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Coping in a Violent World (02)

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by Ken Good

Aikido Journal #101 (1994)

Random acts of violence seem to be on the increase, at least in the United States. Although many of us hope to improve our self-defense skills as part of our aiki training, just how realistic is this hope? Aikido Journal has asked four law enforcement professionals to answer a series of questions about how each of us can cope when confronted by violence. Using as a starting point the December 1993 Long Island Commuter train incident, in which a gunman gone berserk killed and wounded dozens of his fellow passengers, we asked our experts the following:

  • What advice would you give to a passenger seated in a train car in which someone has begun shooting?
  • Should the untrained individual attempt to disarm the gunman?
  • What steps might you personally take to deal with the gunman?
  • Are there any distracting maneuvers that could divert the gunman’s attention in another direction?
  • Are there techniques taught in the dojo that might be of use in such a situation?
  • What steps should be taken by bystanders afterwards, while waiting for the police and emergency personnel to arrive?
  • Is there any way to minimize the panic among passengers?
  • What common sense steps can we take to protect ourselves in crowded publics places such as a train, subway, or bus?
  • Do you favor banning or placing restrictions on the sale of handguns in an effort to reduce the number of gun-related incidents?
  • What should people traveling abroad keep in mind when visiting large cities with frequent violence?

Addressing this particular situation is challenging to say the least. In writing this article, I would like to acknowledge the help of many friends, especially David Maynard and James Williams. Mr. Maynard has been a significant force in shaping my perspective through his insightful tactical concepts and close personal friendship. Mr. Williams, whose background includes thirty years of study in various martial disciplines such as Shorin-ryu Okinawa-te, tae kwon do, Tang Soo Do, judo, Amis de Mano, boxing, kick-boxing, Hung Gar Kung Fu, Temple tai chi of Wayson Liao, Grade Jiu Jitsu, aikijujutsu (14 years), as well as serving as an officer with the US Army infantry, has been my teacher.

Dave Maynard and I have spent the last fifteen years working with firearms and their tactical employment in a wide variety of situations, including military applications with Naval Special Warfare at SEAL Team One. In my present capacity as course director of Security Forces Training for US Naval Fleet security, I have had the unique opportunity to work with many military units, federal agencies, and police SWAT teams conducting high-risk entry type training. Our department conducts gun fight simulations utilizing semi-automatic paint projectile rifles and pistols. We have trained thousands of students, some of whom have been in actual gun fights following their training. Discussions with these individuals reveal the effectiveness of this approach to training.

I have been forced to draw my weapon many times on human beings in actual self-defense situations. In the training environment, I can only estimate, but I believe that I’ve been in over thirty thousand mock gun battles. During these training sessions, typically involving twenty participants, nearly ten thousand rounds of ammunition are fired a day in a scenario environment The sheer number of engagements has literally pounded gun fighting principles into my body and mind. The logical extension has been to develop Combative Concepts, Inc., a consulting company that facilitates training for those who carry weapons professionally, or are interested in their application in self-defense situations. Our concept of gun fighting and the associated tactical principles has steadily evolved since we decided to scrap the “play book” originally given to us by our military training. It has been interesting to note the many parallels between aiki and our proven gun fighting principles. Constant involvement in simulated gun fights forced us to re-evaluate our original “hard” methods. A precise, frame by frame motion analysis significantly changed our approach to training and our tactical employment of firearms. No one can sustain prolonged punishment from firearms or edged weapons. It is best to read your opponent, blend with him and allow him to assert himself or force him to make the mistake. Mistakes such as over-extension resulting from improper target analysis, erratic movement, speed control problems, and over-aggression are all evident in the many students we have encountered.

Pistols are highly effective weapons as demonstrated by the tragedy in New York. Could things have been different? Quite possibly yes. The primary focus of this discussion will be on the unarmed individual facing an armed attacker. This is nothing new to anyone studying a fighting system. In this case, the armed attacker is a gunman. How would you react?

Before we determine what must be done in relation to the gunman, let us spend some time determining how the gunman may think and what the gunman must overcome to carry out his attack successfully.

In this case, the total weapon system constitutes a disturbed male in possession of a handgun. The psychotic gunman starts with many advantages. He selects his weapons and he decides the time and place he intends to initiate his attack. He may spend considerable time planning, to give himself the maximum tactical advantage. He selects his victims, giving himself the power to decide who lives or dies. He is not interested in the consequences of his actions, only in the destruction of those he has targeted. He has no regret, and is not concerned that your loved ones will mourn your death. If you believe you will be exempted, spared because of your caring personality, then you become exactly the victim he was looking for in the first place. You will fall like the others when the gun begins to speak.

The attacker must deliver a lethal blow to a vital area, which is not as easy at it appears. Please keep in mind, I am not advocating running into bullets!!! But, remember-bullets kill by rupturing major organs, disrupting the blood transport system or by shocking the central nervous system. Statistically, gunshot wounds are not always fatal, although many believe they are. True accounts of the amazing resiliency of gunshot victims are too numerous to cite. Also, it is interesting to note that in conflicts involving two combatants with handguns, often at ranges closer than ten feet, 85% of the shots fired miss the intended target entirely!

A well publicized gun fight took place in early February in San Diego, California between a store owner and robbery suspects. This fight illustrates my point. A tremendous volume of fire was exchanged without one shot hitting its intended target. Why does this consistently happen? Lack of range time for those in possession of firearms? Lack of intent? I do not believe these are the answers. The duress created by the engagement itself makes simple tasks exceedingly difficult. Factors such as lighting conditions, movement, and the adrenaline rush caused by extreme stress all significantly change the event Simply stated, someone was fighting off the attack. No static range situation can simulate all the conditions of an actual dynamic engagement.

Recently in San Diego, California, a felon aimed a weapon at two police officers, but never fired. The officers fired several shots, killing a bystander. Further investigation revealed that one officer’s bicycle (the mode of transportation in this case) was struck by the officer’s own gunfire, at angles nowhere near the desired target line. What happened? The officers were placed under duress, and this created unwanted and tragic physical results.

Again in San Diego, a SWAT police officer from a neighboring city, who we have had the privilege of training, was in a shooting involving three suspects all armed with handguns. As he relayed the events, foremost in his mind was purposeful movement and target analysis. Initially in an open alley area, the officer faced the first suspect who was less than ten feet away. He moved as the first suspect turned to fire a handgun. The officer displaced himself with proper lateral movement, never allowing the attacker to keep the weapon on his center line, the lower body articulating to keep the firing platform steady, head and eyes moving. The first suspect did not move and was shot five times by the officer. The second suspect appeared on a stairway above. Again movement and proper maintenance of body control allowed the delivery of an incapacitating blow to the second suspect. Suspect #3 produced a weapon through a hinged window and could not bring it to bear as the officer again moved from the potential target line. This suspect was apprehended. Both the first and second suspects survived the encounter although they had been struck with projectiles. Suspect #1 was struck in the “center of mass area.” This is significant, as we are discussing the difficulty in actually delivering lethal blows to non-compliant adversaries. Incidentally, the officer had a partner who never fired a round and confided he felt that he was never “in the fight.” He was caught one step behind in the decision cycle.

The keys to the first officer’s success were purposeful movement and body control facilitated by control of the mental state, achieved through proper training. Purposeful movement is that action undertaken based on analysis of the attacker to enable the application of the appropriate technique.

What can bystanders do?

It is fundamental to maintain the proper state of mental awareness at all times. One must constantly evaluate the physical surroundings and the people who occupy those spaces. No defense system or individual technique, regardless of its sophistication or potential effectiveness, can be useful if it is never initiated because of mental laziness or ignorance. A military commander can be forgiven for being defeated but never for being surprised. This mind-set of always asking yourself, “What is wrong with this circumstance?” sets you on the path to recognize threats and threatening situations before they become completely unmanageable. As a functioning member of society surrounded by technical sophistication and many lifestyle comforts, we can easily forget the lurking, potential savagery of other human beings.

The defender must constantly analyze the ever-changing situation. Timing is a critical element This means maintaining maximum aware ness of the attacker at all times. Only then can you determine the answers to these critical questions: Where is the attacker focusing his attention? In what direction is the weapon pointed at this moment in time? In what direction is he moving? How is his body positioned? Is he specifically aware of me? Does he appear to be calm or under extreme duress? Is he reloading? Is anyone working with him? Realistically, processing all this information in a compressed time frame requires proper training.

Those who master techniques for defeating a swordsman do not focus on the sword itself, but on defeating the one who uses the sword. To defeat the weapon system, we don’t focus on the weapon, but the gunman himself.

During any engagement a phenomenon known as “target fixation” occurs. Essentially, during periods of extreme duress, the mind has a tendency to sharply focus on a small percentage of the total situation. If you have ever been in conflict or been involved in a traumatic episode such as a car accident, you may have experienced this phenomenon. The debilitating effects of this phenomenon can only be minimized by training in stressful environments while attempting to perform associated tasks. Target fixation is potentially deadly to anyone operating in a multiple threat environment Undoubtedly, the gunman in New York experienced this phenomenon and had to overcome its effects. Target fixation can be exploited. Herein lies a key to possible success. Unmolested and faced with little or no pressure, the attacker can operate with a great deal of effectiveness. Furthermore, if all targets are compliant and non-moving, target acquisition and bullet delivery is relatively easy. Elusive, thinking, and moving targets are an all together different problem.

Keep in mind that the gunman can place the muzzle in only one point in space at any given time, thus creating a defined trajectory line Projectiles travel along this line for very brief periods of time and are not everywhere at all times. Granted, the weapon’s placement in space can be altered fairly quickly, but you as the defender must note this line and move accordingly. During this repositioning, time has passed. As time passes, opportunities rise and fall for both combatants. The attacker is now presented with a myriad of decisions previously unfaced. His simple assault has now become complex. The gunman is forced to focus further. The negative effects of target fixation are now multiplied against the gunman. Windows of opportunity may open, but it must be stressed that no guaranteed solution exists. All one can hope for in a situation such as this is a reduction in the probability of becoming a victim. The alternative is panicked motion or paralysis, further tipping the balance in favor of the gunman.

To defeat the gunman, we must understand that he is subject to the constraints of human reflex and affected by the psychological pressures and phenomenon associated with stressful situations. The attacker must keep the weapon within its effective range. If his victim gets too close, the gun might be turned against him. If he allows his target to move too far away, he faces difficulty in target acquisition and shot placement.

If you are close (within ten feet), displace and close the gap. Close whether or not the weapon is discharging. You may be shot diminishing your physical capabilities. Once committed, you must close undeterred. Remember, the vast majority of people shot with handgun rounds survive the encounter. A significant factor contributing to the survival of these people was their strong will to live. When you are within range, disrupt the attacker’s balance while simultaneously turning the weapon toward the gunman The weapon is the attacker’s primary source of strength and psychological terror. He may have selected this weapon specifically for its intimidating qualities. Maintain control of all weapons and turn them over to the authorities.

If you are at an extended distance, the simplest solution may be exiting the space. Leaving the area to contact authorities can assist in the apprehension of fleeing suspects and facilitate the arrival of emergency medical response teams. You may have loved ones or other constraining reasons compelling you to stay in the conflict. At this point use timing and well conceived movement to close the gap.

To train for these encounters, obtain an operating replica weapon that has a functioning trigger and hammer. Through experimentation, determine the distance at which you can successfully disarm an attacker. For even more realistic training, utilize a paint projectile weapon or Simu-nition ammunition along with the associated safety gear. As the defender you must be pro-active. Learn to use body displacement when moving. You will soon discover the shooter faces distinct disadvantages at close ranges.