This is the first of hopefully many articles on a wide variety of subjects dealing with historical, modern and theatrical combat. I thought I’d start off with the subject of street defense and the combat knife.
The knife is a great equalizer. If Pee Wee Herman were to mix it up hand-to-hand with Hulk Hogan, chances are my money would be on blonde baldy. However, if Pee Wee had a knife, it’s now at least a 50-50 proposition.
Think about it logically. Knives are easily obtained and far cheaper than a firearm, and Canada’s laws make the legality of carrying a knife mostly a judgement-call rendered by a peace officer as to whether its presence represents a danger to the public. A knife, unlike a firearm, does not jam, misfire or run out of ammunition. Its easier to conceal, and can create tremendous body trauma if the right targets are struck. Its psychological effect is almost as great as a gun. It’s only disadvantage is its range, and even that is somewhat over-rated.
Staff Sergeant Darren Laur of the Victoria Police Department once conducted a study on knife attacks using 85 officers in a faux training scenario in which they were not told they’d be attacked with a knife. The results were startling: 72 were unaware they’d even been attacked until they were referred to the marks left by the practice knife on their uniforms. Only 3 actually identified the knife before they were attacked. And the RCMP, incidentally, get no knife defense training at ‘The Depot’ at all!
Yet another frightening statistic from the FBI indicates that while 10% of those receiving gunshot wounds die from their injuries, 30% of people receiving stab wounds die. Another dismal figure indicates if a person pulls a bladed weapon on you, there is a one in three chance you’ll be attacked with it.
Smaller knives are also easily concealed even when being employed. I myself once saw a man stabbed between the ribs with a 2-inch blade who was totally unaware he’d been struck, (fortunately, he received timely aid and lived). Many people can be stabbed without their knowledge, equating the strike with a punch. Its also a medical fact only 4 centimeters of blade are needed to penetrate the heart. The Roman historian Tacitus commented over 2000 years ago that it only requires two inches of steel to kill a man. When the Romans chose the Gladius Hispanica as their primary military bladed weapon, they did so based on a sophisticated knowledge of anatomy and the logical pragmatism of real battlefield experience.
So – scared yet? Prior to landing on Normandy beach, a colonel asked a private in his landing craft if he was scared. The private, not wanting to look cowardly before his commander answered no. The colonel thought a moment and replied “Really? If you had any brains, you would be.”
The point here is that there is no shame in apprehension for a logical reason. How you deal with your fear is what will make you a survivor.
First, the best way of winning any fight is to never get into one. Awareness is a key factor. How many of you have seen people wandering around with iPods in their ears, yakking on their cell or text-messaging under the delusion the world is actually interested in the fact they just had a ‘bitchin’ mocha-cappuccino at StarYuks? Most people are blissfully unaware of their own surroundings.
Now awareness and preparedness doesn’t mean paranoia. It simply acknowledges the fact there’s a world around you. The truly frightening thing is random violence is just that — random. Not all attacks are robberies on a dark and empty street. A dojo I’m associated with had an accomplished young student attacked and killed in broad daylight on a public street surrounded with witnesses in just such a random attack. In another case, a Victoria city Police officer was attacked without any warning on the public street by a demented assailant and almost killed.
So, what can one do to ameliorate such an attack? Firstly, expand your sensory awareness to a larger perimeter.
Watch people coming towards you. Do they appear to be focusing directly on you? Do they look away when you return eye contact. Do they appear to be coming towards you specifically — insomuch as they are changing direction or moving around people in an apparent attempt to stay bodily in line with you? If so, now is the time to either cross the street or perhaps go into a large store where you can disappear quickly, (not a small store where you’ll be trapped and hemmed in by shelves and products. Duck into Sears, not a 7-11.)
...when attacked in an alley...
Where are the person’s hands? Look closely at both hands; knives, especially short bladed weapons, can be palmed very handily with the point facing up and the blade held against the wrist or forearm.
Is there hand movement when the person is approaching suggestive of a blade being drawn? That is, has he reached under his jacket or behind his back or to his hip? Some knives such as buck knives or so-called ‘boot knives’ have dome-fastened snaps that either hold the weapon in place or have a holster flap. When worn upside down, the weapon can be palmed by undoing the snap with the thumb with no upwards motion of the hand indicating drawing it from the scabbard.
It’s also a good thing to check your “six” periodically by stopping and looking behind you. If you are at a bus stop, step into the shelter. This may seem to trap you, but it automatically prevents you from being attacked from the rear and at least one side. Barring that, wait with your back against a building.
Often, if you stop and stare down a suspected attacker, he may have second thoughts if you appear to have identified him as a threat and are now demonstrably ready for him. Unless he is deranged, most would-be attackers prefer to play upon, (indeed, count on), their victim’s fear. If their object is robbery, they often prefer not to engage in someone who looks like they’re going to fight back. You may even wish to move one of your hands under your jacket, at belt-level. (Never into a pocket where it can’t get out quickly) This can give the impression you are reaching for a weapon in preparation for the attack.
Just a caveat on the above; bluffing is usually never a good thing. Miming reaching for a weapon that isn’t there is a bit hollow when no weapon is presented. And always remember that once a weapon is drawn, you can’t bluff with it. If you’re not prepared to use a weapon, don’t carry one, period. It can even be taken from you and used against you.
You must also understand what I call “the magic distance.” Various practitioners attribute slightly different ranges, but I adhere to 17 feet. At this range, a 60 year-old in reasonable condition can close this distance in one second — the time it takes to say “one-one-thousand”. You need to measure off this distance and learn to eyeball it. You should never allow a potential attacker inside this range. This means adjusting the distance yourself. This implies being aware of what’s around you since you could easily be tripped up or hemmed in by pedestrians, or be endangered by heavy traffic if the street is your only alternative. Again, you must be constantly cognizant of your environment.
Easier said than done, but you should present yourself with confidence. Fear creates adrenaline and heightened awareness. Your body is kicking up into fight-or-flight mode. Either way, it’s a good thing. Embrace and channel it.
It’s easy to say you shouldn’t be places where you’re likely to get attacked, but that’s also easier said than done. First, a good many attacks occur in public in broad daylight surrounded by witnesses, (by the way, don’t count on help). However, sometimes circumstances conspire against you. I remember once after finishing filming in a downtown studio, waiting for a bus after midnight in an area habituated with drug users, dealers and others who were not one with the conventional space-time continuum.
I usually carry a shoulder bag on a short strap so it’s hard to grab and pull me with. Inside is a large pepper spray, and a steel jitte — a short (12 inch) martial arts weapon traditionally worn by police to disarm swordsmen. I had the bag open, the safety off the spray can and my right hand in the grip with my thumb on the trigger ready for instant use. The jitte, if properly employed, can easily break an arm, wrist or clavicle, (to say nothing of the skull), but as with all weapons, its dependent on its effective use. I prefer it to the collapsible baton for several reasons: first, I have had even high quality batons jam when opening, and another one broke on a strike. Finally, after dealing with a couple of solicitations, I decided the safest thing was to remove myself from the area and walk several blocks to a safer bus stop, which, had I not been trying to catch a bus quickly, would have been the smartest thing to do from the very beginning.
So, let’s just recap a few points. Awareness and preparation is not paranoia. Would you cross a street during rush hour without looking for traffic? Random violence notwithstanding, a lot of confrontation and potentially dangerous situations can be prevented by intelligent choices regarding your whereabouts at various times of the day and by expanding your awareness beyond your immediate personal space, and to recognize certain small details from a distance.
In our next article, we’ll talk a bit about actual fighting techniques and the tactics of street defence.