Open Your Eyes and Defend

We worked on a fun drill tonight.  Everyone stands in a circle, and one person moves into the center of the circle.  That person has to close his or her eyes and await an attack from someone else in the circle.  The attacker is picked randomly and he or she can choose to attack with a training knife or a blue gun.  The one in the center is cued to open their eyes.  Then, he or she has to defend whatever unfolds in the situation.  The scenario can include multiple opponents.  This drill can also be performed wherein the person in the middle wears a hood, and the hood is pulled off for each scenario.  Everyone eventually gets a crack at the guy or gal in the middle.  <evil laugh>

Even in a safe environment, where we slow down the speed of the attack, it is a stressful drill.  Well, it is for me, anyway.  Should students run into snags, it is good to discuss these particular scenarios and allow them to perform tasks again successfully, which leaves them with a positive experience and helps set them up for success in the future.  I think this is especially important if they completely freeze during the exercise.  Once students gain more proficiency, they can speed things up, or even progressively change other situation variables (don’t change too many at once).


Simple Knife Drills

After practicing smooth deployment of our folding knives, we worked on some very simple knife drills this week, first with focus mitts, then secondly with a partner wearing a boxing glove.  Our folding knives, though they are training blades, turned out to be too sharp for the focus mitts!  Oops.  So, we drilled with our fixed blade trainers.

Drill 1:

One partner, with strong side forward, holds the knife in a sabre grip and points it towards the target (knuckles up, thumb towards center).  The other partner feeds the focus mitt randomly.  Knife-wielding partner strikes with a straight thrust and retracts.  Think of a fencer lunging forward to hit the target, bridging the distance.

Drill 2:

One partner puts on a boxing glove and feeds the knife from any angle.  The other partner uses the concept of “de-fanging the snake” and uses his knife to take out the hand of the feeder.  You can add in other, unexpected strikes, like kicks–just be cautious of how hard students are thrusting with the knives.  Padding couldn’t hurt so everyone comes back to train another day.  🙂

Blink and Rapid Cognition



I recently finished reading Blink by Malcolm Gladwell.  I spent considerable time going through the book; I am totally fascinated by the human brain and human behavior.  It is by no means a hard read—it reads like a great novel—but it is quite compelling and I saw it as a launching pad to do some further reading human decision-making, facial expressions and emotion, behavior and affect, etc.  Blink is about rapid cognition, and making decisions in a blink of an eye.  We all make snap judgments every day, but how well-informed are they, and do they serve us most of the time?

Gladwell explains the concept of thin-slicing, which is the ability of our subconscious mind to pick up on patterns (and anomalies), situations, and behavior based upon “very narrow slices of experience.”  All this processing takes place behind a locked door, he explains, and it is an “automated, accelerated unconscious version” of cognitive processing, which occurs consciously.  Since we cannot unlock the door, all we can do is carefully program the subconscious mind with experiences that uphold whatever we consciously believe to be true.  It is like what Gavin De Becker talks about in the Gift of Fear—informing our intuition, which can be done through the right training, experience and mental exercises.  Sometimes, under duress and/or time pressure, the subconscious mind will spit out a response based on whatever is familiar, which can be something totally stereotypical—something which you may not even consciously uphold.

The key to good rapid decision-making (with more favorable results) is frugality.  In all the stories he related, where snap judgments were spot-on, the expert decision-makers edited information, and used very little of it to find patterns quickly.  Notice I used the word “expert”.  These are people who have gained much wisdom based on years and years of experience, and have learned how to accurately interpret whatever comes out of that locked room, or little black box of the mind.  Experts have depth of understanding, vastly different from knowledge.  We are living in the information age, and knowledge is more readily accessible than it probably ever was in history, but does it follow that people, as a whole, know how to apply it?  Knowledge, in and of itself, is not power.  Knowing how to apply it really IS powerful.  I am reminded of Brian Willis’ discussion on competency, and how trainers must move towards becoming unconscious competent articulates: performing skills unconsciously, which is most efficient, and having the ability to explain those actions after the fact.  Obviously, the information that is gathered for rapid cognition has to be the right information—being able to zero in on pertinent details and discarding irrelevant information is the mark of true proficiency as it relates to good, fast decision-making in any field of endeavor.

Early on in the text, I was already contemplating how thin-slicing/rapid cognition applies to the realm of self-protection.  Obviously, in a lethal encounter, you don’t have the time or wherewithal (due to the effects of survival stress) to process very much with your conscious mind.  Gladwell explains that both high arousal and time pressure can cause serious breakdowns in judgment.  Training and experience help us to develop and hone our decision-making powers when stakes are high, and when we have very little time or experience from which to “extract meaningful information.”  He discusses Gavin De Becker’s process of stress-inoculation in training his operatives, so that they may eventually function in high-stress situations with relatively low heart rates and achieve better reaction times (De Becker’s company runs security operations to protect high-profile people).  Though it is not discussed in this book, I have read in many sources about Olympic athletes performing their events in their minds, prior to competition, including as much sensory information as possible to make the experience real to their minds—the subconscious mind really does not understand the difference.  Never underestimate the power of imagination!  Brian Willis talks about using imagination towards ANYTHING, including your own healing, in learning new skills, in preparing for dangerous encounters (as experienced by police officers, first responders, etc.).

Here are some of my favorite thoughts from the text:

“Every moment—every blink— is composed of a series of discrete moving parts, and every one of those parts offers an opportunity for intervention, for reform, and for correction.”

“Judgment makes all the difference in winning and losing.”

“When making a decision of minor importance, I have always found it advantageous to consider all the pros and cons.  In vital matters, however, such as the choice of a mate or a profession, the decision should come from the unconscious, from somewhere within ourselves.  In the important decisions of personal life, we should be governed, I think, by the deep inner needs of our nature.”—Sigmund Freud 

My thoughts on this book, and its implications, are not fully formed yet.  However, it has led me to some other interesting books, like Sources of Power, by Gary Klein, which is a study on how people in professions with extreme time pressure make decisions; and Unmasking the Face, by Paul Ekman and Wallace Friesen, which is about reading emotions through facial expressions.  Anything I can read to increase my understanding and inform my training and coaching is a good thing!


Here is a great blog I read from time to time, and this is a post reflecting on the nature of violence, and asking how we address the reality of it in our training.  In addition, there are some disturbing video clips of real violent encounters.  Take note of the ferocity of these attacks, and the inability of the victims to do much more than hold their arms and hands over their heads until the onslaught ends and they can run away, or until someone else intervenes.



We had a conversation today about pressure-testing students.  It is something I have been thinking a lot about for some time.  While I want it for myself, I realized that some other people may NEVER be ready for it.  If you are truly interested in Combatives, (what Dennis Martin describes as “what works in a fight” or Kelly McCann describes as “what you do TO somebody”), my thought is that you want to train to function under extreme duress.  You want to respond aggressively in a realistic violent confrontation, even if you take the first hit.  HOWEVER, some people just want to leisurely train.  Some people have a different perception of reality from me, as an instructor.  Some people may not have made the decision to fight for their lives.  Some people may possibly freak out and leave my class or my school if I turn up the juice and really put it on them.  At that point, I have lost them forever!  It is a tricky thing, and I especially don’t want to drive away the people that need the training the most.  So, my advice is to assess each individual carefully.  You, as an instructor, may have to bring them along slowly and ramp them up.  Some students are just plain scrappy, or have prior experience and want to jump in feet-first.  Some may never want any pressure, and you can only lead them where they want to go.  Your job, as instructor, is to meet them wherever they are and help facilitate their goals, whatever they may be.

Working the Heavy Bag

We were talking this past week about working the heavy bag for skills and movement drills versus using it for conditioning.  Why not do both?  I went to one of my favorite sources for conditioning information and a guy who knows how to train boxers.  A few years back, I bought Ross Enamait’s book on strength and conditioning, Never Gymless:

Awesome book.  As Ross says, in a fight, “conditioning is king.”  Talk about a guy who walks his talk, too!  The book offers up so many ideas on strength and conditioning for those that don’t have access to a gym, that you truly have no excuses not to be fit to fight.  He’s also done his homework.

Anyway, back to heavy bag work.  I found a good article of his called “Intensifying the Heavy Bag”, and it even has a great video clip.  This might give you some more ideas on how to work your heavy bag.

Vital and Nerve Motor Points

We talk a lot in our Gutterfighting class about different vital points and nerve motor points of the body when striking.  Not only can striking these areas cause more pain (although we talk about the possibility of some people resisting the pain, especially if they are under the influence of drugs), they can also cause motor dysfunction.  In some cases, they can be a great distraction as you move to another technique (like gouging eyes, or jabbing fingers in the jugular notch, etc.), or they can even be used in a situation that requires deadly force, such as using the bony portion of the hand, wrist and forearm while striking the brachial plexus region.  Context must dictate how you proceed with that.  I know that some instructors hesitate to share “pressure points”, and yes, sometimes they do not deliver the intended effect on some individuals, as aforementioned, but I think it’s a good idea to be aware of them to add to your overall understanding. 

This document is floating all over the place on the web, and here is just one place I found this old military manual (I downloaded the .pdf file from somewhere else).  Other systems have more descriptive (anatomical) terminology, but this is still very informative.