Sunday, September 28, 2014

Death by Blunt Force Trauma

Delivering a Crushing Blow to the Skull

 "In the United States, traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a leading cause of death 
for persons under age 45. TBI occurs every 15 seconds. Approximately five 
million Americans currently suffer some form of TBI disability. The leading 
causes of TBI are motor vehicle accidents, falls, and sports injuries. 
While the brain is by far the most complex object on earth, it is soft
 and vulnerable with a consistency of firm pudding." -

     "It seems like hardly a week goes by these days that we do not hear of someone being killed by blunt force trauma. A young woman hiker in Georgia disappears on a hike through a state park near Atlanta. Her body is eventually found, and the medical examiner determines that her death was due to blunt force trauma to the head; the body was also decapitated. Just this month, a twenty-year-old pregnant female marine Lance Corporal stationed at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, is found dead, the victim of blunt force trauma to the head                                                                                                         by a weapon - probably a crowbar                                                                                                         or tire iron.

What is Blunt Force Trauma?
     Blunt force trauma is kind of an umbrella term. It is non-specific but sufficient enough to put on a death certificate. However, it can take many forms. Blunt force trauma is caused by a blunt object striking some part of the body. The blunt object may be a bat, wrench, hammer, floor, dashboard, etc. The typical signs of blunt force trauma include lacerated major blood vessels or aorta, lacerated or crushed organs, hematoma, crushed or severed spinal cord, or fractures of the skull. Any one of these injuries is sufficient to cause death.

     While automobile accidents and accidental falls represent the greatest causes of blunt force trauma, this type of injury is also present in a wide variety of homicide cases when a gunshot wound is not the cause of death. Most homicides involving blunt force trauma result from the victim being struck in the head or neck with an object such as a hammer, fireplace poker, flower vase, etc. In these cases, the bones of the skull or neck are fractured in one or more places by the velocity of the blow. Blunt force trauma can also occur if the victim has been severely beaten with an object or with fists. In these cases, the injuries are usually to internal organs like the kidneys, liver, spleen, etc.

Blunt Force Trauma to the Brain
     The brain can be damaged by trauma in two ways. When the head is struck by a hard object, the cerebral cortex (gray matter) can become bruised. If the force of the blow is sufficient to cause a whiplash like circumstance, then the injury can occur to the nerve cells (axonal injury) deep in the white matter of the brain. Injury of this type involves a variety of forces including the acceleration of the object and the acceleration force imparted to the brain by the object. Injury results from the direct contact between the object and the head, and the greatest injury to the head occurs from the initial direct impact with the blunt object. The area of contact may be large (a baseball bat, 2x4) or small (hammer head, a paper weight), but the velocity of the impact will largely determine the extent and type of damage caused by the resulting blow.

     The cranium, the complex structure of bones that encloses and protects the brain, is composed of three layers: the outer table (hard outer layer of bone), the inner table (inner layer of hard bone), and the "diploe" or spongy bone layer between the two.

     When the blunt object comes into contact with the bones of the human skull, several reactions are possible. A piece of bone may break loose from the skull and be forced into the cranium with concentric fractures forming around the break area. This bone fragment, or "plug" as it is called, often takes on the approximate shape of the object itself. Another reaction is where the object causes an inward bending of the skull resulting in crushing of the outer table and diploe with fractures radiating outwards. In this case, the inner table is left untouched by the blow. A blow can also cause a situation where there is both inward and outward bending of the skull structures. In this case, the inner table, as well as the outer table and diploe, are all shattered. Radiating fractures spread outward from the impact site.

Weapon Characteristics
     The number and type of objects that can potentially be used in a crime to inflict blunt force trauma on a victim are almost immeasurable. However, it is possible to identify certain characteristics of the resulting wound that allow a group of potential weapons to be identified. This is called a "class characteristic." A fracture showing smooth curved lines would be caused by a similar class of weapons such as a claw hammer or crowbar. Sometimes a weapon will leave individual marks on the bone. These marks might arise from imperfection in the manufacture of the object or marks caused by prior damage to the blunt object itself. Such marks are referred to as "individual characteristics" and can further serve to identify a particular object as the murder weapon.

     Sometimes a single weapon can produce more than one type of fracture wound. For example, if the victim was hit with the flat side of a shovel blade, then a large flat area of one or more fractures would be evident on the head. However, if the victim was hit with the shovel blade turned on its side, the resulting wound would be a linear fracture possibly exhibiting a pattern with a curvature similar to that of the shovel blade. In many cases, a victim will display several occurrences of blunt force trauma. It is the job of the medical examiner and forensic investigator to determine if all the wounds were made by the same object and to try to determine which wound occurred first,

Blood Spatter in Blunt Force Trauma
     As in most crime scenes, blood spatter pattern analysis can provide vital evidence in determining what actually happened during the commission of the crime. Blunt trauma to most of the body may not produce significant blood spatter since most of the blunt force damage will be to internal organs. Blunt trauma to the head and neck, on the other hand, almost always results in a series of characteristic blood spatter patterns. The blood spatter is characteristic of medium velocity blood spatter resulting from an external force of greater than five feet per second (fps) but less than twenty-five fps. Blunt force trauma also produces cast off blood spatter as blood is thrown from the weapon as it is raised and then brought down on the victim each additional time. This spatter can occur on ceilings, walls, and floors depending on the force and direction of the inflicted blows. In the process, the victim's blood is also transferred to the blunt object and can usually be recovered from the weapon once it is identified.

Doug Hanson, Ph.D., is a Ph.D. Biochemist who has operated toxicology and analytical chemistry laboratories for over 25 years. He is also a freelance writer who has written extensively for law enforcement, EMS, and first responder magazines. His areas of expertise and written articles include: forensic investigation, DNA analysis, blood spatter, trace analysis, toxicology, drug and analytical chemistry, and forensic anthropology among others. He has written about car bombs, IEDs, soft targets, biological and chemical agents, and attack scenarios. He has written on juvenile arson and illegal meth labs. Doug has written and published a book entitled The Eider Files, a novel.


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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Is it Love or Confusion?

     “Is this love, babe, or is it ... confusion?” Jimi Hendrix asked in a song. But is it from the hormones, stress, adrenaline, or just distraction? Is it adrenaline messing you up or lack of focus? Or the overall speed of things?

Love? Hormones? Adrenaline and Confusion? Distraction, Focus.

     All those other replacement words don’t jive so well in the song, do they? How do they jive in the real world? Adrenaline is a hormone, and it can easily be confused with poor performance of tasks. Is it always the cause? Sometimes? Are instructors and researchers looking deep enough to really find the difference? Are martial arts? And the so-called self-defense instructors of today?

     Let's quickly discuss an experiment. Walk up to your front door, pull the keys out of your pocket, and unlock the front door. This is a task you have performed a gazillion times. If you dissect that very simple task, you would likely note that you use the same hand, the same pocket, and the very same speed to do this simple task. You have probably even unlocked the door in the dark using the same process and rate of speed. It becomes like an “instinct.” Automatic. "The nerves that fire together, wire together," as the new breed of neurologists love to say.

 "The nerves that fire together, wire together," as 
the new breed of neurologists love to say.

     But this new firing and wiring includes a specific rate of speed in the new brain road map. The speed in which you do the task is an integral part of the firing/wiring process. In another example, martial arts expert Dan Inosanto once said decades ago, “train slow? Fight slow.” And the fire/wire includes the same hand, same pocket, same door knob, same speed, the exact situation in which you unlock the door time after time. In other words, if you come home every night with the same briefcase in the other hand, that, too, is in the equation. If you always carry a shopping bag in your other hand, that is also in the performance equation.

     What if some things change? Within some range, the easy athletic success of opening the door can still be done. That depends a lot on the person. But what if these steps get out of this specific performance range? Ever unlock the door with a backpack dangling from your key hand? What about with two shopping bags of groceries, one with a carton of milk about to slip out? Pretty distracting. Probably your smooth, regular performance of easily unlocking the door is off by a few beats. Sometimes people even have to place one shopping bag down on the porch to get the job done. In some cases, just thinking about this ordinarily automatic process will screw it up.

     Or ever unlock this door in a hideous thunderstorm? Or run up to the door because you can hear the house phone ringing, and you expect an urgent call? You’ll have to be faster. The very speed that you approach the door changes things. Once blindly inserting the key and mindlessly opening the door, this task now becomes faster, and often a fumble and a slowdown ensues. The speed, for whatever reason - be it hard rain or the phone call - has now changed the equation. New firing. New wiring.

     Enough of everyday life. Let's get extreme. You are being shot at while approaching your door! Speed is needed! You may well fumble with your keys and the lock. If you do, many instructors and adrenaline-based training programs founded in marketing and money will quickly define the problem as sudden, spiking, and increased heart rates or their old-time favorite ogre - that old evil, skill-robbing, blinding, dumbing adrenaline. Why? They have invested in adrenaline-based fighting systems. Or they just haven't thought about it. It's adrenaline's fault!

     Relative speed is important. The speed you need and the speed you train for. If an enforcement agent has a car wreck in a high-speed chase, can you always blame it on adrenaline stealing your vision, hearing, and fine motor skills? No. The agent might not drive fast very well. The agent may have never been trained in high-speed driving skills. If a champion slow-pitch softball player is suddenly thrown fastballs, can he hit the fastball easily? Odds are he cannot. The need for the speed needed.

     Is all failure an adrenaline problem? Really? I don’t think so. Could it just be distraction? Could it be focus? Speed? Could it be a different rate of speed than usual? All from a sense of urgency in and among situations. These issues have real importance in all hand, stick, knife, and gun training programs. Is it all adrenaline? Or is it a lack of focus and improper, situational training at the proper speed? The ogre of adrenaline is way less of an ogre than many people sell and tell you it is. 

     Is it raging hormones or a lack of focus and skill? Speed?

     “Is it love, babe? Or just ... confusion?”

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Thursday, September 18, 2014

Cornfield Combatives - How Urban Is Your Cotton Patch?

     I live in the outer reaches of the ever-expanding Dallas/Ft. Worth Metroplex in north Texas. This geographic term "DFW" just continues to grow and grow, but up here we are still surrounded by farmland and ranches in the outer 20% of all that is the dense DFW Metroplex. A housing addition, then a ranch, then a strip center, then more farmland and ranches. That breakup is what I like about the area.  It's still country and open.

     I belong to a new, large gym franchise that was built in a huge empty field that once grew corn. Huge acreage still surrounds the gym, and there is some spotty construction around it. The owners await their marketing demographic destiny, as the DFW area swallows everything on up to the Oklahoma borderline. In what? Fifty years? I have lived all around here since 1972, and it has taken all those years just to get this far out.

     Then a small strip center was built across the street from the gym in another cornfield.  I assume that it will fill up with the usual stuff over the next decades. A haircut place? A tanning salon? Etc. But the first entry in this isolated small building was a place called Urban Nutrition. Brick wall art sign. That ubiquitous claw ripping through the brick art signage. It was a big city name suggesting real, inner city … ahhh, what exactly ... inner city eating? Inner city muscle growth? Inner city vitamins? What exactly, Mister Businessman?

“Howdy, neighbor! Learn how them inner city boys get real big and muscular?”

     It is a place of powdered protein, racks of pills and potions, and those energy drinks that should, by content alone, kill a mule. All that stuff. All that stuff that would no doubt either kill me, too, or throw me into a seizure if I consumed any of it. But enough about me and my declining constitution. Wouldn't you rather be a big strapping country boy? Eat fresh country food? Or vitamins made out here on the farm instead of some dingy, dirty city factory?

     If I were one of those professional photographers, I would like to set up and photograph that nutrition store, ensuring I could capture the huge farming field around it. Try to catch the wheat stalks or the cornstalks beside it. Maybe that grazing cow. The photo would capture the very dichotomy of that name in that place. Urban pills and powder, homey … in a cornfield. Wazzup, Farmer Jones?

     Urban. Suburban. Rural. The U.S. Bureau of the Census defines urban as a community with a population of 2,500 or more. That is just about everybody everywhere I guess. But is that what you first think of when you hear the word "urban"? A village with 2,500 people? To me, I think people attach an inner-city feel and look to the word "urban." Official government urban definitions have been skewed in public by many things, like the Hip-Hop culture for one.

     Sure, sure, sure, in the next fifteen years a few things will pop up all around the nutrition store, but I will never say that it will look remotely urban, like Watts or Harlem. It will look suburban at best. And sure, the owners are following a marketing plan of opening up right near a major franchise gym, in the cornfield right across the street from their cornfield. WAZZZUP! Still, it sends an odd message.

     It is just odd to have an Urban Nutrition store in the middle of a rural cornfield, least of all to strive to eat like someone from the Detroit hood? And it is also odd to see the pop term "urban combatives" to me. Like the nutrition store, not all Urban Combatives schools are in downtown Glasgow or Harlem. And if there? A country-bred coal miner could probably walk in off the street and beat everybody up.  I see a lot of urban stuff these days and, of course, even the ubiquitous "urban combatives" all around the world today. I find this title curious, too. Urban Combatives. A sales pitch might be …

      "... these techniques have been tested ... in, you know ... urban … ahhh … areas."

     "Wazzup, suburb boyz? Country boyz! Fight like inner-city, urban boyz! Word!" 

     "Fight like Boyz in the Hood."

     We know what Urban Combat is for the military today, as opposed to say ... jungle combat or the "forest combat" of Europe in World War II. I mean, what does "urban fighting" really mean then? Harlem? Watts? The inner-city warrior, tough guy? What? The inner city is tough. Toughest? Tougher than the outer city? Actually crime and/or fights will occur anywhere. Rural, suburban, or urban. Some of the worst crimes and baddest fights have occurred behind the barn in Idaho or in an alleyway in Branson, MO. Alleyways are everywhere, even in Mayberry. Per capita, a whole bunch of violent crime happens outside the so-called urban inner cities.

     So the term "urban" used in anything, especially combatives, confuses me. Should it you? Inner- city crime involves weapons, ambushes, and vendettas. What do you REALLY envision when you think of urban combatives? Gutted projects? Detroit? Or a seashore resort city? Gang wars? Bouncers? Moscow Cartel? Who, what, where, when, how, and why are … urban combatives? And will they work behind the barn in Mississippi?

     Will Georgia Barnyard Combatives work in Manchester or the Prague? Will Harvey's Suburban Combatives work in Camden, New Jersey? Will Jimmy Bob's Hearth of the Homeland Combatives work in Detroit? You know Matt Hughes is a farm boy from southern Illinois. Brock Lesnar is from Webster, South Dakota. Randy Couture is from Cornellous, Oregon. I could go on and on with this country-boy list. Not exactly an inner-city or urban majority. Champs and super-tough guys nonetheless. I'd put money on Randy in a Harlem alley fight, wouldn't you? WORD! And they say words count, so who are you training to fight where?

     Think about it. Fights and crime (and war) occur in rural, suburban, and urban areas. A comprehensive fighting program must include all these turfs. Picking one name like urban is actually quite limiting as far as a smart business plan goes. The marketing name of something counts both overtly and covertly as in subliminal or obvious. Subliminal advertising is a major influence in the success of business.

     Urban. Suburban. Rural. Will we ever see Outer City Limits Combatives? Rural Combatives? I guess urban sounds just way, way cooler? Maybe I am just over-thinking this? Oh, well, if your punches and kicks are all kinda ... urbanized? Run through that special "urban" filter?

     Just stay away from all the nearby cornstalks, wheat fields, and barns when the cameras roll out for pictures. A city boy should not be, ironically, rural. You know - hypocritical. Urbanonically, suburbanomical. 

     Word. Or ... word up! (That what they say?)

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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

"Thin Slicing" Your Fighting Stances

     In the new book, Wait, the Art and Science of Delay, Professor Frank Partnoy collects numerous studies on the split-second or millisecond-second decision-making of mental and physical choices. He has all the very latest, of 2012, medical and psychological testing on sports and self-defense on down to fast-paced internet stock trading. (It is interesting to note that in modern books like this and others, the infamous Hick's Law is not even mentioned, not a whisper. That is how research has advanced from the 1950s and left the primitive Hick's in the proverbial dust.)

     In many ways, Wait refutes the former bestseller Blink by Malcolm Gladwell by proving that the very best-of-the-best know how to delay reaction to the last - well, millisecond - thereby making the best choice, the best response. The secret? Some genetics and a lot of proper training. Blink tells the reader to go with the first quick impulse. Wait tells you to go with your last quick impulse. All these choices occur in less than a second anyway, and the book makes for good reading. It breaks down the three critical steps - vision, decision, and reaction averages - all in the milliseconds with the latest high technology. About 100 milliseconds to see, about 200 milliseconds to decide what to do among several choices, and about 200 milliseconds to action. About half a second. (This does not increase exponentially or in a logarithm with multiple choices.)

     But in Chapter 6, Partnoy deviates from the main theme just a bit and takes us to Columbia University to meet a Dana Carney doing amazing work on the subject, who leads us also to an Amy Cuddy and an Andy Yapp working on what they call high-power and low-power stances. Know what those terms mean. A "power stance" would be like a fighting stance/ready position, or like a back erect, hands on hip, chin-up stance. Being and looking powerful. A "low-power stance" is the opposite of that. Being defensive, palms up and out, scared or slump-shouldered, chin down, or otherwise surrender positions, etc. Being and looking not powerful. 

     Students were asked to strike these stances for at least 60 seconds while various tests were run on them at the end. Perhaps the results are intuitive. Within seconds, the power stance people had much, much more testosterone. As guessed, the people with low-power stances had much less, a sudden drop in testosterone. Comparisons are then made to boxers and their stances and ring preparation.

     “This biology affects our decision making and performance." I was immediately struck with thoughts about common self-defense training. Stances. What about all those submissive, non-aggressive stances and words used to diffuse conflicts?

     “Now, sir, I am not looking for trouble.”

     “I am not looking to fight.”

     First, we all should already agree that those submissive/surrender postures and defensive "beta" words often encourage the criminal or the bully, both overtly and subliminally. Or do we all really know this? Because so many teach these non-aggressive stances to diffuse conflicts and never mention it or warn people. Many people practice this submissive posture in the artificial environment of a training class to diffuse conflicts, and some are quite shocked how the event actually plays out. Situational chaos. But I now wonder what does this role-part playing do to the chemicals in your body in the real world? The defuse stance and dialog will drop your fight chemicals as suggested. Drop and give us a bad start at the worst time?

     Can you trick yourself about this? Can you turn your submissive “want no trouble" stance into a power stance in your mind? Or can you still get a fast jolt of testosterone in some sort of reverse engineering style training by convincing yourself that your non-power stance is really a power stance? Or how fast can you change from one to the other, from non-power to power, and count on your chemicals to follow quick suit?

     Tests like this are called by these experts “thin slicing.” I don't know these answers. Nor do they, as they are working on other aspects than the specifics I've mentioned here; but I do now think it needs a little more explaining and instructing than before. I think the only way to defeat the biological possibilities is to teach them and explain them all this way. To somehow make, to transform, the so-called passive or non-aggressive acting into a "power stance." An added paragraph in the "old doctrine of life." I think that the paragraph could be called, "Stances and Words, Overcoming Biology."

     It does make you think. How you stand. What you say. What these do to you biologically, the underpinning of your physical performance....

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Saturday, September 13, 2014

Knife Fighting on the 19th Century American Frontier

Knife Fighting on the 19th 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 prevalent. 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 emasculation 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.”  Among 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 examined 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, 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 one-third to one-half 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 19, 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 that 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, and 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. Wells' 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 that 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 have split open an 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 breastbone, 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 blackouts 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 pop 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, who's 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 those 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 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 have 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. Ninety-forty! 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 rearranging 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 shootouts are just plain old shootouts in parking lots, stores, houses, and businesses or out on 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 being hit 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 parts 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, 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 an Afghan Shemagh scarf.

      - you can also create a legal doctrine/policy/environment where officers may pull their pistols 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 a 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 might, 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