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conflict management and practical karate
Updated: 4 hours 54 min ago

Headlines, knives and kneejerk reactions

Thu, 2015-07-23 12:01

Last week the Office for National Statistics in the UK published its latest Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW). This regular publication does not normally merit much public comment in the media unless a politician seizes upon it to argue that crime is continuing to fall, but the July 16 2015 release made the headlines because of an apparent increase in offences involving sharp weapons.

First Knife Crime Rise in four years proclaimed the BBC.

The Daily Mail let us know that Dramatic rise in knife crime is down to a fall in stop and search, says Met chief Hogan-Howe 

Knife crime in England and Wales up for first time in four years cried the Guardian.

The question I’ve been asked is that with this frightening increase in knife crime, should we change our training to focus more on edged weapon awareness and blade defences?

Actually that’s not true, no-one’s asked me if they should do more edged weapon awareness, they just want blade defences.


Reality check.

Have their been more recorded offences involving edged weapons? Yes. According to the CSEW

“In the year ending March 2015, the police recorded 26,370 offences involving a knife or sharp instrument, a 2% increase compared with the previous year (25,974, Table 9a). This is the first year in which these figures have increased since 2010/11 (the earliest period for which data are directly comparable).”

However, before we panic we should bear in mind two things. Firstly the low numbers involved mean that they are susceptible to high percentage changes. The CSEW itself notes that
“For some offence types, such as rape and sexual assault, the relatively low number of offences, that involve the use of a knife or sharp instrument means the volume of these offences are subject to apparent large percentage changes, and should be interpreted with caution. For example, in the year ending March 2015, the number of sexual assaults involving a knife or sharp instrument increased by 28% (an additional 28 offences compared to the 101 recorded in the previous year) and the number of rapes involving knife or sharp instrument increased by 21% (an additional 55 offences compared to the 267 recorded in the previous year).”

Secondly, although we have yet to get fully comparable data, the evidence from hospital admission data indicates that this rise in use has not been mirrored with a rise in injuries. The CSEW records that

“An additional source of information about incidents involving knives and sharp instruments is provided by provisional National Health Service (NHS) hospital admission statistics5. Admissions for assault with a sharp instrument peaked at 5,720 in 2006/07. Admissions have declined since that year; the latest data available, for the year ending March 2014, showed that there were 3,654 admissions, a 5% decrease on the previous year. Admissions for assault with a sharp instrument in 2013/14 were the lowest since 2002/03.”

Knife crime is up, slightly. Deaths from blade usage is down. So have the general populace of England and Wales suddenly become better at defending themselves against knives? No. Defending against a knife is not easy. Training to defend against a knife can have validity, but it is not a simple process as I explained in 2008 here.

If a person intends to use a knife, as opposed to using it as an effective tool for coercion and intimidation in robbery or sexual assault, the odds are you won’t even see it as these two training scenarios illustrate here.

If we need to do anything ‘new’ as a result of this year’s fresh statistics it is to improve our behaviour. Prevention is better than cure. Some events are so random that they cannot be avoided, but good awareness and good behaviour go a long way to avoiding becoming a crime statistic. As Gichin Funakoshi wrote in his 20 precepts

When you leave home, think that you have numerous opponents waiting for you. It is your behaviour that invites trouble from them.

Context should be critical

Mon, 2015-07-13 17:54

Self defence discussions can be minefields. Everyone has an opinion and no-one likes criticism of an art or a training methodology in which they have invested a lot of time. It is easy for both new and experienced practitioners alike to be bombarded with opinions if they venture online, and it is also very easy for the unwary to be bamboozled with ‘facts’ that may seem to support a particular stance but are actually being used without a critical eye to their original context.
The context of presented information is vital if we are to use it effectively. In my work on self defence over the years I have processed and accumulated a lot of information: government or academic led reports or studies into violent crime; books by psychologists and anthropologists; texts by security specialists, law enforcement officers, military personnel, bouncers and martial artists; amateur mobile videos and security footage of real events; anecdotes from friends who have personal experience due to professional roles; and personal experience of events when I was younger and stupid enough to frequent places where trouble was likely to occur, or I was dealing with potential events in a professional capacity. A lot of the information and knowledge that I’ve gathered is useful, but not all of it is directly applicable to personal self defence for non professional contexts, even when it is accurate and comes from reputable sources.

When data is presented as a basis for a particular approach, especially a self defence approach, the context of the data is critical for assessing its viability to the context in which the end user wishes to be effective.

It is easy to fall prey to false logic when presented with data. An example might be “A law enforcement officer / bouncer has lots of experience defending themselves or managing aggressive or potentially aggressive situations therefore what they say is definitely right/of use to me.” Actually no. The information may be very useful, but you need to employ a number of critical filters to it because there will be shared elements of past/potential experience and very different paradigms as well.

What do I mean by this?

A LEO or doorman is likely to have had to apply physical or de-escalation skills under pressure and under adrenaline. There is a point of commonality if you are trying to learn from their experience for the purpose of personal (not professional) self defence. However, how a professional behaves under adrenaline may be different to how an inexperienced person behaves under adrenaline due to familiarity both with how their body feels under its influence and familiarity with the trigger situation. In similar vein a professional may through virtue of their experience have very different thresholds for adrenaline triggers.

An LEO or doorman is likely to have had to apply verbal skills to de-escalate a situation or deter violence, or physical skills to defend themselves and/or restrain another person/or persons. There will be elements commonality between their experiences and approaches to those appropriate for personal self defence, but there are caveats:

  • The professional will be there under a different mental framework: they are there to do a job, they have generally arrived on the scene specifically to prevent an aggressive or violent incident or to manage the same – that creates a different mental field of play with different pressures and permissions to a person that is engaging verbal or physical tactics who has not planned on being involved or has not necessarily ‘consented’ to being involved.
  • The intended outcomes are likely to be different between the professional and non professional with one defending where needed but usually trying to move to control rather than escape, whereas the other is more likely to be trying to defend themselves (or others) to escape rather than control.
  • The professional is more likely to be anticipating back up compared to the non professional, a state of mind which will affect physical behaviours. Depending on the environment (and their role) they may have more or less anticipation of non professional intervention either for or against them as a result.
  • The professional is more likely to be engaged by someone because of their job which may in turn affect the nature and intensity of the attack and will definitely effect the dynamics of the crucial attempted de-escalation phase and any initial moments of physical violence..

Context is crucial. The professional and non professional may both be dealing with an aggressive person, but the mental and physical framework can be very different. There are lessons to learn, but experience in one does not fully equate to experience in the other.

One example of the need for a critical approach to data is the figure that has been banded about over the years in varying percentages that 95% of ‘street fights’ go to the ground. This figure was seen as a justification for training in groundwork and a vindication of arts that had a strong ground game. Now there is no doubt that groundwork is a useful skill for self defence in case you end up on the ground, and it is also a great form of physical exercise, but that figure (and its variations) had a context which was often omitted. The 95% actually referred to the percentage of attempted arrests made by the LAPD in 1988 which fitted one of five scenarios in each of which going to the ground while attempting restraint was often one of the final actions (between 35% and 46% depending on the scenario). The report concluded that in 62% of the attempted arrests made by the LAPD in that year where the subject resisted the officer ended up restraining or handcuffing the subject on the ground. That’s a very important context. While there are times when self defence may end up in restraint, it is not normally the primary aim of most self defence, and the aim of those officers (to restrain against resistance but harm as little as possible) was a key factor in the recorded outcomes.

Our analysis and interpretation of reports or information relating to real violent events is not the only area where we can be prone to blindness, bias or favouritism. There are physical self defence lessons to be learned from watching any type of martial arts competitive event, or engaging in any martial arts training, but we do need to employ our critical faculties and understand the different contexts of each event and tactic and assess how that in turn impacts what we see and what we can usefully extract for our own training aims.

Catching some shut eye

Thu, 2015-05-28 11:11

The physical self defence and karate tactics I teach are predominantly close range. While I do teach some longer range approaches, my emphasis on tactile strategies reflects the reality that even when space is available, the majority of non consensual violent confrontations begin, proceed and end at close range regardless of any training to maintain distance.

As a general rule the close proximity of what I teach results in having between one to four tactile points of contact on a person at any given time during a drill. To begin with this can be unnerving for students (even experienced cross-training black belts) who are used to learning by watching a drill and relying on visual cues at longer ranges to function in alive training.

Your eyes can deceive you, don’t trust them.

Unlike Obi-Wan Kenobi I’m not advocating that you let go your conscious self and act on instinct.

That comes later.

What I do suggest to my students is that once they are in tactile contact their eyes are not the optimum source of information, particularly if they are manipulating the other person’s posture (or preventing the other person from manipulating their posture) while looking to strike to control, or control to strike. Once in contact with another person, especially if we are touching both above and below the centre of gravity, we receive tactile information on the success of our actions and the other person’s intentions through our skin far quicker and with greater accuracy than our eyes (even when wearing clothing). This information hovers on the edge of our consciousness. If we don’t pay attention to it or cannot recognise it, then we don’t benefit from it and our skill development suffers as a result.

This is where in training we should give our eyes a rest, shut them, and concentrate on what we are feeling. Working with the eyes shut focuses the mind on the tactile cues that we often ignore, leading quickly to greater skill development and enhanced reaction time.

The benefits of ‘blind’ training are not just limited to the tactile arena. I have found that asking students to shield against haymaker attacks to the head with their eyes shut corrects all the little gaps that had been pointed out previously (and ignored) in sighted training. The more vulnerable feeling student automatically adjusts arms and posture to maximise protection to the head rather than watching for the punch and relying on their identification of telegraphs and reaction time to protect them.

The more training you do with your eyes shut the more attuned you become to both your position and posture and that of the other person. This results in faster responses to movement and unconsciously adopting more appropriate posture. Freed from trying to focus on stimuli that the body can read better, the eyes become more attuned to identifying information that is of use.

The more proficient you are at reading visual and tactile cues, the more appropriate and unconscious your reactions and pre-emptions will seem. To an external observer such ‘instinctive’ responses and sustained success may seem like luck.

In my experience there’s no such thing as luck.