“Listening to the average martial artist talk about real world violence I like listening to ten year olds talk about sex.” SGT Rory Miller

What I did in martial arts class…and why it was pretty worthless for self defense;

This isn’t a put down to those doing martial arts. I spent a big chunk of my life doing martial arts. I currently have my son in martial arts. I believe it is great for kids. For adults it is great exercise, good for self discipline, balance, coordination, a fun hobby and a cool thing to spend time getting good at. What I have a problem with is when a martial art claims to be the ultimate in self defense.

I feel that I am pretty qualified to talk about both the martial arts and self defense. I started a “traditional” martial art in 1986. I won a national title in sparring, coached many national medalists and champions, spent many years teaching martial arts and was a fourth degree black belt in the art. In the late 90’s I started hearing about Krav Maga. I saw Krav Maga at a martial arts show and was fortunate enough to be in the very first Krav Maga instructor training programs in the U.S. I am now a third degree black belt in Krav Maga and travel the country teaching the system to gym owners and law enforcement groups.
The stuff we did in martial arts class;

BOARD BREAKING PRACTICE. We would take a kick and practice it for three or four months and then break a 1×10 piece of pine with that kick at our belt test. As we travelled up the ranks we would put on a show with our board breaks, breaking several boards with several different techniques. Why we spent so much time on that I’ll never know. At tests and tournaments we would spend five or ten minutes just setting it up. We had to have several holders, tell them just where to stand and how to hold and would run through it in slow motion three or four times before we ever started. The holders had to know what they were doing and not move at all. What were we preparing for…a fight against a bunch of mannequins? Those great, powerful kicks and strikes were never practiced dynamically. Never practiced against something that didn’t want hit and was hitting back. We certainly weren’t fighting smart and stacking attackers, the boards were on all sides of us.

KATAS; There are martial artists who can make a pretty good case for practicing katas…I hated them even when I was in the art. I was told they had several uses, one was practicing techniques. I am not sure how practicing to the air and not full speed was getting me ready for anything. I’d rather have been hitting heavy bags and mitts with power. I was told it was practice for multiple attackers. If that was true why in the hades did I keep turning my back to the guy I just hit? Why was I not stacking and moving dynamically and running away? To practice certain blocks and then punch and kick combinations was hoping that an attacker would come at me and strike in the pattern I was training. Hope ain’t a strategy!

ONE STEP SPARRING; Maybe the most worthless thing we ever practiced. I would get into a front stance, perform a low block with my front arm and chamber my back arm at my waist to punch from there. My “attacker” would then do the same. When I kiapped (yelled) he would take a step and punch from his waist to my chest and freeze there like a statue while I did my defense and counter attack. WTF!! This is screwed up on so many levels that I don’t know where to start! If I am ever attacked on the street it would be nice if the attacker gave me space, didn’t attack until I let them know it was ok to do so, kept their hands down, punched at an area that isn’t fragile, froze after one strike and stood there to let me do something back. If I had that attacker it wouldn’t much matter what I practiced for self defense! As Rory Miller says in Facing Violence “100 defenses to 100 attacks works for sparring, not ambush…and then it takes years of practice.”

TECHNIQUES; We were focused only on techniques. The martial arts are about the only thing you’ll find that works and works on answers without ever knowing the question. To work on defenses for attacks you would think that you would study violence and see how the scumbags actually attack. We had 30 defenses for a straight knife attack to the mid section. Say what? Hicks law tells me if I have more than one choice it takes time to decide between them. How much time do I have when a knife is coming at my gut?

When we practiced our kicks we would do 100 reps with each leg and then move on to something else. We never practiced with an attacker, with stress or exhaustion, while trying to hit something that didn’t want hit and was hitting back or with an attacker’s buddy approaching fast. We practiced self defense techniques but never once practiced self defense. Under stress I am sure I would have thrown one kick, stopped and re set and then threw another…just the way I trained.

We practiced for hours in front stances for me to learn later that they were developed for balance when fighting on ships. We spent hours in a horse stance for me to learn later that this was how peasants, who didn’t own horses, practiced for the cavalry. Our high flying side kicks were developed for knocking people off horse back. A lot of time spent learning how to defend myself against things that I would never run into in modern day America.

FREE SPARRING; Our sparring was kicks only and high and spinning kicks counted for more points. We feinted, circled, came in and went back out and danced for most of a two minute round. Sparring on the street is stupid. For one, sparring distance is run away distance…or pick something up to smack the idiot with distance at least. Self defense is going forward with hatred and rage to do the maximum amount of damage in the minimum amount of time and then getting to safety. If you are sparring the idiot’s buddy is closing in on you. Every asshole has an asshole buddy close by!

If you want to practice martial arts, do so. Just don’t confuse them with self defense. If you are wanting only to learn to defend yourself look for a self defense program. If it’s fancy, it isn’t self defense. BE SAFE!


“Instructors, if you aren’t putting everything you teach under stress and exhaustion you are teaching self defense techniques, not self defense. There is a big difference.” M. Slane

Some self defense training is better than others but ALL training has flaws. The flaws are built in on purpose. Think about it, we are training to beat people down. How often do we actually do this in training? Never. We can’t actually do this in class, we would have no students. It is truly like teaching people to swim but never getting in a pool.

Now I am not advocating hurting each other in training. We must have built in flaws, but we must recognize that they are flaws. The person attacking you in the gym is a partner who is there for your mutual benefit. They want you to be able to go to work tomorrow, want you to train with them next week, care about you and look out for you. This is not the same person that will be attacking you on the street. The exact opposite of that person will be the one attacking you. When we accidently do make contact with our partner in the gym what is it that we usually do? We stop and apologize. This isn’t the reaction we should be ingraining!

We train too often with pre conceived notions of what will work and what will happen in a fight. We get used to throwing three knees, dumping our partner to the ground and then starting the next rep. How do we know that those knees would have been devastating in a fight? He may well get up and come at us harder. In the real world people take pool cues to the head, stabs to the heart, multiple gun shots to the chest, etc. and keep coming. In training I’ve even heard students bawl out their partners with things like “I kicked you in the balls, you would have went down and been done”. This may be a true statement but I’m not willing to bet my life on it.

In the gym we purposely pull our punches and kicks to not make contact. Again, what kind of training is that when the goal is to kick and punch people? If we pull our combatives 1,000 times in training under stress we will probably do exactly what we practiced. I knew a young man who practiced our headlock defense in class always smacking his partner’s inner thigh instead of his groin. His partner appreciated it but he once had someone put him in a headlock on the street who was trying to hurt him and he did the defense…smacking the attacker on the inner thigh. What we do in training is going to be what comes out of us under stress.

We fight in a gym that we keep open. padded and uncluttered for safety. When you’re jumped the surfaces will be hard and there will be obstacles everywhere. The cop who is the USKMA’s co-lead instructor, Brannon Hicks, swears he’s gonna bring coffee tables and shrubs into his gym. He says every time he is in a fight one of those two things are in the way! The difference between a hazard and a gift is who sees it first. We need to train to see that curb or corner of the bar and use it…our gyms don’t have these things!

We are told that we are training for life and death situations, forgetting about the in betweens. It could be life, it could be death, it could also be a colostomy bag, a wheelchair for life, blinded, brain damaged, etc., etc. We train with what Hollywood thinks is fighting in mind way too often! If we think about these other likely endings of a self defense scenario maybe we wouldn’t be so macho, maybe we’d spend more time talking about how to avoid violence in the first place.

How do we mitigate the flaws in our training? The old adage “you fight like you train” is a lie unless (as SGT Rory Miller says in his books) you trained blind, deaf, stupid and clumsy. There is no great way to prepare for the chemical dump, emotions, freeze, etc. that a real world violent attack will create. We run drills to exhaust people and put them under some stress in our Krav classes but the student knows that they are in a class, they aren’t really going to get hurt, they know what attack is coming, etc. We cannot completely train for what is coming…that’s just the way it is. Here are some things we do in our Krav classes to keep our training flaws at a minimum;

-Hit things hard…all the time! In our classes we spend the majority of our training time hitting focus mitts, kick shields, heavy bags, padded up people, etc. I have one rule in class when it’s time to work combatives and that is once you have the technique down (and this is very soon after being introduced to it) you must always hit your hardest. If you are working punches, knees, kicks, etc. in my class I expect full out, knock someone the #$%^ out power. If you are pulling combatives and always going half power during training why would you expect to do it differently under stress?

-Forget techniques. I don’t have time in a real world violent attack to remember techniques. If I have a philosophy and a “flinch reaction” to go forward with rage, go hard and swing for the fences I will be much better off than working any technique. As Rory Miller says “100 counters to 100 attacks work for fighting, not for ambush…and it takes years to get good for that fighting. Techniques aren’t important, what’s important is training reflex.” My awesome techniques do me know good if I haven’t practiced for real world violence. I will freeze and take too much damage before any of those techniques come out of me.

-Train how you want to perform. Techniques will degrade under stress big time. If I am anal in training about keeping my chin down and head covered it will kinda come out of me under stress…if I was sloppy in training it won’t come out at all under stress. Similarly, I don’t warm up with shadow boxing, I warm up with shadow fighting. I am not teaching boxing. In boxing we throw a few combinations and then back out, circle, look for openings, etc. I do not want to do this in a violent attack as his buddy is coming to hit me from behind as I do all that dancing. I want to go forward throwing ten or twenty combatives and then get out of there. Which part of my training am I going to remember when under a real attack…the self defense or the dancing? I don’t want to take the chance that I’ll remember training that wasn’t self defense so I avoid it!

-Exhaustion drills. These are the most important thing we do in our classes for self defense. Whatever we learned that day is going to be put under stress and exhaustion. If what you are using for self defense hasn’t been put under stress and exhaustion how do you know it will work for real world violence? I can guarantee you that if you are fighting for your life there will be plenty of both stress and exhaustion. Think about how you are training, be honest about the flaws and BE SAFE!


When I first started teaching Krav Maga in 1998 very few people had heard of it. When they had heard of Krav I almost always got the comment “Oh, that brutal stuff”. My answer was always “I don’t look at it as brutal, I look at it as effective. I didn’t start the attack.” Problem is, most people have no idea what real violence is or what real self defense needs to be. They learned from their martial arts instructor or from TV and movies…and never thought for themselves.

Whenever you have to use self defense you are already losing. You are trying to recover from stupidity or bad luck, as Rory Miller says. You have already taken some damage. Now, if the attacker is a pro and has done this before he knows what works. What works is a flurry attack that never lets you recover or hit back. We will be hit, stabbed or bludgeoned several times before we ever realize what is going on. We could be taking so much damage that we’re out in just a few seconds without ever hitting back. So…if this works for the scumbag we had better study it and do it better. If the scumbag is going to use violence as a weapon we need to take that weapon, practice it and weald it better than they do.

So, in Krav Maga we don’t just teach a block. We don’t even just teach a block and simultaneous counter attack. We teach a block with a simultaneous punch to the throat into a kick to the groin into clinching and kneeing the idiot in the face and groin into dumping them onto the ground into stomping their Achilles and running away. To show less isn’t keeping people safe. We must teach to cheat, to hit from behind, to kick to the groin, to hit them until they are out…all that brutal stuff.

Something for men who teach self defense for women to think about. Guys, think of your nightmare attacker. The dude weighs 70 lbs. more than you, is way, way stronger than you, is way faster than you, is way more aggressive than you and has trained one hundred times more than you. His best punch to your head will for sure knock you out and will probably kill you. Your best punch to his head is just going to piss him off and he’ll come at you even harder. Pretty damned scary, huh? This is the starting point for a woman learning self defense. Your nightmare attacker is her likely attacker. Why would you teach her to put her keys between her fingers, to stand there with her hands up yelling “stop”, to blow a whistle, to carry something heavy in her purse to swing or to drop to the ground and get her feet between her and her attacker? Would any of that crap work for you? There is only one option that has any chance of saving your ass in that situation. That is to go forward with all the hatred and rage you can muster, become an animal. Spit, cuss, claw, bite and smash targets (eyes, throat, groin, knees, Achilles) over and over…always looking to escape. If that is the only thing that is gonna work for you that is what you better be teaching them.

Another quote from Rory Miller (the USKMA just had him in for a seminar so for the next several weeks I’m sure I’ll be quoting him a bunch!); “the first person to go balls to the wall almost always wins.” The scumbags know this and that is why they attack so brutally. We need to train the same way. Go at the attacker with such hatred and rage, swinging for the fences and being “brutal” that we win. Turn the strategy on them.

To teach self defense without ever studying what a realistic attack on the street looks like is crazy. The martial arts are about the only thing that you will find that works and works on answers without ever knowing what the question is. Just getting on youtube and watching a real knife attack would be enough for me to think “damn, that knife defense I have been working on would get me killed” and yet most martial arts practitioners don’t do that. Almost everyone I see teaching self defense are actually teaching self defense techniques, not self defense. There is a difference.

I have had people leave my intros complaining that we are teaching over the top, that we are too brutal. This always saddens me as I know they have a pre conceived notion of what violence is, and that notion is wrong and can get them killed. I remember one short, stocky woman in her fifties (who had a black belt in a traditional art) leaving in a huff saying “Well, I’ve been taught to deliver one effective blow to end the attack!” I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Some master of some martial art had blown smoke up this woman’s butt and had her believing that she had one effective blow in her, a blow that would stop a crazed, enraged 250 pound six foot three man. This is unforgivable and sickening.

If you are teaching self defense (and I’ve blogged this dozens of times) those coming to you are literally putting their lives in your hands. You had better be studying what real violence is, had better be scouring everything you can get your hands on for the most up to date, battle tested stuff you can find, had better not be teaching crap from a system just because it’s your system. You are preparing people for what will be the most terrifying few minutes of their lives and the stakes are life and death. Learn, train smart and train the “brutal” stuff! BE SAFE!


I am sent videos of other defense systems quite often by friends across the nation. They always want to know what I think of the system and of the system’s head honcho. More often than not the video is awesome. It shows an expert smashing people, flipping and throwing big guys around and whooping three knife wielding attackers at the same time as he is disarming another attacker of an M-16 or the like. Sometimes I get the feeling that the person who sent me the video is trying to tell me how much cooler they think that system is than Krav Maga. Cool ain’t all there is to it!

I’m nearly always blown away by the talented instructor. The problem is that the talented instructor is usually a physical marvel. He is six foot three, weighs a chiseled two twenty five and is super athletic. Yes, his system looks awesome when he does it but…how does that translate to the five foot, one hundred pound female in his class? Too often the techniques I see being used are based on size and strength. The throwing, putting people down with one blow, beating up three dudes at once, etc. work for him…he’s a physical marvel. To expect the 99 pound weakling in class to do the same is expecting a miracle.

The other problem is that the big ol’ muscle head instructor certainly won’t run away from danger, that would hurt his ego. I teach (in this order) to stay away from bad places, to run away, to pick up an object to use as a weapon and then, as a last resort, to use Krav Maga. People must be taught to avoid fights, to run when possible, to always be looking to escape. To teach people to fight when de escalating and running are better choices is setting people up to be hurt, maybe even killed. The macho instructor teaches his students to be macho. It ain’t macho to have a colostomy bag for the rest of your life, to be brain damaged for the rest of your life, to be disfigured for the rest of your life or to sit for kidney dialysis three times a week for the rest of your life.

In Krav Maga any technique we teach has to pass the litmus test of being able to be done by the smallest, weakest and most uncoordinated person in our gym. How can I teach a group of women techniques that work only if the attacker is smaller than them? That would be setting them up for failure and failure in self defense means they get hurt. In our classes we have people of all ages, sizes and both sexes. To teach techniques that only half of the class could defend themselves with is stroking the instructor’s ego and not keeping people safe.

Below is one of my favorite techniques for a smaller, weaker person to defend themselves with…the head butt. Watch the small female knock the bouncer out…it ain’t nothing fancy!

When people come to your gym to learn self defense they are literally putting their lives in your hands. To teach something flashy that you look awesome doing but won’t keep them safe is unforgiveable. BE SAFE.