Saturday, December 15, 2012

Roar of the Tiger: Gun Defense and Karate

Roar of the Tiger: Gun Defense and Karate

By Michael Rosenbaum Copyright by Author 2008



It happened in Southern Appalachia, on July, 15th, of 1970. That’s the day Moonie Caldwell got shot. Even now what’s so amazing about the whole thing is how it began in such an ordinary manner.

My father, uncle and I sat at the kitchen table, watching momma prepare dinner. We’d spent the entire day cutting tobacco beneath the hot, summer sun. Exhausted from the day’s labor, we said nothing as momma placed the evening meal before us. Through the open window one could hear the rustle of an evening breeze, a cricket’s twitter and the faint growl of angry voices coming from our neighbors, the Caldwells, who lived just down the road from us.

“Sounds like ole Moonie is on a tare,” said my uncle Gene, referring to Moonie Caldwell father of the Caldwell clan.

“They’ve been at it all day” answered momma. “Why, that poor wife of his, how she puts up with it, I’ll never know.”

Exhausted after having spent the day working in a tobacco field my father’s only concern was the meal before him. “Son, pass me the cornbread” he said, gesturing to the plate in front of me.

Doing as he requested, I handed my father the cornbread and just as his fingertips touched the plate’s edge a gunshot shattered our evening solitude. Instinctively, I froze like a marble statue, arms outstretched and my eyes big as silver dollars.

Taking the plate from my hands, my father gently sat it upon the kitchen table. Looking at my uncle he asked. “You think?”

“Yep,” answered Gene.

It was then we heard the desperate pleas of Moonie Caldwell’s wife, “Oh God, he’s shot, Oooh, no…no, please don’t die…Moonie, Moonie, no.”

“Well,” said my father, “guess they’ll want to use our phone.” And as if by divine command, there came a desperate knock at our front door.

Walking from the kitchen into the living room, daddy opened the door and there stood the youngest Caldwell boy, gasping for breath. “Mista, Mista Joe” he said to my father, “Call, call the law…and doctor too. Luke’s gone and killed paw.” His mission completed the youth turned and ran back down the gravel road, up which he had come at breakneck speed.

Calmly, my father walked over to the telephone, picked up the receiver then dialed the sheriff’s department. His conversation lasted no longer than a minute. Finished, he placed the phone back on its cradle and sighed. “Their sending an ambulance and Deputy, but it’ll be a while. The ambulance has to come from Knoxville and there’s only one Deputy available.”

“Wanna go see what happened?” asked my uncle Gene.

“I guess we could,” answered my father. No more shots have been fired but let me get my pistol, just in case.” Reaching into the pantry he retrieved a 38 snub-nose revolver and slipped it into his pocket.

Excited by the prospect of an adventure I blurted out “Can I go?”

“No you can’t,” replied momma in a stern tone. “There’s nothing down there a young boy like you needs to see.”

“Let him go,” said my father. “It might do the boy some good.”

Reluctantly, my mother agreed with the warning for my father to be careful because as she put it, “we didn’t need two killings in one day.”

I’d been to the Caldwell’s house numerous times before, yet on this occasion, my father’s tone of voice indicated it would be no ordinary visit. Kneeling on one leg, he looked me in the eyes and said “Now son, listen and listen good. You stay behind your uncle and me, and if any trouble breaks out, you run back to the house as fast as you can. You understand me?”

“Yes um, daddy,” I answered.

Walking abreast with me behind them, the two men said nothing as we made our way to the Caldwell’s house, the only sound being the crunch of gravel beneath our feet. Both my uncle and father were quiet and alert as if they were stalking a deer, or on the battlefields of Korea, where as young men they had gone to war.

Rounding the front gate I heard a deep gurgling sound, the kind a deer makes when lung shot. It was then I spotted Moonie Caldwell leaning against a fence post. He was bent at the waist with one hand placed on a weak knee and the other pressed against a gaping hole in his stomach.

I was instantly mesmerized by the stream of blood pouring out of Moonie’s wound. The dark burgundy liquid oozed between his fingers, ran down his legs and formed black puddles beneath his feet. I’d never seen anything like it, not on television nor even hunting with my father. A tall raw- boned man known for his violent behavior, Moonie now stood before us weaker than a new born calf.

My father walked over to Luke, the oldest Caldwell son, who still held the 12-gauge shotgun that he’d just eviscerated Moonie with and asked, “What happened?”

Luke began crying, “We’d been drinking whiskey, celebrating his birthday and he just got all crazy and started picking a fight with momma and chasing the little ones around the yard with a baseball bat. So, I went and got the gun and told him to stop it. He wouldn’t though, even when I drew down on him, he just kept coming, told me I didn’t have the guts to shoot, that he was going to beat my brains out.”

“And?” asked my father in a commanding tone.

With tears rolling down his face, Luke continued his story. “Well… I was mad… you know. And, and when he got close, I pulled the triggers…both barrels. It stopped him cold.”

We heard Moonie groan once more then watched him fall to the ground and lay face down, amongst the blood, dirt and chicken manure, still clutching his wound.

“He’s gone,” said Gene.

“Sure enough,” answered my father.

Moonie’s wife knelt beside his lifeless body and began crying. Close by stood her young children. Traumatized by the violence, the kids could do little more but look on with blank faces.

“Let’s go”, said my father and then we left the Caldwell’s with their tragedy. Walking down the gravel road in silence a Cadillac ambulance rolled slowly past us. Stealing quick glances inside we spied the chrome gurney used for carrying both the living, and the dead.

“Well, Ole Moonie proved one thing,” said my uncle Gene.

“What’s that?” asked my father.

“Never take a stick to a gun fight”

Both men laughed and in a region of the country where shootings are as common as heart attacks I’d heard the tiger roar, for the first time.





Firearms and Traditional Martial Arts



Since the dawn of time, mankind has sought ways to kill from afar. Our Paleolithic ancestors, who hunted game with stones and wooden spears, realized that it was safer to kill their prey at a distance than it was to engage them at arm’s length. Like humans, large game such as wild boar, elk, deer and even raccoons are dangerous creatures when encountered at close range. Therefore to accomplish this task, man developed projectile weapons, some of the earliest being fire hardened sticks, commonly known as javelins.

As mankind’s resourcefulness increased he invented the bow and arrow, with some specimens dating back to the Mesolithic period, c.6000 B.C. This lethal innovation allowed him to hunt at a safe distance surpassing the killing power of the javelin. And as societies grew and mankind went to war, the bow and arrow was used on battlefields across the world, from Asia to Europe and Africa to America.

Our ancestor’s ability to kill from a distance was not quelled with the bow and arrow. For like so many other martial innovations the bow and arrow led to the development of another weapon, the crossbow. While lacking its predecessor’s ratio of fire, the crossbow was more accurate at longer ranges and it could penetrate body armor. Sadly though, the crossbow’s lifespan was cut short by gunpowder, or that “villainous saltpetre,” as Sir Richard Burton described the substance.

Although gunpowder was known by many in ancient China, it was not until 1375 A.D. that primitive firearms were first used in Europe. And from that point in history, improvements in firearms technology have doubled almost every one-hundred years. In 1470 A.D. shoulder stocks and snapping matchlocks were developed. The year 1550 saw the invention of rifled barrels; 1650 brought the widespread use of flintlocks and in the 1770’s dueling pistols emerged.

During the nineteenth century, repeating rifles, revolvers and machine-guns were developed and by the twentieth century’s end, assault rifles and semi-automatic pistols are used by both militaries and civilians. Yet, in spite of their differences, all of these weapons are commonly referred to by one name, the gun.

Although gun is a generic term, its implications are far reaching for anyone trying to survive firearm violence. When one uses the word “gun” do they mean an AK- 47 assault rifle, 12 gauge shotgun, or 44 magnum pistol? Bear in mind that every firearm has a peculiar set of characteristics which will influence one’s ability to survive a shooting.

The word shooting is also a generic term used to describe an assault of many variations. For example, if your assailant intends to kill you with a single shot 22 rifle then a good deal of skill is needed on their part because this weapon is used primarily for killing small game such as squirrels, rabbits and groundhogs.

However, should they employ a 12 gauge shotgun at close range then the effects will be devastating. Similarly, if the gunman fires a large caliber handgun at your temple from a distance of two feet, then the chances of your being severely wounded, if not killed instantly, are very good. Yet if the same assault is performed at fifteen feet, the bullet will probably miss your head entirely, especially if you’re running. Hence shootings, like tiger attacks, are very ambiguous. It’s like asking the old Burmese traveler, “What’s it like being attacked by a tiger?” only to have him reply “To which Tiger are you referring?”

Today the use of firearms on both the battlefield and for personal protection can be attributed to many reasons, one of which is killing power. A bullet, no matter how small the caliber, generates more velocity, penetrates the body deeper, and usually causes more damage than any punch, shuto, or kick the karate-ka may deliver.

Furthermore, rudimentary firearms proficiency can be gained in a matter of days, if not hours, where as in traditional styles of fighting it takes months, sometimes even years to foster effective skills.

As firearms increasingly become the preferred method of self-defense around the globe, many people have begun questioning the effectiveness of traditional karate in a world where all vestiges of the warrior’s code have seemingly evaporated.

In response to this debate both traditional karate-ka and modern day self- protection experts have developed unarmed techniques and strategies to counter the gun. And while many of these strategies are based on sound reasoning and experience, others are not. This article is an examination of some the complexities surrounding gun defense and how they relate to traditional karate and the martial arts in general.




Killed from a Distance.



August, 1977, my friend Gregg and I are discussing karate at his home. We’ve been working on gun defense in the dojo, so I describe the drills to him in detail.

“What happens if their standing at a distance?” asks Gregg.

Emboldened by my recent promotion to green belt, I retort that within fifteen feet any karate-ka should be able to defend themselves against a gun.

“Are you sure about that?”

“Positive” I answer, “Just try me, I’ll show you.”

Walking over to a desk drawer Gregg retrieves a 38 Smith and Wesson revolver, removes the bullets from it’s cylinder and stands ten feet away from me.

“Okay, give it your best shot”

Somewhat angered by having my authority questioned I take up a deep fighting stance and attempt a sidekick. Before my foot leaves the ground the hollow click of a 38 revolver fills the room, six times.

“You’re dead” laughs Gregg.

There’s a hollow sensation in my gut and now I know how Moonie Caldwell felt, just before his son killed him.



A common gun defense scenario practiced today involves the attacker placing a rubber pistol against the defender’s temple, back or solar plexus, after which the defender executes a disarm technique. This exercise usually ends with the all too compliant attacker lying on the ground, void of all martial integrity as the defendant stands over them, holding their newly acquired gun. It is also one of the most widely entertained fantasies within karate and the martial arts world in general.

Although it is not uncommon for an attacker to hold their weapon against the victim’s body, this scenario is more often than not an attempt to place firearms within the realms of traditional hand-to-hand combat, instead of making the traditional fighting style address the reality of a very dire situation.

Never forget a firearm allows its user to kill from a distance. And more importantly, what the traditional karate-ka considers a long distance, twelve to twenty feet, is a close one for the gunman. Therefore your decision to confront, or run away from the gunman will be based in part on how much distance separates you from the shooter.







Concealment Kills



It’s the summer of 1978, disco music fills the airwaves, my parents are divorced and I’m living and working in an inner-city hotel. One block away is the Trailways bus terminal complete with prostitutes, drug dealers and homeless people. Just around the corner is the South’s most notorious gay club. Needless to say, my desk clerk job gets very interesting when the bars close down and all the vampires need somewhere to go.

At this point in time my young adult life has two staples - karate and the job. My job lets me pay for karate lessons and karate allows me to escape the crime and drugs I’m exposed to on a daily basis.

On this particular Saturday night the bellhop and I have just evicted a very drunk, very belligerent, middle-aged man from the hotel lobby. After tossing him onto the sidewalk the man gets up, brushes off his red sport coat, looks me straight in the face and says “Sum-bitch, I’m coming back for you.” I say nothing. I’ve heard the line before, it’s an old standard and nothing ever comes of it. Usually that is.

At three- thirty A.M., things have quieted down and I sit behind the front desk reading when the lobby door opens. Looking up I see a red sport coat and shiny butcher knife coming straight at me. “I’m gonna cut you boy and bad too” shouts my evicted acquaintance, as he tromps across the carpeted floor at full steam.

Reaching beneath my shirt I pull out the Colt 45 automatic tucked into my pants, aim dead center at my assailant’s chest and shout, “Are you sure you want to do this?”

“No” he answers, then runs out of the lobby.

Returning the pistol to my waist I consider myself lucky for bringing it to work, instead of the nunchakus I own.

First made popular in 16th century Europe, the pistol was initially employed by cavalrymen called ‘pistoleers’ who fired the weapon before closing on their enemy with sword and spear. Originally the weapon was a delicate instrument that relied on the wheellock firing mechanism. But with improvements in firearms technology, the pistol has now become one of the most reliable weapons available.

The pistol’s most redeeming quality is concealment. Large caliber pistols such as a .357 magnum can be easily tucked away into a purse, coat or waistline, while smaller caliber versions, such as the .25 automatic, can be carried in one’s pocket. This has earned the pistol the title of ‘the assassin’s weapon’ and rightly so, because usually one never sees a concealed pistol until it is pointed directly at them.

Therefore to help counter the threats of a concealed pistol, ask yourself these questions: Do you know the person you’re talking to? If not, what are their motives to striking up a conversation? Are you in an isolated area? Is the person acting suspicious? Do you feel threatened by their presence? Can you see both their hands? Are they carrying a large bag? How much distance separates you from the stranger your talking too? These are just a few indicators and should the individual unexpectedly reach for something on their person, assume the worst and be prepared to act. Always remember, constant attention to one’s surroundings and the people within them is a must for your survival. Real shootings never occur as you expect them too or as seen on television.


Firepower Anyone?



Panama, March of 1981. I crouch beside a jungle trail holding my M.16. Somewhere out there are men who want to kill me. A stones throw away on the other side of the trail is my partner Chavez, who like me, remains silent and alert, waiting for the enemy to come.

On the tree in front of me I watch scorpions run up and down the rough bark, not more than six inches from my hand. “Will they bite me?” I wonder, “And if so, will it be fatal?” I can’t move because that would disclose my position, so I remain still hoping the scorpions will ignore my presence.

Sensing movement, I glance at the trail and see an enemy soldier coming towards me. Before I can take aim, Chavez fires a burst from his rifle and the man is killed instantly. To my left I see five more soldiers moving slowly through the dense growth below, trying to outflank me. The crescendo of rifle fire is deafening but I remain still, watching and waiting and when the men are no more than fifteen feet away I come up into a kneeling position then rake them with my M.16 on full auto. From behind I hear a voice tell me:

“Good job, paratrooper, good job.”

Fortunately, the firefight I just participated in was a training exercise at the U.S. Army’s Jungle Warfare Center. Were it not, Chavez and I would have killed or severely wounded, ten men in a span of less than two minutes.

Often called pray and spray in military jargon, the tactic I just described is also known as suppressive firepower. It’s a simple formula based on the premise that the more bullets you shoot the greater your chances are of hitting the target. And even if the target is not wounded, the sound of rapid gunfire is mentally upsetting.

If a gunman has a single shot rifle and stands at a distance of twenty feet, your chances of survival are good should you decide to run. However, if they possess an A.K. 47, a weapon whose ratio of fire is 600 rounds per minute and is accurate past one-hundred yards, then your chances of escaping unharmed diminishes considerably.

The rule of firepower applies to not only assault rifles, but also semi-automatic pistols. During the Virginia Tech massacre of 2007, Seung-Hui Cho, using a 9 millimeter Glock and a Walther P 22, murdered 32 people in cold blood. Both pistols’ magazines held more than ten bullets. The murderer’s tactics were both simple and cold blooded; he walked into a densely packed class room and fired quickly. Because his victims had no place to run, Cho’s rapid fire claimed the lives of many innocent people.

Pistols and assaults rifles are not the only firearms possessing high volumes of fire. Shotguns, especially sawed off versions, are also formidable weapons. The shotgun’s advantage is that it fires cartridges containing buckshot, tiny BB pellets, which after leaving the gun’s barrel expand into a wide pattern. This pattern enables the gun’s user to hit moving targets easier than with a rifle and is the reason why the shotgun is popular amongst sportsmen, particularly bird hunters. Similarly at close range, ten to fifteen feet away, if one’s target is as big as the human body then the buckshot’s scatter almost guarantees a hit. However, the further buckshot travels the wider its pattern becomes and the less knock down power it generates.

Therefore, when considering the large variety of guns in circulation today, the ability to recognize what type of firearm the shooter possesses can help determine the course of action you take. Running towards the sound of automatic weapons fire while shopping in the mall may get you killed. However, deflecting the barrel of a revolver placed against your forehead may save your life. Remember, every tiger roars differently.







Gun Induced Fear



May, 1981 and I’m home on leave from the Army. Its in the morning, my mother is at work and I lay in bed, half awake. Someone knocks on the back door but I stay put, hoping they will go away. Once more there’s a knock and then I hear the door open. Scrambling out of bed I grab a Winchester 12 gauge off the gun rack and wait.

Into the living room walks a man dressed in a dark blue suit. I bring the shotgun’s barrel up, aim midpoint at his body and ask, “Who are you?” Turning towards the sound of my voice he sees me and then a bewildered look comes across his face. Reality sets in, his eyes grow wide, he throws both hands up into the air and screams “Please, don’t shoot, don’t shoot, I’m your realtor.”

My sluggish brain forgets that the house is for sale. The realtor stands in front of me white as a ghost, it’s obvious he’s unaccustomed to having someone dressed in their skivvies point a shotgun at him. Fifteen minutes later he stops trembling and drives home. The lesson learned, guns create fear and the fear of being shot is almost as bad as the act itself.

Rubber guns and white karate gis don’t instill fear. Yet this is the environment in which much gun defense training takes place. Real guns produce fear and fear is a very powerful weapon. It reduces motor function, causes hyper- venelation, trembling, tunnel vision and even the loss of bowel and bladder control. The effect is almost indescribable to those who haven’t experienced it first hand.

Gun fright is not a singular phobia but can be viewed as four different anxieties rolled into one. There is the fear of being killed, the fear which comes from hearing unexpected gunfire, the fear of being shot and the fear which occurs after seeing someone shot.

Gun fright is a powerful weapon and is a contributing factor in many murders, particularly those committed on a mass scale. For instance, you’re worshipping at your church, mosque or synagogue when a gunman unexpectedly begins shooting. One hour earlier you left home to attend services in a religious sanctuary that you’re comfortable in. The dwelling is safe, a place of spiritual refuge, therefore disbelief strikes when the first shots ring out. Then after recognizing the danger, fear renders you unable to plot a logical course of action. You panic, freeze, or run in the wrong direction hoping all the while that you don’t get killed. Hence your state of panic becomes a larger enemy than the gunman.

Law Enforcement Officers and Military personnel also experience gun fright, but because of their training and experience they know how to work through their fear. Fear in itself is not a bad thing because it indicates danger. However, learning to work through fear is a key ingredient to surviving a shooting. To do so requires practical training utilizing unloaded firearms, combined with role playing scenarios based upon real life events. These scenarios should include car- jackings, kidnappings, home invasions, drive by shootings, hold ups and even random massacres. By practicing real life events you develop instincts and responses that enable you to work through the fear and take the appropriate course of action.

In keeping with the theme of reality, another opportunity the karate-ka may want to pursue is to visit a firing range so that they can become familiar with the sound of gunfire. Today, many people cannot distinguish between the sound of a firecracker and a pistol’s discharge. This is a grave disadvantage for those attempting to develop realistic gun-defense strategies.











The Three Scenarios



January, 1983. I’m working as a bouncer in a sports bar on the west end of town. The clientele are a mixed lot of bikers, middle aged men cheating on their wives, college students, prostitutes and drug dealers. As I stand gazing out onto the parking lot I notice a customer, dressed in a long black overcoat, walk out the front door holding a glass of wine in his left hand and a prostitute with his right.

I’m tired from the long night’s work and not as alert as I should be. Walking up behind the man I pat him on the shoulder and say, “Hey, you can’t take that drink out of the bar.”

Still holding the wine, he steps forward three paces and turns towards me. Only now I notice that his right hand has disappeared into his coat pocket. “You touch me again, and I’ll kill you.” he says in a menacing tone.

Although I can’t see a pistol, I realize I’m in grave danger. My enemy is ten feet away, the concealed weapon is at the far side of his body and he possesses a clear field of fire. It’s a no win situation. Even if I can reach him the thought of being killed, or of killing someone over a glass of wine, holds no appeal to me. I slowly raise my hands and say, “Keep the glass, I’m just trying to do my job, it’s nothing personal.” He glares at me, but I don’t make eye contact since it might prompt him to shoot me.

After what seems like an eternity, I take a deep breath and walk backwards across the parking watching the gunman and his prostitute stroll off into the night. Without saying a word I pass through the thrill seeking spectators gathered at the bar’s entrance. Once inside I set down at a table and order three fingers of whiskey. It takes two rounds before my hands stop shaking.

April, 1983. My first cousin, a decorated Marine Veteran, is doing backhoe work for a man when they have a disagreement over the price being charged. Without warning, the man reaches inside his trailer, produces a 410 shotgun and kills my cousin instantly with a blast to his chest. Four days later I stand graveside listening to a military honor guard play taps. I think to myself, “What a waste. You survived Vietnam only to get killed by a hillbilly.”

November, 1983. Police find my uncle lying face down on his bedroom floor. He’s been shot in the back with a large caliber handgun. The soft lead bullet has passed through his body at sternum level, turning his heart and lungs into a mass of pulp. A home invasion becomes an execution and there are no suspects.

The tiger roars three times in 1983, after which two of my family lay dead. What do the shootings have in common? The answer is nothing, aside from murder being committed twice.

Sociologists have numerous theories as to why people commit violence. Many believe that people have to be taught how to kill, while others state that given the proper motivation and conditions, our species will kill to survive and acquire social dominance. Both arguments are relevant and provide data upon which the following gun defense scenarios and reactions will be based.

Once a gun is aimed at you, particularly at close range, the chances of you surviving the encounter diminish significantly. At this point, much of your continued existence will depend upon how bad the gunman wishes to kill you and your own actions/ reactions. However, the gunman’s motivations for assaulting you will vary depending upon their wants, needs and desires, as well as the conditions under which the crime takes place. Hence, three different scenarios of gun violence will be presented: asinine assaults, random killings and clandestine murders.

Asinine assaults are those instances when you allow yourself to be drawn into a confrontation that could be avoided. This includes barroom brawls, domestic arguments, road rage and fighting over a loaf of bread in the grocery store.

In his autobiographical account “A Personal Stand” Country music singer Trace Adkins gives the perfect description of an asinine assault when he tells of coming home drunk one night and confronting his wife, who was armed with a .38 pistol. After Adkins threatened his wife, the enraged woman placed the pistol against his rib cage and pulled the trigger, which resulted in a bullet passing through Adkin’s chest cavity. In deer hunting terms it was a kill shot and the same fate would have befallen the country singer had he not received life saving medical care.

Both Adkin’s and Moonie Caldwell’s shootings are perfect illustrations of what happens when your temper flares and your ego rages out of control. The core issue becomes social dominance, one person wanting to dominate another and the conflict is often accelerated by the presence of bystanders.

Initially the altercation may erupt over something as simple as a glass of wine, as happened with me in 1983. The confrontation may then be followed by verbal threats, pushing, shoving and fist fights. After this portion of the ritual is complete and no one has established their dominance, firearms may then be employed to settle the issue. In essence, what this amounts to is that you got shot to satisfy your ego. Hence the term asinine assault.

Random killings, like the one committed against my cousin, are shootings performed unexpectedly against an individual or a group people. Examples of this type of firearm violence are drive- by shootings, school massacres and armed robberies involving murders. Of the three types of gun violence described, random killings are the hardest to defend against because there is little or no warning, they are hard to predict and frequently occur in public places.

Clandestine murders include home invasions, kidnappings, and rape/murders. These are scenarios where the gunman uses their weapon to obtain something from you: sex, money or drugs after which the likelihood of your being killed is fairly high.

The accomplishment of clandestine killings is based on the fact that the gunman can assault you in a secluded place. Hence there are no witnesses and no one to disturb the gunman while they commit their heinous act. They may use a gun to kidnap you in a mall parking lot then drive to a secluded area where you will be murdered, or break into your home in the dead of night, as happened to my uncle, or carjack you at a stoplight. Under these circumstances the gun is used to induce fear so that you will comply with the attacker’s demands. The fear of getting shot makes you a victim, when in actuality your chances of surviving a gunshot are greater than abduction, thanks to cell phones and modern medical technology.









The Three Responses



Coinciding with the three possible shooting scenarios are three basic responses: de-escalation, run and rush. De-escalation is the use of verbal persuasion to avoid a conflict, for instance my 1983 confrontation with the man over a glass of wine. Instead of attempting to gain social dominance over my enemy, I listened to common sense instead of my ego, raised both hands and said “keep the glass.” Then, I backed away from him in a non-threatening manner.

The advantage of de-escalation is that it allows you to reason with the gunman and avoid a deadly encounter. However, de-escalation only works if the gunman hasn’t decided to kill you. With scenarios such as a school massacre, drive- bys and premeditated murder, de-escalation is not a practical strategy.

Run, duck and cover, means exactly what the term implies. You run away from the assailant and hide. Distance works both for and against the gunman and the tactical reality of shooting is that even at a distance of ten feet, usually only one or two rounds will strike a running person despite the amount bullets fired, unless a automatic weapon or shotgun is being used.

To explain the duck, run and cover tactic in a more realistic manner, say you’re in the mall one day when someone opens fire with a semi-automatic pistol. The first thing you would do is hit the ground, then determine where the fire is coming from, then run away from the gunfire and out the nearest exit.

Another example of run, duck and cover would be having a man aim a pistol at you in a parking lot and demand that you to get into his van. The distance between you and the gunman is ten feet, there’s an open path of escape and cars to hide behind. De-escalation will not work and rushing the gunman will place you in even greater danger. Therefore, you run away.

Rush. Of the three responses this is the most dangerous to perform because it requires that you get close to the gunman, disabling or killing him with your hands and feet. Before utilizing the rush tactic you should ask yourself one question, “Is this worth getting killed over,” and if the answer is no, then you may want to run, or else try verbal de-escalation. However, should you be placed in a kill or be killed situation then the only alternative may be rushing the gunman. Scenarios for rushing the gunman are home invasions, attempted kidnappings, random shootings like the Virginia Tech Massacre and the 9/11 hijackings.

Distance, the type of weapon and the gunman’s position will greatly determine the success of your rush. If the gunman is just out of fingertip reach and stands with the pistol in their lead hand, then rushing will be a sound tactic. However, if they stand at a distance of ten feet and are pointing a double barrel shotgun at you, then the chances of a successful rush may be limited.

Another consideration in rushing is how the gunman holds their weapon. Have they assumed a proper firing stance with feet shoulder width apart, elbows tucked in and pistol held firmly in both hands? If so, this is a clear indication the shooter knows their business. However, should they be holding the pistol in an overhead position with a loose grip, as seen on television, then the individual is not an experienced shooter which means your chances of survival may have increased.

Once you rush the gunman the struggle becomes a matter of life or death and the likelihood of someone being killed increases tenfold. It’s not the gun you have to worry about but the person who holds it. All techniques should be of a lethal nature such as eye gouges, strikes to the throat, stomps to the knees, slamming the gunman’s head into a brick wall, even biting them. The fight has to be short and brutal because a protracted engagement will get you killed. Your survival rests upon just how vicious you can be. There are no rules save one, survival.

Many theories abound about the proper way to disarm someone with a firearm. Some advocate placing your finger between the pistol’s hammer, while others state you should grab the automatics slide. Unfortunately, these theories are based on inadequate knowledge of firearms. The semi-automatic pistol will continue firing should you grab its slide. Likewise, placing your finger between the pistols hammer and firing pin only works on guns with an exposed hammer. Therefore since the number of firearms available to the public is almost unlimited, a general rule of thumb is that whoever points the barrel controls the firearm. With long weapons like the shotgun and rifle this is easier to implement than with a pistol, yet the basic truth remains that if your adversary cannot aim the gun at you, then they can’t shoot you.

Although many DVD’s and self-defense courses exist, the best way to deter gun violence is by paying attention to your surroundings and avoiding situations that could prove dangerous. Your chances of being attacked by a shark while swimming in the ocean are less likely than your becoming a victim of gun violence. And yet most people worry more about shark attacks than they do mall shootings. Therefore if you do find yourself confronted with a gun, the decisions you make should be swift and decisive, never forgetting that rapid action is paramount for your survival.



Surviving the Gun and Beyond.



Sunday, July 27, 2008 a man walks into a church in my hometown and opens fire with a shotgun. Two people are killed and seven others are wounded. Three members of the congregation rush the gunman, wrestle him to the ground and hold him until police officers arrive.

There are no easy answers to firearms assaults and the choices you make will affect your entire life. During the church shooting I just described, one member of the congregation deliberately placed himself in the gunman’s line of fire so that others would live. This too is a reality one must confront when protecting loved ones.

Martial Artists who have never experienced gun violence firsthand, often view the conflict in an all or nothing manner. Either you win by disarming the gunman or else you’ve lost. Unfortunately gun defense is not this simple because the issue at hand is your survival, not winning and losing as is done in tournaments.

Full recovery from a gunshot wound is desirable but not always obtainable. Bullets smash bones, rupture organs and extract a psychological toll on those shot. The object, however, is to survive the shooting so that you can spend the rest of your life in the company of family and friends. Should you do so with a limp then fine, you survived the tiger and that is the ultimate goal for anyone involved in a shooting.

Are all gunshot wounds fatal? The answer is no, provided you’re not shot in the heart or brain. The chances of surviving a gunshot have dramatically increased over the past fifty years due to advances in medical technology and the ability to rapidly transport victims to trauma centers.

Yet despite medical advances, one’s survival is still dependent upon the caliber of bullet used, where they were struck and how many times they’re shot. There is no exact formula for determining who will and who won’t survive a shooting. And while that might not sound like much of a chance, it’s far better than having no chance at all.

Today psychologists, self defense experts and sociologists all agree that firearms violence induces post traumatic stress disorders on those who survive a shooting. I concur with their assessment because the eight neighborhood children I grew up with were all affected by gun violence and all exhibited post traumatic symptoms later in life.

Currently the balance between traditional karate/martial arts and firearms is an uneven one, swayed heavily in favor of the gun. I’ve studied several martial arts during my lifetime, but I’m also a gun owner who believes the best gun defense is another gun. Nevertheless, I freely admit that gun violence is a horrible thing and it scares me. Yet despite my fears, sometimes in the evening when I sit on my deck watching the fireflies, I’ll remember the first time I heard the tiger roar. And when I do, I always think, “Better you than me Moonie Caldwell. Better… you… than me.”



Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Our Asian Infatuation

Our Asian Infatuation


My lifelong involvement with the martial arts began when I was five years old.  That’s when a kid down the street began cleaning my clock on a regular basis, and after coming home battered and bruised one too many times mom told pop that it was time I learned how to fight.
          My father, an Army veteran, had boxed and played judo while stationed on Okinawa during the early 1950’s. He once described the island as being “war torn and small, a place where there wasn’t much to do,” and for recreation he spent his off duty hours in the post gymnasium working out or in the enlisted man’s club drinking beer.
 The martial prowess dad acquired on Okinawa was passed on to me with simple, but easy to understand instructions. For instance he would say: “This is a hip throw, use it to get your opponent on the ground so you can stomp the bejesus out of them” or “this is an uppercut, hit em in the breadbasket and when they double over, you’ve really got em.” Not once did I hear him utter something mystical and profane such as “embrace the mountain grass hopper, and you’ll become one with it.”
 Dad’s style of fighting combined both Asian and Western strategies into a simple, but effect means of self- defense.  Needless to say there was little fanfare during our training, but on the appointed day when it came time to confront my aggressor everything worked like a charm. With one punch to the nose I sent the bully next door home in tears and from that day on he never laid a hand on me again.
Ten years later my Isshinryu training began at the Harold Long School of Karate.   Mr. Long was a Marine Corp veteran as well as a living legend throughout the Southeastern United States. He had studied Karate while stationed on Okinawa and after being discharged from the Marines he began teaching in Knoxville, TN.
 Like all things related to the Marines, Mr. Long’s classes were very demanding and for those who couldn’t keep up he freely encouraged them to leave. He was a tough man who tolerated no nonsense and his instructors were a mix of police officers, professional bouncers, rough country boys and college students who fought like angry bobcats. Getting hurt during training was common and once I was punched so hard in the spine that I couldn’t feel the left side of my body for a week. I never told my parents though because I was afraid they’d make me quit karate.
 Although we studied kata, much of our time was spent free-sparring which in those days amounted to bare-knuckle brawling since foam safety equipment wasn’t very popular. One exacting drill we used was called “Bull in the ring”. It involved having ten people stand in a line outside the sparring ring, while one lone individual waited on the inside. At the command of go, each of the ten people outside the ring would run in and fight the lone person for thirty seconds before being replaced by someone else. If nothing else the drill helped you develop intestinal fortitude while receiving an agonizing beating.
Despite the quality and severity of our training there was an underlying assumption that the Okinawan’s and Japanese were better karate-ka than we were.  Many of us felt this way because for one, karate was born on Okinawa and two since it was an Asian fighting art we naturally assumed the Asians would practice it better. However when I expressed this opinion to my father he always replied: “If Japanese were such great fighters then why did they loose the war?” Needless to say his answer irritated me, but subconsciously I realized his first hand experiences outweighed my Asian infatuation.
Over the course of the following decade my estimates of Asian Fighting Arts practitioners rose continuously until I was employed by a Japanese electronics firm. Then and only then was my Asian infatuation finally laid to rest.  Junk food eating karate-ka, out of shape judoka’s, chain smoking kendo practitioners, wannabe samurais, you name it the Japanese have it. In fact they’re not much different than westerners in their pursuit of martial arts. At the time it was a startling realization, but it eventually helped me understand that martial prowess has nothing to do with ethnicity.
Since gaining main stream popularity 50 years ago the Asian Fighting Arts have swept through western society like a tsunami and by doing so have spawned an unhealthy infatuation that encourages westerners to ignore their own martial heritage. For instance today the Samurai are known as the fiercest warriors to have ever graced a battlefield, yet there were others who rivaled, if not surpassed them. One tribe of warriors being the Ancient Celts who used to paint their bodies blue then run naked into battle with only a sword and shield.  Others such as the Vikings, Hoplite’s, Huns, Franks and Knights Templar also fit this category.
Another example of our blatant infatuation is that until the rise of MMA competitions Aikido, Judo, jujutsu and Chin-na were heralded as the standards for grappling arts, yet the Ancient Greeks and Romans as well as English, French, Italian and Spanish schools of Renaissance fencing also included grappling, locking, throwing and trapping in their teachings.  Similarly the illustrations found in Hans Talhoffer’s Medieval Combat could be superimposed on the densho of most systems of Koryu Bujutsu. Let us not forget that wrestling has a long standing history in the west and before the wide spread popularity of golf men wrestled as a past time sport at county fairs, family gatherings and during holiday festivities.
Similarly we evoke the old masters and speak their names with great reverence: Funakoshi, Motobu, Miyagi, Yip Man and Musashi. However in doing so more celebrated western fighters and martial legends such as: King Arthur and Homer, Donn Draeger, Jack Johnson, Sugar Ray Leonard and Ken Shamrock are ignored, nor do we consider that in today’s arena neither Funakoshi nor Motobu would last one round against Leonard or Shamrock.
Whimsically karate-ka and kung-fu practitioners reflect about the good old days, the period before the Asian Fighting Arts were contaminated and commercialized by westerners. History though shows us there has never been such a time because when karate was introduced to Japan many Okinawans strived to open up dojos and enroll a large amount of students. Hence the reason Funakoshi and Motobu hated each other and why Chojun Miyagi quit teaching in Japan altogether.[i]  
Furthermore the political infighting and lofty organizations common throughout the Asian fighting arts are often the result of over ambitious Asians and their desire to cash in on the Western market. For instance the Japanese Karate Association was established in 1949 with Gichin Funakoshi as chief instructor while the Korean Tae Kwon Do Association was founded shortly after the Korean War. Since then both organizations and their off-shoots, have achieved international status with thousands of members’ world wide paying monthly dues. These are just two examples of many such organizations in existence today that have been founded by Asian martial artists.
Sadly despite their own heritage, knowledge and skills westerners hardly ever credit themselves for having influenced the Asian fighting arts, nor recognize their own champions in the face of Asian practitioners. A good example of the former being that Isshinryu karate has almost died out on Okinawa but is currently undergoing resurgence thanks to Tsuyoshi Uechi, a native Okinawan, who consulted with long term American Isshinryu Karate-ka in order to revive the art. And where the latter is concerned many people are unaware that both Olympic Judo and Tae Kwon Do have long been dominated by Western fighters. Similarly Mark Wiley observed about the Filipino martial arts: “This, coupled with the tremendous influence of Spanish culture, prompted the evolution of eskrima, the “classical” martial art of the Philippines.  It was the Spanish rapier and dagger systems that had the greatest influence on it transformation from kali.” (Wiley, Filipino Martial Culture, p.49) Hence there was intercourse between Asian and Western cultures and the Asian fighters borrowed just as freely from the Western traditions as their counterparts did and continue to do so today.
It is time to recognize that the world wide proliferation of Asian Fighting Arts erases a cultural monopoly that has existed for far too long.  Ethnicity is no longer a prerequisite for teaching Asian combatives because there are now as many long term Western practitioners as there are Asians.
More importantly though is that by continuing to encourage the myth of Asian superiority Westerners fail to appreciate their own martial prowess which is sad, especially when considering the enormous contributions they have made to the fighting arts. To fall prey to Asian infatuation is understandable, but to embrace it is an unpardonable mistake no one should make. Fighting is fighting and when the mystic and hype is laid aside you’ll see that the Western traditions and practitoners are equal, if not superior to their Asian counterparts.



[i] Miyagi was actually bribed by a group of Japanese martial artists to award them rank. As Higaonna wrote, “This was clearly a request for Miyagi to grant members of this group black bet ranks.  Miyagi Sensei who in any case disliked the concept of ranks, immediately pushed the envelop away stating that he could not comply with the request.”  (Higaonna, History of Karat, 89-90)

Friday, November 9, 2012

Veteran's Day


Veteran's Day

It was a busy Friday after noon when I pulled into the car wash and an older man, about 62, greeted me. He was lean and muscular, had sandy grey hair and a limp that accentuated his steady gait.

“Wait here” he said “while I scrub your tires and rims.”

While waiting, I noticed Old Glory on a flag pole in front of the car wash and beside her stood the POW MIA flag. Both waved proudly in the breeze and as I watched them my thoughts turned to friends and relatives I’d known who had served in Vietnam. Suddenly my attention was refocused by the attendant’s voice. “Pull inside the bay and when the red light comes on stop. After the wash is complete pull out and I’ll dry off your truck.”

“Okay,” I answered putting my Chevy into gear.

Rolling up the window I slowly entered the car wash, stopped then sat patiently. Ahead of me at the exit, stood the attendant with both legs planted shoulder with apart, watching intently as the oversized washing machine cleaned my truck. His gaze was tough yet kind, like that of a person who had experienced hard times, but sought neither charity, nor pity.

After the wash had finished I pulled outside, braked to a halt and rolling down the driver’s side window once more noticed the two flags waving briskly in the afternoon breeze.

“Airborne, huh?”

“What’s that?” I said to the attendant.

“I saw your license plate, said you were Airborne, man after my own heart.”

I noticed his eyes and they were crinkled around the edges and a slight grin had crossed his face.

“Where you Airborne too?” I asked.

He nodded. “Yep. 7th Cav, did 22 months in Vietnam.  Flew casualty evacuation, no one wanted the job, so I figured someone had to do it. We got a lot those boys out. Some made it, others didn’t.”

My throat tightened because standing before me was a real hero. Someone who had rode a helicopter into battle and at the risk of his own life carried wounded soldiers back to safety.

“God bless and thanks” I stammered.

He grinned even bigger, “Everyday my feet hit the ground I’m blessed.”

We shook hands and just before leaving he said to me: “Welcome home.”

With a lump in my throat I thanked him again then pulled into traffic. Driving off I saw Old Glory snap to attention then another truck entered the car wash and as the attendant knelt and scrubbed its tires I thought: He deserves better, much better than what our country has given him.

This November 11th please take time to thank someone you know who is a veteran because as the old saying goes:

If you can read thank a teacher

If you sleep safe tonight thank a Police Officer

And if you live free thank a Veteran.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Myth of Empty Hand Combat


The Myth of Empty Hand Fighting

“The first effort of human technology was probably weapon-making.  History and travel tell us of no race so rude as to lack artificial means of offense and defense”   Sir Richard Burton

Mortal combat has been fought with weapons since Homo erectus roamed the African Plains, some 1.8 million years ago.  Initially this involved using rocks, clubs, sharpened sticks and flint knives until the bow and arrow and spear were developed. More importantly though is the invention of projectile weapons (sling, bow and arrow, javelin,) allowed man to kill from a distance and gave him a measure of safety previously unknown when using shock weapons (knife, club, sword). Furthermore, with the development of firearms the distance man could kill from and his ability to do so increased dramatically. [i]

In spite of our natural propensity for using weapons there is in karate a widely held belief that empty-handed strategies will always prevail against an armed assailant. Similarly the myth of empty- handed combat is a long standing one and there are no ends to what people will do to advance it. Death touches and pressure point knockouts are commonly found, though their use in full-contact fighting is non-existent.  Kobudo practitioners will use sais and nunchakus against shotguns to illustrate their system’s effectiveness while karate instructors often portray armed assailants as buffoons barely capable of putting one foot in front of another. Sadly in each and every case myth takes precedence over reality, sometimes with deadly consequences. [ii]

The origin of karate’s empty-hand myth originated with Basil Hall’s visit to Okinawa during the early 19th century. Hall, an English sea captain, was intrigued by the Okinawans and made several noteworthy observations about their hospitality, culture and country. His most notable being that the Okinawans possessed no arms, no army and no means of defending themselves.

On his homeward journey Hall’s ship docked briefly at St. Helena, the island Napoleon was exiled on. There Hall was granted a visit with the deposed emperor, during which he spoke of a kingdom that had no arms and practiced no war. Napoleon however, remained unconvinced and as Hall later wrote: “Several circumstances…respecting the Loo-Choo [Okinawan] people surprised even him a good deal; and I had the satisfaction of seeing him more than once completely perplexed, and unable to account for the phenomena which I related.  Nothing struck him so much as their having no arms.  ‘Point d’ armes!’ he exclaimed;…”Mais, sans armes, comment se bat-on?’

“I could only reply, that as far as we had been able to discover, they had never had any war, but remained in a state of internal and external peace. ‘No wars!’ cried he, with a scornful and incredulous expression, as if the existence of any people under the sun without wars was a monstrous anomaly.” (Kerr, Okinawa History of an Island People, p. 258-259) As with other explorers Hall’s observation was based on insufficient knowledge, but the myth he perpetuated remains to this day.

The 17th century is considered an age when sword to sword combat flourished, yet in reality firearms dominated most of the world’s battlefields at this time. This was especially so considering the development of tactics which allowed drilled units to maintain a consistent rate of fire, thereby increasing the weapon’s effectiveness. With these developments, the distance at which combat was fought increased, and the frequency at which close quarters combat occurred decreased. However there was another advantage firearms offered and that was training.  Whereas it normally took three to five years preparation to be skilled enough to fight on the battlefield with sword and spear, bow and arrow, anyone could be taught to load and fire an Arquebus within a few weeks, if not days.

           Feudal Japanese armies were in many ways no different than their European counterparts and when the Satsuma invaded Okinawa they quickly swept aside all resistance because the invading force was equipped with firearms. As Morio Higaonna wrote, “On April 1, the Satsuma army separated into two forces.  One, led by Kabayama, proceeded to the port of Yomitan from which they then attacked and burned Urasoe Castle and Ryufukuji Temple. They advanced as far as Shuri Castle, the residence of the king.  Kabayama’s army was met at the bridge of Shuri Castle by defiant islanders armed with nothing more than sticks and bamboo spears.  The Satsuma force of between 1,000 and 1,500 men, armed with guns, advanced onto the bridge.  Bullets from their guns fell like rain and the islanders were forced to retreat into the castle” (Higaonna, The History of Karate, 3).

 The Satsuma’s use of firearms allowed them to unleash a devastating barrage on the Okinawans, which produced horrendous effects, physically and psychologically. And, as in Europe where the sword and spear were becoming obsolete, on Okinawa traditionally armed warriors were defeated by soldiers with guns. Hence, Okinawan styles of fighting became suitable only for personal defense due to innovations in weapons technology.

For almost 300 years after the Satsuma invasion the Okinawans developed their native fighting arts in secrecy until karate was imported to Japan. Once there it was practiced as a sport, a means of self-defense and as moving meditation. However despite karate’s enormous popularity it was of little use on the battlefield because firearms, automatic weapons and artillery had rendered the likelihood of empty- hand combat almost impossible.

When karate was transmitted to the United States after World War II, Americans whole heartedly embraced the fighting art though few questioned its historical veracity. Magazines, movies and masters all promoted the superiority of empty-hand fighting in a culture long accustomed to firearms, though oddly enough it was Chojun Miyagi who summed up karate’s role in the modern world best when he stated, “Our intention is to develop a sound and healthy body so that, in the event we are attacked unexpectedly, we are able to defend ourselves effectively.  That is to say, the fundamental principle of karate is to be able to defeat an assailant using solely our natural weapons-our bodies.

However, in situations in which an aggressor possesses superior strength or wields a weapon, we must use, in conjunction with our natural weapons, whatever weapon we may find at hand.” (Higaonna, History of Karate, 82)
 As a sport, a means of physical fitness, meditation and cultural artifact karate holds many possibilities, but as a fighting art it is extremely limited in a culture where firearms’ violence is commonplace. Consequently it is important for karate-ka to understand the difference between myth and fact and know that the instinct which originally drove us to use weapons is alive and well today.  Or in layman’s terms, two hours of firearms’ training negates twenty years of karate with the squeeze of a trigger.


[i] “On the negative side, the maximum range of shock weapons is seldom greater than a couple of meters.  Long lances or pikes can double this reach, but only at the expense of accuracy, mobility, and impact.  Moreover, these very short ranges create sever psychological and social difficulties that render shock weapons the choice among only the more severely disciplined armies of high chiefdoms and states.  These weapons are very dangerous to an opponent, but they put their wielder at great risk.  To employ them against a comparably armed opponent, a warrior must close to a distance where both parties are in maximum danger of being killed or terribly wounded.  And more important, to reach this closure the warrior must pass through the killing zone of the enemy’s fire weapons, with each step forward increasing their accuracy and their impact force.  It is no accident that the use of body armor is highly correlated with the use of shock weapons, since the former can dramatically decrease the risk of injury from missiles and can ameliorate those from close combat.  Many groups equipped themselves with shock weapons but employed them only to dispatch fleeing or captured foes after these had been routed.”  Lawrence H. Keeley. War Before Civilization, p. 49-50.
[ii] One of the more bizarre incidents involving karate and firearms that I have witnessed was while visiting an Iaido school. During the course of the evening the school’s instructor repeatedly demonstrated his ability to draw and cut an assailant before they pulled the pistol’s trigger. This delusion was based on the assumption that the assailant would hold their pistol against the instructor’s back, head or neck as he stood in a ready stance with the katana. Never mind that in daily life he wouldn’t have the sword, or that if confronted by a police officer the first thing the officer would demand after drawing their pistol at a safe distance is that the katana be thrown to the ground. “What happens if the assailant draws the pistol at a distance?” I asked. “I charge and cut” he answered. “My Kiai will scare them and buy me time to cover the distance between us.”  Although dangerous, ignorance is a blissful state of mind.