the front of his truck, scowling and yelling at him, waving a hand in the air.

     The driver rolled down the window and said,


     The man yelled in outrage about the driver parking in a handicapped spot. The driver, aghast at the outrage said, “I am not parked. I am leaving.”   

     The man started cursing and closing in. “I had to park over there,” and he pointed down the lot. “You can't park here!”
“I'm not parked here!” But then he now was, as the driver put his truck into the parking gear and got out, telling me later he thought that the man would come over and kick in and dent his truck, or reach into the open window after him.
     The driver got between the man and his truck and said,

     “WHAT is your problem?” (what a classic line! The classic answer is – “you're my problem” and so on and so on.) And so it goes. You know the dialogue of this movie from this point on. You already know it. I often tell you that these pre-fights words are like movie scripts and usually quite predictable.

     The man swings at the driver. The driver fights back. There are witnesses. The police are called and the man gets arrested for assault. Later this man files an assault case back on the driver and it becomes a “he-said, he-said” deal.


     My sad part of the story is that one morning in a detective squad meeting, I got both cases dropped on my desk. My Lieutenant says, “this ain't going away.” Meaning these two guys are calling us and complaining about each other and how each were in the right. And of course, one of the two had even called the chief. Another day in Detective Heaven.
     I started with this angry man. I asked him to come in and give us a written statement, which he jumped at the chance to vent. He showed up for the appointment, loaded for vocal bear, and in a small, interview office I let him unload. The guy was panting when the oratory was over. I did not say a word.

     “Okay,” says I. “let's get that whole story down on paper.” I had to read him his rights and now the story was officially counted. And line by line, we got it all down as I typed his words as he said them. He calmed down and his remarks took a turn to another topic. The real cause and motivation. Handicapped people and handicapped parking…
     “What's the ratio of handicapped people compared to non-handicapped people?” he asked.
     “I don't know.”
     “Well you should know. People like you in your business should know.”
     “I know this much,” he continued. “I know that there are too many handicapped parking places. There has to be too many of them compared to regular people. If you go down to Kmart you'll see all those front parking places are reserved for the handicapped. What a dozen? Dozen and a half? Are there that many handicapped people? A regular person has to hike to the store.”
     I did not answer. Then I said,” you want me to mention your parking spot concerns in the statement?”
     “Hell yeah! Maybe someone will read it for a change?”

     This theme rolled on. I realized that the guy wasn't mad at the driver because the driver had pulled into the slot for a second. He wasn't protecting the rights of the handicapped. This guy was mad at handicapped people and how many parking places they got. He was ripping mad because he couldn't park close to his store or post office or wherever. He was…jealous. And our driver was just at the wrong place at the wrong time.

     We all know that driver should have laughed and driven off. Was there anything that driver could have said to diffuse that weird situation? How can you defuse this or any situation, spontaneously when you couldn't guess the real motive of the agitator? The motive was buried in a form of jealousy The motive for many spontaneous fights are often blurred.

     This drop-off-the-wife-driver was just an average joe. He thought the angry guy was a crusader for handicapped rights! When actually the guy hated handicapped people's rights. If the driver tried to mediate and negotiate using that obvious perception – supporting the handicapped? He would be firing that guy up even more? Complicated isn't it. It is in a way and it isn't. The driver lost time and money by not driving away as he had first planned. Now he was involved in a criminal assault case. $$$
     At times like this you might say something generic and just leave, or say nothing and leave, or if you must, say something very simple and generic because you will most likely not be able to psychoanalyze the real heart of the problem and solve it in a few stressful seconds. What your simple generic defusing words might be will depend exactly on the situation. What "movie" is this? What dialogue script? Avoid the classic trigger words and moves. You still won't know his deep-seated triggers.

     And then there's the Brad Pitt, Fight Club crowd. Innocent people don't know it but, a lot of people just want to fight and they use words, any words and comments to corral you and touch something off. While one is considering the intellectual and psychological implications of mediation and negotiation, the left hook comes in. I know this much, lines like "I don't want any trouble," or "I don't want to fight," just invigorate these people.

     In my lifetime if I told you I worked some 2,000 assaults, (this includes simple assault on up to multiple murders), I don’t rightly know exactly. It could be 1,500 or 2.500? A lot. Either way I have some advice for you. Be somewhat wary of the wave of self defense instructors and their advice on verbal de-escalation. Often the pat, suggested responses some offer may not solve the problem because the real problem, the real motive is not evident.
     Surviving or avoiding or escaping is often about a knack for verbal skills, banter and knowing what movie this script is in. Some people have this knack and some don't, just like some people are athletes and some aren't. Otherwise you can get the feel or the knack through experience. So, further evaluate the advice you receive. Even this advice.
     In another similar case, a concealed carry person, armed with a Glock, decided to warn his aggressor that, “I am armed with a handgun. I am legal, concealed carry person.”

     This often kicks off another whole dialogue string, started with:

     “Oh you are? Well then, go ahead and shoot me! Go ahead and shoot me then!”

     And so it goes. Did I say "Detective Heaven?" It's "Detective Hell." Scripts of life. This sort of scripting is not new. Scripting is decades old advice. I've liked to refer to it (and life) as a "movie scrip." We have these scripts with everyone, the clerk at the store, spouses, dogs, etc. Police encounters are very script-like. The calls to service are very much the same. Sometimes we just need better writers,


     …but there are no writers off-stage to shout in the next, or better line. But, then we can go -"off script," so we can change the flow and direction of some problem times. I’ve done and I’ve seen it done in all kinds of confrontations. But we can't go off-script until we know the original script is. So, as with “on-scriptt” and “off-script” terms, these pidgeon-hole nicknames can be helpful. A so-called, good "de-escalator has to wing it as talented as an improv comedian. A trip to "Chicago's Second City" may be better than attending a seminar? Simply put – this sort of improv develops the creative language skills of your brain. 

     Anyway, yak-yak-yakkers advising you about de-escalation skills? Warning! Simple and generic dialogue might be good?. Or not! Sometimes your verbal skills are nowhere near as fast and effective as your “leaving” skills.

Hock's email is

This is an excerpt from Hock' s upcoming book ( due in late Winter, 2017)

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The Filipino Martial Arts Turning Point

The FMA Turning Point
     When was this for me? The "Filipino Martial Arts turning point" for me? Keep in mind, this is just me and my personal view on things. Don’t hate me cuz I’m viewtiful!

tissue ears 2

     I started doing FMA in 1986, in among other arts like JKD, karate and jujitsu. Where FMA? The USA and the Philippines. In about 1993 I had covered a lot of material and a friend called me and said,

    “Hey Hock, this weekend, Guro ______ is coming into Dallas! He is going to do two full days of ______ double stick drills. Are you coming?”

     I guess this phone call had an epiphany moment when several ideas flashed through my head. I said,

     “two days? Double sticks? Well, I think I’ll pass. I mean, how many double stick drills are there anyway?”

     “You’re gonna miss it! A chance to learn THEE _______ double stick drills!”

     We hung up. I examined my epiphany moment. Well, from the Inosanto world, Remy world, and Ernesto world, I’d already collected 53 double stick drills according to the lists I keep. FIFTY THREE! I suddenly asked myself,

    “why am I doing this?”
    “why am I doing this, this way?”
    “how many more could there be, anyway?”
    “how different could they be after a certain basic point?”
    “what makes them different?”

     But then finally the epiphany question!
     “How are they the same?”

     How ARE they the same? I realized for me, it was more important to organize the drills, not from the “who” or the “what” fan club systems, but instead how are the drills all the same? So similar. And how and why am I wasting my time collecting endless double stick drills from a near endless group of known and unknown people who think theirs are ever-so-special – many of which are so much the same and with only one slight different tweek here or there. Rather, I should try to understand the essence of all of them. The essential core and skip the rest.

     Then…then I asked myself why I didn’t view ALL aspects of the varied FMAs the same way? Why not find the universal core, essence of mano-mano, stick, knife, double weapons in this clean manner? Study those first. Deal with the needed and probably unneeded variables that might come up later for those “history/museum” collectors we know?

Ray Medina and me doing the double deal, 1986

     (There will always be happy museum and history collectors, who like to sort-of, name-drop stuff like – “at this point, Reehan moved his kneecap this way, while Roohan kept his meniscus here…” I can talk some of that artsy smack too, just from training years osmosis, and delight the esoteric fanatics with these tidbits. I can also tell you that Ed Kranepool played first base for the Mets in late 1960s. Hey! I know stuff!)

     Annnnd with that idea? I started constructing the generic PAC course. Pacific Archipelago Combatives, an irreverent, skeptical look at the related core of those related arts. (It did not make me popular with existing entities, in fact I was shunned by some, and it is still not my most popular or even my favorite course. But hey, it's fun to do.)

     I later asked that friend back in 1993,
     “how was the _______ double stick seminar?”
     “It was great!” he said,” We did 30 drills. Many of them are a lot like what we already do, just a little different.”

Imagine that!

(Did you happen notice that this essay contains – at least once – all the words “who, what, where, when, how and why”)


Hock's email is hockhochheim@forcenecessary,com

For all the PAC training films, DVDs and downloads, click here

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Hick’s Law – Reaction Time in Combat

Myths and Misunderstandings in Martial Training
Hick's Law – Reaction Time in Combat
Or, How Modern Research Challenges the Value of the 70-Plus-Year-Old Hick's Law!"

     Remember when saying, "I'll be there in a second!" meant that you would be there very fast? A second is a very fast and elusive time. Now imagine milliseconds. Can you? I have trouble doing so, grasping the length of milliseconds. Did you know there are 1,000 milliseconds splitting one second? Can you imagine that split? ONE THOUSAND! UCLA researchers state that an eye blinks in about 100 milliseconds. That’s an eye blick! How fast can you go? How fast can you get?  
     In fighting and in sports, we all know "action beats reaction" If you are reacting to an attack, as the good guys generally are, you are already behind the action curve. Just how behind is your response? Or any mental, then physical response to anything? 
     Scientists have labored to discover this over the last 100 years? Like splitting the atom, scientists have split the single second into those one thousand parts. Then, you know scientists and quantum physics and stuff, and…well, they needed things cut down again, to nanoseconds. Whew! One second is equal to 1000000000 nanoseconds. 
     But, we usually find seconds discussed for "common man lingo," and milliseconds discussed by the not so common folk, and those being dramatic and poetic. Once in a while milliseconds gets a mention when discussing rave cars, the Olympics and car or horse races. 

     "She lost by 44 milliseconds!" 

     Wow! And we wonder what infinitesimal event occurred during the race that lost her a 44-millisecond lead. A small breeze at the turn of lap 5? A muscle twitch? One careless thought? Olympic athletes have complained about the seams on their uniforms slowing them a costly few milliseconds down . A butterfly's wing flutter 50 feet above? What? How fast can we go? How fast can we think? How fast can we react anyway?
     But it was about 30 years ago in the late 1980s when I attended a police defensive tactics course and I was rather insulted by the attitude of the P.P.C.T. instructor. We were treated like Neanderthals. He declared, 

     “KISS! Keep it simple, stupid. Hick's Law says that it takes your mind too long to choose between two tactics. Worse with three! Four? Forget it! Therefore, I will show you only one response." 

    Huh? I wondered then and there–am I to stay this simple and stupid my whole life? Who is this Hicks anyway, and what is his law? It takes too long to know three things? How long was long? How long is TOO long, I wondered? 
     That training day, we learned one block versus a high punch. What about against a low punch, I thought? My one high block fails to cover much else but that one high attack.   
     Plus, this was contrary to ALL sports, martial arts, military, and police training I'd received up to that point. I first thought this statement a quirk; then I began to see the message spread. It seemed my choices were on some sort of mental Rolodex that I had to laboriously thumb through and inspect to find a single response? All while being beaten or slaughtered. This didnt match the kick boxing I was doing in karate.

     Later that evening while coaching my son's little league baseball team, I saw this very same police instructor coaching his boy's team on another ball field. He was teaching 10-year-olds to multi-task and make split-second decisions as his infielders worked double plays with runners on base, and various other situations. It was clear the coach expected more from these kids than he did from us adult cops that morning. Hick's Law was not to be found on that kid's baseball diamond. He could not make the connection? The perfomance connection?
     Intrigued, next I slid both feet into this base thing called Hick's Law to discover it was a growing favorite among law enforcement trainers. Other famous police trainers kept mentioning Hick's Law too:

     “… selection time gets compounded exponentially when a person has to select from several choices.”
      "… it takes 58 percent more time to pick between two choices." (add that up exponentially and you have a slow motion world.
     “… it takes 'about a second' to pick one tactic out of two tactics.”
     “… lag time increases significantly with the greater number of techniques.”
      "…tests have shown that when an individual has too many choices the result can be that they make no choice at all."  

      Six or more choices really runs the response time numbers up then huh?! Four hundred milliseconds to choose or two, four, or even six seconds to Rolodex through all of them? Remember the police trainer's quote of "about a second per choice?" 
     Let's go back to the ol' ball game. We expect a common shortstop in baseball to perform a select list of actions instantly, thoughtlessly, and at the crack of the bat. The baseball shortstop is expected to: 
     Catch a ground ball to his left, or
     Catch a ground ball to his center, or
     Catch a ground ball straight at him, or
     Catch a line drive, or
     Catch a pop-up, or
     Tag a runner out, or
     Catch the ball traversing across second base for a double play, or
     Instantly consider consequences to the overall game, like diving for the ball or missing.
      But all this in a world of milliseconds, what is the official definition of "significant time" by all these people? And 58 percent of what? What exactly is "about a second"? And what do they mean by "exponentially"? "Compounded"? I had to delve even deeper into these very cavalier statements. If I was going to become this pessimistic, I needed more proof. I hit the textbooks and contacted the experts. (And no internet back then either! The info explosion came decades later and is all here.
     The actual original Hick's idea was based on a paper written in 1952 that simply set up an equation that states it takes time to decide between options. Just for the record, the equation is  "TR+a+b{Log2 (N)}."
      You have a colored light that suddenly comes on with a color. You have ten and later eight colored lights in front of you. The test light comes on. You hit the matching light button. Hick and buddies count the response times.
      Then somehow, this 1950's idea was then extrapolated over into human performance? Usually based on very primitive, 1950's old "see-then-push-button" tests were used.  Somehow from this 1950's button-test, in some twisted path, I suddenly couldn't learn two punches in the 1980s? The mythology of the slow brain, the slow, stuttering, decision-making brain premise developed into a modern combatives training doctrine thanks to some people reading, misusing, and misinterpreting Hick's Law.

      Today, programmers still ponder Hick's, like when they make long menu lists on web pages, preferring to use shorter lists to attract customers with short attention spans. And many computer and web people are familiar with their world’s application of the Law. Jason Gross of Smashing Magazine, a popular publication about computer science says, 
     "We have to remember that Hick's Law did not come about with the invention of the Internet. Hick's research simply shed light on how a website's options (choices/menus) affect the speed and ease of the user's decision making. This makes for a pretty broad scope because we aren't measuring physical responses…."
     What now? Not about measuring physical responses? Then why are all these instructors ragging on about Hick’s Law then? Those extrapolating computer screen readings over to physical fighting often use the term "exponential time for decision making." Instructors often ignorantly tag Hick's Law with "exponential math." Bear with me as I repeat the math experts here–"any exponential function is a constant multiple of its own derivative." 
     That will really slow you down. Many still just blindly associate a never-ending, doubling ratio to Hick's Law- that is, for every two choices, selection time doubles per added choice. Yet, despite all these quotes on times, Hick made no official proclamation on the milliseconds it takes to mentally decide between options. Meanwhile, experts say that logarithm math actually relates more to Hick's, not the doubling ratio of exponentials. Still, doubling persists in trainers' minds, doctrines, and outlines.
     There is a general consensus in the modern kinesiology community that "Simple Reaction Time," called SRT, takes an average of 100 or 150 milliseconds to decide to take any action. That's considerably less than a quarter of a second, or 250 milliseconds, or a 500-millisecond "half-a-second," or the loss of "about a second" we hear from martial trainers. 
     Based on the doubling/exponentially rule with the commonly discussed SRT average, then choosing between two choices must take 300 milliseconds. Run out that timetable. Three choices? Six hundred milliseconds. Four choices? One second and 200 milliseconds. A mere five choices? Two seconds and 400 milliseconds! Six? Four full seconds and 800 milliseconds. Should a boxer only learn one or two tactics? A few moves would mean nine seconds and 600 milliseconds to choose one tactic from another? 
     You would really see people physically shut down while trying to select options at this point and beyond. Has this been your viewing experience of a football game? Basketball? Tennis? Has this been your experience as a witness to life? Under this casual, exponential increase rule, it would seem athletes would stand dumbfounded as index cards rolled through their heads in an attempt to pick a choice of action. Every eye jab could not be blocked if the blocker was taught even just two blocks. The eye attack would hit the eyes as the defender sluggishly selects between the two blocks.
     One then begins to wonder how a football game can be played, how a jazz pianist functions, or how a bicyclist can pedal himself in a New York City rush hour. How does a boxer, who sees a split-second opening, select a jab or a cross, hook, uppercut, overhand combination, or to step back straight, right, or left? If he dares to throw combination punches, how can he select them so quickly?
     Simple, modern athletic performance studies attack the simplistic, loose "doubling rule," but we need not just look to athletes. How can a typist type so quickly? Look at all the selections on a computer? Twenty-six letters plus options! How can you read this typed essay? How can your mind select and process from 26 different letters in the alphabet and spell with speed? How can an elderly person drive a car across town? A child play soccer? It is obvious that the exponential rule of “doubling” with each option has serious scientific problems when you run a simple math table out or just look about you at everyday life. And, despite the constant use of the word exponentially by quoters, real experts clarify that logarithms should be used. These exponentials or logarithms, the math of many choices, do not play in the life we see around us.
     New tests upon new tests on skills like driving vehicles, flying, sports, and psychology have created so many layers of fresh information. Larish and Stelmach in 1982 established that one could select from 20 complex options in 340 milliseconds, providing the complex choices have been previously trained. One other study even had a reaction time of .03 milliseconds between two trained choices–.03! Merkel's Law, for example, says that trouble begins when a person has to select between eight choices, but can still select a choice from the eight well under 500 milliseconds. Brace yourself! Mowbray and Rhodes Law of 1959 or the Welford Law of 1986 even found no difference in reaction time at all when selecting from numerous, well-trained choices.
     Why all these time differences? Sometimes experts challenge test results by questioning the test process and equipment involved. In 2003, I conducted an email survey of 50 college university professors of Psychology and Kinesiology. It is crystal clear to all of them that training makes a considerable difference in reaction time. Plus, people, tests, and testing equipment are different. Respondents state that every person and the skills they perform in tests vary, so reaction times vary. One universal difficulty mentioned by researchers is the mechanical task of splitting the second in their testing–that is, identifying the exact millisecond that the tested reaction took place. Many recorded tests are performed by undergrads in less than favorable conditions.
     Discoveries made in the 1990s, decades well after the 1950's Hick's Law began, blowing the original, antiquated "mental Rolodex/task selection" concept out of the water as an important martial training tenet. The brain does not operate like a Rolodex. The brain has a fast track! Neuroplastician Dr. Michael Merzenich, regarded among experts as a leading source on the human brain when reporting in the book The Brain that Changes Itself, "We can change the very structure of the brain and increase its capacity … unlike a computer, the brain is constantly adapting itself." Below, researchers Martin D. Topper, Ph.D., and Jack M. Feldman, Ph.D., write about them:
     "Currently, the best explanation is provided by psychologist Gary Klein, Senior Scientist at MacroCognition LLC, in his Sources of Power: How People Make Decisions, he's proposed that the human brain is capable of multi-tasking. Dr, Klein is a good-to master sourse on the subject of decision making, having spent years researching the subject. Gary's theory works like this: 
     "A visual image is picked up by the retina and is transmitted to the visual center of the brain in the occipital lobe. From there the image is sent to two locations in the brain. On the one hand, it goes to the higher levels of the cerebral cortex, which is the seat of full conscious awareness. There, in the frontal lobes, the image is available to be recognized, analyzed, input into a decision process, and acted upon as the person considers appropriate. Let's call this 'the slow track' because full recognition of the meaning of a visual image, analyzing what it represents, deciding what to do, and then doing it takes time. Some psychologists also refer to this mental process as 'System II cognition.' If you used System II cognition in critical situations like a skid, you wouldn't have enough time to finish processing the OODA Loop before your car went over the cliff. 
      "Fortunately, there's a second track, which we'll call "the fast track" or 'System I Cognition.' In this system, the image is also sent to a lower, per-conscious region of the brain, which is the amygdala. This area of the brain stores visual memory and performs other mental operations as well. The visual image is compared here on a per-conscious level at incredible speed with many thousands of images that are stored in memory. Let's call each image a 'frame,' which is a term that Dr. Erving Goffman used in his book Frame Analysis to describe specific, cognitively-bounded sets of environmental conditions. I like to use the word 'frame' here because the memory probably contains more than just visual information. There may be sound, kinesthetic, tactile, olfactory, or other sensory information that also helps complement the visual image contained within the frame–fortunately, the fast and slow tracks are usually complementary, one focusing on insight, the other on action. Together they produce a synergistic effect that enhances the actor's chances of survival." – Dr. Gary Klein

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     Doctors Richard A. Schmidt (a decades-long expert) and Timothy Donald Lee in the groundbreaking 1980's book and subsequent new editions, Motor Control and Learning, reported that task selection is made up of two parts, RT (reaction time)–seeing the problem–and MT (movement time)–physically moving to respond–and thus may be a "few milliseconds" for fast, simple chores, not this compounding, exponential, doubling, half-second, and full second formats.
     And another major factor, so simply explained in a sentence or two, concerns "arousal." Arousal is another word for alertness and also adrenaline in performance sports and psychology.   
     "One of the most investigated factors affecting reaction time is 'arousal' or state of attention, including muscular tension. Reaction time is fastest with an intermediate level of arousal and deteriorates when the subject is either too relaxed or too tense." (Welford, 1980; Broadbent, 1971; Freeman, 1933).
     Practice helps. Dr. Robert J. Kosinski of Clemson University reported on his research in September of 2010: "Sanders (1998, p. 21) cited studies showing that when subjects are new to a reaction time task, their reaction times are less consistent than when they've had an adequate amount of practice. Ando et al., 2002, found that reaction time to a visual stimulus decreased with three weeks of practice, and the same research team (2004) reported that the effects of practice last for at least three weeks. Fontani et al., 2006, showed that in karate, more experienced practitioners had shorter reaction times…." Visser et al., 2007.
     In 2012, in the new book, Wait, the Art and Science of Delay, Professor Frank Partnoy collects numerous studies on the split-second or millisecond-second decision-making of mental and physical choices. He has all the very latest 2012 medical and psychological testing on sports, self-defense, and on down to fast-paced, internet stock trading. It is interesting to note that in this new book, the infamous Hick's Law is not even mentioned, not a whisper. That is how research has advanced in this field from the 1950s.
     Wait breaks down the three critical steps–vision, decision, and reaction averages–all in the milliseconds arena with the latest high-technology and knowledge. In many ways, Wait refutes a former bestseller, Malcolm Gladwell's Blink, by proving that the very best-of-the-best performers know how to delay reaction to the last–well–millisecond, making the best choice. 
     The secret? Some genetics and a lot of proper training. Blink tells the reader to go with your first impulse. Wait tells you to sometimes go with your last impulse, not your first. All these choices occur in less than a second anyway, and the book makes for good reading. 

Wait, Partnoy

     Perception, Cognition, and Decision Training, a fantastic textbook written just a few years ago by Dr. Joan Vickers, is all about response times. In quick summary here, Vickers barely mentions Hick's Law, but for two respectful, "historical paragraphs" referencing the obligatory history of the subject. Tips of the hat. She states that Hick's selection times can easily be increased by simple training. For more on this, you must absolutely read this book.  Get it! Read it, and read it again once a year.

Decision Vickers book

    Dr. M. Blackspear of the Brain Dynamics Center at the University of Sydney, Australia, reports that the: "… study of functional inter-dependences between brain regions is a rapidly growing focus of neuroscience research. “People select and change options "mid-flight" in milliseconds split into milliseconds.

     Smarter? Faster! Intelligence matters as a variable in Deary et al., 2001. “there is a slight tendency for more intelligent people to have faster reaction times, but there is much variation between people of similar intelligence." (Nettelbeck, 1980) The speed advantage of more intelligent people is greatest on tests requiring complex responses. (Schweitzer, 2001)

 How can we possibly improve reaction times?
     Aside from the fact that the generic Hick's Law exists within in a small world of 1,000 milliseconds within one single second, here are some proven methods that improve overall reaction time and performance:
     * Sequential Learning–the stringing of tasks working together like connected notes in music really reduces reaction and selection time.
     * Conceptual Learning–is another speed track. In relation to survival training, this means a person first makes an either/or conceptual decision like “Shoot/Don't shoot” or “Move In/Move Back.” Rather than selecting from a series of hand strikes in Conceptual Learning, the boxer does not waste milliseconds selecting specific punches, but rather makes one overall decision, “punch many times!” The trained body then takes over following paths learned from prior repetition training.

     * Implicit and Procedural Memory–In Dr. Lee Dye's 2009 article for ABC News, "How the Brain Makes Quick Decisions,” he reports: 
     "[People] … have been helped by a kind of human memory that scientists have been struggling to understand.” Dye reports that people use "implicit" memory, a short-term memory that people are not consciously aware they are using. Doctors Ken Paller at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, and Joel L. Voss from the Beckman Institute and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have conducted long-term research on this subject; and while they did not specifically involve athletics, the conclusions are consistent with other researchers who are also studying how top athletes can make split-second decisions and take action. 
     How does a batter hit a fastball when he has to start swinging the bat before the ball even leaves the pitcher's hand? “He relies on visual cues, even if he doesn't know it.” Athletes and people learn to predict and act and react spontaneously based on very little information. One way is implicit memory.
     Implicit memory (IM) is a type of memory in which previous experiences aid in the performance of a task without conscious awareness of these previous experiences. People rely on implicit memory in a form called procedural memory–the type of memory that allows people to remember how to tie their shoes or ride a bicycle without consciously thinking about these activities. Implicit memory taps into procedural memory. 

     * Procedural Memory— One more related subject in this chain of memory and performance. Procedural memory. Connecting small multi-tasks and problem solving. Examples of procedural learning are learning to ride a bike, learning to touch-type, learning to play a musical instrument, learning to swim, and performing athletic tasks like sports. For our readers, here this includes martial moves, fighting, self-defense, and combatives. Experts report that procedural memory can be very durable, however perishable, like any task. And the physical fitness to perform these tasks may not be so durable. Given the ravages of aging, a pro tennis player away from the game for many years is still likely to pick up a tennis racket and beat most common tennis players, but not qualify for Wimbledon.

The Good, the Bad, and the Simple 
     Sure, sure, sure, simple is good. I am all for simple. Absolutely. And there is the old, great expression, “our training should be designed to be as simple as possible and as complex as is necessary,” What a key phrase, "as complex as is necessary." Dwell on that phrase, please.  
     And reaction time is an important concern when you are dodging a knife, pulling a gun, driving a car, etc. And there may actually come a point in a learning progression when there are way, way too many reactions/techniques to counter an attack; and if these moves are a bit unnatural, not guided somewhat by some natural reflex, and taught poorly and trained poorly. Poor systems and poor training may lead to untimely confusion. But we are not as simple and slow as Hick's Law misleaders want to scare us into believing.
     Earlier I listed the scary quote "…tests have shown that when an individual has too many choices the result can be that they make no choice at all." This is in direct relation to sales, purchases, customers and computer menus – all topics where you find the transactions of Hick's Law today. Not jabs or crosses, or tackles, or shooting a gunman. 
     Decisions all to be executed in the sheer "splitest" of a split second? Then, our ape-man ball player has even more split-second, follow-up decisions to make with runners on different bases. Even a child playing shortstop has a lot to decide and very fast, AND can do it faster than four or six seconds or more! I hope that the police trainer I mentioned at the beginning of this essay is reading this article and will apply it not just when he teaches his kids in Little League, but when he teaches his adults in law enforcement tactics. In fact, I hope all martial instructors are reading this and paying attention.  

In Summary 
This quote from a true leader in the industry says it all.
     "Hick’s Law is really not applicable to use of force incidents. People simply don’t consider all the options they have available. They choose their favorite option or the one that is most available, effectively limiting response options to a very small number. They never consider ALL of their options, so the idea that having too many options will slow reaction times never comes into play." – Dr. Bill Lewinski, University of Minnesota, Force Science.
     For years and perhaps still, this original "paper" I wrote on Hick’s Law was the highest viewed on the web for this subject. Therefore I got a lot of love and hate mail. More love than hate because people understand the logic, the research, and less hate. Recently in 2011, someone accused me of claiming that Hick's Law doesn't exist and that I was ignorant of what Hick's Law really is.  
     I replied – “Of course, it exists. A Mr. William Edmund Hick existed. This British psychologist, Mr. Hick, created a test; and his test had results. The results were that response took time. That is the main conclusion. Things take time. And the central point of all this reaction research? Milliseconds. Mere milliseconds. 

     Probably the few reasons the misunderstanding and myth has spread on Hick's Law , infesting the police, martial, and military fields is
          1: people can’t grasp or define how short a millesecond is.
          2: The concept has been used as a sales pitch to sell training programs. Since the 1970s, I have been a police field training officer and presented/taught police at police academies since the 1990s. In my world of observing training programs, I have to tag Bruce Siddle's archaic, P.P.C.T., and then Tony Blauer's SPEAR program as main spreaders of this dumbing-down years ago in the 1990s "era." Others heard and still hear these words and terms from “the instructors” of the day, and they automatically revere them as biblical and mindlessly regurgitate them. The thoughtless virus spreads and frankly, it mutates into worse versions. PPCT is all but gone now and I say “good riddance,” and I do not what Tony says about it anymore. He's a pretty smart guy and probably has adjusted his outline with new research. 

     But this and a few other subjects were all once 1990s, insider, pop-psychology marketing to spout and then re-spout it. The over-emphasis, myth, mutations and misunderstanding of Hick’s Law can still be found today in police, fire military and martial arts training doctrine. And after all, its a great admin tale and a personal excuse to be lazy in training programs.

     But just how fast can we get? How dumb should we be to fight back confusion and stalling out? Don't ask Mr. Hick from the 1950s. Mr. Hick was not conducting tests on baseball or fighting, and the 1950's computer he used long ago became a stone-age museum piece. 

     1) Hick's Law certainly exists, in its most generic sense of an idea. The overall idea is good to know. Things do take milliseconds to see and respond.
     2) There are 1,000 milliseconds within one second. Not many grasp this. Almost no one can conceive just how fast 100, 250, 500, or even 750 milliseconds actually are. 

     3) There are other, more modern, reaction studies with differing and prove even faster results than Hick's. 

     4) It is blindly regurgitated and over rated in training courses. 

     5) These misuses and misunderstandings are frequently used to sell training programs or to feign a certain "insider" expertise. 

     6) Hick's Law  is often used to dumb down police, military, and martial arts programs. 

     7) People can only get so fast within these milliseconds anyway. Losing or winning by milliseconds may not be consistantly manageable. 

     8) Hick's widely accepted version of math and expanding delays between multiple choices cannot be played out in the reality we witness in our daily lives around us such as walking, driving cars, or the common sports events that even children play successfully. 

     9) Many other definable issues can cause choice delay. And all delays simply cannot be blamed on the root, Hick's Law principle. Stress and emotion can cause delay. Stuns and gas can confuse and delay. Also lack of sleep, antihistamines, and numerous other ailments. Also your “zero-to-sixty”alertness before the needed response is important and the subject of a whole other essay.

   10) Hick's Law and its milliseconds are rather inconsequential as a martial training tenet.

     “They” sell you Hick’s Law for about $1. It may only be worth about 15 cents.



Hocks email is


This is excerpted from the upcoming book, Fightin' Words, due out Winter 2017

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The Car as a Coffin

     Back in the 1970s, the 80s and even the 90s, this phrase was a warning, a cop-training phrase, a “word to the wise” about being stuck in the car and being killed while stuck in your car by an outside shooter. The advice was to…     

     “Get out of the car! Because the car is a coffin.”     

     When things got hot and you predicted bullets could/would fly, or while bullets were indeed flying, try to get out of the car.
Get out of the car because the car is an enclosed coffin. So we got out if we could, because sometimes you can’t! We got out the driver’s side, or, we planned on traversing across the front seat to escape, low and crawling, to get out the passenger side if need be. OR, I have had friends successfully dive under the dashboard under fire.
     But alas, that was the good ol days of big cars. Who can dive for cover under a dashboard in today’s cars or worse – today’s patrol cars? They have some small patrol cars today, and some big police SUVs too. But, have you seen the front seat of a police car lately? It resembles a miniature version of the bridge of the Star Trek Enterprise. Computer systems, like a Robby the Robot, if you will, sits in the middle of the front seat. You CANNOT traverse the front seat anymore! And in civilian cars, the popularity of the console traps you in the driver’s seat even more than ever.  


      I followed this golden rule, but even if you do, you can still get caught there in an instant. Like I did this disturbing Saturday, summer night in 1980.

     “61,” the dispatcher said.
     “Go ahead,” my reserve police partner Joe Reilly said.
     “Domestic. Brothers fighting in back yard. The Starnes brothers. Mother called it in. 615 Jasper.”
    “Ask if the two brothers are wanted?” I told Reilly.
    “Dispatcher, check wants and warrants on the brothers.”
    “In progress…they’re clear.”
     “Ten four.”

     Damn. The Starnes brothers. Bout half-crazy, trouble makers. Almost twins born so close and look-alikes. In just about the same kinds of trouble. Drugs. Fighting. Burglaries. It wasn’t too late yet in the evening. About 8pm. Too early for the real trouble these neighbors brewed. We drove through the busy streets on the warm night. We didn’t need to look 615 Jasper up on the map. We’ve been there before.
When we pulled up, Reilly and I got out and heard the loud argument in the backyard, behind the long, old white house. We walked up the long drive beside the house, passed through the metal gate and into the yard.
     The mom was there in a house dress, arms folded. A neighbor we knew by sight, a very big dude was calmly standing by and when he needed to, pushing the brothers apart. The bothers were neck-vein -popping mad over something.

     “Hey! I said loudly. “What’s going on?”  

     The mother spoke up and relayed the problem which frankly, I don’t recall to report here. We all talked it over for a moment and I appreciated the presence of the neighbor. But, upon our very arrival, the brothers wanted to disappear. Afraid of being arrested again? I don’t know. It seemed like our very appearance ended the fight.     Buddy Starnes was shirtless and wearing very tight, light-colored jeans. This is important later. But, I looked over the two brothers for any signs of weapons.    Just about the time I was officially wrapping up the conversation, Buddy left prematurely. Looking back now, it was obvious he had something hide or be worried about. He turned and walked away before I finished and I, casually, walked after him. Reilly lagged back just a few seconds more to finish up with the mom.     

     I felt Buddy’s exit was a little  too soon, but I really didn’t know what to do about it. He led the way down the driveway to the street and I looked him over from behind.       

     “Buddy, next time, don’t leave until we’re through,” I said. 

     I wasn’t trying to be bossy, but I wanted to say something to…to see what he would say or do. Something stunk about this. He skin tight pants and shirtless belt line showed no clothing "print" that is the shape of any weapons.     

     He looked over his shoulder at me and gave me a real dirty look. Which, you know sticks and stones, and a look never hurt me. But he strutted off onto the street heading in the way of a crowd of folks up the next avenue.

     I walked around the front of the car, opened the door and sat in behind the wheel. The very instant my butt hit the seat? I caught motion in the corner of my left eye.

     Buddy was strutting back to me, his right hand borrowing into his right pocket.

     Shit. I instinctively, instantly pulled my revolver. The window was already down and I laid the 4 inch barrel of my magnum on the top of the door. Barrel right at him. It’s big and he saw it.

     “WHAT you pulling?” I growled.

     He yanked his empty hand out of his pocket and stood there. Expressionless. Looking at the hole in the barrel of my gun.

    Now, I tell you I stared hard at the pocket. It was flat, flat, flat and his jeans were very tight. I made a snap decision that he could not have anything at all in that pocket, or any pocket for that matter.

     “Get the fuck outta here,” I told him quietly and with a growl.

     Expressionless, he waited in a stare down with me and my gun barrel, then turned and walked away in his original direction. I did not holster my gun. I just watched him.

     Reilly slipped into the passenger side, sat and was shocked at my position. Gun out, barrel on the door.


     “I don’t know,” I told him. “he turned back on me and it looked like he was pulling something from his pocket.”

     “But I can’t imagine he had anything in that pocket. Those pants are skin tight.”    

      I put the gun away, started the car and drove off. Not even a half a minute later.     

     “61, are you still on Jasper street?” the dispatcher asked.

     “Just a block away,” Reilly answered.

     “Man shot on porch. 609 Jasper. Ambulance in route.”

     What? I whipped the car around and blasted over to 609. We slid up in front, ran up the to the porch where an older woman was tending to man lying on the porch. He was down and shot in the chest. I propped him up just a bit. We told her to get us a towel, and  Reilly made for the trunk for our first aid kit. We plugged the hole. Applied pressure. The old man could talk. He said he was sitting on his porch when “a boy” without a shirt in tan pants walked by, out in the street, looked at him and then shot him.

    “Was that Buddy Starnes?” I asked while the ambulance sirens closed in on us.  

   “It coulda been, but I don’t sees real well. Real far. At night.”

   The bullet hole didn’t look real big on his chest, but a chest wound is a chest wound. The EMTs got there and took over. Reilly and I jumped back in our car and I checked in with the dispatcher. I put Buddy Starnes out on the air as the shooting suspect.

     We and other units scoured the streets for Buddy. Reilly and I made every nightclub in the district. Asked everyone on the street. For hours. Nothing. And boy-howdy, I knew I screwed up. I made a snap decision to let that little piece of shit walk off. He did have a thin gun after all, must have, probably a small, semi-auto in that pocket. That bullet was meant for me. But since he couldn’t shoot me, he, frustrated, walked off a few houses away and shot that old man.  I should have stepped out and patted him down. But I let a visual search only trick my judgement.

      I met with the detective on call that night, and I told him what had happened. He also hunted Starnes with us in his own car. I can’t remember which detective it was. He asked me and Reilly to write supplements to the shooting crime report when we got back to HQ.  

   CID worked up a case on Starnes. The old man lived. It was a .32 caliber bullet that didn’t do much damage at all. Within a day or two, the detectives found Buddy, but they never found the gun. He confessed to shooting the old man because he said he’d always had trouble with him as he was growing up. A cranky old neighbor motive? 

     But deep down I knew what happened. I first ticked Buddy off. He wanted to shoot me in the car but I got the drop on him. And since I let him walk off, he shot that old man instead. 

     Months and a few years later, I would stop and talk to this old man when I saw him on the porch in that same chair. He told me that he and Buddy had a problem since Buddy was a kid, and that is why he was shot, but I still feel like I was a precursor to his shooting. I know I was. What…what do you say to this guy, to make any kind of amends? The old man died in the 90s. But, I still think about it sometimes. A missed chance. A missed chance!

night car

     “The car as a coffin.” My good, trusty friend and working Texas cop, Jeff “Rawhide” Laun, told me that now, 40 years later, they still use that phrase in police work and training, though they are now more captured than ever on the driver’s side of their cars due to the techno systems in the middle of the front seat. No crawling across the front seat! No dropping out the passenger door! No diving under the dash! You are stuck. 

     But, this was as close as I got to being stuck in a car and shot. My friends have been shot at, inside cars and those are other stories. But, no matter how well I understood, and how much I believed and worried about that classic training line – “the car is a coffin” – in a single instant, I still got stuck in there. 

     I am alive today because several times I got my gun out first and fast. I am not some kind of a quick draw artist. Not at all. I am…just "quick to draw." My gun just “appeared” in my hand when I needed it. Or just before I REALLY needed it. Practice I guess?  

     If you have to shoot through the glass of your car? Shoot. Don’t worry about the finer points of trajectory, glass angles and how the bullets will go slightly up or down due to the angle of the car glass. You don’t have time to run the math. Just shoot. Make a hole and shoot through that hole.

Email Hock at

This story appears in Hock's upcoming book, Dead Right There. Due out in May, 2017.


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Running Some Numbers: The Fighting Formulas

For me, fighting is always "more like checkers and less like chess." Another favorite line is "starting from the fight and working backwards," and that also seems to simplify things. Reduces the abstract.

     I think the formula is, a person needs to collect about 4 or 5, maybe 6 things that will work for their shape, size, age, strength. The task is collecting those things for you, personally. From whom? How to decipher them? And working on them to develop the time, grade and savvy to be successful. My favs aren't always your favs, but they probably are, to some extent. But not always.

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     The problems of complication begin in thee "working on the basics" – workout stage, and with the human desire to challenge yourself, fight boredom, etc … somehow, usually this becomes add, add, add. There have been many comments and essays by smart people about losing touch with the important basics for whatever reason and getting "technique-crazy," adding on, and, or doing  alot of unnecessary stuff. Art for art sake? The study of simple fighting for some also becomes an addictive hobby, or a complete obsession with a traditional art, perhaps? And with these complications and distractions, we can lose the "reality" way, things get abstract and we start building larger wooden ships inside larger glass bottles. The more matchsticks, the bigger the bottle, the more fragile.




"…we can lose the "reality" way, things get abstract & we start building larger wooden ships inside larger glass bottles. The more matchsticks, the bigger the bottle, the more fragile."


      When they ask various all-pro, football lineman, what they plan to do for the upcoming Superbowl game, they answer, "the same 5 things I always do." Whether it's the Superbowl or not. But then look at all the support work (dare I say "skill" drills) that built this all-pro, Superbowler! The time. The grade. The savvy. The "touch." Testing what does and doesn't work. Pushing the envelope.

     Anyone can hit and shove a football, tackling dummy. Anyone can punch a heavy bag. Anyone can wrestle with a grappling dummy on the floor. Anyone can shoot a paper target. The trouble starts when the criminal or soldier moves and thinks and shoots back. Then the formula starts looking like "attack, counter, counter the counter (which is another attack)…". Or for some situations, "defend/counter-attack, counter the defense." I mean, what if he zigs when you zag? What if he blocks the almighty strike or kick? Did anyone say you might be ambushed? How many situations and positions are there? Suddenly there is the chaos theory of problem-solving?

 So, 4 to 6 or 8 favorite things?  Then the question becomes, is that also:

4, 5, 6 fav things for the hand?

4, 5, 6 fav things for the stick?

4, 5, 6 fav things for the knife?

4, 5, 6 fav things for the gun?

4, 5, 6 fav things for the ground with hand, stick, knife and gun? (that mean 4 for the topside? 4 bottom? and then 4 side-by-side?)

4, 5, 6 fav things for……what?

     Trainers frequently mention the few fundamental boxing strikes – jab, cross, hook, cross, uppercut, overhand, and how boxers work for years on them in combinations. Do the math on the combinations in sets of two, three and four. Lots of numbers there. Filipino master and veteran stick fighter, Remy Presas use to say that you need just "a few favorite fake and strike moves." More combinations for success. That basic, yet very necessary 4, 5, 6 moves numbers you absoutely need to know, seem to quickly increase by topic and combinations. Remy also said, "You practice your whole life for a 4 second stick fight." And for all the many Filipino stick techniques FMA systems have, Remy would stop, grin and say, "of course, I could just hit him in the head with my stick."  

     And when you are always looking around for the "better 4 things," this search never ends. It shouldn't end, actually. It's part of the time and grade and testing thing. Knowing what doesn't work and why is important info for an instructor.  

    So, what can be universal in the math? What can be made simple and trained universally? Cross-categories? Core stuff? Like Footwork and maneuvering, both standing or on the ground, while holding or not holding weapons-is one. Or punching (hand strikes), as punching can be done standing, kneeling, seated and on the ground while empty-handed, while holding a stick, while holding a knife, while holding a pistol, and with a slung, long gun.

     I always use the "who, what, where, when how and why" formula questions to help me decide the figures. And to help other people decide their 4, 5, 6 things. The "Who Question." Who are you really and who do you think you will really be fighting? And then what exactly is this "street fight" everyone keeps talking about? Drunken idiots? A mugging? Kidnapping? Alley rape? Or, a subway fight? A bar-fight? A school fight? How does it differ from a police fight? A military fight? A family fight between a nephew and an uncle (probably the most common fights are domestic violence) Or, an "office fight." Or, when an active shooter walks into your office? Who really needs what, when, and what checkers fits the bill for most?

kicking while held



You can do all your favorite kicks, but can you do them while being held too?



    I am not a universal, "dumber-downer." I do think different people's baselines are higher than others. Defining the "basics" for them probably is different than for me, as I am a mediocre athlete. I like to leave a large, window open in my doctrine for special people to excel. But while the basics are the same, the "need to know" and "should also know," basic numbers do increase. As do the support speed, skill and flow prescriptions to develop people's athleticism and savvy. Lots of numbers huh?

     Checkers and chess. Someone once said, “our training, and thus our practice, should be designed to be as simple as possible and as complex as is necessary.”

     The instructor has a lot to think about and weigh. A lot to learn and a lot to know. The struggle is keeping it as basic as possible, and customized for the individual. What are those 4, 5, 6 things? Checkers. Not chess (unless of course, you're teaching Bobby Fischer).  


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Fear and Loathing of the Killer, Henry Lee Lucas

Henry Lee Lucas
Henry Lee Lucas. Killer

It was a head.

I mean a skull.

Just a skull. Laying there on the ground.

And I realized why I was sent there.

     I was there because of the radio message:

     “89, Meet Texas Ranger Phil Ryan at the south west intersection of Highway 55 and Juniper Road.”

     That message came over the air and not from the regular police dispatcher, but rather from my CID Captain. That was unusual for him to be on the radio, sending anyone, anywhere.

     “10-4,” I said, wondering what was going on. Ranger Ryan worked the next county over and not ours.

     I drove across the city to the west side and past under Interstate 55. West of the highway, south of Juniper was nothing but scrub brush fields. North of Juniper was hotels and stores and a truck stop. Why was I going to the south west corner?

     Clearing the overpass, I looked over the fields and saw several men walking around in a distance. I could see that two of them were county deputies from neighboring Brooks County, and a small, thin man and it was easy to spot Phil Ryan – who dressed like the classic Ranger, white shirt, white hat and big brown gun belt.

     I turned onto the field and parked my unmarked sedan on some low grass, got out of the car and made my way to these wanderers.

     It was then I saw it. The human skull. Laying in the open. Not 40 feet from the road and right across the street from a busy truck stop, cars buzzing by every which way. The loud of interstate traffic loomed.

     “And that…” I said aloud,” is why I am here.”

     I walked across the field up to Ranger Ryan.

     “Hi Hock,” he said quite normally.

     “Hi Phil,” I said.

     “We’re out here looking for a body,” he said.

     I saw the strange, thin man with the bad eye, unhandcuffed, smiling at me.

     “This is Henry. Henry Lee Lucas,” Phil said. “He killed a girl and cut her up out here. He’s killed some other folks too.”

     “Well, I about stepped on a skull back up there by my car,” I pointed my thumb over my shoulder back to Juniper.”

     Phil looked at the deputies.

      “I didn’t put no head up are,” Henry said with a quizzical face.

     Phil started out for my car and we all followed. We knew that animals would spread body parts and these fields had bobcats and coyotes.

     I keyed up my handset and asked the dispatcher for our crime scene man, if Russell hadn’t already been notified to come.

     Phil walked over by me to explain.

     “Henry killed a woman in Brooks County. He confessed and when I got him to talking, he wouldn’t stop,” Phil said. “he said he killed his girlfriend Becky here in this field. He killed her, had sex with her body, then cut her up and buried her in different spots.”

     The longer story, the one I found out later was that a 80 year-old, Kate Poor of Ringsilver, TX was a small landowner and vanished. She let some travelers stay on her property frequently in exchange for some labor around the farm. She suddenly disappeared and her friends contacted the police about it. As the case grew more suspicious, the Ringsilver PD, a small department, asked for help from their local friend and Ranger Phil Ryan. I’ve written about Phil before in this book and he was a terrific Ranger and a dedicated investigator. Phil began questioning everyone and Henry’s actions and words didn’t add up. Then Phil found and collected a “deadly weapon” on Henry and Phil put Henry in jail.

     The next day, Henry called out to a Brook County jailer,

     “I’ve done some bad things!”

     That he had.

     We walked up on the skull and we all solemnly looked it over. Henry kept sizing up the field and the distances.

     “I kilt her over thar,” he said. “How’d her head get here?”

     “Probably animals, Henry,“ Phil said calmly. I knew that he’d stay calm and friendly with him for as long as possible, to keep him talking.

     CID Sgt. Howard Kelly pulled up and so did our crime scene guy Russell Lewis. We filled them in. Russell started on the skull and it’s area and we all walked back to the center of the field.

     “I buried parts of her here,” Henry said. “You’ll find her leg bones over there and her arms bones other there.”As we walked around he got a little more specific.

     Sounds like a lot of digging. I looked at Howard Kelly.

     “Hock,” he said, “bring Henry in.”

     “In” meant book and arrest him.

     “Get a statement from him, if you can.” He knew I would. “I’ll get some of the boys out here and start digging around.”

Henry 4
Henry and Texas Ranger Phil Ryan

     I have done some digging for bodies before and I thought this arrangement might get me out of that shovel chore. I will go ahead and ruin the suspense for you right now. It didn’t.

     “Hey Henry,” I said, “we need to take a little trip downtown. And, I have to handcuff you.”

     He was expressionless. I cuffed his hands around back and walked him all the way back to my car.

     I let him sit up front on the passenger seat. This was a detective car with no screen or cage.

     “Where you from Henry?”

     And it went like that. Light conversation. Very light.

     I took him into our jail and drew up a quick arrest report. Printed him and got the classic mugshot, a photo used in dozens of news reports and about 40 or so books.

    “Come on with me,” I walked him down to my office in the CID section of the building.

     I sat at my desk and put my feet up. He sat in a chair, now cuffed around front and we relaxed.

     “What in the world is going on?” I asked.

     “Well, Like I told Ranger Phil, I killed that ol lady in Ringsilver, and…”

     “Before we talk about this, let me go ahead and read you your rights, otherwise you know we can’t talk. And I want to talk to you for sure.”


     And I did. First I got us some coffee. Then covered the classic Miranda warnings. He told me that he and his girlfriend, Becky Rowlett, this girl in the field, hitchhiked away from Brook County and were dropped off at the Interstate by the field. They bought some food form the stores at that corner, with stolen money from Kate Poor, walked to the center of the field and started a fire and camped. They had some kind of an argument. She slapped him and he pulled his knife from a sheath on his belt and stabbed her right in the chest. He watched her die, then he had sex with her body. (As you get to know Henry, you learn this happens a lot). With that same knife, he cut up here body, head off, arms off, legs off. He put some parts in pillowcases that he traveled with. Then he decided to gather up his belongings and cross the street to stay in motel.

      He'd hitchhiked around and walked around for about two weeks and returned to that campsite. He told me he wanted to bury her.

     “Why,” I asked.

     “Because I loved her.”

     “Okay,” I said.

     He said when he walked out onto the field that one dark night and saw her decomposing body parts and buried most of them. He told me that his and 14 year-old Becky’s relationship was like a father/daughter “thing.” He had pictures of her in his wallet and he carried those photos from jail to jail, state to state, thereafter.  How did this Texas killer go state-to-state later? A Texas Ranger Task Force, that’s how. Stand by on all that.

      We were about three cups of coffee into this by now.

      “I need to get this down in writing, Henry. We need a statement about all this form you. Can we do that?”

      “Yeah. I already fessed up to Phil. So, yeah.”

      And I got a statement on the murder, which was my job. Other crimes in other jurisdictions would be secondary to me tightening up this one. We finished off that typed statement. I typed line by line as he told me line by line.

      We relaxed.

     “I’ve got a problem, Hock,” he said. As if I needed to confirm my suspicions.

      “Ever since I was a little kid I’ve been killing things. Dogs, Sheep. Cattle…and having sex with them. Something just snaps in my head, a sex thing. He told me about a man named Bernie who “taught” him how.

      “When I kilt my mother…”

     “You killed your mother?’”


     Keep in mind this was the early 1980s. There wasn’t much literature and psychology collected on serial killers. The FBI VICAP program was fairly new and largely unheard of, and frankly were not very helpful when we needed them. So, this textbook case of someone killing small animals, the sex…even serial killer movies like the Silence of the Lambs were not popular. But Hitchcock; Psycho was! Norman Bates killed his mother and dressed up in her clothes. Weird was weird and killing folks and crazy-killing was not at all new.   


henry 6

     Lucas killed his mother when he was 24 years old. He told me (and other psychiatrists) that he had sex with his dead mother, but years later he denied that. He killed her in the kitchen with a knife and then fled the state in a stolen car. He ditched the car arrested while hitchhiking in Ohio.  He said that was his first murder. So, I am sitting in this office with a lunatic who killed his mother about 20 years ago. What was he doing roaming the streets? He was obviously released.

     “How did you get out of jail,” I asked him.

      “I was in mental prison. The doctors said I was alright one day. I wasn’t. But they said I was. One morning they just let me out the front door.”

      He started to tell me about all kinds of murders, all over the country that I just found hard to believe. It started to look like he wanted to shock me, like a braggart. I still have these details in my notes. And I knew we would be talking about all that again and too soon.

     I walked him back into the jail and locked him up.

     Then I jumped back in my car and drove to the site by the highway. A lot was underway there. Four detectives and Howard Kelly were combing the area and digging up body parts. Newspaper and TV crews were showing up.

     “You get a confession?” Howard Kelly asked me.

      “I did. He’s a real nut. He killed his mother, that woman in Brook county and this girl. And he started telling me he’s killed a bunch of women all over while hitchhiking.”

     Howard’s eyes widened. He had a certain way of looking over his glasses at you.

     “We are going to have to spend a lot of time with him,” I said.

     We had about 4 unsolved murders in recent years that we would have to run by him. Then there’s the county, the state and what now? All 50 states? How far could this go?

     “Well, Phill will hep us on all that,” Kelly said.

     I got my “crime scene shovel” out of my trunk. (This wasn’t my first rodeo.) and got with the guys and started digging.

     The Justice of the Peace was finally called. I say “finally” because I remember he was really mad at us. He’d heard the news at about 11pm, and knew he needed to be called out to the scene. And he knew that we he knew, we had a body he needed to officially preside over, but! No one called him all day until it was his dinner time. He got out to the field at about 6 pm and he really pitched a high-holey, embarrassing fit.

     “You know I could have you all arrested!” He yelled at us. “By law you are supposed to notify a magistrate as soon as reasonably possible! I could have all of you arrested right now.”

     Whew! The judge looked like he was about to have a heart attack but he finally calmed down. Dinner is really important to some folks! But apparently not to us as we worked well into the night. The judge declared the death a death, and we called a funeral home to transport the remains of the body to the forensic morgue in Dallas. The problem was I presume, everyone though someone else called the judge?  Since Sgt. Howard Kelly was the supervisor on the scene, it all fell back on him. And I'll be damned if the judge woud arrest Howard Kelly! (As I have noted in my writings, Kelly was like the "NCIC / Jethro Gibbs" of our division and few mess with Jethro.)  

     Nowadays, police agencies have special forensic archaeological teams that sift through the turf like they search for Tyrannosaurus Rex bones. Not back then. We just had regular shovels. In this case, 5 shovels, a Polaroid camera and some trash bags. (More or less. We also had a tape measure and a 35mm camera. I am just being dramatic.)

     I drew up diagrams and we triangulated the digs and where the evidence was. Ranger Ryan and the Brook deputies went home. Lucas was in our jail, and we felt we could leave the field until the next day. End of day 1.

     I drove home a filthy mess and stripped naked in the back yard. Bad news. The itching I started to experience was getting worse and worse. I was covered in chigger bites that were growing and expanding into a leper’s landscape on my skin from my sock line up to my chest. I ran into the bathroom and got into the bathtub while my wife tried to look up in a medical encyclopedia what to do. It started to drive me insane. Finally, I took pain-killers we had left over from my various injuries. That took an edge off. That and a little whiskey.

      I know some folks reading this won’t know what a chigger is. I hope you never do. They are a bug I’ve only run across in Texas, virtually invisible, that gets on your skin and climbs up as far it can, then bites and burrows into your flesh, lives, parties and procreates there until for some reason the clan dies off.

      I arrived at work the next morning and all of us that had toiled in the field, even the poor judge I heard, was suffering from these chigger bites. And we had to go out there again! Not without a visit to the pharmacy for nuclear, bug protection, though. But Detective Leroy Breasley had another plan.

     “You see this raw potato?” Leroy said, holding one up.


     “If you keep a raw potato in your pocket, chiggers won’t bite you.”

     “That so,” I said.

     “I got some potatoes out in the car for us.”

     “I think I will stick with the nuclear, bug spray, thank ya kindly.”

     “OKAY then!” Leroy said, as though I were a fool.

      We returned to the field and worked all morning. By lunchtime, we were through. I hadn’t accumulated anymore bites, that I could tell anyway over the red rubble of my lower chest and legs. But Leroy? Leroy’s chigger bites had chigger bites. I can’t really say I remember for sure? But I think he went to the emergency room at the hospital that night. I think the chiggers even ate the potato.

Digging up the bones…

     In the afternoon we sat back down with Henry at the police department. We ran some unsolved murders past him, showed him photographs. This is routine in a situation like this. A Kidnapped and killed young teen, found in a Dallas gravel pit. Strangled woman found out in the woods by some railroad tracks. At first he said no to them, then fudged on his “no” and said maybe. I watched him look at photos of the victims and had a feeling that they were strangers to him.

     Howard and I talked in the hallway. We didn’t believe him, but were obligated to test him through and through.

     “Me and Breasley will  run him around these crime scenes. You catch up here,” Howard said.

     And there was plenty for me to catch upwards. Reports. Warrants. A body was in the morgue. Confirm Henry was at that hotel. Etc.

     I caught up with Howard about two days later and in summary, he discounted all the other verbal confessions. We filed the only case we had in our jurisdiction, the murder of Becky in the field.

     Henry was quickly out of our hair, and Ranger Phil Ryan’s hair. Henry was convicted and sentenced to many decades. Phil Ryan had his case over in Ringsilver. But Henry would not shut up about killing a lot of people. Henry’s was embedded with a special Texas Ranger Task Force. The Dallas Observer reported,”A special task force, manned by the Williamson County Sheriff Jim Boutwell and members of the Texas Rangers, was formed to help other agencies sort out the stream of horrors that Lucas couldn't confess to fast enough. Soon, he was being jetted all over the country to lead investigators to crime scenes and recount the terrifying manner in which his victims had met their fates. Henry said, "I done it every way imaginable," he liked to say. "Shootings, stabbings, strangulations, drownings. Killing somebody, to me, was just like walking outdoors.’ For good measure, he occasionally added details of post-mortem sex or experiments in cannibalism. ”

     None of us locals, to include Phil Ryan thought Henry had killed all the people he’d suddenly claimed at the time. We read in the newspapers it was running up to 300 people. Phil told me early on, that he’d accompanied one of these crime scene visits with other detectives from another Texas city and murder. The body was found under an overpass. As the two detectives, with Ryan and Henry in the back seat, Ryan recalled to me what happened on that trip.

     “Henry had been shown, and had studied all the crime scene photos before we left the station. He collected the crime story and evidence in the course of the first interview with these detectives. When they try to remind him of the crime, he learns all about the crime. As we were driving up the highway, they kept asking him. ‘look familiar? Look familiar?” Finally Henry said, ‘stop here,” We all got out and looked around. Henry pointed to this or that. Back at the station he gave them a bare-bones confession to the killing. I said to Henry later, “why did you take that killing, Henry. You didn’t do that?” Henry smiled at me. I asked,”how did you know which overpass to stop at?” Henry said, “Well, the driver kept slowing down and slowing down and I just guessed.’ Henry didn’t kill all those people, he’s working the cops.”

Henry was escorted all the country, listening to murder cases and looking at crime scene photos, and then confessing to the crime.

     Working the cops. Then one morning, about two years after I snapped that popular mugshot of Lucas in our jail, I bought a weekday copy of the Dallas Times Herald and a headline declared  that the Henry Lee Lucas murder spree was all false. A local reporter Hugh Aynesworth, had constructed a map and a time line of Henry’s confessions and found it physically impossible for him to travel all across the United States and commit most of the them. He inserted into the time line, proven facts of Henry’s whereabouts, like one time Henry collected a paycheck on one date, than claimed he killed a girl like six states away later that same day. They concluded, “Lucas would have had to drive 11,000 miles in the space of a month to have murdered all of the victims on his confession list.”

     Now I ask you, why didn’t this Texas Ranger Task Force run a simple chart like this on their headquarters wall? We all asked this. Phil Ryan too and he couldn’t believe the mess. Why did it take a local newsman do this? In the middle of this is an odd tale of the prosecutor Vic Frizzell, which is another complicated story, too long to shoot off-course here, that you might care to look up.

      The New York Times concluded- “After his arrest in 1983, he claimed to have killed as many as 600 people around the country, and detectives from 40 states talked to him about an estimated 3,000 homicides. Mr. Lucas later recanted, and many of the murder cases attributed to him were never reopened. He attributed the confessions to a steady diet of tranquilizers, steaks, hamburgers and milkshakes fed to him by investigators, along with crime scene clues that he said he had parroted back to detectives.”

      Henry also got to travel, play cards and watch television and enjoyed numerous other benefits at the "Lucas Headquarters." Lucas’ lawyer Don Higginbotham, said that “Henry lies to everybody. That`s how he maintains control over his situation. Anybody in authority. He`s playing with the system.”

     While I was hanging out with Henry, he told me about his traveling, murdering buddy Ottis Toole, and how they killed people. He also told me that Otis has kidnapped and killed young Adam Walsh, the son of John Walsh. John had gone on to become the famous host of America’s Most Wanted TV Show. Was this yet another lie? Not up to me to decide so when the dust settled a bit, I called the detective division of the Hollywood, Florida Police Department and reported all the details to a CID supervisor.

     Years later, Toole became infamous thanks to Henry’s popularity. But, apparently my early 80’s phone call to Hollywood, Florida CID fell unsuccessfully! Then months later I asked about this and Phil Ryan told me that the Task Force also called Hollywood PD with the same Toole news. Still nothing happened. Read what Time Magazine wrote about this:

     “While the FBI  would credit America’s Most Wanted for helping nab at least 17 of the agency’s “10 Most Wanted” fugitives, John Walsh had to wait 27 years for the Hollywood Police Department to both admit that drifter and serial killer Ottis E. Toole abducted and murdered his son and apologize for investigative mistakes that transpired during the early years of this investigation,” as police chief Chad Wagner said in a news conference. As reported on Nov. 14, 1983, Toole had first confessed to the killing in October of 1983 but, as the department’s police chief told TIME in the mid-’90s, Toole and his accomplice Henry Lee Lucas were notorious for “confessing to crimes they didn’t commit.” Toole would end up dying in prison in 1996 while serving five life sentences for other crimes.”

John Walsh's book, Tears of Rage
John Walsh's book, Tears of Rage

     There was also supporting evidence against Toole, not just the confession. Walsh would later write a book about this. In the late 1990s, Walsh was on a book tour and I was hired to assist FOX security with protecting John Walsh on his trip through Texas. I had a chance to get to know John and we discussed this overall situation. Ironic, isn’t it?

I provided and arranged security for John Walsh in his 1997 book tour
I provided and arranged security for John Walsh in his 1997 book tour

       And now for even more madness and weirdness, in the mid 1990’s then Sheriff Weldon Lucas (no relation) called me at home. Weldon was a former Texas Ranger and was indirectly involved in Henry’s local case with us and he told me there some new, ado about a woman claiming to be Becky Rowlett in the media. Alive! He warned me that there might be a quick, new court date/hearing over the issue. But, this was quickly dismissed as a fraud. Some bizarre woman had befriended the imprisoned Henry. You know, pen pals. Jail visits. Then love. She thought she could somehow throw a monkey wrench into the works in Henry’s death sentence by suggesting Becky was still alive and was an alibi for another murder. She was arrested for this fraud. Like the entire Henry Lee Lucas penumbra, that was very, very strange.

     Years later, Geraldo Rivera even did a TV show on Henry and Phyllis. And of course, the subject of Henry became books, documentaries and a movie. All of these things are available on the internet for further investigation, with the proper names and locations. I was interviewed once in awhile by them, but Lucas disgusted me so, I didn’t add much more to their stories. Other agencies would never ask me to testify in their cases about the Lucas past, because I thought he was a liar. I have only decided to tell my small involvement in this because I am writing this book.

     I felt like, as reporter Carlton Stowers felt when he wrote in the Dallas Observer in the late 1990s-

“The furor over the latest Lucas scam attempt had already died when, one evening, I answered the phone to hear a long-distance operator say that I had a collect call from Lucas (in prison). "Will you accept charges?" she asked.  "No," I replied for the first time. Then, realizing that he was likely listening for my response, I added emphasis. "Not only no," I said, "but hell no." Finally, I had too belatedly realized, the time had come to put the life and lies of Henry Lee Lucas behind me.”

     Me too. I guess I should sum here up by saying that Lucas died in prison from a heart attack. All the stories about Henry’s killing spree, lies and manipulations still fascinate people, but all agree that he did kill “some” people, and those true murders they mention include our Becky case and Phil Ryan’s case.

     Of course, I and all other investigators and reporters are convinced he killed Becky in our city. I still remember that afternoon, all of us standing on the field west of the Interstate, and Henry pointing to the ground and telling me, “if you dig here, you’ll find a pillowcase with arm bones in it.”

     We did.


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