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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.

The Importance of a Death Grip!

death grip is officially defined as an extremely tight grip, First you have to grab. One of my training structures is the Stop 6 program –  the 6 common stopping points-collisions of  a typical fight (or arrest). Stop 2 covers the hand, stick, knife, gun grabs on fingers, hands, wrists, and weapons. And importantly, their counters-escapes.

The grab is made of two components in Stop 2. The Death Grip is really about two parts :

  • 1: the catch and,
  • 2: the subsequent grip of your opponent’s lower arm, wrist, hand and weapon itself. You might have a great catch but a weak grip. You might have a tremendous grip but a weak catch.

In all of the Stops, 2 through 6, a catch and grip is not a catch or grip without your thumb. Your life depends on this, especially with a knife and pistol, all defined in the Stop 6 program.

All martial and even various sports training requires much catching skills and hand gripping strength as you can muster and exercises that directly or indirectly increase such are vital. Almost all people immediately get this idea.

“If your grips fail, all your technique goes out of the window. It becomes hard to execute anything.” – BJJ Coach Lawrence Griffith

All people get this? Well, not all. Decades ago, various, yet small group of famous martial artists would suggest not using your thumb in a capture of an opponent’s limb. I stood in numerous seminars in the 1980s and 1990s hearing some martial instructors say this. Their small point usually being that your thumb or hand could be caught in some kind of lock and you would be supporting that capture with your full grip. As one famous JKD guy use to say,

“Rule of thumb? Don’t use your thumb.”

Huh? At first I mindlessly accepted that. But when I gave it a mere second thought? No. The bigger point? Minutes later when trying to stop and grip a stick or knife attack, I watched these same instructors all unconsciously demonstrate full hand grabs the wrist or forearm. They fully grabbed limbs (and clothes) 99% of the time.

I would see in seminars, mine and others, an unchallenged, playful catch or stop with just a curved hand, with the thumb beside the fingers…among friends. NO! Now, this no-thumb-helping move stops almost nothing and an attacker can move but an inch and instantly swoop under the curved hand to hit, stab or shoot. The thumb grip stopped this.

Today, once in a while, I still hear this advice echoed around the world. They are down-line lineage from these people and it takes a little “slap to the brain” to shake them out of it. Not using your thumb to grab is a thinking disorder mistake.  When doing throws and takedowns you use your full grip. In ground fighting you use your full grip.

And through the years I have run across self defense instructors who proclaim that fights never start with arm/wrist grabs. These short-sighted people have a tendency to view fights as bar fights, I think and are not schooled in the world of crime. They make fun of old school jujitsu and other systems that tend to start their programs with escapes from “common” grabs. BUT! CRIMES on the other hand, (no pun intended) like kidnappings, rapes, robberies, home invasions, assaults to murder entails such grabs. Victims are grabbed, pulled and pushed around. Tied up and taped. Handcuffed. And grabbing motions are also like weapon draw and drawn weapon interruptions.

Back in Training Mission One  and in all the courses, I list the four ways a human limb attacks you, hand, stick or knife…

  • 1: A thrusting motion.
  • 2: A hooking motion.
  • (Delivered either as a-)
  • 3: A hit and retract, or…
  • 4: A committed lunge.

It will always be hard to catch a thrust or hook, sure, but all kinds of untrained and trained people do in crimes and fights. But more importantly, look at the last two. The hit and retract and committed lunge. The hit and retract is a natural counter to a grab as it snaps back, and very difficult to seize. We have drills for that. While at times the committed lunge is caught and then driven foolishly into  your catch-grip, actually helping your catch-grip. 

Some notes on the Catch and Subsequent Grip

  • Size. Be aware of the size of your hand in comparison to the limbs of others. (We police have many stories about this as we have had to arm wrestle people into cuffs.)
  • Alignment. In the pistol shooting world and unarmed striking experts tell us to align with the forearm as much as possible. The palm strike, when thrusting, is called the palm heel strike because it can align with the forearm. In karate and various striking systems, they tell us to align the top two knuckles with the forearm. Folks suggest getting a pistol grip that aligns with the forearm, even though we can’t always shoot that way. In an Army gym decades ago, a power lifter told me to bench press using the bar on my palm heels as much as possible. You push a car with your palm heel, not your fingers.

It is a good idea to practice for that sort of alignment with a catch, to save your thumb from hyper-extensions and worse. Other steps like this are accomplished in sports and you can can develop this movement too. We have drills for this.

  • Firearms. The topic of grabbing a long gun or pistol comes up and deserves an entire chapter.  Any such photo of a firearm grab usually draws a comment of a too-hot-to-handle barrel.  You have to be shooting a lot to make a common long gun or pistol a scorcher to the touch. Depends on the weapon.  Think about the circumstances of you, who, what, when, where, how and why, defending yourself against a weapon that was run so long that it gets to hot to maintain a death grip on to save your life. Plus, there are so many circumstances, like a street crime, a robbery, a threat-only, a prisoner escort, an interrupted guard-sentry on duty, where the weapon is cold, or “warm,” that the subject must be discussed. I think an emergency grab of a pistol or long gun must be attempted at times and many of those times, the gun is not as hot as a flame torch.  (How many modern troops today wear gloves anyway?)

Further in, as in Stops 3 through 6, there are arm wrap catches (even leg catches, but this is about Stop 2 problems, just a bit further out than 3, 4, 5 and 6. In Stop 2 segments we cover the hand, the stick, the knife and the gun, catch and grab. And their counters-escapes!

Need we list all the exercises for grip strength here in this short essay? I hope not because so many exercises develop it.  Just search around. Oh and rule of thumb? Use your thumb. Wisely.

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Coming soon, the updated (from 2003) refined, reprinted new, second edition  of Training Mission One in both book and e-book formats

Drop It!

Drop it!
In police work we are told to never have anything in our gun
hands, in case we suddenly have to draw our pistols. But we
know that is impossible. Even when writing a simple ticket, both hands are busy. Fortunately, citizens do not live by this advice, this edge, as they go about their daily business.
Much later, police trainers then passed around the idea, the realization,  that when you drop your hand to pull your gun, you have to open your hand to grab your gun anyway. So, if you have something in your hand? Clip board. Grocery bag. Cup of coffee. Cheeseburger. You are going to open your hand anyway. You just have to learn to drop the item as your hand descends to your weapon carry site. This would help civilians also.

This actually takes a bit of “dropsy” practice. Practice in class while holding what you think you will hold, use the usual cues of serious trouble before as instigators, then drop and draw. Use simulated ammo of course, but you can make some live-fire reps on targets at the range, providing you are somewhere you can draw from a holster.

Oh, and when making an emergency call? Always use your off-hand
to run the cell phone. We have a simulated ammo scenario for that process too.

Sometimes we discover that we can chunk the item at the bad guy. But, that option is not always available due to time, space and situation. Lots of people ASSUME they know what their first or next confrontation will be like, and think that a good guy should throw their hats, coffee, etc at the bad guy before they draw. Such is an idea with a pre-emptive draw, maybe. But if the bad guy is drawing first, you are already behind the eight-ball of action-beats-reaction, and taking the step of tossing something, then drawing makes things worse for you. Don’t believe me? Check it put with sims ammo.

So in your “Drop It” scenario training, have a simulated ammo pistol on your carry site. Hold something in your gun hand. A trainer pulls a weapon in front of you. Drop, draw and shoot him. Get the drop routine running in your head.

Through it all, it is vital to have a real person in front of you, doing something dangerous for you to properly draw your weapon for the right, legal reasons, not a bell, not a whistle or timer. A person! Thus, the desperate need for interactive, simulated ammo training.

Hock’s email is

Coming soon, a new revised hand, second edition Hand, Stick, Knife, Gun Training Mission One book…and the rebirth of the old Training Mission book series.

Thee…”Sam Elliot Decision”

Years ago, I saw a western with Sam Elliot. I can’t remember the name. Two guys came to kill him at a cabin. He shot them. One survived and Sam immediately hauled him in the cabin and started treating him for his gut-shot wound. A shooting aftermath element all gun people need to consider more and more these days…

Former Dallas PD officer Amber Guyger, came home late at night from a 12 hour shift, drove into and walked through her dark apartment building, a place where some 15% of residents have reported going to the wrong apartment. She entered an unlocked door, saw a guy in “her” living room and shot him dead. Its a big deal in Dallas. A big deal because the the poor victim watching TV on his couch was by all accounts, a terrific young black guy. And we are smothered with Black Lives Matter agitators here. So, its a terrible mistake, and she will pay.  She was eventually found guilty of murder. But, this case is not my message today though.

She testified! Under prosecution questioning – and her testimony was the fact that she did not apply any tactical medicine methods to the guy. She had some very handy too. She did call 911, etc but didn’t do much for him right away. This received many grimaces in court. It suggests a negativity. An uncaring intent. A racism. It fortifies a guilty verdict. Trouble for an on-duty and off-duty police officer. At very least, it is, unprofessional.  How cane that be? And what about for a citizen?

Aside from Amber, it is becoming more and more apparent through the years that if you shoot someone in self defense, the “law” – civil or criminal, is going to wonder and ask you why you did or did not, or even expect you to jump in and save their life, right away after you shot them. Police or otherwise. Even military.

Think about the Navy SEAL recently accused of all those war crimes and killing a wounded  teenager-combatant for one. One of the contentions was he did not treat the wounded teen properly.

Nowadays we spend a lot time on tactical medicine, but for whom exactly? Back in the 90s one of my gun levels was tact medicine, taught by an tactical ambulance EMT. Years before the trend developed in what? 2010-ish?  Med-Tech improved so much we had to drop the old 1990’s film. But think about it for a moment. The general thrust has been to heal yourself and family and co-workers. Not the criminal. Training was, that the bad guy had to be handcuffed, dead or not. His weapons collected. An ambulance was called. Not much, if any, attention given to the grounded criminal. In a way, in a biological, psychological way, I think we can understand how people shooting a robber- attacker, are reluctant to help them. The SOB might get kicked rather than get a tourniquet! 

The first I heard of this concern, this “decision” was during the infamous Los Angeles bank robbery decades ago, in the 90s, by the two guys tacted-out, vested and with machine guns. When the second robber was shot, there was news footage of the aftermath.  The cops stood around. The family of the robber sued LAPD for ignoring their son’s treatment after being shot. Due to the carnage they wrought, there wasn’t much sympathy. But, of course, LAPD settled.

Years ago, I saw a western with Sam Elliot. I can’t remember the name. Two guys came to kill him at a cabin. He shot them. One survived and Sam immediately hauled him in the cabin and started treating him for his gut-shot wound. And I thought – you know – that’s what a really cool, good, “put-together” person does. It was a role-model message to me back then. It started me to thinking about this. Is it safe to move in, kick the bad guy’s gun away (or pick it up) look the bad guy over, and maybe…do something? Do nothing? Too scared to? Don’t care to? Too scared to look? Don’t care to look? Scared or cared?  Think about it.

Anyway, my message is even if you shoot anyone, least of all kill Hannibal Lector himself, someone, somewhere will be looming around – prosecution, defense, lawyers, families, political groups – torturing you for not immediately performing a heart transplant to save him. I don’t think this reality has fully hit total ground zero with all the gun people in USA. Just calling 911 may not be enough. It’s situational.

Some of my gun trainer friends say they teach rescue care . They say, treat yourself first. Then friends-comrades-family. Then third, take a look at the shot bad guy. You have to monitor him anyway. Again, that’s situational. I am not laying out a list. I am just making a point to think about. Be able to articulate why you did or did not choose to treat the shot person.  Don’t just say, “Well he was trying to rob me, so F____ him.” That works at the bar, or the buddy BS session.  And I do really appreciate gallows humor, but It might not hang well in at the Grand Jury, the criminal court, or the civil court. 

Each case, each shooting is different. What I am saying is, is this one…your first one? Your next one? What of a “Sam Elliot Decision?” You will have to articulate at some point, with understandable, common sense, why you did or did not do something.  There will be situational reasons for or against. But, better think about it, this… “Sam Elliot Decision.” That’s why we call it…a decision.

(Oh, Amber?  She got ten years in the pen. I’m sure her lack of immediate treatment came into play, as the prosecution made a big deal about it.)

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Ankle Breaks in Gunfights

Through the 1970s to the 1990s, I noticed a tripping accident was fairly common in line operations, police work. Ankle juries. Line ops is often synonymous with chasing people and dashing to active crime scenes. Running. Running over the urban, suburban and rural terrain, and looking far off not on the objects and contours on the ground before you.

So that’s a bad enough invitation to an ankle twist or break or fall. But another thing I noticed and not just in my agency and the surrounding agencies, and then nationally – another unique accident. Police cars parking hurriedly beside curbs and other crap, and officers bailing out of cars, looking off to problem people and places, and catching their ankles on stuff. Sprain, Or break. Or fall. (I also heard similar stories from the military, where by the nature of what they do in total, the ankles are weak links in action.)

In one week, we had CID captain bail out and break an ankle, and a veteran patrol officer bail out and break his ankle because of curbs. Both were passengers by the the way. So the while driver could guess-see where he was going, the passenger was stuck with what he got over on his side.  The captain’s gun was out. The officer was pulling his gun. Think of the residual mess a discharge would have made. Could have made. There are a number of discharges each year with falls. Fingers off the trigger!

That strange week was when I began to take notice of the problem. Many moons ago.  This type of thing, a car bail-out, least of all a foot chase could happen to any ambitious person, gun or not, police or not. Military or not. (People have this problem on the supermarket parking lot!)

Look around. But, one more thing to do in preparation is to develop more resilient ankles. Not just calf raises up and down, but rotating your foot and rocking it side to side under a weight pressure.  Leg work out, even running create a better ankle to withstand surprises in the future. This alone might not be the cure. In the 1980s while I was working out regularly and doing karate and old school jujitsu, I went through a whole period of jacking up my ankles.  Stupid little accidents, like going down stairs too fast a little sideways. Then, perhaps mysteriously, with the same or “worse”  regiments, I never had those problems again, even with some near spills and twists which should have. Maybe I was overdoing back then? Smarter workouts help. I and others are convinced that working out your legs (that’s ankles too) help protect your ankles. (I might add here that the two cases I mentioned above…neither worked out.)

Since all that, I take a quick look down. Or look fast and remember where I will be when I pull up somewhere. Sometimes it could just be junk, muck or a giant puddle out there. Warn your partner if you have one. Even today, as a “former-action-guy,” I warn my wife when I think I get to close to the curb or a mess for her to get out carefully when she is the passenger.

I think emergency folks need to…curb their enthusiasm… when first getting out of a vehicle at hot scenes (and work out for as long as you can in life).

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Some Gunplay. Nights of the Mad Pay-tre-ons.

Country and Disco. Rednecks and Hippies. Back then when I first patrolled the streets in the 1970s, be it in the Army or out, I … profiled … or rather nicknamed the guys I would see roaming the bars and restaurants at night. When the dancing parlors shut down each night, waves of “Country and Disco” folks would gravitate into the 24-hour diners. Some also gravitated into our jails. It didn’t take long to realize you were more likely to have trouble with a guy dressed in black with a felt cowboy hat than one duded up like a hair-sprayed member of the Bee Gees. Profiles in wardrobes. To our dispatcher, they were all “pay-tre-ons.”

Some of the bouncers in the country and Western clubs were rough and rowdy people, and I have written some of their stories before. Like them or not, we got to and had to work with them, and they were indeed the first line of eyes and ears for a lot of stuff. They tipped us off, they pulled us out of scrapes, and they watched our backs. We watched theirs. When I was a detective later on, they helped clear some cases, even murders, for me.

One night at the Duster’s Club, two bouncers I’ll just call Ralph and Randy were whistled over by a barkeep pointing to a loud patron who was starting trouble. As they approached the disturbance, the patron turned, yelled, and held them at bay with an open palm.

“You stay outta this!” the man screamed.
Ralph thought the man was drugged more than he was drunk.
“Say, padnah,” Randy said, “come on, we just need you to leave, hear?”
“Fuck you, skunk!” the man declared, “I ain’t cha padnah!”

With that, the man pulled a big revolver from under his jacket and pointed it at them and shoved it straight out at arm’s length. Randy and Ralph ducked and backed away, and the customers nearby shrieked and ran. But overall, this place was noisy and big, and the shock wave didn’t rumble through the whole crowd. The rest of the place just two-stepped right on by. Kind of like life, really, when you think about it.

The man charged the bouncers swearing he would kill them. The barkeep called the police. And that would be me. I was about two miles away.

“Pay-tre-ron at the Duster with a pistol,” the dispatcher told me on the car radio. This “country-sounding” dispatcher, not a mental giant, always mispronounced the word “patron,” calling them “pay-tre-ons,” like they were some kind of an alien race. Our running joke for night shift when this dispatcher was on duty was – “wonder if we’ll be invaded by the Pay-tre-ons tonight?”

“Ten-four,” I said and, of course, there was no backup available. Everyone was busy with his or her own Saturday-night alien invasions.

As I pulled up into the Duster parking lot, to my surprise, I saw Randy and Ralph kneeling beside some parked cars in the parking lot. They were peeking over the trunks and hoods to the north to a cheap motel beside the nightclub. They ran to a wall and motioned me over.

“He’s in there!” Randy told me as I walked up to them. He pointed to the motel. I stared, ducking down, too, because … I can take a hint.
“Who?” I asked. The guy with the gun? I thought he was in the Duster.

“He ran out the door and across the lot. Ralph and I follered behind him. Come here,” Randy said, and brought me to the corner of the motel. “He is in that room.”
“He’s madder than hell. He is on drugs,” Ralph said. “I swear he was gonna kill us. He’s got a big-assed revolver. He pointed it at us and at half a dozen people in the bar.”

He singled out the room window for me; and I could see a light was on inside, and there was a lot of movement inside. The curtain was partially open. I worked my way around the corner while staring at the room window for any action. And then I slipped down the motel’s south wall and up the west wall until I was right beside this window.
This was an old-fashioned, cinder block-constructed motel. Each room had a horizontal window with a sliding glass, windowpane, and a curtain. The window was partially open. No screen on the window. I peered inside.
An angry man was pacing the small room from the bathroom door to the front door. Back and forth. He was quietly cursing to himself, clenching his fists, and waving his arms. On the corner of the dresser by the front door was this “big-assed revolver.” I pulled out my .357 Colt Python, my own big-assed gun, in case he decided to continue his angry walk out the door holding that damn thing and shooting up the place.

I stepped back and saw Randy and Ralph looking at me from across the parking lot. The loud and busy interstate highway ran behind them. I made a big circling motion with my hand and then pointed to a spot on the far side of the door, a signal for them to go up the service road and down the far side of the motel. I was all alone here and needed their help.  But if my quick plan would work, I needed them; and they were itching to help.
I watched the man pace. When Randy and Ralph got into position on the far side of the door, I got into mine. At a moment when the man was near the bathroom door and far from his gun, I reached into the partially open window, hooked the curtain, shoved the window and curtain open as far as I could and pointed my Python at him.

“Police! Freeze!” I barked. Which he did. His eyes cut over to his pistol.
“No! Don’t even think about it.”

Outside, Ralph tried to open the door, but it was locked.

“You will walk over to the door with your hands up. You will unlock the door,” I told him in the most menacing voice I could muster. “You keep your hands up. If you touch that pistol, I will cut you in half.”

He looked hard at me. He understood that message and marched over to the door. As he got close to his gun, I inched my pistol in just a bit more for a better angle. Yes, I would have cut him in half. He unlocked the door.

As soon as the knob jiggled, Ralph and Randy barged in with quite a double tackle on that guy right onto the bed. I thought the bed would collapse, but it didn’t. They immediately proceeded to pommel and beat the tar out of him. I casually stepped around the wall and into the room, got his gun and stuck it inside my Sam Brown belt . I took a quick peek into the bathroom for anyone else. Accomplices. Beaten-up girlfriend. Dead guys or gals. Yeah, no telling, as that stuff happens. But the stinky bathroom was empty that time. Meanwhile, the beating on the bed continued.

“Okay, okay, okay,” I said, trying to tone those guys down just enough to get a space to handcuff the guy. The suspect was busted up a bit by now. But way back then, which I still affectionately refer to as “the good ol’ days,” the jailers received and booked-in near-dead prisoners all the time, and never so much as offered an aspirin to them. Today? Today,  they get new teeth, a manicure, special trip to the hospital, and a scholarship.


(I’ll just put this photo up here, just cuz I think it’s special.)


Off to jail. Detectives on Monday morning would work the rest of this. Get statements. The guy, a Texan but an out-of-towner, had no prior criminal history. I charged him with possession of a firearm in a bar, which was a felony then, and for the assault of pointing that pistol at Randy and Ralph. Etc. Why’d he do it? Hell if I know. I just did my part of the job. As usual, I never saw nor heard from that suspect again. He must have plea-bargained himself a deal.

I guess today, decades later, all this would have to be handled differently than “1970s Texas-style.” Today, a SWAT team would be called for a 4, or 6 or maybe 10 hour, negotiated stand-off. And well, those bouncers would’ve been able to beat the guy up either.  Times have changed.

Yup, I never saw him again. Just a whole lot of folks like him. The world was full of those damn “Pay-tre-ons.” It was an invasion. He went back to his home planet. 


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Gun Killer Instinct. Gun Survival Instinct

(This is a chapter from Hock’s upcoming book External Focus Gun Fighting, due out in 2020)

There are plenty of people who have shot plenty of other people without any training at all. Consider the history of self defense, crime and war.  The motivation? Fear? Anger? Justice? Revenge?  Did the shooters have or did they not have, an inbred, strong  killer instinct? A powerful, innate drive for survival? Is this there or not there in people?  How much so? Is such trainable or untrainable?

This essay is not an in-depth, psychological study on the amygdala, killer or other instincts, but really just about shooting people that need to be shot, at the instant they need to be shot. I have already collected many psychological sources in my Fightin’ Words book for your added study. I, and marksmanship instructors, or martial “guys,” artsy or otherwise, are not a great source for such PHD-plus, endeavors. In short, I am not a doctor and I don’t play one on television. We shoot the brains, not dissect them. So, I refer you to qualified, mental experts. (Also, I do not teach marksmanship, leaving that to those experts. You should become the best marksman you can be.)

I look at this subject here, only in regards to motivate people to defend themselves and offer a related, over-view of what parts the killer instinct and survival instincts are at play, via training.  

Colonel Jeff Cooper once said that if you don’t think you can shoot someone, don’t put on the gun. That’s just a starting point for some self realization. There are numerous people who know they cannot shoot anyone and couldn’t do it. There are numerous people who know they cannot shoot anyone, but they were wrong because later they have. There are people who think they can, but couldn’t. Those that think they can and have. And those that don’t ever think about it all and just go shooting at ranges. For them its an abstract question. They can’t personally relate to actual experience and aftermath and just don’t think much about it. 

Killer Instinct and Survival Instinct
“A ruthless determination to succeed or win.” “The Killer Instinct is defined as a cold, primal mentality that surges to your consciousness and turns you into a vicious fighter. … This mentality results from mastery of the killer instinct.” To many people, it’s related to the business world or to sports. We hear it for example, in the stock market and tennis. Or, any endeavor when the opponent could be “finished” and the person does or doesn’t “finish” them. If they didn’t, some critics would say they “lacked the killer instinct.” There were several KiIler Instinct, and Overkill books written in 1980s and 1990s advocating the universal use of this mindset and approach when fighting anyone, anytime, with or without weapons. And off to jail they will probably go. 

What of the Survival Instinct? Described as – “An ability to know what to do to stay alive.” This is not such a serious term as killer instinct. Survival is socially acceptable. It is almost biological, common sense. Killer is a bad word, subliminally connected to bad acts and actors, a negative even when necessary.

Now let’s add the word “gun” in front of it. GUN Killer Instinct. GUN survival instinct. These are pretty serious terms to be throwing around. Emotional. Ethical. Legal. The terms have to be considered by the major “food” groups. It is part of the “who” as in “who are you?” of the Who, What, Where, When, How and Why questions I like to use.
Group 1: Citizens.
Group 2: Police.
Group 3: Military
Group 4: Security

So, it seems more palatable, more legal even to use the term survival instinct than killer instinct. Perhaps for some students/practitioners that’s a smarter term to use. When you fight someone, both without weapons, death should be on the far end of the hurt em’ list, but when holding a knife or a gun, killing is not so far down the spectrum. It all better be smart and legal.

The Hesitation. The Concern.
Periodically through time, a martial instructor, certainly a self defense, and/or combatives shooting instructor will be asked,
”Who am I to shoot someone?”
“What will I do? Will I freeze?”
“I just don’t know that I can kill someone.”
“Will I have that killer instinct?” 
“How will I know I can pull the trigger and shoot and kill someone?”

If you have never been asked about these questions, or received such observations, I don’t know why. Perhaps you only see a group of men in their 20s, 30s, even 40s at the shooting range and they might not reveal such inner thoughts? I am not sure group of trainees in the military, once at the shooting range are given a lecture on the “will the kill?” I have no such memory? Do you?  They just shoot-away? “Yer’ in the Army now, and we kill people,” is a given. But I have heard these questions from time to time and not just from men, but from women too.

Can people “switch to kill” when needed? Killology poster boy Dave Grossman has sort of made a living, a cottage industry discussing this, and to much controversy and debate. A debate I do not want to get into here. In terms of guns, there are some speculations that only a few members of a theoretic, trained military unit actually do the killing.
But, a whole lot of somebodies have been shooting people. Suffice to say that through time, a whole lot of people have been clubbed, speared, arrowed, stabbed, shot and killed at rather close range in self defense, in crime and war, despite an alleged inbred against violence. Grossman admits that the Army improved its shooting rates from some 20% in WW II to 90% by the Vietnam War with simple, training changes. (These numbers are usually not very accurate, by the way).

I can quickly sum up the principle of that change in two sentences for the curious. When my father was in basic training for WW II, he shot at paper, bulls eye targets and they dropped him on the D-Day beaches. When I went through Vietnam era training in Ft Polk, LA, we shot at bulls eyes too, but also shot on an amazing Tiger Ridge, “jungle” range trail, with pop-up, human-shaped targets dressed in VC clothes and NVA uniforms, among streams, rocks, trees and bushes. The trail went up a hill and there were close and long-range shooting.  When you shot the target, it fell.

This was a step toward reality and a classic desensitization process. This beat all kinds of paper target shooting to me, and left me with a life-long, lasting memory/inspiration. More on that subject here in a minute. (We see a lot of military training cities for Middle East/Southwest Asia scenarios these days and many think the idea is new. Not so. For example, the Ft Polk, Tiger Ridge, Vietnam village I mentioned was built in 1965, offering scenarios with blank ammo.) 

“Motivate training through anger, not madness. Motivate training from fear not paranoia.”

Motivate training through anger, not madness. Motivate training from fear not paranoia. How do you instill confidence, proper restraint along with “killer” instinct/survival instincts, and layer in skill? For yourself? Or for your people? I would like to offer some suggestions and ideas I have learned and taught. You could start by explaining the process with nature and nurture, then explain repetition training, pinpointing and desensitization. Lets start with…

Hard-Wired and Hard Forged
Hard wired? Nature magazine published a popular article based on some extensive research into violence. “Humans have evolved with a propensity to kill one another that is six times higher than the average mammal,” so say the scientists of 2016’s The Phylogenetic Roots of Human Lethal Violence. “The researchers compiled information about more than four million deaths among more than 1,000 mammals from 80 per cent of the mammalian families, including some 600 human populations from the Palaeolithic era to the present day. They then used this information to create an evolutionary tree of different mammals’ propensity towards violence.” They go on to say, “However, aggression in mammals, including humans, also has a genetic component with high heritability. Consequently, it is widely acknowledged that evolution has also shaped human violence.”

As far as survival instincts, Dr Jim Taylor, Ph.D. in psychology and sports psychology, reports that, “Our emotions have also evolved to our greatest survival benefit. So-called “hot” emotions, such as surprise and disgust, are experienced instantaneously and powerfully. These emotions signal an imminent threat to our survival which then initiates urgent action in response to its cause that increases our chances of survival.”

Hard Forged. So when people ask these “what if,” questions of themselves, and ask these questions to you, I like to suggest some things I have used successfully. There is this “DNA” hard-wiring to fall back on, whether we call it killer instinct or survival instinct, so I remind them of the aforementioned “DNA,” as a natural head-start, reaction that may help them.

Then I remind them the power of repetition training. Pile on the reps! I tell them that the more they burn responses into their “muscle memory,” the better chance they will mindlessly snap to them, without thinking (or freezing). The tip takes away the mindfulnesss of the act and frees them up a bit. I order them to get back to work! This usually builds confidence and it is true advantage. Fortune favors the prepared. (Freezing – ambush…another topic, is a big subject covered in the Fightin’ Words book.)

“Pinpointing.” I recall once a woman in a class confessing her lack of confidence. She told me that she was scared she would not properly defend herself, that she might not be able to hurt someone, least of all shoot them. I was looking at her face as she spoke. Then, there was a change in her complexion, a grit to her teeth. Her eyes widened. She growled, “But if they were hurting my kids!” And there it was, the connection. I told her, “remember that feeling.” Remember that “space.” Why would you take solid action just to save your kids when you are their one-and-only mother. They need you. Protecting you is protecting them too. Remember this feeling. This rage. It is in you!” It was indeed in there. In her brain. It just needed a little re-wiring to reach that “survival spot” in her brain. A little quiz, a question and answer session with a person about, “Okay, WHEN would you think you COULD shoot someone? What  is that situation? What would they have to be doing?” Pinpoint that situation and place in their mind’s eye, and tell them to remember that feeling. That thought. Work out from there.

Desensitization and Repetitions of What?
If you are just sport, target shooting for the sake of sport, target shooting, then you can ignore all of this. On the important subject of desensitization and use of weapons, you have to prepare for firearm combatives by learning how a firearm operates on up to shooting people in situations. You can do so by progression.

  • 1: Learn to operate the gun.
  • 2: Shoot bulls eye type paper targets. Very abstract. Very essential, but very abstract.
  • 3: Shoot paper targets with aggressive one-dimensional pictures. A bit less abstract.
  • 4: Shoot 3-D human-form, clothed targets. Less abstract.
  • 5: Shoot targets and incorporate imagery. In other words, imagine your paper target is a bad guy doing stuff. I am not fond of this as I don’t think most people have the ability to full-fledge, flesh-out a Cinerama vision  of an attack, without a whole other meditation class.  Even then, they are limited to their imagination skills. Still very abstract. (And a note, there is a difference between “crisis rehearsal” – as in making a plan, as opposed  to transcending into some meditation style, hypnotic trance version of…”imagery. )
  • 6: Shoot life-sized, flat screen, TV films of moving people. Less abstract, but no actual contact with real people interacting with you, what you say, what you do.
  • 7: Shoot moving thinking people that are shooting back at you with simulated ammo.  In situations. In shoot/don’t shoot development. Way, way less abstract. As close as you can get.
  • 8: The real deal, which we cannot completely replicate in training.

With each step, we get closer to reality. A desensitizing progression. Plenty of people have shot plenty of other people with no training, or with just paper target training. I am talking here about maximizing potential and creating those “external focus therapies.” (You are shooting into the complex, external world.) In this maximization, a person should/must pull a trigger at another person with some regularity. See the “round” land. Experience the event, the situation. Reduce the abstract. Doing repetitions in prepared scenarios also builds the shoot/don’t shoot savvy, a very skill niche, difficult training category people and agencies are hungry to include. (I only teach interactive, moves, pieces-parts of, exercises and scenarios with safe ammo, and have done so now since the mid 1990s. External focus.)

Shooting People
This body-shape target approach is recognized by many in and out of the industry. You might recall the outsider movement years ago to remove human-shaped, target pictures from police qualification training. Shall I call them anti-police, pacifists, protested to agencies that such target practice enhanced the dreaded “killer instinct ” and produced “killer cops.” Limp administrators here and there acquiesced, taking all human-shaped pictures and shapes from paper targets, leaving the round, bulls eye and/or a bunch of other numbers and non-human shapes on targets. This increased the abstract, not reduced the abstract.

As an aside, another strategy in opponent desensitization is the name-game. Everyone recognizes that in the military, in times of specific enemies, there is a overt and a covert mission to desensitize troops against the people they have to make war with. In the old police world, crooks were “scumbags.” They are given nicknames, profiles and generalizations to limit any trigger-pull, hesitations. Real or imagined, this is just history and psychology. How a troop survives this, is a testimony to their own personal history and psychology. For some it’s easy. Some, not so much. That’s another subject.

Shoot to Significantly Stop, or Kill?
So in many modern shooting classes as well as police schools, it is difficult to introduce the term killer instinct in a positive way. It is always wise to tell people to use the term “shoot to stop,” not “shoot to kill.” Drop the word “kill.” This advice is even entering into various military rules of engagement these days.

If you shoot someone, enforcement investigators (and I was one for decades) will do a profile on your past and you’ve better not have macho-babbled about killing people. They will use it against you in prosecution or at very least profile you in their back office strategies as a problem-priority person. Real-deal “macho-people” don’t “shoot” their mouths off on these subjects.

Your official intent, unless you are some kind of sniper, or in a total war zone, is not to kill. It is to stop. When the ignorant media asks, when the stupid citizen asks, when the sleepy jury wonders, why you didn’t shoot the lapel button off the suspect first, the common lesson plan, accepted message is to try and shoot the chest because it is big and you can’t risk missing and sending bullets everywhere. This is true. It’s the main reason we cannot take “Lone Ranger” shots at people’s trigger fingers or shoe laces in the fog of war, the mess of chaos. (We do have a variety of very close, head shot scenarios to work on though, too.) Shooting the chest is not an immediate, automatic “TKO.” Can be sometimes, but you can’t count on that.

Dr. Bill Lewinski, executive director of the Force Science Institute, explained in a position paper about “shooting to wound.” “Hands and arms can be the fastest-moving body parts. “For example, an average suspect can move his hand and forearm across his body to a 90-degree angle in 12/100 of a second. He can move his hand from his hip to shoulder height in 18/100 of a second. “There is no way an officer (person, soldier) can react, track, shoot and reliably hit a threatening suspect’s forearm or a weapon in a suspect’s hand in the time spans involved.”

In Summary
Gun fighting. Four training ways to increase confidence. Four ways to help quell those “what if -can I”’ questions.

  • 1: Hard Wired. One way is to explain that humans are hard-wired to respond to threats, as a mindless kick start to action. This helps take the pressure off of some people.
  • 2: Repetition training. With this you can guide the “mindless” responses. This also helps take the pressure off of some people.
  • 3: External focus! Desensitization. Use simulated ammo in scenario training. Having practitioners shoot with simulated ammo in situations versus moving, thinking, people shooting back or stabbing at them, others, etc., will help them better prepare them for real world, shoot-out violence. Reduce the abstract. Military and police do it. Civilians should do it and/or do more of it. If you don’t think you need to do this? Why do the military and police do it every time they have the chance, the time, the location, and the money?
  • 4: Pinpointing. Help that person identify a personal situation where they would justify shooting someone and use that pinpoint as a memory and/or discussion point to examine other situations.

And watch out for the who, what, where, when, how and why of the term “kill,” and “Killer Instinct.” Instead think about utilizing “Survivor Instinct.”


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Training Arnis in Luneta Park

I was thinking about the classic park in Manila. “Rizal Park, also known as Luneta Park or simply Luneta, is a historical urban park in the Philippines. Formerly known as Bagumbayan in the era of colonialism under the Spaniards.”

For many a decade if you trained in Manila, the Philippines, a must go-to place is this park. Many, many famous people have taught and gathered here. And when we were in Manila, we were either at the Presas school, this park or at the college where Ernesto taught Arnis at those times.

It did bother Ernesto a bit at times at the park, because various FMA grandmasters would set up folding chairs and watch us. He would whisper, “You see dese guys? Dey are grandmasters. Dey are spying on me.”

This above photo is me and Shelley. Early 90s. There were only like 6 of us there, so it was pretty intense. Under his scrutiny all the time. We would go about 4 hours in the morning and about 3 1/2 hours in, there would be a break. Ernesto would say, “Take a break, then…examination time.”

This photo –  Since we were so few, we also had his black belts as partners too, who were very helpful too. With Renato “Boks” Centro.

“Examination time?” we’d say in the beginning days. He was always “testing” us, but this would be a more real test for the last part of 3-4 hours. So…there was no break. We would walk off behind some trees or bushes and work through those ten minutes to hurry-review what we did. Then some water.

“Come on, COME ON!”
“Speed motion!” 
…observation “test.

Then lunch. Then another 4 hours. 6 days on. 1 day off pace.

That top  photo again. Me, Shelley Millspaugh and the big man GM watching us.  Captain Rene, a Honduran fighter pilot is behind us. Shelley Millspaugh added: “Great memories. That first camp was as intense as you could’ve made it. I haven’t had that type of intensity since. GGM was the Energizer bunny. Never stops.”


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Shooting Criminals! Shooting the 1,247,321! Scaring off the 24,10848

Important phrases in gun fighting statistics.

“One In…”
“No One Has…”
“At Very Least…”
and … “Why Bother…”

In previous posts we discussed statistics. We all know how polls and stat studies work or don’t work. Unless you like the results then you don’t like the poll or study. We know what statistics officially mean, their goal – “the practice or science of collecting and analyzing numerical data in large quantities, especially for the purpose of inferring proportions in a whole from those in a representative sample.”
We slice and dice these numbers into training doctrine, all in effort to work on what counts and prioritize training time. But what if all those numbers are incorrect and incomplete? In the United States, the FBI Uniformed Crime Reports, is such a go-to source for US statistics reports. The FBI also collects info on police officers shot and killed, which civilians read and willfully or innocently extrapolate over to citizen, self defense, training ideas. The FBI is not just a source for the USA, but folks in other countries read and use the gun numbers also. But, the FBI wants to warn us on the front page, and in sort of the small print…

“Figures used in this Report were submitted voluntarily by law enforcement agencies throughout the country. Individuals using these tabulations are cautioned against drawing conclusions by making direct comparisons between cities. Comparisons lead to simplistic and/or incomplete analyses that often create misleading perceptions adversely affecting communities and their residents. Valid assessments are possible only with careful study and analysis of the range of unique conditions affecting each local law enforcement jurisdiction. It is important to remember that crime is a social problem and, therefore, a concern of the entire community. In addition, the efforts of law enforcement are limited to factors within its control. The data user is, therefore, cautioned against comparing statistical data of individual agencies.”

Yikes! A closer examination details more data collection oddities and exclusions, here are but two:

*Methodology: Data from law enforcement agencies whose resident population falls below 100,000 are published in this table for 2 consecutive years. If the population remains below 100,000 after 2 years, the agency’s data are no longer published in this table.

* Methodology: When the FBI determines that an agency’s data collection methodology does not comply with the national UCR Program’s guidelines, the figure(s) for that agency’s offense(s) is not included in the table and the discrepancy is explained in a footnote.

I recall how some of my old agencies and agencies I knew of, that did and did not send in data through the decades. I even a recall a small Texas city let a city librarian down the hall from the police department, classify crimes for dispatch to the FBI. She had no real idea what crime was what crime.

Yet, “The numbers don’t lie!” they tell us. But how good are those numbers anyway? And from these numbers, comes the slicing and the dicing we all love to hear about, and play with this or that, game conclusions. With these numbers we try to relax, or to scare. We try to define who we might be shooting someday, why we might need a gun or knife within reach, and the type of training we need.

So, we’ll start off with the “one in___” numbers game.
– One if four households are victimized by crime
– One in four women and one in seven men have been victims of severe physical violence
– One in five college women have been verbally abused by a partner.
– One in eight men and one in 11 women will die from cancer
– One in 315 has a chance of death from gun violence.
– One in this…
– One in that…
– One in the other…
– The “one in” game.

Or how about, the other, “no one has” numbers game. This slice and dice exists too, and is a flip side of the previous.
– No one has reloaded in a civilian shooting.
– No one has reloaded in a police shooting.
– No one grapples/fights with a criminal in shooting incidents.
– No one uses their gun sites within _____ feet.
– No one sees, no hear hears.
– No one this…
– No one that…
– No one the other…
– The “no one” game.

We are left with best collected info, or the “at very least,” we know that…” numbers game

* “At least one in ten have…”

The Big Picture. I have always believed and looked for the big picture in studies. The collected very least info, is rarely compared to the biggest related number. The big picture number is almost always ignored in studies. Usually the ignorance comes from the fact that “only 2,000 people” were studied, 500 “likely” people were asked. 5,000 people were “tested.”  The small people-numbers are a little embarrassing in most research because so few were involved. So you see a lot of “percentage talk.” “25% of people have less back pain from…” We are all supposed to then magnify those percentages over to…say…the 230 million US citizens? Really? The country tick bite problem directly relates to 38% of Bostonians?

What’s a big number. What is the biggest picture number available that relates to this crime subject? What do I mean? An example, using 2017 as a US snapshot.

2017 Uniformed Crime Reports total crime:
  * 1,247,321 violent crimes (at very least).
  * 7,694,086 property crimes (at very least).

Now we’ll add in a few big numbers for the big picture.

2017 US population – 230 million (big picture)
2017 US guns – 300 million guns of all types and ages “out there” 
2017 estimated UCR total crime:
  * 1,247,321 violent crimes.
  * 7,694,086 property crimes

The population is estimated. The gun amount is estimated. The FBI crime stats are “at very least,” and flawed as we mentioned. But they and we are left with the only numbers we have. At… very… least.
At very least that year we had 8,941,407 total crimes. Alone that is frightening for many. But within 230 million people as a big picture number? Oh and did I, need I mention, that the US of A is 3,531,905 square miles. The crime number in the big world of statistics is not so bad a danger number, in the big picture of people and space. There is more to the “mileage.” Crime is rampant in certain areas that skews perception. Numbers runners say that if we subtract the gun crime in places like parts of Chicago, St. Louis or Baltimore, we start looking like Japan. “Mileage” counts. “Location, location, location!” as business schools yell.

Shooting Criminals as in Shooting the 1,247,321
I am oddly fascinated by that violent crime number each year. In 2017 for example, 1,247,321 violent crimes. At very least that many, as they say.  There were an estimated 383  violent crimes per 100,000 people.  That is not 383  violent crimes per 100,000 people living in say…Utah! It is way less in Utah. Or, your home city. That’s a  “per”  (another great stat term) country wide spread. The FBI, which classifies murder, non-negligent manslaughter, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault as violent crimes. How many did we, or rather, the FBI miss though? A few more? Quarter more? Half? And, what does this mean in term of shooting criminals in the acts of crimes?

We the people, are only supposed to shoot at violent criminals. Imminently violent criminals. And in the act. That number is about the acts,  but how many criminals does it to take to total up to 1,247,321 felonies? Surely not 1,247,321 individual criminals doing individual crimes. No, as history, news, prison, parole and probation studies tell us, at very least, that one criminal will commit several crimes. So, if we shoot one violent criminal, (or imprison one) we usually, often interrupt multiple future crimes. (There is a new boom of prison statistics out in 2019 by the way. See attached chart. Blow this up and look it over.)

Scaring Criminals as in Scaring Off the 24,10848

The Foundation for Economic Freedom, an unbiased numbers runner, deduced that: 

  • Guns prevent an estimated 2.5 million crimes a year, or 6,849 every day. Most often, the gun is never fired, and no blood (including the criminal’s) is shed.
  • Every year, 400,000 life-threatening violent crimes are prevented using firearms.
  • If you doubt the objectivity of the site above, it’s worth pointing out that the Center for Disease Control, in a report ordered by President Obama in 2012 following the Sandy Hook Massacre, estimated that the number of crimes prevented by guns could be even higher—as many as 3 million annually, or some 8,200 every day

In the legal “gun world,” guns can be drawn to interrupt imminent violent crimes against you and someone else. So in a country with 230 million people, and some 300 million guns, the populace may theoretically, “legally’ pull/use a gun just about a million and a quarter times in 2017?

Gun threats alone can work and will go statistically unnoticed. Pulled guns alone have scared away both intended violent criminals and property criminals in numbers undocumented. Yes, I know that some US states have an old law or two that you can use deadly force to protect your property with a gun. There will always be some “backwoodsman” stepping up to remind us of this. Sounds nice, but misleading because, try to shoot someone stealing your lawn mower or breaking into your car? See how that works out for you. Try that in 21st Century. Any modern gun instructor with half a brain will warn you against doing that.

So, 1,247,321 violent crimes. Compared to 230 million people. There is a “one-in…” figure in here somewhere. You can do the math. There appears to be a small chance you will use your gun in the US. This is similar to US law enforcement numbers too. I bring this up because the next phase of the “one in,” stat and the “no one” stat discussion, is the follow-up, “why bother” crowd. They ask, “Well, if this is so unlikely, why bother do this,” do that, or do the other?

The “Why Bother” Crowd
After looking at the “One In” numbers and “No One” numbers, people may then start asking “why bother?” If a study of 2,000 people says brushing your teeth three times a day is no better than 2 times, why bother with the third brushing?” If walking for 20 minutes, 3 times a week is as good as running 3 times, why bother running? And so on.
I think that these small number studies, extrapolated upon us into assumed millions, create a lot of thoughtless hypocrisies. We carry a gun to live longer, but still smoke cigarettes. We buckle ourselves in cars and then ride motorcycles.  We target-shoot like mad to shoot the 1,247, 321 and survive, and we eat like hell. The list of inconsistencies is long. The mental gymnastics of a totally, logical life can deliver a migraine. I think it’s human nature not to handle all the small hypocrisies we carry, or even just realize them. Perhaps a Tibetan monk has it all figured out, rids himself of everything and then he just sits in a corner contemplating his navel?
With guns, the “why bother” crowd then might ask, “Why bother carrying? I mean, there’s such a small chance I’ll need one. And, I don’t live in Baltimore. My chances are even less.”

It appears many people feel this way. The Center for Crime Prevention says that there are between 15.6 million and 16.3 million concealed carry licences and more and more states are going to no-permit-needed, constitutional carry so they are uncountable. The Dailey Signal  reports that, “Studies suggest, however, that only a fraction of Americans who conceal carry actually do so on a routine basis. A recent study of 2015 survey data estimated that 9 million Americans carry at least once a month, while only 3 million do every day—about 1.2 percent of the American adult population.” This is but one study, and the results of others say about the same thing. So we have…at very least, how many actual carriers out there at any given time? They may be asking themselves, “Why bother carrying?” “Always carry?” “Sometimes carry?” “Ever carry at all?”

So what do you think? Why do you bother? If I tell you the base numbers can be wrong and off. If there are numerous other equations with bad numbers to insert in the slice-and-dice conclusions, what do you think about carrying a gun? The odds of shooting the 1,247,321? Are you basing training doctrine on incomplete and skewed, sliced-and-diced information?

I am a skeptic. I am such a skeptic, I am skeptical of my skepticism. So, I wanted to know what makes a good study? Science Based Life suggests this list:

1. Was the study large enough to pass statistical muster?
2. Was it designed well?
3. Did it last long enough?
4. Were there any other possible explanations for the conclusions of       the study or reasons to doubt the findings?
5. Do the conclusions fit with other scientific evidence? If not, why?
6. Do you have the full picture?
7. Have the findings been checked by other experts?
8. What are the implications of the research? Any potential problems or applications?

And I must also resort back to the well of the “who, what, where, when, how and why” questions. It’s a deep well and the model keeps coming back up.

Who collects these numbers? Who do they ask, poll and test?
What is the bias behind the number collection? The number collectors?
Where are these numbers collected from?
When are they collected? After some horrible gun event? Absent such an event?
How are they collected?
Why are they collected. Why do people volunteer to be collectible?

For me, beyond the flaky stats, my bottom line is I have to look at calculating/customizing my life, or any person’s lifestyle. Personalize. With guns, you get a concealed carry license or carry a gun for your lifestyle. Using the best local intelligence information, combined with using the generic risk factors, and the…very least concepts of statistics…

In Summary
My real message here in this essay? The big numbers are off and incomplete, so do the best you can to customize. And think about these things. Every gun person should think about them. Be able to articulate about them. We are all not a simple statistic. Bad stuff happens everyday. Bad stuff happens to people, happens to somebody, and it can happen to you. There’s another classic line around forever. “When you need a gun, you REALLY need a gun.”
Perhaps a Tibetan monk has it all figured out, thinks about all this “one in,” “no one,” “at least” and “why bother,” and rids himself of everything and then he just sits in a corner contemplating his navel? But, then the damn Chinese soldiers come and…

When it happens to you?
Then it’s a “one in ONE” chance.
“No one”… else. “One per one.”
At “very least” – you!


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Fun with Buffalo Beards

I wonder…do people know why so many folks have big bison-buffalo beards today? What caused the more “recent” …beard fad? Craze? 
A burst of beards? A “burst of beards!” (Is that an official term of venery?)

I like to ask these origin questions once in a while. Who made or kicked off what? It fascinates me, these human nature addictions.  Like who created the Krav Maga craze? It was Darren Levine out of Los Angeles in the 1990s, and like… a million or two dollars in advertising. Many Krav people say, “Dar… whaa… who?” Best thank Darren, not Imi for Krav Maga! They don’t know these things. Or, I ask, why do these dudes walk around with their pants half down on their butts. Prison, homosexual signal. Underwear, displaying, fashion people say, “wait…what?” Origins. How did Japanese Jujitsu become Brazilian Jujitsu – to the the point now when a younger person says “jujitsu,” they only think of wrestling? Origins? Splinters?

So, on the beards, why are so many people running around these days with buffalo beards?  It was/is a unique run kicked off again from the post 9-11 special force guys in Afghanistan, From these early 2000s photos sent back to the USA. It was somewhat common knowledge back then that these guys had to communicate and work with local, long-bearded cats over there and it became beneficial, much to the chagrin of many clean-shaven, US Army traditionalists, for these guys to grow insane beards. Pictures just like this one here.

“Back in the day,” in the ol’ Army, one had to acquire a “profile” to have a beard, as in a medical profile. Your facial skin was so screwed up you couldn’t shave. It seems like a few folks had such profiles, to the consternation of the “head shed.” (Head Shed being a nickname for “command,” “HQ” thee…officers in charge, etc. Could also be the NCOs too! The…sergeants.) We were jealous of these profilers. We wanted fuzz too! Just because it was outlawed. But, the profilers  couldn’t grow complete full buffalo beards, so they had, what would later be recognized as the Miami Vice/ Don Johnson look. These fuzzy profilers especially ticked off the drill sergeants in Basic Training.

Formation scene – Drill Sgt. in front of profiler:
“Private Ass-face! Your face looks like a hairy ass!”
“I have a profiling problem, Drill Sergeant.”
“I have never seen a problem that couldn’t be solved with a hand grenade!” (A magnificent line I used the rest of my life, by the way.)

And by the way, all would agree if you were alive and cognizant in the 1980s, that Don Johnson of the Miami Vice TV show, started the whole close-shave, fuzz-beard craze of those times. Further evidence that beard fads exist. But I digress.

Still, in Afghanistan, in the 2000s, special guys had beards. Minus any medical profiles. Forward operating base guys had beards too (who could shave sitting on rock ledge watching idiots test-probing and outflanking you all day and night?)

Then, seeing these action-guy photos, the wannabes, state-siders, started growing thick, long beards too. Seriously, we saw it happen.

  • Before this war era, a normal ratio of people walked the Earth with normal beards. Usually trimmed. Some were engulfed in buffalo beards we’d see, yes. But not that many at all. Cuz it was outlander-weird! Homeless-looking.
  • Before this war era, a normal ratio of “normal” beards appeared at shooting courses and gun ranges. Of those,  some, rarely, were buffalo-bearded. Rare, cuz it was outlander-weird. Homeless-looking.
  • Before this war era, there were no fun, culty, web pages dedicated to the cares and concerns of giant, buffalo beards.
  • And we cannot ignore that fact that Alexander the Great ordered his men to shave off their beards and long hairs, as in close quarters, the rabid enemy grabbed these mangles to kill them. “Off with your beards!”

Thus, the new beard craze.  Hairy-assed beards begot hairy – Rip Van Winkle – hairy-assed beards. This usually just makes most people just look way older. Seriously.  Like an old coot.

     Then, these disgusting, lumberjack, flanneled, hipsters started growing pretty-boy, beard resemblances. Splinters began.

As a result, origins-lost and the splinter factor…
– You may have a buffalo beard from some other splintered, down-line reason. You may have a billy goat beard? You may have a lesser beard but still inspired by these origins.
– You may also wear yer’ drawers outside yer pants for some other splintered, down-line reason, other then getting laid in Cell Block 13.
– You may also have “Krav Maga” tattooed on your forearm for some other splintered, down-line reason other than Darren’s original millions.

Another old school nickname for a thick beard is a “crumb-catcher.” I for one, who can’t get the smell of a cheeseburger out of my car, would not want to eat while sporting any beard inhibiting my eating and hiding my mouth, or catching the hidden plastic pieces in Subway bread, or May – God  Help  Us, plastic straws.

But, in the tangled end, I really, really  don’t care what you do, it’s fun sometimes too look at the recent origins of things and see how fads get started and what becomes of them.

Fads. I still have my pet rock. But, I had one before they started selling them, though. So…you know, I’m cool. Hey, the guy who invented the pet rock had quite a beard too. I guess I will have to settle for a Chia pet to support the cause. There’s an ironic theme in here somewhere, that I, unlike Alexander the Great,  am unable to grasp…


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  • To soldiers, it’s a way to take prisoners and kill the enemy.
  • To police, it’s pretty much a no-no.
  • To martial people and martial artists it’s a tap-out, win-win.
  • To self defense people it’s several easy escape tricks and quickly boring.
  • To many martial artists, doing a hand choke is crazy and dumb  because there are so many easy escapes. To many martialists, they then ignore doing and teaching these simple choke/strangle escapes. Or eventually then…forget them.

What I want to write about here today is the differences between chokes and strangles. And, citizen and-or self defense concerns about strangulation with a special emphasis on domestic violence. To real people in real everyday world, strangulation is a criminal assault with so many ramifications, but the category includes a terrible amount of domestic disturbances violence (assault and murder) on women.

I write this from my years of experiences responding to about a ton of domestics, working murders, attempted murders, aggravated assaults and simpler assaults. I also write this from attended police profiling courses and working in martial arts since the 1970s. And, I also write this from continuing to research these topics, such as with the recent, interesting book No Visible Bruises. My point here will be, that self defense and martial arts training, even cop intervention fail big time to help in the big strangle picture of domestic abuse.

As an aside, probably the worst  domestic case I had was a triple homicide. A man shot his wife and two kids, tried to shoot the third kid but the young girl escaped to a neighboring apartment complex. The neighbor called the police as he threw the mom and kids down a well. We arrived, talked to the surviving daughter, then chased and caught the guy on the run in a few hours. I “befriended” him, got him to confess. He told me about the well and where he hid the gun, etc. I helped haul the bodies put of the well later. He eventually got a death sentence. No choking involved to my knowledge, it’s just the worst domestic case I ever had. Just one domestic case with the biggest toll.

I’ve worked a number of strangulation cases and I wish we had the science, stats and resources, help groups and MONEY that are around today. Years ago another detective, Jeff Waro and I were working a hitman and organized crime cases and we were suddenly assigned an unrelated murder (oh, thanks admin!). A woman was strangled by a wire hanger in her apartment. She was not raped. We dropped everything to work on this case, looking for a motive. We quickly uncovered that this dead, college girl was a mistress. She was strangled by her boyfriend. The boyfriend was married. He and his wife just had a baby. THAT day of the murder! With this newborn, we guessed he couldn’t have his mistress around? We got enough evidence for a warrant and hunted down the hospital of the child birth in Dallas. Wawro and I arrested the strangler at the nursery, in the very room with the wife and new baby. With every act of violence, simple or complicated, there’s a trauma and a drama.  Each one is a sad story.

Choke versus Strangle. A few years back after I retired, I worked to keep my Texas commission and had to attend 24 hours a year of certified state training. One year I collected 2 of those hours by attending a new-laws, legal-update course. That year Texas had changed the laws on choking/strangulation. If a suspect choked the windpipe the charge was higher than just choking the bloodlines. Obviously choking/crushing the windpipe is more serious, but this was legal news to me. I remember thinking to myself back then, “Man! There must be a lot of choking going on if the State decided to make these distinctions.” And I assumed it was another step on the long war on domestic violence. Other states were making the same changes, too. And yes, it was based on domestic murders and assaults. Hey, did you know that there is a “Strangulation Institute?” Yeah. That’s how bad things  have gotten.

Is the word “strangle” or “strangulation” synonymous with the word “choke?” At some primitive, semantic level perhaps, yes, but it seems to mean more…when its your throat. Right away people think a strangle is a “hands on throat” attack. Way back when I was in the army, the US Army basic training called the throat attack a strangle. You were killing the enemy. Then months later, in the military police academy they called it a choke. Choke sounds…better, doesn’t it? More “in policy.” The choke was to temporarily incapacitate a suspect, not kill a Viet Cong. And strangulation is usually associated with death. I realize these are English language terms and other countries have or may not have such split, nuanced meanings for act of squeezing the throat.

To a common person and to some experts, a hand squeeze strangulation is thought be an act of hate, or anger.  Someone wants to “squeeze the life out of you.” The victim could be someone the attacker knows, or a stranger. Hating a stranger? The victim-stranger might just be a recipient of a so-called “projection.” By that I mean the victim might act or resemble in some way, someone the attacker hates, or wants a violent release upon. Sudden or planned. Or, in some of the murder and serial murderer cases, a strangulation is an after-the-fact, cover-up to kill and remove the body after, say, a sex crime.

But we all know that the neck squeeze can also come from the arms and tools. You often here the legal version term – ligature. (A chest squeeze might seem like choking to some, but that is “positional asphyxia” and is another subject. ) But whether hands, arms or tools, you have a blood flow attack and/or an air flow attack.

The squeeze is done with-

  • The right hand
  • The left hand
  • Both hands
  • Right forearm (the victim is pushed against something)
  • Left forearm (the victim is pushed against something)
  • Right arm wrap (from behind, full arm or forearm only)
  • Left arm wrap (from behind) full arm or forearm only)
  • Some item that squeezes the neck (like a rope-ligature)
  • What’s the other hand doing in single hand chokes?

The Big 3 Position Problems

  • Standing, with nothing around you
  • Up against something like a wall
  • Bottom-side ground (rarely but possible, topside too)

In the profiling courses I’ve been in and my own disgusting, depressing studies of veteran profilers, some of these stranger criminals do strangle. Stranger attackers like rapists, robbers and kidnappers can also be stranglers, and the quick self defense tricks taught by martial people can help a victim make a quick escape.  But what if you can’t immediately escape? Like a partner or spouse? A National Institution of Justice study found that, “If a person has been strangled by someone who says they love them, their chances of being killed by that person are immense. The study found victims are ten times more likely to eventually be murdered by someone who’s choked them.” Ten times! I repeat – ten times more. Strangulation, anger events in domestics are linked to the murder of women. 

As the Paul Simon song goes, “There must be 50 ways to leave your lover.” But to an abused spouse, it’s…complicated and each one of the 50, as in the big picture of kids, housing, lawyers, money, fear , anger, pain, maiming and even death – just “Hopping on the bus, Gus” is not so simple. So, if the cavalier, Paul Simon says there are 50 simplistic ways, cavalier martial arts people might think there are 50 simplistic, ways to escape the choke/strangulation. And they are indeed some simple ones.

So simple! But I think after a while. Martial artists realize that doing the common, hand strangulations are so easily defeated, the informed/experienced think someone would be crazy to do them. This idea then leads the veteran to forgetting about doing them, and to forget about showing them, and forget about teaching the escapes, forgetting to remind average people that common chokes/strangles are indeed a realistic threat (and certainly for females – who seem to statistically suffer from them the most.) I know I will hear now from “Joe Karate” over this, telling me they still do this stuff already. But I ask, really? ALL THE ONES LISTED ABOVE? And how often? In all 3 big position problems listed above? I’ll bet not. AND…there are hand, stick, knife, gun solutions! Are you doing all those also?

MMA people fear and respect the choke. Old school police do too. But you know what choke I am talking about, the classic rear choke. Maybe the triangle choke. “Giving up your back.” What about  hand strangles MMA? Hand strangles? No, They don’t do it. Its against the rules and therefore why even bother with it. I understand that. One does not football tackle in basketball, nor do finger breaking in Tennis. Nor punch in Judo. The rules of the game. And police are always in controversial trouble touching anyone’s neck. As a result, much choke and counter-choke training is also swept off many LEO outlines and doctrines. Don’t get me started on the subject of police “neck restraints” and “police chokes” semantics. That’s a whole other essay.

Symptoms of strangulation can include:

• a sore throat
• difficulty swallowing
• neck pain
• hoarseness
• bruising on the neck or behind your ears
• discoloration on your tongue
• ringing in your ears
• bloodshot eyes
• dizziness
• memory loss
• drooling
• nausea or vomiting
• difficulty breathing
• incontinence
• a seizure
• a miscarriage
• changes in mood or personality like agitation or aggression
• changes in sleep patterns
• changes in vision such as blurriness or seeing double
• fainted or lost consciousness

Not listed in the above diagram, or perhaps not well known, but I have learned from working cases, are signs of rather vertical scratches on the neck. How’d that happen? The victim grabs the attacker’s hands and tried to pull them off. The victim’s own fingernails scratch their own neck, vertically.  You will find their own DNA under those fingernails. This further proves strangulation was involved in your investigation.

It’s possible to experience strangulation and show no immediate symptoms at first but even die weeks later because of brain damage due to lack of oxygen and other internal injuries. Also, numerous strangle victims have head-brain injuries too, from being bounced off a wall or floor.

But with the proliferation of MMA rear chokes, I am often mystified over the lack of choke, follow-up, MMA injuries compared to those of regular, citizen crime stats. I wonder why so many MMA and martial artists survive so many neck squeezes with no follow-up problems. Because they are in…”shape?” I don’t know. Maybe because we learn to tap-out really fast, and our work-out partners get into the position of a successful choke, know they are, and don’t put the ol’ death squeeze in? And we are released early? Thwarting REAL pressure? I just don’t know. But pro-fighters are checked after fights for neck, and brain injuries. Do the squeezing fingers of the hands cause more, deeper damage potential than a wrapped arm? I just don’t know.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline says, “If your partner has ever put their hands around your neck, put you in a “sleeper hold” or used anything else to strangle you like a scarf, necklace, belt, rope, etc. you may have physical and mental damage.”

What to do?
When I had to walk into a heated domestic disturbance as a patrolman, we cops were expected to perform miracles, expected to solve years of marital/partner discord with our tremendous advice. It…can’t…be…done and I learned quickly that my first goal was to separate the parties for at least the night. If people are hurt? Then we arrest somebody and call an ambulance. But, these folks have to get help tomorrow. WE CAN’T SOLVE THE PROBLEM!

We can’t and neither can Joe Karate. Teaching a woman a simple escape from a strangle hold is one thing. But in her home, at night, a slap-release trick doesn’t solve the problem either. Because when the big brute has his choke hand or forearm slapped away, he gets madder, or more, worse violence occurs to this mentally and physically trapped person (usually a woman, and I say brute because stat-wise it is a high percentage, idiot men that does this.) This is a terrible, complex trap-incident for an abused woman. Can we teach every woman, every time to become a wolverine-banshee when choked, further decimate-incapacitate  her husband, then pack up her kids and leave?  What do you think?

So a few simple escape tricks might get an attacker on a parking lot off of you. That’s handy stuff. But, an abused spouse has many more problems going on that we, as a martial artist, a self defense instructor, a cop on a call, can’t solve. We can show them the quick tricks, but we MUST also watch our for all the troubling signs, and point these people to help.

It always goes back to my drumbeat of the “who, what, where, when, how and why.”

  • Who? Who gets strangled most, then least? Who strangles
  • What? What is the strangle? The Attack? What must you learn to defeat it? What happens next? (More on that later).
  • Where? I believe that most strangles occur in the home. But where else? Parking lots? Where?
  • When? When is this going to happen?
  • How? How will it unfold? How you he react? You?
  • Why? Hate, anger, craziness, etc.

Examine all these big and small questions under the envelope of good intelligence information and your personal life.

But what does happens next? That instant? The next hour? Day? Week? Year? (There is some research that a year breaks the bad, relationship pattern in men with women, in many cases. Again, many factors.) Look, I can’t list all the domestic violence information here. I mentioned earlier the greater resources of today. Search on these topics and get lists, tips and help resources. The internet is full of good advice and help, phone numbers, etc.

Also, can I ask you…the instructor…the practitioner…not to forget going over strangles and choke hold escapes regularly? The whole list I have offered above? I know its so simple and boring. And, keep on eye on people around you. There is an underground world of pain out there hidden behind many houses and apartment walls.

Teaching someone so-called,  self defense is not just poking someone in the eye, or knee in the balls. There’s an immediate problem and the aftermath. Some aftermaths are worse then others. With every act of violence, simple or complicated, there’s a mental or physical trauma and a drama.

What happens…next?


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