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Avoiding the Biggest Mistake in Self-Defense Training by Damian Ross

the quick

ow many times have you stood on the mat in your dojo and waited for your training partner to grab your wrist? Whether you knew it or not, you were developing a habit that could cost you your life. Not only does training to wait teach your brain and body that its OK to allow people to enter your personal space, but it also contradicts rule No. 1 of street ghting, which dictates that if you dont take action before your assailant strikes, its probably too late. One of the reasons the wait-until-hehits-rst strategy doesnt work has to do with the nature of criminal attacks. The types of aggression martial artists often view as their trigger to launch a fulledged counterattackthe wrist grab,


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the collar seizure and so onare merely preludes to the actual assault. That assault is likely to be a knockout punch, a vicious head butt or a pick-you-up-andslam-you-to-the-pavement combination. In between, you might have to deal with a virtually unstoppable barrage of hand strikes or an attempt to stab or grab you.
As soon as Damian Ross detects the incoming assault, he reacts with a double forearm smash (1). To stop his opponents momentum and inict immediate damage, Ross drives his left forearm into the mans throat and his right into his hips (2). He follows up with an edge-of-the-hand strike to the neck (3). With the aggressor dazed, Ross nishes him with a chin jab and a knee to the groin (4).

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The best time to start a counterattack is when you sense the assailants approach. To illustrate, the opponent (right) walks up to Damian Ross (1). Once the man invades Ross personal space, the combatives expert thrusts his left elbow up into his face (2). Ross then seizes the back of his neck and bulldogs him into a bent-over position (3). He follows up with a vertical edge-ofthe-hand strike to the back of the neck (4). If the thug is still standing, Ross can nail him with a saddle kick (5).

No matter how the aggression unfolds, if youve trained to wait for the attack and focus on countering the initial grab or hold, the ght is over. And youre dead. *** The remarkable thing about martial artists is, most of you are already aware of that. You just havent thought about it in the context of reality-based ghting.

When you spar or engage in randori, youre very cognizant of distance. You know that if you let your opponent get too close, youll get hit or thrown. So why

change what you already know when youre practicing self-defense? To transform your martial arts training into a more effective form of defense, you


To be effective, close-quarters combat must be simple, straightforward and brutal. It must work under battleeld conditions in which youre tired and frightened and when gross-motor skills may be all youre capable of. It must be easy to learn and easy to use without warning in any environment. One of the gures who shaped that notion of close-quarters combat was Lt. Col. William E. Fairbairn, an Englishman who worked his way up from constable to assistant commissioner of the Shanghai Municipal Police before World War II. Along the way, he developed a system of armed and unarmed combat that enabled his ofcers to survive some of the toughest streets on earth. In the early 1900s, Shanghai was the most violent city in China, if not the world. Muggings, armed robberies and kidnappings plagued its population, while gangs ran amok and opium dealers did whatever was necessary to ply their trade. One night in 1908, Fairbairn was patrolling the brothel district when he

was nearly beaten to death by a band of criminals. He awoke in a hospital and fortuitously noticed a placard near his bed that read, Professor Okada, jujutsu and bone setting. After checking out, Fairbairn embarked on a course of study that would include jujutsu, judo and various Chinese arts. He eventually earned a black belt in judo and jujutsu, and in 1910 he was tasked with teaching recruits the techniques they would rely on to save their own lives. In his 30-plus years with the Shanghai Police, Fairbairn was involved in or personally observed more than 200 violent encounters involving weapons and an even greater number that saw the use of only sts and feet. From his studies, observations and experiences, he developed a system of self-defense and arrestand-control techniques, which he named defendu. Its arsenal was composed of moves borrowed from various martial arts and then simplied so the average person could readily learn them. Fairbairn retired in 1940 at age 55. He returned to England,
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The enemy approaches, and Damian Ross snaps a nger dart into his face (1). When the opponent reacts, Ross hits him with a whip kick to the groin (2). He then executes a tiger claw to the head (3), after which he seizes the mans throat (4) and drives his knee into his groin (5).

need only combine the techniques and tactics youve always practiced with the following ve elements: Make your reaction to an attack convulsive, immediate and instinctive. If you have to think about it for even a second, its too late. Ensure that your techniques cause maximum damage to your attacker while causing minimal injury to yourself. You should also strive to reduce the degree to which your movements even expose you to attack. Be aware of position and distance. Where your assailant is in relation to you is the only thing that should inuence your defensive options. Always assume that your assailant is armed, intends to kill you and has friends

where he was charged with training commandos and elite members of the home guard. His curriculum was designed to provide soldiers and operatives with the skill and condence needed to defeat an enemy in close combat. He also instructed various American and Allied commando units, including the Ofce of Strategic Services. Although the system Fairbairn originally taught to the police contained a variety of restraining holds, the skills he passed to the military focused on strikes. Police ofcers were supposed to arrest suspects, he reasoned, while soldiers and agents were required to dispatch their enemies as quickly and ruthlessly as possible. Hand-to-hand combat was extremely important to OSS agents because they frequently had to operate in occupied areas while masquerading as foreign nationals. Because they often encountered German checkpoints, they couldnt carry rearms and thus had to rely on the empty-hand training provided by Fairbairn and his instructors.
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These days, its tough to nd an instructor who trained directly under Fairbairn. One man who can trace his lineage back to him is a World War II veteran and former Marine hand-tohand combat instructor named Charles Nelson. Nelson trained under Sgt. Kelly, a Marine who served in Shanghai in the 1930s and was one of Fairbairns followers. Kelly also studied under Detective Dermot Pat ONeil of the Shanghai Police, another of Fairbairns top students. After the war, Nelson returned to New York City, where he taught self-defense for more than 45 years. When he retired, the direct link to World War II close combat would have been severed were it not for the existence of a student named Carl Cestari. Having conducted more research on the close-combat methods of World War II than anyone else alive, hes established himself as the premier purveyor of the timeless teachings of Fairbairn and Nelson. Damian Ross, the author of The Quick and the Dead, is Cestaris top student. Robert Bolt


To demonstrate the importance of taking ground, Damian Ross begins his offensive with a leading edge-of-the-hand strike (1). As he drives the man backward, he blasts him with a chin jab (2). Continuing his advance, Ross executes a knee thrust (3) and another chin jab (4). In a real ght, theres a good chance he would have run the assailant into a wall or some other obstacle that could be used to Ross advantage.

Lt. Col. William E. Fairbairn and his followers generally emphasize the atemi, or striking aspects, of the martial arts because theyre easier to apply and have a more lethal effect than do throws and locks. Their most important characteristic is their reliance on gross-motor movements. Theyre also nontelegraphic because they originate from wherever the striking limb is. No chambering or cocking is involved. In each strike, the weapon takes the most direct route to the target. Above all, they stress the need to pre-emptively attack as soon as a threat becomes apparent. They include the following techniques: Edge-of-the-Hand Blow Alternatively known as the ax hand, the chop or the hack, its similar to the shuto (knifehand) of karate. Open your hand and tighten its muscles. Your thumb should point up as you strike with the eshy part between the knuckle of your little nger and the base of your palm. Tiger Claw When youre facing a frontal attack, your best option is usually the tiger claw. Curl your ngers and spread them as if youre trying to grip a shot put. Deliver the strike

into the attackers face using a pistonlike motion. Chin Jab This strike travels upward from beneath the opponents line of sight, slamming into the underside of his chin and jaw. Angle your hand as far backward as possible and spread your ngers. Bend your arm slightly as you hit with the base of your palm. Your ngers can be used to inict a follow-up eye gouge. Knee Thrust This technique involves propelling your knee upward as if youre trying to lift your attacker off his feet. As soon as you make contact, plant your raised foot where he was standing. The groin is the primary target, but the technique can also be used to hit the stomach or thigh. Kicks The side kick entails drawing your foot up to knee height and driving it into your attackers leg in one swift motion. Strike with the leg thats closest to him. If possible, use the edge of your shoe to blast his shin or the bottom of your heel to damage his knee. The nontelegraphic front kick to the groin and inside-edge-of-the-boot kick to the lower shin or ankle are viable alternatives. Robert Bolt
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