Sunday, February 15, 2009


Gene Simmons (No Relation);

First, you did not offend me. You offered a "teachable" moment.

Second, I thank you for reading and contributing in your creative manner. I get the joke -- at least, I think I do... In any event, I enjoy your slightly weird comments, and even look forward to them.

You are touching upon the subject of an ongoing discussion I have with my good friend, SkyNinja. On the subject of what will keep me alive, I defer to SkyNinja's practical expertise. His advice on knife defense -- based on his training and experience -- is not to use a fancy knife disarm. Instead, you should use a "ballistic" defense. Basically, it's what you described: hit the guy as often as possible to overwhelm him -- avoid the knife -- escape from the area. These three actions should be accomplished in whatever order best allows you to survive with the least injury. Oh, and it sounds like you should do the actual hitting with the best weapon available to you.

I trust you will find this advice to be practical. I'm feeling practical and tactical today; I'm wearing my jeans today, not my jammies.

On the (theoretical) other hand... "Fancy" knife disarms exist in many different martial arts. And many of them come from eras and cultures with a great deal of experience with blades. It's hard for me to dismiss them outright.

This may be a situation in which the circumstances that gave rise to a martial art play a role in understanding the techniques. For example, a knife defense from Japan may have been developed assuming an overt attack on a battlefield and an armored defender. That's a very different -- probably more survivable -- situation than a prison shanking.

Also, there may be a faulty assumption at work with knife defenses: just because the technique exists doesn't mean it will work 100% of the time. We don't have that expectation of any other martial art technique. Even the most basic punch fails to land a percentage of the time. We don't say the Guard doesn't work just because it can be passed. We may have to acknowledge that a knife disarm may only work... what 1% or 5% of the time. It's still better than having no technique at all.

There may also be a viscious circle. If the technique is low percentage, you might not train it often. Then, if you don't train it often, its effectiveness is probably reduced.

But your other question; what should you train for? That's a good question. It's going to depend on your circumstances. If you're in a risky environment and constant danger then my advice would be to practice basic techniques with a high percentage of success and seek out teachers with practical experience. If you're interested in martial arts for their own sake and aren't worried about your day-to-day survival, then I think you'll get more mileage out of a "traditional" martial art -- jammies and all. If you want to compete, then you need to find a fight gym and prepare to spend a lot of time boxing and wrestling.

I hope that doesn't sound too mystical, grasshopper. Martial arts isn't a one-size fits all activity -- no matter how many folks insist it is. There is no single way of doing things best.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Col. Rex Applegate

"Mr. Applegate contradicts a lot of what I've seen..." Really? Are you sure we're reading the same Rex Applegate? I'd like to deal with this seriously -- though I know it's at my own peril.

Okay, Rex Applegate was the close combat (armed and unarmed) expert assigned to the Office of Strategic Services during World War II. His job was to develop the course of instruction for special commandos, spies, saboteurs, and other special operatives of the United States. His work was originally based on the work William Fairbairn performed for the United Kingdom to teach the Special Operations Executive and the British Commandos.

In a sense, Applegate is the grandfather of the reality-based martial arts. You know, the guys who often claim to re-invent the wheel, or is that invent a better mouse-trap? I don't know... I can't tell them all apart in those street clothes...

Applegate's curriculum does NOT contradict good martial arts technique. I've got the three books authored or co-authored by Col. Applegate -- pictured at the top. I've taken a few interior photos to demonstrate what I mean. Immediately above is Applegate's "Japanese Strangle." It probably looks very familiar to the BJJ and Judo crowd. It's the basic Rear Naked Choke, sometimes called a triangle choke or Mata Leao.

Oh, look here: a basic outside wrist throw. Actually, this photograph indicates to me that Applegate and his team weren't especially advanced martial artists. It doesn't utilize several of the principles of martial arts as laid out in Pearlman's Book of Martial Power. (The spines aren't aligned, for one...) But while this is crude, it will work.

Here's something Applegate labeled the Cross-Arm Choke...

...and here, in Kyuzo Mifune's book The Canon of Judo, is pretty much the same front choke. Mifune was one of Jigoro Kano's original students, and the last Judan in Judo. The Canon of Judo was writen in the late '50's -- it was the summation of the art he had been learning since the earliest part of the 20th Century. Once again, Applegate has nothing new; although he has chosen a particularly effective technique. That was his real talent.
Now, it might seem as if Applegate was cherrypicking from Judo. Not really. This is a good time to point out that all martial arts exhibit a sort of convergent evolution. Despite the cosmetic and cultural differences people see at first, all good martial arts have more in common than they don't.

This, for example, is a sequence from the book I have on Medieval and Renaissance Dagger techniques. Pay special attention to the key lock illustrated in the lower left hand corner...

... Because it reappears on this page from Applegate's Kill or Be Killed. The arm key lock itself is nothing special. It appears in Taijutsu (as onikudaki), Aikido and Judo as variations of ude garami, and BJJ as the Americana. Incidentally, BJJ calls this the "Americana" because it was "borrowed" from Catch Wrestling as practiced in the US, which has its roots in folk wrestling from England... You get the drift.

Two more knife defenses, first from Applegate on the left, and from the Rennaisance on the right. Again, the relative sophistication of Applegate's team is evident in comparison to the experienced Western Martial Artists on the right. Note how Applegate's man is still square and close to the opponent. The other defender has utilized his space to create distance, and has bladed his body to present a smaller target.
I'm not digging against Applegate and his team. Given the situation, their product is actually pretty good. They learned and adapted quickly.

Oh, Applegate's curriculum even included pressure points; something many (but not all) modern reality based martial artists don't put much stock into.
The point of all this -- and there is a point -- is one we've seen a million times before: there is nothing new under the sun. All martial arts lead to the same destination.