Archive for the Princples and Theory Category

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.

The Flashlight and the Gun

Posted in Princples and Theory, Technique, Weapons with tags , , , , , , on January 6, 2011 by bigstickcombat

If you own a gun, a flashlight isn’t necessarily something you can dismiss now that you’ve got real 

Nebo Redline Tactical Flashlight

firepower. You see, a cardinal rule of self-defense shooting is : NEVER SHOOT ANYTHING YOU HAVE NOT CLEARLY IDENTIFIED.

Violation of this simple rule causes countless tragedies that are totally unnecessary. One Monday morning at work we got the call for an early, unscheduled faculty meeting. This is never good, because it almost always means something bad has happened over the weekend. In this case, the fathers of two students had gone deer hunting over the weekend. One hunter shot at movement in the brush, which he thought was a deer. Tragically, he had shot his friend to death.

Imagine living with the burden of having shot your own friend to death. What is so sad is that this was completely avoidable.

Now suppose that you get up one night, grab your gun, and see an ominous silhouette in the shadows of the kitchen, so you shoot. Only then do you discover it is your daughter coming in late from a party, the wife who couldn’t sleep and decided to take some medicine, or the son who was hungry and raided the fridge.

If you have a gun in your home, here is a simple and life-saving rule: NOBODY MOVES IN THE HOUSE WITHOUT TURNING ON A LIGHT. This means that anyone who gets up to go to the bathroom or fridge, who decides to check on the dog, who comes in late from a party, etc., turns on a light at the earliest opportunity and turns on lights wherever he or she goes.

Your flashlight now becomes critical to identifying threats and potential targets. There are several methods for wielding a flashlight and a pistol at the same time.

The Harries Method

The Chapman Method

The Rogers Method. In one variation, the fingers hold the flshlight like a cigar. The purpose of this grip is to enable you to get several extra fingers on the pistol grip.

The Modified FBI Method. The idea is to hold the light off center, so anyone who aims at the light will likely miss you


The Neck Position. This is a modified FBI. Note the hand is ready to strike, and there is cover at the head and neck.

(These pictures were found here, where you can go for further info.)

The Essence: Learn a Double Leg

Posted in Princples and Theory, Technique with tags , , on December 17, 2010 by bigstickcombat

Reader Tommy outlines what he regards as a minimalist, essential curriculum. Keep in mind that

Note the Penetration and Forward Drive

most of us work and have lives that preclude being in the gym 6 hours a day and conditioning for another 4 hours.

Also, the more techniques you have, the greater the likelihood that you’re going to have decision paralysis. “He’s punching! I’ll block, uh, parry…no, I’ll just evade, then, –no, scratch that, a side kick, or maybe a round kick…” BLAM!

The fewer and more straightforward the options, the greater your odds of success. I think that has been part of the reason for the black belt who gets demolished on the street: one guy is thinking side step, block, parry, punch, knife hand, round kick, snap front kick, rising block, while the other guy is thinking “right fist to face, repeatedly.” Who is going to suffer decision paralysis?

Here is Tommy’s outline:

If your training time is limited it looks like this:

1. Train your hands (a good stance, cover, and straight punches with good footwork-basically boxing) and maybe one or two low-line kicks that are non-telegraphic and high %.

2. Do some in close work (e.g. clinching, elbows, knees, head-butts, etc) . Learn to fight on the inside without having to go to the ground.

3. Learn to defend a shoot/ takedown. Keep it on your feet.

4. Learn to get back to your feet as quickly as possible, using any means necessary. The longer you stay on the ground the more likely you are to die.

Once you have all this down pretty solidly (~ 1000 rounds of sparring) then you can add in a few little extras like chokes, locks, throws, whatever…

I think this is a good outline of a curriculum.

What's Wrong with This Picture? Are You Really Learning to Defend Against a Double Leg?

One of the essential techniques to learn is the double leg takedown. Not so much so you can use it, but so you learn how to defend against it. Also when you or your partner is throwing a double leg, you want to make certain you’re defending against a good double leg, not some go-through-the-motions tackle so that you can delude yourself into thinking you’ve got a solid defense.

Tito Ortiz teaches the double leg takedown here.

The “Rebel Grandmaster” teaches a double leg takedown defense here. Hmmm. Something seems a little off.

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?

Adapting to Injury

Posted in Commentary, Princples and Theory with tags , , on November 22, 2010 by bigstickcombat

In talking with my nephew James I was impressed by how he had reacted to injury, not by sitting on the sidelines, but by adapting his technique and strategy. As a result, he was able to compete, and win, at a championship level.

For example:

1) He tears a ligament in his foot and wears an ankle brace. Because he can’t shoot (go for leg tackles) he worked throws and upper body techniques.

2) He breaks a bone in his foot, which requires a screw to fix. In his first tournament back, he breaks the screw. He faces similar problems as those above, so he works upper body technique.

3) He pulls a hamstring. He can shoot, but he can’t leg ride (wrap his leg around the opponent’s leg or body). So he does takedowns and lets opponents go because he can’t really pursue his end game technique.

As you know, I am a believer in the long stick wielded with two hands, but if I lost the use of one hand, I would have to adjust. I might even have to train in a different style completely.

How would you adjust if you temporarily (say, for a year)…

–lost the use of an arm?

–lost the use of a leg?

–lost your sight?

–lost your sense of balance?

What would you do if these changes were permanent?

This is a problem with the “perfect” style; people are not only different, but they change, whether due to injury, illness, or age. Suppose you are doing Tae Kwon Do, excelling at high kicks, but you injure your knees. Doing Tae Kwon Do as you knew it is no longer an option.

Nothing in life is permanent. The art that you do in your twenties may no longer be a good fit for you in your fifties.

James was smart enough and honest enough to realize that the techniques that had got him to where he was just weren’t going to work with his injuries, and so he changed. You should be prepared to do the same.

Which Has the Best Kick: Savate or Muay Thai?

Posted in Commentary, Princples and Theory with tags , , , on November 13, 2010 by bigstickcombat


In my post on the shoe as a weapon, I began thinking about kicking. If you read this blog you know that I am a believer in the effectiveness of Thai boxing as taught to me by my teachers, Khru Paul Metayo and Khru Ike Villaflores 0f Dumaguete, Philippines. I practice and prefer the Thai round kick (Seen here.)

But then I started to think, “To what extent does a person’s footwear influence kicking?”

The Japanese kick with the ball of the foot, because in the traditional arts Japanese were often barefooted. Kicking with the ball of the foot isn’t much of an option when you’re wearing rigid shoes.

The word “savate,” in fact comes from the word “old shoe.” Wikipedia states that “Savate is perhaps the only style of kickboxing in which the fighters habitually wear shoes.” Savate kicks (the fouetté, or “whip”) use the toe as a point of contact.

Someone explained that the difference between Muay Thai and Savate is that Muay Thai kicks are like using a bat. In Thai boxing the long shin bone is the striking surface and hits like a baseball bat. In Savate, the kicks are like a hammer, where the foot (which is wearing a shoe or boot) hits like the weighted end of a hammer.

Savate Techniques

I always wear either slip-on shoes, like tasseled loafers to work, or tennis shoes. With this footwear, the Thai roundhouse with the shin makes sense. Kicking with the toes doesn’t make much sense with a thin leather shoe.

The only time in my life when I’ve worn boots was when I took a motorcycle class and was required to wear over-the-ankle boots. I wasn’t used to the weight of the boots and the immobility/inflexibility of my ankles. With thses boots, a Savate kick with the toe might very well be the most effective kick. For the person who works on the docks and wears steel-toed boots or rides a motorcycle and wears heavy boots, the toe kick makes sense, and a kick with a heavy boot to the head can kill a man.

It’s easy to get caught up in the whose-style-is-better debates, but the truth is that so much depends on your individual circumstances. The best fighting art is based on the life you live, the clothes you wear, and the environments you find yourself in. And the best kick depends on the type of shoe you’re wearing.

Ball-of-the-Foot Kick with These?

Sayoc Kali and Stick Grappling

Posted in Other Stick Methods, Princples and Theory, Resources and Product Reviews with tags , , , on October 24, 2010 by bigstickcombat

The folks at Sayoc Kali have a DVD on stick grappling available here.

The sales copy makes several thought-provoking points, inspired by heavy contact sparring:

1) Rattan Lacks Stopping Power

It takes several HARD, CLEAN shots to the head before one gets KOd by a light rattan stick. Especially, if the opponent doesn’t want to get hit. That’s a FACT. The first shot can end the fight due to a cut or just unwillingness (tolerance) to take the pain, but there were no one shot KOs from a solo stick shot. Some fights went several shots before submission, no KOs. A stick has as much power as a kick or punch – the difference is that the stick doesn’t break like a hand would from impact, but it does NOT hit the head/jaw at the angles a limb shot can induce a KO with.

2) Corto (Close) Range, Is the Most Deadly –to the Practitioner! Padding, Helmets, and Armor Have Concealed This Fact

“FACT: All things equal, the most dangerous stick striking zone is CORTO.
Many people train in corto range but are misinformed in the zoning realities of utilizing corto. Corto Range is the mid range in which full power impact strikes can be exchanged within the reactionary gap of your opponent. The myth is that one stays in and finishes their opponent by exchanging counter for counter strikes as they flow beautifully.

What pushes this myth along are people wearing headgear staying within the contact zone too long and receive TOO MANY impact shots to their head than they would like if it was real. So they stay in and get clocked. In a real fight between trained combatants, they will not engage the fight this way. All things change when you KNOW your own head can get hit. No one acts like a stick robot anymore. Once they get hit hard they submit or close. They do not trade shots at full power, because the body doesn’t work that way. You need to pad up to get that type of incorrect reaction from BOTH parties.”

3) Because of the Danger (i.e. Punishment) at Corto Range, Fighters Either Move In to Grappling Range or Out to Long (Largo) Range.

“Guess what happens? People stay at safer long or grappling range.

No one stays in the corto range.
Corto is the mutual aggressive space and can no longer guarantee you will see a shot coming in time to counter it.

However, after several shots to the hands or close calls to the head, the long range fighters realize there’s no advantage in staying out there. Conditioning and stamina become factors. If BOTH fighters stay at long range, there won’t get a KO, because it isn’t a blade. They merely get nicked here and there. Only when you get a fighter who can’t stand the hand hits anymore do you ever get a submission at long range (BOTH fighters staying outside). So they close to corto or grappling range.”

4) Corto Range Is Dangerous.

“The best reason to evade corto range, you are open to all the other limb strikes, take downs, and stick strikes at power arcs as well. The students reassess their timing and conditioned responses. So when two people good at corto range fight, the fastest way to win is to close by baiting corto and taking them down.

If the takedown fails you are BACK in corto range so do not try to stay in grappling mode and try again. Even if you think you are attempting another takedown… You cover/clear and escape to largo as FAST as possible. At any time you are in corto and you are NOT the one making the ONLY contact (before and after the strike) that means your tactic is flawed and you need to close or evade.

Body shifting is excellent for ONE counter as you make impact. If you do not make impact and maintain corto, the highest probability is that a stick fighter with grappling skills will gain guard, sweep or do a takedown. When one is swinging with power it is tougher to evade a takedown. When you reset the range away from corto, and the grappler attempts to do a takedown then THEY are in corto range.

Avoid the corto range unless you make the only impact strike, with equal corto skills you should flow to grappling or largo depending on how much better you are in those ranges against the other person.”

5) Smart Fighters Will Bait You (Feign a Strike, Typically High), to Enter and Grapple. If You Block and Strike, You Are Toast

“You HAVE to maintain PROPER RANGE to make the next shot count. The other guy KNOWs how to cover and CLOSE … FAST. They will come in swinging as well or at least make you respond to their attack… perhaps make you block before you counter. Enough time for them to enter your half beat timing and close. In Sayoc Kali it is called, “Keeping your opponent honest”.”