Saturday, September 13, 2014

Knife Fighting on the 19th Century American Frontier

Knife Fighting on the19th Century American Frontier
By: Lt. Dan Trembula, U.S. Navy
   In the history of our nation, particularly the frontier, the role of edged weapons has been largely overlooked in favor of firearms like the repeating revolver, Sharp’s carbine, and the Kentucky Rifle. In extreme environments, the knife, is still an indispensable piece of hardware without which no outdoorsman or military man can long survive. On the American Frontier, the “long knife” was a constant companion used for utilitarian tasks like cleaning game, as well as a formidable weapon for protection..

     Prior to the widespread introduction of repeating firearms during the Civil War, knives were the backup weapon of choice to single-shot rifles and pistols. They also served as primary weapons when firearms were not available or practical. Today it is common to hear the expression, “don’t bring a knife to a gunfight,” but until the perfection of the revolver, the reverse statement “don’t bring a gun to a knife fight” was even more prevelant. Many times when a single bullet failed to resolve a situation due to misfires, poor targeting, a determined opponent, or a flat-out miss; the combatants would continue to close with each other and the conflict would be settled with “cold steel.”

     The new territories West of the Mississippi River were full of opportunities for adventurous men. However, they were not without great risk. Provided the Westerner did not fall victim to disease, malnutrition, or beast; he still had to contend with the threat from two legged predators: Native Americans, Mexicans, and outlaws. Honor was the most prized possession and men were bound to defend it against even trivial insults… “Trivial, that is, to outsiders, though not to the southern-born combatants and their sons and grandsons who faced shame and demasculation if they failed to respond to insult or challenge.” 

     As southerners moved west into Texas and neighboring territories, they brought with them a stubborn sense of independence and a strong belief in personal honor. One tradition that was not transferred was that of the code duello. “The formal duel was a part of the social training of upper-class Southern men…” and it “traveled with low-country Southerners into the hill country and beyond, but frontiersmen and mountain people were disinclined to accept the trappings of written codes of procedure for their personal affrays.”  Amongst the “poor white” working class men in the antebellum South, personal squabbles were often settled with what was popularly known as “Rough and Tumble” fighting or “gouging.”  Rather than attempt to gouge out each other’s eyes, rip off testicles, and otherwise maim and mutilate their opponents, gentlemen settled their personal affairs using canes, swords, and most commonly, pistols.

     The men who were drawn to the West were no less violent than either of these groups, however they were much more likely to use knives and firearms to defend their lives and their honor. Knives, pistols, shotguns, and rifles offer increasingly greater degrees of physical distance from the opponent, avoiding the repellant nature of ending a fight with one’s bare hands.  Furthermore, unlike the cane and sword, knives and firearms were ever-present tools that these men carried almost everywhere.

Like much of the popular culture and history that has grown up around the American frontier and the west, the reality of knife fights in the 1800s is surrounded by a considerable amount of myth. Thanks to television shows like “The Adventures of Jim Bowie” and books like “The Iron Mistress”, a flawed, idealistic, and downright fictitious image of edged weapon combat has been presented to the unknowing public.

     Perhaps the two most egregious errors perpetrated are the “log duel” and knife fighting with one’s arms lashed together. The former came in different variations, but involved the participants seated (sometimes with their pants nailed down to prevent them falling off) on a log, usually floating in a river. The latter consisted of having third parties use leather strips or rope to tie the “free” arms of the combatants together to prevent one from running away. Sadly, one even finds mention of these inside history books like Jack Williams’ Dueling in the Old South, which mentions “knife fighting (sometimes while tied to each other, arm to arm).”  In the vast expanse of human existence, I have no doubt that at some time or another there was at least one knife fight conducted while nailed to a log or tied together, but none of the primary or secondary sources examine for this paper described any specific knife fights of that nature. Given the novelty of such a fight, one would expect that had they occurred with even the slightest degree of frequency, that there would be numerous, detailed written accounts of the disposition of these fights.

     Other fictitious film and written knife fighting scenes show laughably choreographed, largely bloodless dueling type matches between the protagonist and antagonist that would be more at home in a bad Zorro movie than a real knife fight. Finally, the stereotypical user of the knife, with the exception of characters like James Bowie is usually some sort of despicable and evil character: a Mexican, Native American, or criminal. In popular film and fiction, the “good guy” typically uses his fists and/or firearms, whereas the evil adversary is the man who uses the knife. In reality, men (and women) on the frontier from all walks of life used knives daily for both benevolent and violent purposes.

While researching this paper, the author came across three particular fights involving edged weapons that the author considers to be representative of 19th Century knife fights. The first of these is the “Sandbar Brawl” of James Bowie. The second and third involve Cassius Clay.
Both the myth and reality of knife fighting on the 19th Century American frontier are inextricably linked to the legendary figure of James Bowie. His infamous use of a knife on that “chance medley” played out on the Vidalia Sandbar just north of Natchez Mississippi changed the nature of knife fighting forever and was the impetus for the legend of the “Bowie knife.”  Knife vs. Knife fights did occur, but not with the frequency of “mixed” fights that could involve everything from empty hands, to chairs, clubs, firearms, and swords. The knife could, and was often used with great effectiveness against all manner of modern and ancient weaponry.

   The effectiveness of the knife as a weapon is dependent on two factors. First and foremost is the skill and determination of the man wielding it. Second is the size and physical geometry of the knife itself. Most knife fighters were not formally trained and there was no codified “Bowie Knife Fighting System” on the Frontier. In and around New Orleans a number of fencing salles still existed during the antebellum years run by noted duelists and fencers like Jose Lulla.  These master swordsmen were quick to adapt sword techniques down to the shorter and heftier blades of the knives of the era. “When I read the newspaper accounts of the 1800s, I found Spaniards fighting Frenchmen, Frenchmen fighting English, and all being credited with using Bowie knives. Any knife design was termed a ‘Bowie’ and the method of fighting was the ‘Bowie System’ regardless of the country of origin. This is the Paradox of the Bowie Knife.”  The use of the Bowie Knife as a dueling and self-defense weapon was derived from the Spanish and French schools of swordplay coupled with the backwoods “Rough and Tumble” modifications of Scottish and Irish sword techniques, with a bit of military saber and naval cutlass training thrown in. All of these ingredients were found along the Mississippi Delta and it was there that the Bowie knife thrived.

   Large knives of all manner of shapes and sizes were marketed as “Bowie knives” following the Sandbar Brawl in 1827. However, it would be a few years before the Bowie knife profile we see today was fully developed. The classic “Bowie Knife” design “with a much wider blade, a curved sharp edge along one side, and a concave indentation leading to the tip on the other, was not his [Bowie’s] design but done by what he termed ‘experienced cutlers’.”  “We are talking about a knife with a blade that is at least 9 inches in length. Many carry blades between 10 and 12 inches; some even longer.”  The sharpened “clip” along the first 1/3 to ½ of the top of the blade facilitated penetration on the thrust and enabled a particular clawing and ripping type cut to be made known as the “back cut.” A fairly large handle permitted a solid grip on the knife and the use of a substantial guard helped to protect the hand from slipping down on the blade and losing fingers or a thumb in a knife fight. The fencing masters of New Orleans quickly moved away from a simple guard and through curving the ends of the guard and adding a “Spanish Notch” to the blade, enabled the Bowie to trap and bind the opponent’s blade.

   The deadly reputation of the Bowie knife led to it being banned in many areas of the South. “The year after Bowie’s death, the Alabama legislature passed legislation decreeing that anyone carrying a Bowie Knife who subsequently killed a person in a fight would be charged with premeditated murder. Mississippi prohibited it as a dueling weapon , and in 1838 Tennessee tried to ban its sale.”  Laws are still on the books today in states from Virginia to Texas listing the “Bowie Knife” by name as a deadly weapon and prohibiting its carry. Insofar as large knives are concerned, the Bowie Knife represents an almost perfect melding of utilitarian and combat effectiveness that has not been duplicated to this day.

There had long been bad blood between Bowie and Major Norris Wright and this was not the first time they had faced off against each other. In December of 1826, Wright made accusations against Bowie and his questionable land claims, which resulted in Bowie confronting him. Wright’s response was to pull a pistol on Bowie. The latter grabbed a chair to use as a shield and a standoff ensued. Bowie then raised the chair and prepared to hit Wright, who then fired and hit Bowie in the chest. Bowie dropped the chair and charged Wright and while holding him down with his free hand, attempted to draw and open a folding knife from his pocket. At this moment, friends of Wright swarmed Bowie and a few seconds later his own friends separated the two groups and probably saved Bowie’s life. 

     The lead ball had been stopped by coins in his pocket and other than a missing tooth and some bruising on his ribs, Bowie survived with only wounded pride. Wright had lived only because Bowie had been unable to open his clasp knife with his teeth and kill him before Wright’s friends intervened. “He resolved that he would never again lose those precious moments in a fight, nor would he allow his fondness for fine dress to leave him unarmed.” 

     Following that incident, Bowie constantly wore a large hunting knife that his brother Rezin had made for him. On September 19th, 1827, Bowie was present on behalf of Thomas J. Wells during his duel with Dr. Thomas Maddox. In addition to the long knife, Bowie also wore two pistols were thrust through his belt.  The duel ended without a scratch on either side, but shortly thereafter a violent brawl broke out between the entourages on either side.

     In the initial volley Bowie emptied both of his pistols with no success then drew his knife and gave chase to one of Wright and Maddox’s friends. This fellow staggered Bowie by throwing his empty pistol at the knife-wielding man pursuing him, hitting him in the head. Bowie forced off Maddox’s attempt to grapple and Major George McWhorter handed Bowie a pistol. Bowie and his enemy Wright fired at each other and missed, then Wright pulled out another pistol and fired again at the same time as McWhorter did. McWhorter’s shot wounded Wright in the side and Wright’s passed through one of Bowie’s lungs. The wounded Bowie staggered after Wright and had managed to grab Wright when he was hit and knocked down by a shot to the thigh from one of the Blanchard brothers (friends of Wright’s). Wright and Alfred Blanchard attacked Bowie with their sword canes.

     Bowie managed to ward off some of the blows, parrying them with his knife and his empty hand, and got a couple of small cuts on Wright’s arm, but he was getting the worst of it. After being stabbed in the hand and in the chest, Bowie was able to grab a hold of Wright and pull himself up to a standing position. After uttering the words “’Now, Major, you die!’ With a single savage thrust, he drove the knife through Wright’s chest, boasting afterward that he ‘twisted it to cut his heart strings.” Wright’s dying body fell on Bowie and pinned him to the ground and Blanchard continued to stab at Bowie. Well’s brother shot Blanchard in the arm and Bowie managed to escape from under Wright’s body and give Blanchard a significant cut on his side.

     Bowie survived the two bullet wounds, seven stab wounds, and the blow to the head. He never fully recovered from this fight, but those ninety seconds were the genesis of the legend of James Bowie. “Impelled by the rage that blinded him to fear or self-protection, he stood his ground and simply kept fighting. That was the sort of thing, which turned brutal, pointless brawling into legend.  According to his brother Rezin, this was the only knife fight that James Bowie ever engaged in, however it and his courageous actions during the Revolution were enough to immortalize him as a permanent hero of the American West.

Even the presence of repeating firearms did not eliminate the knife as a viable weapon. An excellent example of this is the 1841 fight between Samuel Brown and Cassius Clay. After a verbal argument and Brown lashing out with a “damned lie” and an umbrella, the fight was on:

     I knew the man and that meant a death-struggle. I at once drew my Bowie-Knife; but, before I could strike, I was seized from behind, and borne by force about fifteen feet from Brown, who being now armed with a Colt’s revolver, cried: “Clear the way, and let me kill the damned rascal.” The way was speedily cleared, and I stood isolated from the crowd. Now, as Brown had his pistol bearing upon me, I had to either run or advance. So, turning my left side toward him, with my left arm covering it, so as to protect it to that extent, I advanced rapidly on him, knife in hand. Seeing I was coming, he knew very well that nothing but a fatal and sudden shot could save him. So he held his fire; and, taking deliberate aim, just as I was in arm’s reach, he fired at my heart. I came down upon his head with a tremendous blow, which would of split open and ordinary skull; but Brown’s was as thick as that of an African. This blow laid his skull open about three inches to the brain, indenting it, but not breaking the textures; but it so stunned him that he was no more able to fire, but feebly attempted to seize me. The conspirators now seized me, and held both arms above my elbows, which only allowed me to strike with the forearm, as Brown advanced upon me. 

     Martial historian and researcher Pete Kautz describes the conclusion of the Brown-Clay fight as follows: “Being armed with a Bowie knife, these lesser blows still made telling wounds, and in a few seconds the flashing blade had thrust out Brown’s right eye, cut off his left ear, and cleaved his nose in half.”

Clay’s other famous knife fight began under even less optimistic circumstances. Following an argument with Cyrus Turner, a local lawyer’s son at a political function, Clay realized that his life was in peril and drew his knife.

     “I was immediately surrounded by about twenty of the conspirators and my knife wrestled from me… I was struck with sticks, and finally stabbed in the right side, just above the lower rib – the knife entering my lungs and cutting apart my breast-bone, which has not united to this day. Seeing I was to be murdered, I seized my Bowie-knife; and catching it by the handle and the blade, cutting two of my fingers to the bone, I wrested it from my opponent and held it firmly for use.”

      Bleeding from his side, Clay brandished his knife around to encourage the crowd to move back and moved towards Turner. “I advanced upon him, and thrust the knife into his abdomen, which meant death.” 

   Given the stopping power and reliability of handguns of the day, knives could be and were used successfully as weapons to protect the knife’s owner. Many a man discovered too late the mistake of bringing a gun to a knife fight, as the Sandbar Brawl and Clay-Brown fights illustrate. The arrival of the revolver returned knives to more of a utilitarian status, but as the Clay-Brown fight shows, the Bowie knife could still be an effective weapon even in the era of repeating firearms. The Clay-Turner fight illustrates what was perhaps the most common use of the knife – against improvised weapons and unarmed opponents. The knife vs. knife engagement is not a myth, it did happen quite often. However the most common scenario was dissimilar weapons, such as knife vs. gun, stick or tomahawk vs. knife, or unarmed vs. a knife attack. Knives were used to settle affairs of honor, but rarely within the context of the code duello, which was essentially nonexistent on the frontier.
     Following the Sandbar Brawl, large knives of any sort were often referred to as “Bowie knives” throughout the American South and West and thanks to popular television and Hollywood movies, the legend of James Bowie and his famous blade will live on for eternity.

Bagwell, Bill. Bowies, Big Knives, and the best of Battle Blades. Colorado: Paladin Press, 2000.

Clay, Cassius M. The Life of Cassius Marcellus Clay. New York: Negro Universities Press,

Courtwright, David T. Violent Land: Single Men and Social Disorder from the Frontier to the
Inner City. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1996.

Davis, William C. Three Roads to the Alamo: The Lives And Fortunes Of David Crockett,
James Bowie, And William Barret Travis. New York: Harper Collins, 1998.

Gorn, Elliot J. “‘Gouge and Bite, Pull Hair and Scratch’: The Social Significance of Fighting in
the Southern Backcountry”, The American Historical Review, Vol. 90, February to December 1985, 18-43.

Hardin, Stephen L. Texan Iliad: A Military History Of The Texas Revolution.
Austin: University of Texas Press, 1994.

Kautz, Pete American Knife Fighting History: True Tales From the Lives of Ordinary Americans
in the 19th and Early 20th Century Taken from Oral Histories recorded by the WPA
Writer’s Project, 1936-1940 (Unpublished)

Kautz, Pete “American Rough and Tumble Fighting: Martial Arts in Early America”
Close Quarter Combat Magazine, February/March 2002, 27, 30-32.

Kautz, Pete ‘The Real Cassius Clay” Close Quarter Combat Magazine, November 2002,  6-9.

McLemore, Lt. Col Dwight. Paradoxes of a Deadly Myth. Yorktown: Self Published by Author,

Wellman, Paul. The Iron Mistress. New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1951.

Williams, Jack Kenny. Dueling in the Old South: Vignettes of Social History.
College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1980.

Wyatt-Brown, Bertram. The Shaping of Southern Culture: Honor, Grace, and War, 1760s –
1880s. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2001.

The Adventures of Jim Bowie Television series (1956-1958) starring Scott Forbes

Bowie Knife and Big Knife Dueling (n.d.) starring Lt. Col. Dwight McLemore, USA (ret.) produced by High Home Films.

 The Crossing Blades! Knife Duel Training Film

Get the DVD Crossing Blades DVD

Download the Training video  Crossing Blades Video

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The End or Near the End?

 On the Subject of Age and Martial Training

     A few weeks back, I did a seminar in Delaware, USA with my longtime friend, the “Silverback,” Jim McCann. On Sunday, our old Kempo and AIki-jitsu instructor R.J Oak showed up. In a quick review, R.J.  was hardcore and old school. Now in his 60s, he has a terrible shoulder, two hip replacements and needs both his knees replaced. He sat back in a chair, breathing carefully and when I approached him he said,

     “Hock, take a good look. This is what the end looks like,” as he waved a hand over his body.

     The end. Or near end?

     On the topic of age, Jeet Kune Do Great Tim Tackett is fond of saying, “you know how you feel now? It doesn’t get any better than that.”

     I started in Kenpo Karate in 1972. I haven’t stopped since, messing with all kinds of systems.  Now, in my 60s too like R.J. above, I believe there is much to say for the word “moderation” through training and life. I too have a hip replacement. Right side. The left side is just fine. My sports surgeon said the right side wore out from “stuff” I was doing, as in "martial" stuff. I tore muscles in my upper right arm so badly that two doctors thought they could not fix them. My back is a ticking time bomb. My head? My brains? Not good. My neurologist demanded a knockout list from me a few years back  - 

     “How many times have you been knocked out?”

     The accumulated list is scary. I have been knocked unconscious at least 14 times since 1970, and that was back when knockouts under a minute didn’t really count as a potential brain problem, so we have thought of a few more. Now, neurologists want to know about anytime you “see black.” Not all of those black outs were from martial arts. Two knockouts were from baseball, of all things (I was a catcher). One from a car wreck. Two from boxing. Two from kickboxing. Some from police work and fighting suspects. The worst, I think - one night in a group fight/arrest, we all hit the floor, and witnesses saw a guy prop up into a crab walk and he stomp kicked me in the head from behind. Never saw it. I was out cold for about 20 minutes. I was hospitalized that night. But, I have been hit in the head a lot in training, from hand strikes, kicks and sticks. Knock-knock-whose-there?

     As a result of all this, now I have periodic, blinding migraines and these headaches can even cause me to black out on occasion. An MRI shows “daim bramage”…er…I mean brain damage. As a result, I would like to suggest that you take care of your head. Avoid this indiscriminate practice of head butts that young martial artists like to promote. Head butts work, but sometimes too much and right back at you. God did not make your head to be an impact weapon! In fact, our entire nervous system is built on protecting our brains.  I have been preaching this for many a year now and the NFL is finally catching up to the idea. The head injury is very much about an accumulation of abuse. When you have decades of such abuse, it is just not a good thing.

     These things do accumulate through age and play catch up. A lot of my old friends from these old days have hand problems. People carry around hand injuries from striking people in real life or practice. In the 70s and earlier, it was macho and cool to build giant, mangled knuckles on your fists by pounding walls, posts and sandbags. Today, many of these guys have arthritis and other finger and hand problems. I have a surgery on my left hand from an uppercut to a particularly pointy chin and I should have one for my right hand before Obamacare gets my insurance canceled the first of the year. Some of my friends have a certain split-hand, separated pinky knuckle fracture from through a hook punch to the head and inadvertently catching the ducking, dropping skull at a bad angle.

      It is a fairly common habit in certain martial schools and seminars to trade partners so that everyone gets to work with people of different sizes, weights and shapes. That’s a fine idea, but you also have to add different ages into that mix, which is why I am always a bit reluctant to keep trading partners. My oldest seminar attendee on record is 76 years old. Others are in their late 60s and 70s. They usually show up with partners that are their age too, or with younger partners who at very least know the medical conditions and injuries of each other. When you quickly switch people around, this suddenly becomes dangerous. Even when a 65 year old guy reports to his new partner that he has a bad knee or whatever, the new young guy may well nod and then may well forget the weak spot and continue to train at the level of a 25 year old level of his former partner.  

     Way back when, when I was at a Dan Inosanto seminar, Dan said (and I paraphrase somewhat) “When I was in my 30s I saw a lot of stuff I didn’t like. Now I am in my 60s and I started to like that stuff.” Dan, now in his late 70s, is still taking classes in Muchado BJJ and Cambodian Thai Boxing, but he obviously saw the need to alter methods with age.

     Still fast enough? Still strong enough? Still agile enough? How about how smart you are? I think your own personal fighting system – your favorite short list of emergency things – needs to be reviewed about every 8 to 10 years. See if you can still really do all those things you once did when you were 18, or 28, or 38, etc.?  

      I now feel as though I will never kick as hard as I once did. No more power blast Thai kicks. And on the ground I am really a one-legged man as any unusual leg positions or movements with any force sends an electric pain around my new hip. Jeez, will the leg just flat come off? Yikes! Customize what you know with what you got left that works.

     So, I say unto you youngsters, you'd better take it easy, but you won't listen.
    Fighting in my golden years? I still “joke” that I will eventually degrade to a point where I will shuffle around, slump-shouldered, with a hammerless, snub-nose .38 in my pocket.

     All that time. All that training and sweat, fine tuning, and all the effort will come down to that…in the end.

The Raging, CQC Elephant Banner.

Coming very Soon!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Going Second in a Gunfight

      Who shot first? Who shot second? One of the comments/criticisms often thrown at police officers is how "totally untrained criminals - when shooting at the police have a much better record of hitting the officers first and then the officers have a less than stellar record for shooting back." These stats will vary but are always slanted to the crook. I've heard from police studies as much as a 90% success shot rate by criminals, with about a 40% return shot fire, success rate for police. 90-40! Give or take. 

     Outsiders then ridicule the police as untrained and slow. The stats are also often used to condemn range training too. But things are not so simple. These inexperienced outsiders cannot see past the bare statistics. This is not just about target acquisition or…“finding them sights” fast enough. Not hardly. If you will just think about it for a second? They have just been, or are still being shot at!

     Now if you know me, I am not one to swing my total support to the current state of paper target, range shooting. No matter what modern ranger-runners invent, what new names they derive and what gymnastics they are doing, you are still playing on the one-way street of paper target shooting and still just re-arranging the deck-chairs on the Titanic, but in the case of the range you rearrange the targets. Close. Far. Slanted. Big. Small. All this will not bridge the gap to interactive, simulated-ammo scenarios. 

     Even the once very hip-fad term “force-on-force” can be deceptive these days as it seems to mean mixing hand-to-hand combatives with rubber guns. Rough house with rubber. I think the term force-on-force is slowly disappearing from the modern radar, anyway. Often shoot-outs are just plain old shoot-outs on parking lots, in stores, houses and businesses or out in the golf course or the chicken farm, minus any gun arm grappling.

     I think the key phrase here is “shooting back.” When the bad guy shoots first, the good guy shoots back. Reacts as he or she so often does because…because we have to follow the law enforcement rules of the road - we the police, or even the law-abiding citizen for that matter must suddenly respond and shoot back from the ambush quick-draw.. The old action faster then reaction penumbra.

     His turn.
     My turn.

     That is so often the sad way it actually plays out. The bad guy is often close and often hits what he barely aims at because he is so close. No sights used. Point and shoot. Then we are now on the receiving end of what many people recall as-

     “…it felt like being hit by a baseball bat,” or like bing his with a fast pitch baseball.

     Shot! And 90% of the time? That old Louisville Slugger will screw up your draw and jar up your sight picture. Are all your body arts still working? And even if we don't experience the historic, Abner Doubleday fast-pitch treatment and he misses us, we are still feeling the loud, shocking exploding, cracking BOOM from the barrel right there in front of us. And worse, maybe more than once! 

     Now this impact or a near miss is a major disturbance in the force. It might just ruin a feller's shooting platform - you know that poster-boy-thing you stand like at the range when you are trying to qualify? Where each shoulder, elbow and knee and toe is just picture-perfect? And even if you like to run around on the range, do pushups, cartwheels and parkour while shooting it is still hard for you to shoot while and just after you are shot at. Plus, all your Olympic routine running routes may fizzle away under gunfire. Lots of gunfights are not on the shooting range and big open parking lots. Many are in very small, "sprint-free" zones.

     So, first things first. Who gets to go first? At times the really aware good guys do. You can create better training that develops hair-trigger, awareness, like these two examples:

     - standing before people who pull sims guns from various primary, secondary and tertiary carry sites. Watching real people pull real guns, hundreds of times in front of you, getting these common motions embedded in your brain is MAJOR survival training. You of course, draw and shoot sims also. Stand around a variety of objects and argue about something. Then the trainer draws. Do this a long time. The beauty of this is you can do it anywhere. This is even some real worthy grunt work to do right at the local range, but it ain't sexy like expending real ammo and wearing your cool pants and your neck wrapped in a Afghan Shemagh scarf.

    - you can also create a legal doctrine/policy/environment where officers may pull their pistol out when situations percolate into a feeling of probable danger. (But see… at such times not many of these poster-boy, range positions are unacceptable and are sometimes too aggressive-looking. This is another example of the range-world-rule, SNAFU about how you MUST ALWAYS hold your pistol). 

     But back on point, the veteran, old-timers say -

     "The best quick draw is having your handgun 
       already out before you need it."

     I am probably alive today because I followed this idea a time or two. 

     Just the day before I wrote this piece, in the Dallas/Ft. Worth Metroplex in Texas, an officer approached a dangerous trio with his gun out and down by his side. Drugs were already visible and he just felt hostility and trouble brewing as he approached. Color this scene percolated. The main suspect jumped up to run and pulled a pistol to shoot. The officer shot and killed the moving-to-the-side bad guy (just cause you move to the side doesn't mean you won't still be very easy target - just thought I would mention that). This time, the good guy's gun was already out. This time the good guy shot first. Score that one "Cops-100%. Criminal-Zero."

     So make fun of the police because of the depressing “criminal 90% / police 40%” scorecard if you must. But try as you must, you can't fully blame all that on range training. You can't blame it on point-shooting or aim-shooting. Sometimes it's just a good-guy, bad-guy tempo, thing. It is highly situational. It is about the smallest positioning and geography. But it always sucks waiting for your turn, coming in for seconds. 

     And, it does really suck coming in dead last.


Pistol Retention Methods Training Film

Hand, Stick, Knife, Gun World

“It is a hand, stick, knife, gun world. All with fighting while standing, kneeling/seated and on the ground and floors, all through rural, suburban and urban environs, by men and women who are in all shapes, sizes, strengths, weaknesses and age. We bridge the gap between the military, the police, martial artist and the aware citizenry. One way is by answering the questions of who, what, where, when, how and why. We use only that force necessary to do what we need to do to win and, or survive.” – Hock 199

     I wrote that in 1996 on my first web page and one of the first batches of "martial" web pages on the net.  Since 1996 we have seen these ideas, this framework, even at times the exact quotes used. Sliced and diced and used in different menus and manifested under many different names and programs. Yes, sometimes by accidental osmosis or coincidence. Sometimes not. But in the big picture it is called a movement. An evolution. One that transcends any one or even two sports, or self defense systems.

      While we all rely on specialists in specific categories - and we need them - how much time do you spend doing one thing? Fighting one problem? Winning against one kind of assault? Winning one kind of sport? All I ask is where are you really in this big picture, this movement? (Do you care, because that is okay not too, as long as you know.) 

Are you where you think you are? Are you where you want to be?
I for one am not. Because this damn pursuit never ends.

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Saturday, August 30, 2014

Tactical Breathing

      Let me stake out some points about the "Three Managements,” that of managing fear, anger and pain. Each subject needs a book and PHD. But, I have performed best in my life, within these three problem areas, when I have been slightly or somewhat adrenalized. Some experts might call this time, “riding the flow,” or “in the zone” of some sorts. I say “some sorts” because behavioral and sports experts have some highly refined definitions. For me, I think the zone and the flow are mostly about half-adrenalized states. Just enough juice to function on all cylinders.

     Looking back in my past where I have been both a hero and a goat, some of my worst performances as a cop have been when I have lost this overall control, let adrenaline run amok. And let me tell you a good ambush can snap the sense right out of you. A car going zero-to-sixty in seconds becomes difficult to control. Unless its a race car. Are you a race car in the race track of life? Some people are. Most not. Most of us need work.


   In my past, mental and physical distracting problems like the lack of sleep, hangovers, family problems, constipation - you name it - have interfered with my job performance in many ways, but these problems also interfered with my ability to handle surprises, and control my temper, and these adrenaline rushes.

     How to get to this somewhat, or half-adrenalized state? And stay there? Get into that flowing zone? Its a connection into your personal calm. There are tons of training programs about this, mostly for civilians and unfortunately with a lot of voodoo, buzz words. "Find" The core steps can be packaged in science, or religion or even in the science fiction of Luke Skywalker's  “using the force.”

     Strip all of this out for the biological truth. The generic core. All medical and psychological experts agree that there is one common thread to counter and contain some of the anguish of anger, pain and fear. Breathing!

    Yes, simple breath control. No matter who the experts are, from the toughest, scarred tattooed, war vet to the armchair PHD, or robe-wrapped, yogi guru, or the collared Catholic, all agree that deep and slower breathing can really help control and stabilize the body under stress. You don’t have to seek a monk in China, pray to a god, or contemplate your navel in front of incense and a pink candle. This universal, raw method truly bridges the gap between the police, the military, the martial artist and the citizen.

     In today's mental health industry, Stress Management is a major challenge as well as a very prosperous treatment business. For them, the majority of problems are marital, jobs, rush hour traffic, raising children, and the like. Civilian problems. Dr. Beth Greenberg says - 

     “Stress. Unless you live on a cloud, you deal with it every day. Can you count the number of times you’ve heard or said, ‘I’m completely stressed out!’ in the past week? Unlikely. It’s probably become routine. And routine, in fact, is what it is. Research has shown that over 70 percent of all doctors’ visits are stress-related problems, and in a city the size of Boston, an average citizen has 60 fight-or-flight responses to stress every day!”

     We all have sudden and slow burning stress problems that involve distorting our bodily chemistry and functions. We all have “before, during and after” stress problems. But, a training and treatment doctrine that includes routine violence and combat is far more complex than for a citizen in Massachusetts or London, England. It is far more complex than athletics weight lifting or running on treadmills. Citizens, in “everyday life,” and soldiers and police have different kinds of stress. In everyday life, this “during stress” might be a tough business meeting, or haggling over a plumber’s fee. This “during stress” situation for a soldier or a cop may be incoming missiles or a butcher knife plummeting down at his face. The first group deals with stress, the second group deals with proper response to sudden and planned combat AND stress. Response. Even in most planned and prepared combat, you turn a corner? And boom! You are in sudden-combat inside the planned combat.

     What do all these people feel in their bodies when they feel anxious or threatened? Here is, once again for the record, the classic list. "Rapid heartbeat, shallow, rapid breathing. Tense muscles. Physiological changes take place in the body. The brain warns the central nervous system. The adrenal glands produce hormones (adrenaline and noradrenalin). The heart beats faster. Breathing become more rapid. Fast breathing. The person's body is getting ready to do one of two things, confrontation or de-partation (departing as in leaving)."

     Back to this very critical term of “fast breathing,” because breathing is the key to this study. A normal breathing rate for an adult at rest is 8 to 16 breaths/minute. Most people are not really conscious about the way they breath, but generally there are two types of breathing patterns.

     1: Shallow Thoracic (chest) short breathing
     2: Deep or Diaphragmatic (abdominal) breathing.

     The stressed body needs air and we need to pump air to the performing muscles. Slow twitch fibers affect muscle endurance provided enough oxygen is delivered to them. Fast twitch fibers, which affect muscle strength develop peak tension, quickly and fatigue easily. That is one reason why slower, nasal-breathing, not fast, mouth-breathing often works better. Nasal breathing runs by the vagal nerve which sends calming messages to the brain. Breathing through the mouth bypasses a large portion of the nasal cavity process of warming, moisturizing and particle elimination from the air before it reaches the respiratory system. Breathing through the mouth also further triggers the fight or flight response! Sort of a double whammy, if you will.

     Lots of people call wrestling with breathing under stress, a “Combat Breathing event.” Combat breathing to me should cover just a specific study in the “During Stress/while-its-happening category,” the actual engaged combat. Instead, I like the overall term, “Tactical Breathing” title for the before, during and after. Three parts to it. This allows us refined categories and outlines for each. Combat Breathing should be a sub-category under Tactical Breathing (remember, good training programs are all about doctrine, doctrine. Doctrine! The proper skeleton allows for the proper fleshing out).

Tactical Breathing (three parts)

   1: Before the event - preparation breathing before the event
   2: During - the combat breathing, hardest to remember to do because you are distracted.
   3: After - breathing after the event to recover

     Because Combat breathing means breathing WHILE in combat, it means more than just simple calming and regulating the body before or after combat. For many real performance experts, combat breathing is in the “act of doing.” Doing what needs doing with what you have on hand to do with. Human Kinetics say that combat breathing techniques bring the mind and body together to produce some amazing feats on the sports field. Feats well beyond the subject of simple calming and relaxing. Power!

      Athletes must learn to apply the laws of pneumatics - the science of pressurized air in this case, as a power source, by absorbing and transmitting energy in a variety of sports situations. Most commonly we know about the exhale when you say - push up in a bench press. Exhale, if you can (as sometimes you can’t) when you punch/strike. Firearm shooters and combat shooters (snipers or otherwise) constantly worry about breathing during their trigger pull, but in the chaos of combat, you have to strike or shoot when you have to shoot. Breathing pace be damned.

"...Power! Athletes must learn to apply the laws of pneumatics - the science 
of pressurized air in this case, as a power source, by absorbing and 
transmitting energy in a variety of sports situations..."

     Deep breathing. The only problem is...remembering to do it. It seems that fast breathing is a dirty trick in the biology of survival, doesn’t it? She makes us do it even though we shouldn’t. It is so easy to forget to breath when the knife is dropping onto your face. But you must try. For an example of pre-conflict breathing, here is a trick I learned decades ago from police instructors in the 1970s. I continued teaching in the 80s and 90s when I taught regularly in various police academies. I would suggest connecting this type of breathing with every time you turned on your police car siren, or answer "hot or hotter call. " Hot calls equals calming breath. 

     What SWAT officer, or military mission team, while being transported to a mission, shouldn’t make this breath-in-transport a mandatory habit? If you can't maintain the pattern throughout, then breath deep on breaks in between segments of action. Then, as quickly as possible afterwards. (drink copious amounts of fluids afterward also, to help flush out the adrenaline chemicals quickly).

     Another trick I noticed was no matter what great shape I was in as a younger man, how far and fast I could run, often when I dashed up a flight of stairs, I would often still become winded. I could run about a 6 1/2 minute mile just a decade ago, but a sudden, short dash up the stairs, at times, would bother me. "What good does all this running do, when I can't dash up a flight of stairs?" But, it is a classic “zero-to-sixty” situation. I swore then that I would slow/deep breath every time I climbed any stairwell, any where. A habit. Every time I looked at a stair step! I made it a personal habit. This turned into a major survival tip as we chase and even fight on stairs frequently. Climb any stairs, anywhere? Deep breathe. (And, of course, you could run stairs as a workout, another testimony to practicing exactly what you need to do.) But the point is, pick a good time to breath like this and make that practice an engrained habit.

     Also, for many years I ran a local martial arts class. Often I would have to spar/kickbox every student in the class. This was demanding, however I discovered within myself, a calm zone of performance where I could think, coach, and kick box everyone, rather tirelessly! I recorded this...this calm, spot in my physiology. This zone. Whatever. I could often find this very spot under police stress and confrontations too. In ways, some might call this a biofeedback method (another subject).

     In the course of practicing combat scenarios, if you can attach combat breathing and this air force of pneumatics to the physical steps of the scenario, you may be front-loading your muscle memory for survival.Check this out and experiment with it.

     Extended and serious exercise usually starts demanding fast lung work and we find ourselves falling into shallow, mouth-breathing mode. But, the better shape we are in, the more we push back that mode. How about some real Before/Pre breath control practice? Wind sprints are another way to introduce your body to, and get in touch with, your physiology while it grapples with rising and failing heart rates. Know where you are and how you feel and think about breathing while wind sprinting. Long-term breath control? Exercise. I repeat and re-shape the above line for it is a most important point...

     The better shape we're in, the more we push back that falling apart, disaster crash.

     Get up and get out and do something. It helps in so many more ways that simple slow breathing cannot alone. If you are having a heart attack while fighting off a criminal or a Jihadist, slow breathing ain't gonna' help you much. Develop both heart and lung capacity.

     Once in so-called "combat," you have a lot going on and your body wants to immediately breathe a certain way. You make it breathe your way. The best way you can. Good instincts. Good training. Good coaching. Good mental tricks. Good luck. A car going zero-to-sixty in a second becomes difficult to control. Unless its a race car. Become a race car driver.

     Technically, tactical breathing goes like this. Breathe in through the nose for four counts or more counts. Deep into the lower lung, and upper “belly” should expand, unlike a shallow breath. Hold for four or more counts, exhale through the mouth for four or more counts. So simple, so respected. So proven, from Lamaze to Basra. it works. For the record, the U.S, Military suggests:

"Combat, Tactical" Breathing

This technique, known as combat or tactical breathing, is an excellent way to reduce your stress and calm down. This breathing strategy has been used by first responders, the military and athletes to focus, gain control and manage stress. In addition, it appears to help control worry and nervousness. Relax yourself by taking 3 to 5 breaths as described below.

   - Visualize each number as you count.

   - Breathe in counting 1, 2, 3, 4

   - Stop and hold your breath counting 1, 2, 3, 4

   - Exhale counting 1, 2, 3, 4

   - Repeat

     (Word to the wise. I have heard some folks suggest 5 or 6 seconds a breath and a much longer exhale - as in exhale until it almost hurts! But surely that is for meditation-like situations and not when you are about to kick a door or are inside a room searching for a suspect. And some people have bigger bodies and need another second or two two fill up and out.) 

     In summary, Tactical Breathing is more than just relaxing. It is three parts,  the before, the during and the post of fighting with hands, sticks, knives and guns. While there are some similarities to a meditative style of breathing, "tactical" breathing is not for the yoga mat. It is almost impossible to forget to breath properly in a meditation class. Its hard when you are chasing a car at 100 miler per hour, or fighting someone.

     The methods you use may be very personal discoveries. Generic in concept. Personal in execution. In the end, my friend? I want you to breathe the best breath of all, that sigh of relief when its all really over, and you are still in one "piece" and in one "peace."

Stop 6 of the Stop 6
The Bottom-Side of Ground Fight with Mixed Weapons
Hand, stick, knife and gun solutions

(Different cover shown there, no worries, same film)