Archive for the Commentary Category

When Congress Was Armed

Posted in Commentary, Masters and History with tags , , , , , on January 12, 2011 by bigstickcombat

Old School Congress

When Congress Was Armed and Dangerous is a surprising, informative article that sheds light on the way the American congress really was.

In the rough-and-tumble Congress of the 1830s, 1840s and 1850s, politicians regularly wore weapons on the House and Senate floors, and sometimes used them.

During one 1836 melee in the House, a witness observed representatives with “pistols in hand.” In a committee hearing that same year, one House member became so enraged at the testimony of a witness that he reached for his gun; when the terrified witness refused to return, he was brought before the House on a charge of contempt.

Perhaps most dramatic of all, during a debate in 1850, Senator Henry Foote of Mississippi pulled a pistol on Senator Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri. (Someone eventually took it from his hand.) Foote had decided in advance that if he felt threatened, he would grab his gun and run for the aisle in the hope that stray shots wouldn’t hit bystanders.

Most famously, in 1856, Representative Preston Brooks of South Carolina caned Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts on the Senate floor so brutally that Sumner had to be virtually carried from the chamber — and did not retake his seat for three years. Clearly, wielded with brute force, a cane could be a potent weapon.

By the 1850s, violence was common in Washington. Not long after Sumner’s caning, a magazine told the story of a Michigan judge who traveled by train to the nation’s capital: “As he entered the main hall of the depot, he saw a man engaged in caning another ferociously, all over the room. ‘When I saw this,’ says the judge, ‘I knew I was in Washington.’”

In Congress, violence was often deployed strategically. Representatives and senators who were willing to back up their words with their weapons had an advantage, particularly in the debate over slavery. Generally speaking, Northerners were least likely to be armed, and thus most likely to back down. Congressional bullies pressed their advantage, using threats and violence to steer debate, silence opposition and influence votes.

In 1842, Representative Thomas Arnold of Tennessee, a member of the Whig Party, learned the hard way that these bullies meant business. After he reprimanded a pro-slavery member of his own party, two Southern Democrats stalked toward him, at least one of whom was armed with a bowie knife — a 6- to 12-inch blade often worn strapped to the back. Calling Arnold a “damned coward,” his angry colleagues threatened to cut his throat “from ear to ear.” But Arnold wasn’t a man to back down. Ten years earlier, he had subdued an armed assassin on the Capitol steps.

As alarming as these outbursts were, until the 1840s, reporters played them down, in part to avoid becoming embroiled in fights themselves. (A good many reporters received beatings from outraged congressmen; one nearly had his finger bitten off.) So Americans knew relatively little of congressional violence.

Congressman Lincoln Davis Decides to Upgrade from a .38 Special Snubbie

As a practitioner of the big stick, I was especially interested by the comment, “Clearly, wielded with brute force, a cane could be a potent weapon.”

Of course I am not condoning threats and violence over political (or other) disagreements, but it is enlightening to compare and contrast the bold men of the past with the mealy-mouth representatives of today:

Senate Sergeant at Arms Terrance Gainer confirmed on ABC’s Good Morning America this morning that threats to congressmen increased from 2009 to 2010, but he doesn’t believe more members carrying guns is the answer. “I’ve been a policeman for 42 years, and I don’t think introducing more guns to the situation is helpful,” he said. “I think we should leave the law enforcement and security to those professionals.”

Let us ignore for the moment that many congressmen are wealthy, and can afford to live in gated communities and leave only with their own armed bodyguards. In New York, which has some of the nation’s most repressive gun laws, wealthy residents could hire off-duty cops, who were the few people in town who could legally carry guns. (William F. Buckley Jr. was one of a handful to get a legally issued gun permit, and he was hardly a taco truck driver.) So the wealthy were protected, the cops had guns and extra cash, and who cared about some poor guy in Harlem trying to get home at night?

So here we have the same tired advice: don’t arm yourself; don’t fight back, just get raped; don’t carry a gun or a knife, carry a whistle and yell “Fire!” Leave it to the professionals, who are in no way responsible for preventing you from being victimized. Never mind that every hero at the scene of the Tucson massacre was not a professional (God bless them), but an amateur.

No congressman, nor any citizen, should have to live in fear. Denying gun and speech rights is not the solution to the acts of a madman.

Congresswoman Giffords–Wishing her the best.

 

 

Does the X Block Work?

Posted in Commentary, Princples and Theory, Real Life Combat with tags , , , , on January 9, 2011 by bigstickcombat

The Oft Maligned X Block

Reader James posted the following,

In Dagger Disarms part 1 they show only two blocks that “should never” be done in the real world. Note that they show only one photo for each and do not show or are aware of the follow through of these techniques they say not to do. The X-block in Jujutsu is a soft block, it does not hold the arm there but merely receives the arm and then moves it to the side as the force is coming down.

You see, in the Filipino martial arts, the X block has got a bad rap, probably even worse than that of the maligned judo chop. I think the Dan Inosanto Filipino Martial Arts book helped to bury the X block. The average Filipino martial artist can show you a dozen counters to the X block, especially when used against a knife.

Years ago in the Philippines I met Perry Gamsby, an Australian who had moved to the PI. He was telling me how on his first day on the job as a security guard, he ended up chasing a thief through the market. The thief suddenly whirled, drew a large knife, and thrust it up toward Perry’s stomach.

“I blocked the knife with an X block,” Perry told me with a laugh. “The one they tell you never works.”

Now one possibility is that the story isn’t true, but I believe it. But how do we explain the fact that an X block, which isn’t supposed to work, did in fact stop a knife attack?

I think the reason may be that when we train we are fencing. When I have the training knife, I am light on my feet. I may feint, withdraw, then leap back in to “cut” your extended arm. As trained fighters we are both doing this sort of strategy. We are cagey, tactical, mobile, elusive.

X Block: Fact or Fiction?

But what happens when I see someone brutally attacking my mother and there is a knife in my hand? Tactics, feinting, double thrusts, evasion, etc., all go out the window. I am not thinking of counter moves. I now have what Amo Guro Blackgrave refers to as “intent.” The person in this frame of mind (enraged kill) is stronger, but also, his moves are more committed, and although they are more likely to be fatal, they may also be easier to counter.

How many people say the knife can’t be countered bare-handed? I certainly advise against it, because we’ve all seen how poorly real counter-knife scenarios go down in training. Yet we also know that there are people who have survived knife attacks bare-handed, so it can be done. Maybe the reason for the seeming contradiction is the difference between dueling in training and intent-to-kill on the streets.

Real Life Combat: Staff vs. Hammer

Posted in Commentary, Real Life Combat, Videos with tags , , on January 3, 2011 by bigstickcombat

Robber (on left) wields stick in bat grip. The clerk has a hammer.

A robber with a staff-length stick can be seen robbing a store here. My estimate is that the stick is a least 6 feet long.

The clerk counters with a hammer, but unfortunately, he’s totally ineffective.

A couple of points:

1)  While bat grip can be very powerful, the staff is too long to wield it effectively with bat grip (i.e., gripping the staff with both hands at one end like a baseball bat).

Tapado uses a short staff that is about 4 feet in length. I feel this is the maximum length for effective use of bat grip. The problem for the robber is that the clerk is well outside his reaction range –in other words, by the time the robber can deliver the end of the stick to the target, the clerk has plenty of time to evade.

The clerk doesn’t even have to evade the strike completely: Simply by moving in two feet, he is well inside the power zone at the tip of the stick. The length of the stick is simply too slow for bat grip.

My thinking in Big Stick Combat is to shorten the striking radius. My intent is to hit as hard as the 4 foot short staff, while moving in a tighter radius and thereby being able to blast someone with the end of the stick before he can see it coming and counter.

The robber needs to change his grip –say to the Dragon Pole method, in order to tighten his striking radius and pull off multiple strike combinations.

2)  I don’t know why the clerk raises the hammer. Perhaps it is a threatening gesture. Raising the hammer puts stress on his arm. He might as well just rest the hammer on his shoulder.

Every time the robber moves to strike, the clerk snaps the hammer forward –What the #@$!? The correct move is either forward, to get inside the stick’s power zone, or upward to block or parry –possibly both.

3)  As the robber starts to climb over the counter, the clerk moves to go over the counter and out the door at the other end. This is a smart chess move. If the clerk leaves, the robber may not be able to get the money.

4)  The clerk’s opportunity is at 1:03, when the robber clambers over the counter. At that point he can’t strike with the stick/staff, and is crouched, only with his head potentially right in front of a hammer. This is the point for the clerk to burst forward and blast the robber.

5)  The robber and clerk are toe-to-toe. At this point the clerk with the hammer should totally blast him. This is part of my reasoning for opting for the shorter (36 inch) stick –I have better options in close if it comes to that. Up close, the hammer will hit harder and tighter than the 6 foot staff.

Unfortunately, the clerk is just some guy without any training or skill trying to do his best in the circumstances. Training doesn’t make you immortal, but you certainly ought to be able to crush a guy with a 6 foot staff in this situation.

Candy Canes as Weapons?

Posted in Commentary with tags , , on December 22, 2010 by bigstickcombat

Earlier I wrote about about a man who defeated a drunken knife-wielder by grabbing a two-foot plastic candy cane ornament.

 

Members of the Christmas Sweater Club

In today’s story, a group of high school guys who call themselves the “Christmas Sweater Club” handed out the two-inch, individually wrapped candy canes before school. Something had to be done!

Now all 10 of them are in trouble because of what they did at their school.

“They said, ‘maliciously maim students with the intent to injure.’ And I don’t think any of us here intentionally meant to injure anyone, or did,” said Zakk Rhine, a junior at Battlefield High School.

The boys say they were just tossing small two-inch candy canes to fellow students as they entered school. The ones in plastic wrap that are so small they often break apart.

Skylar Torbett, also a junior, said administrators told him, “They said the candy canes are weapons because you can sharpen them with your mouth and stab people with them.” He said neither he nor any of their friend did that.

Next thing they knew, they were all being punished with detention and at least two hours of cleaning. Their disciplinary notices say nothing about malicious wounding but about littering and creating a disturbance.

I see this as part of a trend, that is much more evident in Britain: as crime goes up and becomes more brutal, politically correct authorities ignore real problems and crack down 

Look Out! He's Got a Knife!

on insignificant nonsense. At a time in Britain where drunken hooligans assault innocent people, a disabled man was prosecuted for having a Swiss army knife in the glove box of his car.

It was that way when I was in California. While gangs were killing kids on tricycles in drive-by shootings, the state made it a felony to own a pair of nunchakus. Now that the family man black belt or even the wannabe “Ninja Bob” can’t get his hands on a pair of nuchakus, the state is safe!

This also points to the futility of trying to create a weaponless society. I recently saw an episode of “Raw: Lockup,” the TV prison documentary, in which an inmate in the SHU unit of Pelican Bay –the state’s highest security facility– made a knife that looked like a Fairbairn-Sykes dagger. I was amazed by its size and quality. He had used a nail cutter to cut out a knife blank from the steel in his door!

If candy canes are weapons (and they could be), then you’d better start confiscating pencils, pens, scissors, and rulers.

The Candy Cane Shank

Unfortunately, it is often easier to crack down on law-abiding people who won’t resist than to confront the violent thugs who are the real source of trouble. I guarantee I could go into that school and find students who are far more deserving of a crackdown than the Christmas Sweater Club, but no one in the sweater club is going to sock you in the mouth if you get in their faces.

Real Life Combat: Jewelry Store Shootout

Posted in Commentary, Real Life Combat with tags , , on December 20, 2010 by bigstickcombat

A jewelry store owner recently defended himself and his wife:

In the back room of a humble jewelry store and pawn shop in Houston’s East End Thursday afternoon, a gunman tied Eva Castillo’s wrists tightly — too tightly. She complained of the pain, so he loosened the bindings. Then Castillo’s husband was ordered at gunpoint to put his hands behind his back.

But Ramon Castillo had a surprise for the gunman and two cohorts, who had announced they were robbing the business.

Castillo pulled a pistol from his waistband and shot the gunman dead. Then he grabbed a shotgun from his office and engaged in a shootout with the other two armed robbers.

When it was over, all three robbers were dead — and Castillo, though shot at least three times, was still standing, having successfully defended what was rightfully his.

It was the third time his shop, Castillo’s Jewelry at 4502 Canal at Super Street, had been robbed since it opened 22 years ago, East End residents said.

Castillo, 52, apparently did not immediately realize he had been shot, officers said. He walked outside the store and looked around for more gunmen, then went back inside the business, realized he was wounded and untied his 48-year-old wife, who was unharmed, said Houston Police Department homicide investigator M.F. “Fil” Waters.

Investigators said so many shots were fired inside the jewelry shop in a two- or three-minute span that they could not estimate the number of rounds. “We’ve got bullet fragments all over the place, casings all over the place, shotgun slugs all over the place, so it’s really hard to determine at this point how many rounds were actually fired – but quite a few,” Waters said.

They said Castillo protects his store like a fortress, using an electronic door to buzz customers in and out. Customers are locked inside the store until they leave. Numerous video cameras are inside. “He’s done everything he can do to secure his business,” Waters said.

“Somebody would have to be stupid to come rob the place because of the way it’s set up,” said a 30-year-old East End resident who would not give his name. “Everybody in the neighborhood knows how it is – everybody knows once you get in, he has to let you out. When you walk in, he buzzes you in, and when you walk out, he has to buzz you out.”

Lessons:

1) Note that all of the non-violent measures (buzzers, bars, video cameras, etc.) were not enough. Keep this in mind. You’re constantly being told to “Be alert,” to report suspicious activity, to lock your doors, and so on, which are not necessarily bad ideas, but somehow arming yourself is never mentioned.

2) He did not allow himself to be tied up. Had he and his wife been tied up, the article might have been about the discovery of two bound bodies at a pawn shop.

3) He had a big gun. How does a guy defeat 3 men armed with pistols (outside of an action movie)? He had a shotgun. I’ve never owned a shotgun, but I’ve begun to consider it.

4) In the heat of the moment, you may not realize the extent of your injuries. I’m a believer in being very watchful for a knife. It is too easy to be stabbed and cut without realizing it.

To Punch or Not to Punch?

Posted in Commentary, Resources and Product Reviews with tags , , , on December 19, 2010 by bigstickcombat

Devastated by a Single "Jersey Shore" Punch

In the discussion on Jeet Kune Do, Dan Inosanto, Ted Wong, Teri Tom and the straight punch, reader Miguel Gutierrez of GEACOM S.O.U.T. reminds me of an important point –punching may not be the most effective street technique.

Miguel explains that after fracturing his hand in a street altercation, his talks with bouncers and others who had fought in real life revealed that hand injuries are more common than many people realize. His answer is to go to the WWII era combatives, and the methods found in classics like “Kill or Be Killed,” which rely less on punching.

Even though in real life people do get knocked out on the street with punches, like in the “One Shot” Jersey Shore episode, it is still a valid question: Are punches valid on the street? Does punching pose as serious a risk to the puncher as to the person being hit?

 

Is punching better suited to the ring than the street? Is the effectiveness of boxing as a style

Old School Hand Conditioning

dependent upon some type of hand protection? This may be why so many of the classical styles emphasized hand/fist conditioning, like the makiwara board.

In downtown Cebu City I train in a small gym. The equipment is basic and much of it is handmade. There is a punching bag, but it’s harder than a rock. I wrap my fists, but I still have to go easy on my punches because it’s too easy to injure my knuckles. However, I find I can do my rear elbow shot  repeatedly, full force, without problems. The lesson for me is that if it comes down to combat on the street and I am trying to shut someone down via blunt force trauma to the skull, an elbow is a better choice than a fist.

Let me raise an idea that might not have occurred to you. As I write this, there is snow on the ground, and it is not out of place for a person to wear gloves. Why not buy gloves that enable you to hit harder?

Gloves with Hard Knuckle Protectors

For instance, at Amazon, you can buy Kevlar gloves with hard knuckle protectors. With these, you could punch freely with less worry about injuring your hand. You can also buy cut -resistant gloves. I also saw a protective, cut-resistant sleeve. Citizens can buy knife and bullet proof jackets and clothing.

Should these items be on your Christmas wish list?

Jeet Kune Do: Getting Down to the Essence

Posted in American Arts, Commentary, Princples and Theory with tags , , , , , , , on December 15, 2010 by bigstickcombat

What Does the Referee Position Have to Do with Jeet Kune Do?

I have talked earlier of wanting to see how GM Dan Inosanto boils down all that he has learned. Some have said that there is too much knowledge, it can’t be done. Indeed, if you look at all of the martial arts information available today, plus the ever-increasing goal of martial artists to be well-rounded in all phases of combat, then it all seems staggering.

That’s why so many styles are a laundry list as long as a Manhattan telephone directory of all of their styles and techniques. But too many styles are useless. There is a point at which too much technique becomes counterproductive.

Sure, it’s great for the owner of the school, because he’s got 15 years of material, and the checks keep rolling in. Student retention is high because there’s always something new, and there are plenty of “advanced,” “secret,” “black belt,” techniques that are being dangled just beyond the student’s nose, which he can get to with just 7 more years of monthly dues, mat fees, membership fees, belt fees, test fees, etc.

My teacher GM Estalilla of Kabaroan, puts it this way. “Suppose the student is going off to battle tomorrow. What would you teach?”

Let us look at the art of freestyle, high school/collegiate wrestling. There are literally hundreds of techniques. How could you sort it all out? How could you teach the essence in just a day or two? (I’m not talking mastery, but an introduction to the essentials, coupled with techniques a student could learn today and use in the parking lot on his way out if attacked.)

First of all, get rid of the referee’s position. In wrestling when the wrestlers go off the mat, they return and one wrestler is on all fours, with the other in a dominant position. We can calculate that the referee’s position is unlikely to happen in real life. Eliminating the referee’s position eliminates dozens of techniques, such as a sitout, switch, standup, etc., and the takedowns of the opponent on all fours.

Someone could argue, “Wait, but what if I get pushed down to all fours and the opponent is above me…” Let’s stick to what is likely. Let’s look for the high percentage moves and train those.

Get rid of pinning moves. On the street, our goal is not pinning. Furthermore, I don’t want to be on the ground. This eliminates the cradle, the tilt, the grapevine, Iowa ride, etc. If need be, I can use a choke or a lock in this position. 

No. I don't want to be on the ground. My goal is not to pin anybody. On the street I don't get points.

Next, look at the remaining wrestling moves. Which ones can be used if I hold a weapon, like a knife? Which ones lead into, or follow up from, a strike? Which would work against an armed opponent?

Which are the most effective? What are the techniques that champion wrestlers master, and use to help them dominate opponents?

With this sort of thinking, I think I can boil wrestling down to about 7 techniques. Am I going to beat a champion wrestler? No. (At least not at wrestling, that’s what the backup blade is for.)

Will everyone agree with me as to the 7 essential techniques? No. But at least we are now thinking about what is vital, what is the essence.

Nobody knows where Bruce Lee was going with Jeet Kune Do and grappling, but I have to think this was where he was headed: How can I strip it down, and strip the extras away, so that I get down to the most powerful, effective, direct, and essential techniques?