Internet Information, People's Perceptions, and the Seldom Heard Voice of Reality
As the head of system of Albo Kali Silat, I participate, on a limited basis, in a few Internet forums related to martial arts, self-defense, and/or knives. For many years, I avoided such forums like the plague. I knew that many of the “facts” and “information” provided by such forums were neither factual nor useful. I also knew that a considerable amount of time could be spent in Sisyphean labor, endlessly repeating a mantra of sanity to an audience that would often refuse to listen and merely parrot information provided by “Internet experts.” I initially, with much trepidation, stepped into the world of Internet forums due to a friend. My friend, who works in the knife industry, was often asking me for advice on how to respond to questions or “information” provided on various forums where this friend’s work required their participation. After doing this for a time, I decided to join a particular forum and just answer the questions directly. Shortly thereafter, my involvement spread to other forums, due to various questions I was asked and in the interest of spreading factual information about Albo Kali Silat. It seems that a video or two of mine has been used to bolster an argument or two in various forums, and, if I see Albo Kali Silat mentioned somewhere or am told about this mention by a student or friend, I make sure that the art is being accurately portrayed. Once involved in Internet forums, I have found that my opinion of forums in general was both confirmed and rebutted, as is usual in the case of preconceived notions. I have discussed issues with many interesting and talented people on the forums, am glad to have made their acquaintance, and happy to have received some useful ideas and information from them. On the other hand, I surely have met and interacted with various poseurs, idiots, “zealots of the one true technique,” and other assorted and sundry people who would almost assuredly benefit from a good ass kicking. I am much more polite and reserved on the Internet than I am in face-to-face interaction, as any of my students, friends, or the various people who have met me in my law enforcement or martial arts careers can attest. In person, if you are constantly carrying on about your great knowledge, skills, and abilities, I am very apt to ask you to show me why your great and unstoppable technique is so much better than anything I can imagine, and to show it against a resisting opponent—me. I notice, in these instances, that, mostly, beliefs change or people quit talking and leave. This is not to say that I am the sun and source of all combat knowledge or that I cannot learn and exchange ideas with other martial artists. I often work with students and instructors of other styles, and we work in an environment of mutual respect and mutual learning and sharing of information. However, if you are going to talk trash, you had better be able to back it up, and I have found so few who actually can.
What I have found on the Internet is that the same types of people who I interact with in person are represented in cyberspace. The clueless, the fools, the zealots, the experienced, the talented, the legitimate seekers of information, are all represented. Due to the fact that the Internet can let you interact with so many more people at once than you can generally meet in person, it can, in fact, be of great benefit to anyone seeking information on self-defense and combat. Just as in person, however, you have to sift through the ore to find the small nuggets of useful information, and you need a bit of experience to be able to separate the two in a reliable and repeatable fashion. Now, certain Internet forums are more pleasant places to be than others. This is due to the level of control exercised by moderators to make sure that forum wars are stopped before they are fully started, the quality of the individual members and the body of knowledge available to the membership of the forum, and other factors. Two forums that I have found that enforce polite behavior and which are well worth viewing if you are interested in knives or martial arts are the Spyderco forum (www.spyderco.com/forums) and Filipino Martial Arts Talk (www.fmatalk.com).
When participating in forums, conducting seminars, teaching Albo Kali Silat, and answering emails, I often am asked questions about certain topics related to self-defense or asked my opinion of certain “facts.” Since I have now seen the same topics repeat themselves so many times, I thought I should just address a few of them now. Hold on, the ride from here on is likely to be bumpy, especially if you have a few “sacred” beliefs you have developed from reading magazines or Internet forums:
- “A knife is not a good weapon for self-defense.” Since bladed weapons were developed thousands of years ago and have been used successfully for attack and defense since they were developed, this statement always stuck me as a strange position to take. From what I have gathered from proponents of this argument, there are three camps here. One camp believes that the knife is just not effective at all. A second believes that the knife is always inferior to the gun and is so inferior that you would have to be an idiot to ever carry a knife for the purposes of defending yourself. A third believes that a knife is much more apt to lead you to being prosecuted or toward legal trouble than would other force options, including firearms. Based on my training and experience (and both the training and experience in the use of force, violence, martial arts, etc. are pretty extensive), all of these positions are wrong. Blades were developed to increase the ability of people to cut and thrust into objects, and they still work today, whether those objects are people or otherwise. I will address the three camps in detail below.
- “Using a knife in self-defense will get you in legal trouble / The name or type of knife or firearm that you use will matter a lot and will determine whether or not you are charged with a crime.” This is spoken as “God’s own truth” by a large number of people, including a few magazine writers. What I have to say on the topic is that I have been a police officer, police instructor, federal agent, federal instructor, have testified in or observed testimony in literally hundreds of cases, have studied the legal outcomes of self-defense since I have taught and teach unarmed and armed combat methodologies to law enforcement and civilians, and I have not found this to be the case at all. Throughout the United States, the general standard for employing lethal or potentially lethal force (and the deployment of a blade is going to be seen as lethal force) is being able to articulate to a “reasonable man” why you were in fear of losing your life and/or suffering serious bodily injury at the time you used force to defend yourself. Whether you use a .44 Magnum revolver, a “Death Incarnate 2010 Ninja Destroyer” blade from the Kill ‘Em All Let God Sort ‘Em Out knife company, a “Warm and Fuzzy Lady Defendermatic” approved by the Handgun Haters of America for “those nasty people who actually might need a gun, like maybe the police and military,” or if you happened to run the bad guy over with a 1963 Chevrolet Corvette, it really does not matter. If you can articulate why you needed to use the force that you used, then you are generally OK. Please note that if the weapon that you are carrying is illegal for you to possess and/or carry in the jurisdiction that you are carrying it, then you are in trouble and will probably be prosecuted. Also note that I am not saying that there will not be legal repercussions in the case of you using lethal force on someone. There is a possibility that you will be charged even if you are in the right. There is a small possibility that you will be convicted. Based on my experience and research, I can say that yes, this has happened, but not to a very great degree. Some prosecutors will make much of your choice of weapon, but this tactic rarely results in a conviction unless other factors also influence the trial (being intoxicated and lying to the police were factors in several instances cited as “proof” that you are going to jail if you carry a specific weapon). Can people point to legitimate cases where people were convicted and they should not have been and where weapon type seemed to matter a lot in regard to the arguments that led to conviction? Sure. I can also show you people who have won millions in a state lottery, but that does not mean that either of the above scenarios is going to happen to you and me, despite how much I would like to be able to afford a bright red Ferrari California.
- “Knives are not very effective weapons at stopping attacks / Knives are inferior to guns / Don’t bring a knife to a gun fight / A baton, heavy flashlight or other impact weapon will always work better than a blade / A weapon with longer reach, like a staff, will always be better than a shorter bladed weapon.” These statements can be addressed pretty easily as a group. People were killed and/or stopped by bladed weapons prior to the firearm ever being invented. The blade continues to be effective today. With training in the use of the blade and knowledge of an opponent’s anatomy, stopping an opponent with a blade can be as fast or faster than stopping them with a firearm. In force-on-force drills in training, I have personally demonstrated that the knife can and often does beat the handgun in a close range encounter, just as has been proven in many assaults on law enforcement officers. A good impact weapon is a nice tool to have. However, please note that the stick, baton, or a wooden facsimile of a sword or knife have been used to train the use of the blade in many cultures throughout history, solely because the injuries resulting from training with actual, sharpened blades were so horrific. In general, prior to the development of firearms, the blade was thought to be more lethal and a better weapon than the stick. Some will argue this point, and will show particular duels or individuals as demonstrating that the staff or club is superior to the blade. In fact, though, the reason that the tales of individual prowess with the staff or stick have come down to us through the ages is that they were repeated because they were unusual. In general, everyone knew that the staff or stick was not superior to the blade. Until plate armor became reasonably prevalent, a clubbing weapon was carried by those who could not yet afford a good blade or two. There are those who will debate the club versus blade conclusions delineated above. To these people I will just say that I have worked a lot of assault and homicide incidents, and the injuries I have seen inflicted with a blade have been far more devastating than those I have seen inflicted with clubbing weapons. As for the “longer reach is better” school of thought, the answer is not always. Having extra reach is good only in the correct environment, and, even then, only when you possess the skill and speed necessary to wield the long weapon fast and sure enough to keep the person with a shorter weapon from getting inside the arc or “guard” of the weapon. If you are fighting in a hallway, narrow forest path, or other terrain that limits the range of motion of a long weapon, the short weapon has the advantage. Terrain always dictates tactics, and those who forget this often do not live to pass on the costly lesson they have learned to others.
- “What do you think of my hiking staff / sword cane / walking stick / tomahawk / short sword / etc, for defense?” Generally, I think that these can all be good tools (and I really like tomahawks for some unexplainable visceral reason). I also think that, most of the time, if you carry one of these in the United States, you are going to attract a lot of attention, often from women and men in uniform with badges and firearms. If you are a senior citizen or have a disability, then a cane will not get a lot of attention, just as encountering someone with a staff while hiking on a trail in the woods will not raise an eyebrow. In general, though, in suburban or urban America and carrying one of the devices describe above, you are going to attract as much attention as if you had two heads, were dressed in full Ninja garb, or were accompanied by a topless Angelina Jolie. In the areas where you could go around with a sword strapped on and not attract attention, I believe you could carry a .308 caliber semiautomatic rifle slung on your shoulder instead, attract even less attention and be decidedly better equipped.
- “My grappling / Chinese Ninja toe wrestling / handgun coupled with the XYZ combat stance and grip trumps all other systems.” The implication of these people is, of course, that they have found the one true way of combat, that they are completely prepared for any situation, and that they have no need to ever work with any other system of combat, since such systems are obviously inferior to their “shining light “ system. In reality, unless they have tried various methods against resisting opponents, have invited others trained in various other methods to train and exchange skills with them, have seen a lot of real world combat and use of force, or have otherwise tested and refined their skills, these people are “loyalists” or “zealots” who have bought into a belief system. Based on a lot of years of law enforcement and training and actual use of martial technique in the real world, I will tell you that, to be prepared for criminal assaults and other violence that can occur in a police or civilian environment, a system needs to be multi-faceted. If your “wonder method” cannot deal realistically with grappling attacks, striking, knives, clubs and impact weapons, multiple opponents, and firearms, then it has holes. If it has holes, you need to plug them with training in other methodologies or you will probably get holes in your precious person if you attempt to engage in combat in the real world rather than on a firing range or dojo. I know many grapplers and strikers who have said, “my system can handle that” and many handgun carriers who said, “I can take care of all of that” who were rapidly disabused of those notions when doing force-on-force training. I lost count of how many “empty hand” fighters /have been “sliced into sushi” with training knives, or how many gun guys have been knocked flat on their butt when they tried to draw and get into their XYZ firing stance and grip. As an aside I will say that, when people are really shooting at you, if you are not shooting while moving, moving to cover, or shooting from cover, you generally are not doing it right and you have a high chance of getting shot. Shooting with one hand, shooting with the weak hand, shooting from weird positions (like from flat on your back), and shooting while moving all happen in real life and all are completely against the XYZ stance and ABC grip espoused by a lot of “experts.” In any case, I will say that I know that I have a lot to learn about combat. The only thing that I know for certain is that combat is a fluid, rapidly changing environment, and that no two fights are the same. The more I train and the more I work, the more room I see for improvement in what I do and teach. If you are completely satisfied with your system and training and think that you possess all, or even most, of the answers, then you are either misguided or a demi-god on earth, and we mere mortals should worship at the shrine of your combat godliness. Of course, you would have to show me in person why you are that demi-god, and, so far, I have not done much worshipping.
- “That technique does not work / that is too complicated / no one can pull that off in real fighting.” What I have found, over the course of a few decades of training and a lot of real world experience, is that the more I train, the easier it is to fight in the real world. Things that I could not do several years ago, even in a controlled training environment, I can do now in real-time in real combat, and have done so on a number of occasions. I do not claim that what I show in Albo Kali Silat is the ultimate method for everyone or that everyone can easily do what I do in Albo Kali Silat. What I will say is that there is nothing in Albo Kali Silat, which does not work. We train and test what we teach. I do not want to be arrogant about this, but I have to say that, at my level of training at this point in my life, a lot of what people call complicated, advanced, or unworkable is, to me, very basic stuff. In general, it is best not to project your own abilities, training, and preconceived notions on what a fight will be onto your opponent. The opponent may move quite a bit differently than you do and may be able to do things that you cannot.
- “I am training for what I can realistically expect to face / I will not have to face someone really skilled in a XYZ martial art / etc.” This is the “good enough” argument, as in “what I do is ‘good enough’” for what I will face in the real world. Now, to an extent, this is a good argument. There is a point of diminishing returns as to training, and there should be a valid examination of what environments you operate within and what you can expect in those environments most of the time. For example, if you are an accountant by trade, live in a nice suburban neighborhood, drive a Buick to the golf course occasionally as your major form of recreation, and really do not operate in high risk environments, then training in basic handgun work and focusing in drawing the weapon from under a concealing garment is going to be a lot better than the “adventure training” you will get when going to a school where you dress like a SWAT operator, carry an M-4 carbine and a handgun (each with four or more magazines), and you rappel down a building and assault shoot houses under cover of smoke grenades. However, there is always the unexpected element. I know that, when I began my law enforcement career, if you had told me that I would have done a fast-paced entry versus multiple bad guys as a member of a federal SWAT team, and that I would have ended up with my submachine gun targeting a man who had assassinated multiple people as an enforcer for a major international criminal organization, I would have told you that you should be writing bad B-movie plots for Hollywood. This may have seemed not very likely, but it happened. My position on this is that you really should focus more on what is likely than what could happen, but that is relatively unlikely. I like to throw in some “bad, interesting, and weird” scenarios in training from time to time though, just to prepare for the “what if” crap that really happens in the real world. Also, in general, when it comes to training, I am not interested in good enough or what “normal” people can do, and neither are my students. We are concerned with nothing less than excellence, and that is our only acceptable standard.
There are, of course, quite a few more issues and Internet suppositions that I could discuss right now. However, I do not want to beat my point into the ground, and I do believe that I have hit the most prevalent of the recent items that I have seen. If you are offended by any of what I have written above, I apologize for your discomfort. If it caused you to question some or all of your assumptions, then I am gratified and pleased that I may have irritated you. I do not claim to have all the answers. I merely want everyone who is interested in being able to defend himself or herself to question and analyze their training and capabilities in a realistic light. Focus on the body mechanics and concepts of what you do and see if it holds up under resistance or against those armed or trained differently than your chosen method(s). If your training and preferred methodology works when you examine it critically and realistically, then good for you. If it does not and this little missive was the catalyst for a change that may help you better defend you and yours, then I have accomplished what I set out to do here. Train hard and keep safe.
Tuhan Jon Holloway