Friday, December 26, 2008

When you can't fight back

At TDA Training, we often focus on things like mob attacks (or defending Multiple Attackers), defending against weapons (Knife defense and/or Gun defense). Additionally, many of us see martial arts training as an equalizer.

I've always looked at martial arts, in general, as an equalizer, much like the Colt .45 in the old west. I believe that you can improve your chances of survival in all self-defense situations if you have some training. – from How to Make Your Training More Practical for Self-Defense post

However, I have to make an admission to you that I was speechless when I was asked, at a family gathering, the following question: “You have a lot of training and experience as a martial arts instructor. What could someone like me do to protect himself?” I probably looked (and sounded) like an idiot of the first order as I paused, stammered, and then backtracked in my multiple responses. I think it was evident to my friend that I didn’t believe that there was.

What can you and I do to train someone who has a physical disability such that he or she can’t fight back? You see, my friend had a condition which affected his ability to stand, to say nothing of walking or running. It makes his ability to transfer power a near impossibility.

Nearly all of my life I’ve been either bigger, stronger, or faster than the next guy (or at least I believed I was). When I became skilled in martial arts, it only made the differences starker. In my thousands of rounds sparring against hundreds of opponents, and in all of my years of teaching and training, I’ve only felt out of my depth a few times; like I would definitely lose if it were “for real.” What would it be like to feel that way all of the time? How about to have something happen to you that made you feel that way, and that you could never prevail over someone else?

For me, that would be a nightmare scenario, and yet, for all of us, it’s inevitable? Age, injury, or infirmity will catch up to all of us. Old age is, past a certain point, as inevitable as the Earth turning or the sun rising, and yet most of us go through life training and teaching without that in mind? Why?

This is a serious question for all of you instructors, students, fighters and fans out there. How would you approach teaching someone who realistically couldn’t fight back? Or what would you do if you couldn’t (see how I slipped back into the trap)?

I’d like your feedback on this in the comments. Look for a post to answer shortly.


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BSM said...

I don't know if you can. That's a tough one!

We had a trainer back in my Army Guard days. He was also a cop and he personally thought RAD training for women was a waste. Sure you can teach scene awareness, good habits like parking somewhere safe, near lights, etc, but honestly how much can you teach that will be remembered?

He felt that "fighting" needs to be practiced over and over. I don't know if I totally agree with him but he does have a point.

Is it even worth teaching the untrained person unless they commit to more than a once-per-year lesson?


Steven Mosley said...

Not knowing the extent of your friends disability, I would like to know if he is capable of utilizing a firearm?

I have instructed many law enforcement officers and civilians on the use of a firearm as self-protection. There is very little need for power transfer, as long as he can conceal the firearm properly, draw the firearm effectively, extend his arms, and pull a trigger.

I am not sure if this is an option for your friend or not. If it is, please contact me and I will provide you with lesson plans and options to teach this alternative.

Great blog. Thank you for these thought provoking entries. Best wishes,

Steven Mosley

BK Price said...


I won't belabor the typical point about self-defense being more about staying out of trouble than actually fighting back. We've all heard it and I would assume that was at least part of your response.

However, I would ask, have you tried to train like you were infirm?

There's a compnay (I completely forget the name but they were profiled on the Today show about three weeks ago) that goes around training people who deal with the elderly (hospital staff, private nurses, family members, etc.) what its like to be old.

Some of the stuff they do wouldn't apply here (like making a list of all your friends and family and then having to cross them off one by one as they "die," etc.). But some of it might be useful.

To simulate the effects of aging, they make the students wear glasses smeared with Vaseline (to replicate the effects of cateracts), they have cotton stuffed in the ears, they have corn kernels in their shoes (to show the painfulness of walking for someone with arthritis), and they have to wear multiple pairs of plastic (not latex) gloves to show how difficult it can be for someone to grip things when they've lost their sense of touch and some of their flexibility.

These might all be useful things to attempt in your personal training to help you connect with your older students. And combine that with being confined to a wheel chair and you may gain some perspective for your friend who cannot walk.

Just spit balling here, I haven't tried any of this, just think it might be useful given your question.

BK Price said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
James R. Rummel said...

Steven spoke wisdom. Time for a gun.


BK Price said...

Sorry for the double post. Didn't think the first one took.

John W. Zimmer said...

Hey Nathan,

This is a tough quesiton... I remember the Longstreet episode where Bruce Lee taught Longstreet (a blind man) how to fight with the senses he had.

I've taught a guy without any arms (from birth) by drilling him to the idea that he did not have the luxury of fighting inside (no arms to block) and he seemed to catch on ok.

I've had comments from Eric Kondo, a paraplegic with a school website at I did a post about this at

What do I really think? I agree that while I felt overwhelmed at times in my youth - I mitigated that with karate training so now I cannot really relate... in a pickle - I now calculate how to get out of it and since I cannot run anymore (like I may have been able to do in my youth) - I figure out a strategy - not much wasted adrenalin anymore.

I think that anyone can figure out a strategy to come out on top... if that means a gun or a stun gun - so be it. Alternatively striking only when one has an advantage like a woman about to be molested - reaching up and crushing the family jewels - would also work... however there will be damage inflicted. On this track, taking a few punches to get the attacker close (and confident) and then taking out their eyes with some thumb gouges might be a strategy.

Sorry for rambling but there are a lot of ideas but all more then we have to deal with... The whole reason to work with people that need to learn some type of self-defense – to give them more options.