WHEN TO PUSH THE BUTTON

The art of self defense is truly a mosaic of applying several pieces of knowledge in a timely manner:

  • how to throw certain combinations,
  • which technique is most effective for the attacker before us, as well as
  • where we should target our attack, given our distance and circumstances

But what about when?
The timing of when we launch an attack or even whether we engage in battle at all, is crucial in our ability to successfully defend ourselves in times of physical threat.

Assuming nobody reading this fancies themselves a “bad-ass”, walking around looking to impress their friends with their warrior’s prowess, we will discuss scenarios that start when you are confronted by person of bad intent.

Let me start with a quote by Sun Tzu that I find invaluable: “The supreme

art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting”.

There are a lot of romantic notions of battle and how brutally dealing with a foe makes you feel proud, valiant or “more alive”. The reality is that unless you are being paid good money to risk your physical being in a combative event, you rarely have reasons to engage in a fight and expose yourself to multiple, and sometimes, significant injury. Many times the victor suffers as much damage as the loser: a broken hand or nose, dislocated shoulder or knee or very possibly a concussion. All for what?

The contents of your wallet or purse? The besmirching the name of your favorite team or best friend? The indecency/emasculation of cutting your car off in the street?  Really??

Whenever possible, de-escalation should be your first tactic. Talk your way out of the situation. Tell your would-be assailant that you have no beef with them and have no desire to fight. Walk away, and know that by not entering the breach you possibly saved yourself an encounter that could have suddenly and inexplicably escalated into weapons and possible death. Remember, you do not know your attacker and have NO IDEA what they are capable of.

“This not tournament, Daniel-san, this real thing” (Sorry, I couldn’t help myself!)

If, despite all your efforts to calm the situation down, you are forced to defend yourself from physical attack then the question of when to launch your attack is key.

It is my sincere belief that once you have an attacker within range (range can be kicking range or punching range, depending on your comfort in the technique), you should always launch the first strike. Strike quickly and strongly to a target that renders the person physically disadvantaged. Most movies show punches to the face. Personally, I am not a fan of this as a first offensive, as it may or may not be effective in stopping your opponents advance. Enough drugs or alcohol in their system and they may not even feel it. Many people have strong chins and a shot to the face may only cause them to become more enraged.

I prefer a kick to the knee or the groin. The first removes your attacker mobility, the second their ability to respond for several seconds. If successful you should be able to launch 2-3 additional strikes to available targets and then immediately leave.  There is nothing to be gained by standing around gloating. Your assailant may not be alone and your staying there places you in a situation where you may have to defend yourself again.

Now if you are not the first to launch a strike, but are forced to defend an attack that was launched unexpectedly or with very short notice, it is the practice of Krav Maga that you launch your defense and near-simultaneously launch an attack. Block/strike in unison, creates confusion for your attacker as they go from being the predator, to being the prey! They think they’re about to devastate you, and suddenly they are hit. As before, take that moment of confusion to follow-up with 2-3 brutal and direct combatives and immediately leave.

The point of this discussion is that there needs to be a button in your head that is your “GO” button. As soon as you realize that you are being forced to fight, push it. Immediately and brutally go on the attack. Throw as many strikes necessary to end the situation and then you escape to safety. Fights are won and lost based upon the hesitance in pushing that button. If you do not throw the first strike with intent to end the encounter, you must assume your assailant will.

EVERYBODY HAS A PLAN, UNTIL THEY GET HIT!

The world of combative sports and self defense trains you, the participant, how to throw an endless assortment of devastating punches, kicks, elbows and knees. Indeed, by virtue of these techniques, there is no shortage of confidence you feel when you are hitting the heavy bag or working focus mitts with a partner. In your mind,you have the power of Tyson, the speed of Pacquiao and the footwork of Ali. You are the master of the universe and you “pity the fool” that dares to square up against you.

A funny thing happens, however, when there is actually a combatant firing back at you. Suddenly your breathing changes, your body gets a bit stiffer (and therefore, slower) and all these slick combinations you have dazzled your gym mates with devolve into the occasional 1-2 punch and maybe a kick. The last thing you notice is that time has stopped moving altogether! Regardless of the length of round you are working, it seems like time is moving so slowly that you are convinced you need to replace the timer, because it must be broken.

Then the unthinkable happens…you absorb a strike. It can be to the head, the body or the legs. Your defenses were just a bit off and now you’ve been hit. All your strategies start to leave you as you focus on the pain from the shot that got through, you begin to mouth breathe due to anxiety and now you regrettably start going into survival mode…”when is that bell going to sound and end this round?” you think…

What an amazing regression from your envisioning being the (youngest, oldest, quickest, etc.) person to win the title in your sport and weight class to wondering what the hell you were thinking when you stepped inside the ring.

We’ve all been there.

The reality that we must all face is that every person that enters a combative contest, whether professional or amateur, whether world champion or weekend warrior, gets hit. There are no exceptions. Part of the training that all students need to consider is not just physical training, strength training or agility training, but mental toughness training. We must all have training sessions where we allow ourselves to be at our most disadvantaged position. Whether that be knocked to the ground and mounted, up against the ropes and continuously hit with punches and kicks or some other variant that takes us to the most uncomfortable place our sport of choice can place us. Those are the key moments of training when we get to test not our technique, but our GRIT.

Fights almost never go as planned. Invariably we need to adjust to a situation we never considered:

  • a blow that catches us unexpectedly
  • a change of strategy from our opponent which confuses us
  • fatigue as the fight goes longer than expected
  • pain if we are injured during an exchange

There is no way to prepare for every possible variable, but you must train in a way that places you in many different uncomfortable circumstances. For example, challenge yourself to fend off an attack minus the use of your dominant hand/leg, run sprints for 3 continuous minutes and then begin a 3 minute round of sparring, grapple while wearing a blindfold and see if you can achieve dominant position by using your other senses. Fight continuously for 8 minutes with a fresh opponent entering the ring every 2 minutes.

What’s the point?

To prevail in a combative sport or in a self defense scenario, you must know (not think, or hope, but KNOW!) that you can handle whatever comes your way. Working mitts and heavy bags prepares the body to throw your techniques with proper power and speed, but you need to train the mind to be able to adjust to those situations when you are least comfortable, most exposed to injury (or injured) and close to fatigue, so that you can steady your nerves, take a deep breath, and rely upon strong defenses while unleashing your various combatives to end up victorious. It’s not about how well you hit or defend, but how well you trained.

Self Defense In Fairfield County

Welcome to Israeli Krav Maga CT!

One of the first questions I am repeatedly asked is “Do I really need to think about self-defense if I live in Fairfield County? It’s not exactly a high risk area, right?”

Hollywood has done a lot to condition our psyche with respect to when to feel threatened. Dark alleys, ominous street corners in vacated sections of large cities is where all the nefarious action takes place on screen. Swelling music right before the attack is also a great cue. Sadly,

real life does not offer us such a simple formula to consider…Darien, Greenwich, Wilton, Stamford or Norwalk have none of those risks, right? Perhaps not.

What is real, however, is that all residents of these seemingly safe communities, leave those communities at some point for work, college, vacations or business travel. Cos Cob and Noroton Heights, for example, will probably never be hotbeds of criminal activity, but as college seniors go away to college, holiday seasons bring day trips to NYC, and business travel potentially takes you to all points on the globe, the ability to feel safe when confronted by the unexpected or the unsavory will be comforting.

I do not believe in paranoid notions of the “boogie man” being around any corner, but I do believe that knowing what I know has enabled me to walk in any city or be surrounded by “uncomfortable/threatening” elements, and still feel confident that I can protect myself. This sense of peace if priceless.

TECHNIQUE vs. SPEED

One of the greatest difficulties I see students of self defense contend with, is their misplaced need to demonstrate speed in techniques they have just started to learn.
As everybody knows who has ever trained, watching your instructor perform a self defense maneuver, a ‘kata’, or any technique in class makes you, the student, hungry to be as quick, balanced and effective as the demonstration performed. The problem, of course, is that you are watching someone perform a

physical maneuver/routine that has been repeated thousands of times through practice. The ability for an instructor to showcase precision, balance and speed comes with the muscle memory of having de-constructed that same move into its various piece parts and working each step through endless drills.

The fact of the matter is that the body needs to have repetition to fully commit itself to not just the motion of a technique, but also to its rhythm. Let us consider the example of a standard jab/cross/hook (1-2-3 combination). It is easy to throw these three punches with speed if you do not concern yourself with proper form. The ability to have speed, power and balance requires that the technique be launched from a proper stance, have a full commitment of hip rotation and utilize proper footwork, not to mention the many aspects of the wrist, elbow and shoulder alignment that ensure proper delivery of each individual strike. So how do you take all these considerations into account and still showcase fists of fury like Bruce Lee?

The answer comes from breaking each individual strike into its “beginning, middle and end” positions. Let’s start with the jab…

Where does the jab actually start its journey from?
How does the lead foot move/pivot in the delivery of the punch?
What is the lead hip doing while it is delivering the punch?
How does the the lead hand rotate as it connects with the target?
What knuckles are you, in fact, hitting with?
Where do you bring that hand after it has hit its target?
Down what path do you bring it back to your starting point?
My goal in listing these varying points is to highlight that when we, as students, rush our techniques so that we can be “fast”, we bypass all these (and other) considerations. The end result is usually a jab that is off-balanced, lacking in real snap while exposing us to counter strikes due to poor defense.
As we apply the same deconstruction to the cross and the hook punch, we realize that there are a lot of body mechanics involved in the delivery of a simple 1-2-3 combination.
The way to practice these strikes is to work them extremely slowly. Audit your body during each phase, determine if your feet are in the correct position, if you are fully using your hips, if you are pivoting your feet, if your elbows sticking out or straight, etc. Each discreet punch has to have a solid foundation in its delivery, if you have any hopes of making a 1-2-3 combination flow smoothly. Once you have achieved the correct technique for each punch, you have to then put them together.

Now, the concept is to have these punches flow as one technique as opposed to threedistinct punches. Here is where you have to have the rhythm of the combination in your mind. You have to hear the beat in your head and then marry that beat to the cadence of your strikes. Only after you can deliver a consistent rhythm (as my boxing coach would say, “connect the dots”) you can start to focus on increasing hand speed. Truly a lot to consider, but that is why boxing is called the “sweet science”.

It is easy to forget when we watch Hollywood movies, that many times fight sequences are actually sped up to increase the “wow factor”. Consider Keanu Reeves in “The Matrix”. His sensational kung fu was choreographed and then rehearsed for literally hours at a time to ensure that all the moves were smooth and elegant. Once the scenes were filmed they were then, in turn, sped up by the Director. The same can be said for Matt Damon’s fight sequences in the Jason Bourne movies. My point is, speed as presented in the movies is not a real reflection of how natural combatants move and flow, yet we all try to match Hollywood speed when we enter our training environment.

If speed is what you are hoping to achieve, remember that it begins with mastery of each component of a technique. Mastery of each and every component happens through repetition. After you have achieved mastery, you then connect the techniques to form a combination. At this point your goal is to achieve rhythm and flow through repeating these combinations to the point of achieving muscle memory. After you have completed all the repetitions of all the combinations, you find that your body is finally able to perform at speeds approaching that of the demonstration you watched. It can seem like a long road, but this formula works as every instructor you ever watch can tell you.

Don’t Fight Angry

For my readers who follow mixed martial arts (MMA), there was a fight recently for the interim UFC welterweight title between Nick Diaz and Carlos Condit which caused quite a controversy. The fight went a full five rounds and the decision was unanimous for Carlos Condit. The reason for the controversy is that Condit would not deviate from his strategy of fighting Diaz, no matter how many times Diaz called him out or attempted to bully him.

For die-hard Diaz fans, Carlos Condit did not appear to engage in the fight, was often times back pedaling and only threw sparodic counter punches and kicks. Diaz was clearly the aggressor, showed ring control and forced the action throughout.
For Condit fans, they watched their fighter effectively stay on a game plan that did not allow him to be backed into a corner or get into a slugfest with a powerful and accurate striker. He focused his attacks on the legs and never let Diaz derail his plan with verbal challenges and humiliation tactics. His precision striking and effective movement allowed him to strike Diaz repeatedly while staying just outside Diaz’ range.
As the fight continued, Diaz taunted Condit’s bravery, skills and manhood. Diaz lowered his own hands in an attempt to show Condit that he could not hit him if he tried…anything to get Condit angry enough to come off his game plan and engage in a more direct exchange of blows. Diaz was just trying to get in Condit’s head, but was never successful. That is exactly why Condit won. This is exactly the area I want to discuss in today’s blog…

So how does this battle translate into a self-defense blog? None of us are scheduled to fight in the ring/octagon any time soon, right?

The lesson to be learned is that once you have determined that there is an attacker in front of you and you have no alternatives but to actually engage in a physical battle, you must focus your energy, mind and game plan on the quickest and most effective means of winning the fight. The way to do that is to keep your focus on your attacker, not yourself. By that, I mean do not allow yourself to become distracted with fear or anger. If your mind starts to drift towards how angry you are that this jerk has forced this situation, or if you start to fear how large this attacker is and become focused on how much power he might have, you are effectively in your own head and not in the fight . The only way to keep yourself in the fight, is to be focused on your targets, your attacker’s movements and your own defenses. Replaying the incident that got you to this moment or reflecting on how ominous your attacker looks is only going to distract you and make you slower to respond at key moments in the fight.

Consider the following fact of how being in your head slows down something you can normally do fairly easily:

As you drive your car to a destination that is very familiar to you (home/work/RR station, etc), you have to react to traffic around you. As other cars make turns, slow down, merge, etc., you have to adjust your speed and car’s position on the road. As you get to controlled intersections, you have to stop or slow down accordingly. It is safe to say, therefore, that the way you need to focus on an attacker’s offense and defense and adjust your body’s orientation in a battle, is very similar to your focus on traffic patterns and street signs while driving. Now consider what happens when you’ve just had an upsetting conversation/situation play out before/while you are driving. Your mind starts replaying the unpleasantness and your focus is anywhere but on the traffic. Suddenly you miss your turns, run a stop sign or worse, get into a fender bender. Why? You were driving on autopilot and let your mind wander onto the anger or upset of the prior situation. Imagine what happens to you in a fight, where your attacker is actively attempting to hurt you, if you let your mind go off track and your focus is on your anger or fear (e.g., yourself)…you will miss openings to strike and leave yourself exposed to attack.

Said another way, your goal in a fight is to hit your attacker often while receiving as little punishment as possible. The best way to achieve this is to have all your energies and focus on the actual battle at hand…the mind should flow from seeing an opening to throwing a combative to hit that opening, from seeing an inbound strike to blocking that strike with the most available limb. If your mind is anywhere else but in the fight, then you will miss these small windows in time and therefore fail to strike or, conversely, get hit. The Japanese term for mindless thought, where all your energies and tactics flow is called “mushin”. It is the goal of all self defense students to practice their defenses and attacks enough that upon confrontation by an attacker, and with proper focus on the situation, you will flow and finish the engagement with mindless and almost effortless reaction.

It is my opinion that this is precisely how Carlos Condit won the fight. No amount of insults, bullying or humiliation tactics from Nick Diaz was going to take his focus off his plan. He launched countermeasures brilliantly and beat Diaz to the punch 8 out of 10 times. At the end of the fight Nick Diaz’ face was pretty beat up, while Carlos Condit’s was practically untouched. Diaz’ fans can call Condit whatever they want, but at the end of the day, the only recognized winner was the guy who stayed on plan and wouldn’t get rattled.