Thursday, February 05, 2009

Things That Go Stab in the Night

Silat is based on the blade. I might have mentioned that a time or twelve, but it is. There are limits to such weapons, of course. Taking a knife to a gun fight where the starting distance is any farther apart than a standard-sized pick-up truck is long? Not such a good idea.

As is taking a bare fist to a knife fight any closer than that.

It being a knife art, we spend a fair amount of time playing with sharps -- or rubberized sharps, so we don't kill each other with any frequency. Nobody wants to have to scrub the blood off Cotten's garage floor.

Most of the in-class training we have done with blades has been bare-handed against a short blade ("short" here meaning anything easily concealable upon one's person.) The reason for that is that we think it's the most likely event for which we can train. Somebody is close, they attack, and you just have time to realize there is a knife involved. (Yeah, yeah, in real attacks, often you don't get any warning, but in such cases, you are in even deeper shit. If somebody stands off a half mile away and pots you with their deer rifle, whaddya gonna do? Defense against total surprise goes to threat-recognition. You don't see it coming, how do you stop it?)

Also note that most of this close-range training falls into the Oh, Shit! category. You don't have a lot of time, and there aren't a lot of options.

We have also spent time working with longer blades, machete or short sword-length.

And lately, we have done several sessions on the knife-against-knife scenario. Yep, if you have time to pull a knife, you probably have time to run, but let's postulate the trapped-in-the-bathroom sequence, or you have the wife and kids and granny with you, just because, you know, it's not altogether unlikely that you might find running not an option.

It's a given that a silat student in our school will have a knife or three near to hand.

How much skill has all this training given me? Not much. Mostly, the realization that I really don't want to tangle with somebody waving at knife at my nuts. I might have to, and it's good to have some idea of something that might work, but given my druthers, I want to be elsewhere drinking a cold one and having fries with that.

This is especially true of somebody who knows what he is about with a pointy thing. If you are bare-handed and he is an expert? His only worry is whether he wants sirloin or T-bone. We believe generally -- and after fiddling with this stuff for a while, I certainly do -- that those guys who think they can just dance in and slap the knife out of Musashi's grip, or pass it back and forth like the Chinese ping-pong team before executing a perfect lock and disarm are, um ... mistaken. (We spell that h-a-m-b-u-r-g-e-r ...)

I have a knife, you don't, my advantage. My knife takes away a lot of your skill. I have all the tools you do, so I can hit or kick or elbow you, plus the knife. That's why armies don't fight empty-handed.

Even if we both have knives, it isn't going to be a picnic on a sunny May afternoon and the ants all stay home.

What it does is get us used to the idea of seeing a weapon incoming, and that standing there and staring at it goggle-eyed is maybe not the best defense.

Part of our philosophy is to train worst-case scenario. What if? when the "what" is bad. If you only train for perfect conditions, barefoot on the mat, in your nice loose gi, you are short-changing yourself. We believe. Of course, it could be argued that training on a concrete floor in street clothes doesn't prepare you for sand; or that training in the sand pit doesn't give you an icy hillside; or that the hillside doesn't give you tree roots and bear traps. True enough.

But in three years of Okinawa-te, getting to brown belt, I learned three knife defenses, two of which would get you killed against anybody with the Scarecrow's brain and the coördination of the Tin Man, and one of which would work against somebody really stoned, and you can't wait on him even so. One out of three isn't so good, you make the wrong choice. He says, speaking from personal experience.

Here, at least, we are realizing that weapons ramp the game way up, and even practice-reality demonstrates how nasty it can get to be in a real hurry. If you can't stop the rubber knife in your friend's hand, stopping the steel one in a bad guy's grip is going to be a real problem.


Worg said...
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Worg said...

"How much skill has all this training given me? Not much."

I know the feeling.

You ever get the sensation that martial arts are almost like a ponzi scheme of sorts, if you a) aren't someone like Chiron who knocks heads for a living, or b) don't view it as mainly exercise or as a sort of abstract, esoteric practice?

I have had a rough life and I've never given up living rough. But when I've gotten into fights in the last decade or so I back off because I feel sorry for the other guy, I know I outclass him so completely, and this has been true without exception. This even has extended to impact weapons in the hands of brawlers.

But then when knives enter the mix (I assume, never have had a person draw a knife on me) it's a whole different ball game and I basically feel like I have no chance whatsoever unarmed, or at best like I might be able to get something over on someone who doesn't know what they're doing with a blade.

It's like people can't help buying into fantasy world ideas of what martial arts are supposed to be, and then when you actually get there you find out that what was good about it wasn't what you actually wanted in the first place.

For guys like Rory Miller there's a very good reason to study martial arts, and the more brutal the better. For guys who don't live in a combat zone WITH FIDDLY RULES OF ENGAGEMENT, you're almost certainly better off carrying a gun.

I just sometimes wonder what the point has been for the last 25 years.

I'm sure if all I had studied was TKD or military combatives, I would have quit in boredom years ago. At least with silat it's bizarre and fascinating, kind of like a Rubik's Cube.

Or, rather, like a Hellraiser box.

How is Mr. Edmonds, by the way? I hope he is fixed and on the mend, it would truly suck to have had to wait this long for surgery.

Irene said...

Well, one thing to consider is, a gun inflicts very serious damage ... if it hits. Unfortunately, evidence suggests that under real stress conditions, people's ability to hit their target with a bullet is appallingly bad. I don't have the statistics in front of me but they're terrible. And a gun, if the bullet doesn't hit its target, is largely useless.

On the other hand, even flailing wildly in a blind panic with a knife in your hand, you have _some_ chance of inflicting damage on your adversary.

Plus you can carry a knife with you to all kinds of places that they won't let you carry a gun.

I think martial arts skill/fighting training is a bit like homeowners insurance. You really hope you never have to use it, but you put in your dues anyway so that if you do have to use it, it's there for you.

Menduir said...

Question: what do you do if you have to fly somewhere? Do you always check a bag so you can have your sharps with you? Or do you pick up a "throw-away" on arrival and discard it before you board the plane for home? Or do you hope that the theoretical bad guy doesn't bother you while you're in the unfamiliar city?

~ Jas.

jks9199 said...

"If somebody stands off a half mile away and pots you with their deer rifle, whaddya gonna do? "

Fall down & decompose.

Some interesting points in there, Steve. Especially about getting used to responding instead of freezing. But, on a flip side, could you build a false confidence because you keep facing them in relatively controlled situations? Cops get clocked (and worse) everyday because they get so used to people complying that someone who doesn't slips through their radar and kind of locks their program. Am I making sense?

Steve Perry said...

Jas --

I've done both. And I carry a stout cane on the plane, which, because I have torn a calf and had my knee bunged up, I can justify using.

Steve Perry said...

False confidence. Real confidence. No confidence. The three are entwined and sussing out which is which is tricky.

Confidence is a belief that you can rely on something or someone.

I faced a knife one time, the guy was obviously stoned, and I walked away. Not much of a track record.

Then again, my batting average against a blade outside the training hall is 1000%.

The art I am doing now is, to me, better in all kinds of ways than the one I used during that encounter. Now, I know enough to be worried about a knife in ways I didn't before.

Is my belief that I will do something useful if push comes to shove, or slash to stab, false confidence?

Maybe. I did it once.

Maybe I'll fold up and cry like a little girl first time I'm slapped. You never know until the moment comes, and even if you pass the test with flying colors, that's no guarantee you will pass it the next time. But if I have a gun and three knives and fifteen years of getting thumped and thumping folks in a class, I do believe, deep in my heart, that I am better off than if had none of those things, come the violence.

Would I run away if I could? Oh, you betcha. If I can't, if my back is to the wall, if my family is at risk? I believe I can say, with as much humility as I can muster, you do not want to fuck with me unless you are ready to hold the gate open when we get to hell.

Michael B. said...

Take it from someone who has been in and survived a couple of knife skirmishes....It isn't a dog fall...It don't go down like you think or train...and you may get better but you will never get well...

I still have problems with my right hand where i took to slashes across the back..and I still have trouble witht he right lung when it got collapsed in a knife fight....I survived..I lived..but it isn't what most people think it is...No glory,, no flahs and damn fun at all!

I train my people to run at all costs if possible..if not kill the bastard or at least seriously injure only have a few seconds..but for Gods sake do something....

Steve Perry said...

Bobbe is still in low-back limbo, though it appears there is going to be a surgical intervention in the next week or two, things going well.

Richard Sackville said...

Very interesting post indeed Steve.

Hope Bobbe is ok.



Dan Moran said...

Good luck to Bobby.

I've never gotten hurt in a fight I managed to run away from. I've got a scar over my belly button from being stabbed with an ice pick when I was about 9, one on my hand from being slashed at when I was my mid-teens. My other run-in with a knife I was 17 and I ran over thee guy with the knife using a shopping cart. And then I ran away and didn't get cut.

I still think there's no better advice than run away, if you possibly can.

Steve Perry said...

In the interests of full disclosure, regarding Irene's comment, if you are close enough to flail about and slice somebody with your blade, chances are pretty good that you can hit him with a bullet or two. If I can punch you in the belly with my empty hand, I'd bet big bucks if there is a gun in that hand that hitting you with it -- and the bullet it might discharge is not beyond reasonable possibility.

As a revolver guy, I have only five, six (or seven) chances before I have to back off and reload, but those guys who are 21st century types can carry those newfangled pistol-thingees with magazines that hold ten or fifteen or twenty rounds. At twenty feet, they might miss with 'em all. At contact range?

Maybe not.