The Ultimate Firearms Destination for the Gun Lifestyle

The Art of the Beat Down

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Photos By Niccole Romanoski

When I was working as a full-time protection specialist overseas, we had a saying: You don’t lose the fight you don’t get into. Of course, the idea you can simply spend your life avoiding risk or conflict at every possible turn is, in itself, a false security blanket. This is why we carry and why we train: to be prepared for that theoretical really bad day. We recently had the opportunity to attend a three-way joint class covering some particularly unique topics that pertain to both avoidance and aggressive defense using edged and impact weapons.

The advantages of being able to project firepower at distance are beyond dispute. But the opportunity to carry is sometimes restricted by your destination, daily routine, or local law. For those times, impact weapons like saps and blackjacks, or a small knife, allow you to maintain the ability to defend yourself in the close-quarters encounters often preferred by criminals. Before we talk about that, let’s take a closer a look at how and why you might wind up in a situation like that in the first place …

Tag, You’re it
The first of these three modules was a condensed version of the “Unthinkable” curriculum presented by Dr. William Aprill, a unicorn among both self-defense trainers and mental health professionals. He has spent more than 15 years in various roles across the entire continuum of mental health care and maintains a private practice to this day. He’s also a former deputy sheriff and Special Deputy U.S. Marshal, not to mention his credentials as a competitive shooter.

What makes this so poignant is that, when William speaks on the nature of interpersonal violence, he doesn’t do it with the cynical disillusionment we’ve seen in some other law enforcement officers. Nor does he take the haughty approach of a mental health academic lecturing down to a bunch of uncouth gun owners. His approach to violence, and the defense against it, is miraculously educated, surprisingly compassionate, and also utterly blunt. He minces no words about the reality of what’ll happen if you allow yourself to become gift-wrapped prey for the career criminal.

How does one avoid being a victim on a platter? The truth, as William tells it, is relatively simple. The “average” criminal — a term we use only to make allowances for the occasional psychopathic genius — is looking for easy money. Just like the rest of us, they want the largest possible payday with minimal effort invested. But what does easy money look like to a violent criminal actor? Well … what does an easy score look like to other predators?

The final slide in Dr. Aprill’s sobering presentation on the psychology of interpersonal violence — a poignant reminder for anybody concerned with their self-protection.

The final slide in
Dr. Aprill’s sobering presentation on the
psychology of interpersonal violence — a poignant reminder for anybody concerned with their self-protection.

Imagine lions hunting on the African plains. (A visual we poach directly from one of Aprill’s slides.) Do those lions waiting in ambush look for the strongest, fastest antelope on the Serengeti? Hardly. In fact, in a move that’s downright unsporting, they deliberately target slower antelope that may appear wounded, unaware, and struggling to keep up. Why? Because working hard is hard work, and why fight the king of the herd when you can just pluck one or two off the edges.

Even when the predators have two legs instead of four, the thought process isn’t much different. In his presentation, one of the key factors that Aprill talks about is gait. There’s ample experimental research to support the idea that exactly how you put one foot in front of the other could make you look more or less appealing as a victim of violent crime. Specifically, the Grayson-Stein study conducted in the mid ’80s gives us a thought-provoking start point for understanding this concept. Grayson and Stein videotaped people walking around New York City. The people videotaped spanned all sizes, shapes, colors, and genders — every single one just going about their daily business with no coaching or instruction from the researchers.

The footage was then shown to a sample of 53 prisoners in upstate New York, all of them incarcerated for violent crimes, who were asked to rate each person from “a very easy rip-off” to “too heavy — would avoid.” Most of the convicts made their decisions in seven seconds or less, with three quarters of the inmates rating the same people as “very easy” victims. Even more interesting, many of the cons had trouble articulating why they chose the people they did. The selectees just seemed to “look like good victims” – furthering the earlier parallel to other predators elsewhere in nature. After further analyzing the video, Grayson and Stein were able to distill down some of the key features of those people selected as victims:

–    Their stride was either abnormally short or long. They tended to shuffle or drag their feet.
–    Their speed was different than the surrounding crowd — typically slower, indicating a lack of purpose. Though an unnaturally quick pace might also indicate nervousness or uncertainty.
–    Selected victims seemed to lack smoothness or fluidity in their movement. Jerky motions, swaying or shifting throughout their gait were common among those chosen by convicts.
–    Overall demeanor or body set was also key. Those who slumped, looked down as they walked or seemed to avoid eye contact were selected as victims at a disproportionate rate.

We don’t want to oversimplify the problem by telling you to just walk tall with your chin up and everything will be fine. But anybody with military or LE experience has probably heard trite phrases like “look like a hard target” or “keep your head on a swivel” ad nauseum. The material presented by Aprill suggests that the concept is real and effective.

A Good Thump on the Head
Sometimes all the good posture and strong gait in the world isn’t enough to keep somebody from trying to ruin your day. When this happens, whatever tools you brought to the fight is all you’ll have. We do our best to cover the whole gamut from guns to knives to OC spray and impact weapons, but our next instructor, Larry Lindenman of Point Driven Training, covered a couple weapons we haven’t heard or talked much about lately — saps and blackjacks.

For the uninitiated, saps and blackjacks are pretty similar in construction. Both are built around metal (usually lead) weights surrounded by leather. While saps are typically flat and rounded, shaped kind of like a change purse, blackjacks are more cylindrical. While both have been eclipsed by the collapsible baton in the law enforcement world, these discreet, concealable pocket thumpers still have real potential for civilians looking for an alternate force option to powder and brass.

Cecil Burch and Larry Lindenman demonstrate their cover position, which allows protection of the head and face while still keeping an open sight line to the threat.

Cecil Burch and Larry Lindenman demonstrate their cover position, which allows protection of the head and face while still keeping an open sight line to the threat.

Those of you familiar with edged weapons might be pleased to know that the striking angles for saps and ’jacks as taught by Larry are the same as those used in most knife systems. But these impact weapons offer some unique advantages. They can be dropped into a pocket, purse, or gym bag with no appreciable signature. If carried in the pocket, the “tail” can be left exposed for quick access. When drawn, the sap or blackjack can be hidden by loosely folding your arms — also setting you up for a powerful, immediate backhand blow if one is needed.

Saps specifically can be used to strike with the edge or the flat, depending on the desired effect. The flat part of the sap is ideal for inflicting pain without necessarily causing lasting bodily harm. The narrow edge of the same can be used to inflict catastrophic damage. An example given by instructor Cecil Burch goes like this: “Hit somebody in the collar bone with the flat part of the sap, and you can cause a lot of pain, and possibly a bit of damage. Hit the same spot with the edge and you break the collarbone, maybe even shatter it. Slap a guy in the face with the flat and you KO him or maybe break something. Hit him in the face with the edge and he very possibly dies.”

The primary limiting factor of these weapons is their range. Due to their small size, saps and blackjacks are close-in weapons. We’re talking arm’s-length or less. In situations where you either don’t have a firearm on you, or may be too close to race someone to your holster, they provide a good option for defending yourself with something other than bare knuckles. For more information on saps and blackjacks, see Chad McBroom’s buyer’s guide elsewhere in this issue.

A Sharp Stick in the Eye
The other weapon covered in this course is the small knife — with a heavy focus on small fixed blades. Led by Cecil Burch of Immediate Action Combatives, this block focused on close-in defense against a street assault using edged weapons. Again, the focus is on small, concealable blades. While folding knives weren’t frowned upon or shunned in this course, students were allowed to rehearse deployment drills with both fixed and folding training knives. Despite a personal penchant toward folders due to their all-around utility, we have to admit that they slowed our reaction time noticeably versus drawing a fixed blade from a belt sheath.

The techniques taught in this class were focused entirely on the defensive use of a blade in a point-oriented methodology. In other words, there was no slashing or knife dueling in this class. The idea is to keep the knife held tight to the center of the body, thrusting violently to get an attacker to either back off or stab themselves on your blade if they continue to advance on you. It was a system the author hadn’t seen before in his limited edged weapons experience that proved very effective at creating space between you and an attacker. Several wicked bruises on his chest the following week, left by foam rubber trainers, proved the hazards of trying to assault forward through the tip of a blade.

Burch and Lindenman talk about the ability to target with the point of your blade.

Burch and Lindenman talk about the ability to target with the point of your blade.

Perhaps the biggest lesson learned for the author had to do with knife grip. The final drill of this portion pitted two students against each other, equidistant from a dummy knife laying on a table. As expected, several iterations of this drill wound up with students fighting for control over the knife. In these situations, having a full-fist grip on the handle was absolutely vital to success.

Despite the popularity of gripping a knife with your thumb along spine of the handle (or blade), admittedly useful for small detail cutting of stationary objects, this method allows the knife to be stripped easier from your hand in a violent confrontation. This happened to us several times until we corrected the grip. Even then it happened once more during the final exercise, emphasizing the danger of losing or being fleeced of your own weapon in a fight.

Dollars to Donuts
This was, by far, one of the most intensive classes we’ve been to in a while — three instructors in three days teaching three wholly unique blocks of instruction. It was a body-beating, brain-melting experience we’d recommend to everyone interested in keeping themselves and their loved ones ready to defend themselves against those poor souls who see no better course in life than to prey on their fellow man.

Each of these instructors brought unique, poignant lessons to the table, and all are available for classes and seminars across the country and throughout the year. If saps and blackjacks aren’t on your radar of self-defense options, we recommend taking a look. If you carry a pocket folder for self-defense and have never pressure tested your ability to bring it to bear against a determined adversary, take a second look.

Burch giving an overview of defensive blades of both the fixed and folding variety, as well as carry methods.

Burch giving an overview of defensive blades of both the fixed and folding variety, as well as carry methods.

And if you’ve spent all your time and dollars on the fight itself, and none on the people you might be up against, talk to Aprill or do some hard research into the science of the human predator. You might find that, underneath it all, there really isn’t much of an “us” or “them.” Human monsters are far more human than monster and as the RECOIL staff has learned in their collective experience, knowing your enemy and yourself may be the most important self-defense lesson of all.


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