What Would It Cost You if You Didn’t Fight Back?
What Would It Cost You if You Didn’t Fight Back?
If you’re honest with yourself, there probably aren’t many events that have occurred in your life which completely changed the way you perceive your capabilities and your innate ability to defend yourself.
However, this is exactly what occurred for me during a recent Extreme Close-Quarter Counter-Ambush course put on by Jeff Gonzales of Trident Concepts and Tony Blauer, the founder of the SPEAR™ System.
The overall premise of the course was to focus on not only learning the SPEAR System and how it integrates into natural human bio-mechanics, but to learn how to transition that system into close-range interpersonal confrontations, employing potentially available weapons. Tony covered SPEAR on the first day of the course and Jeff headed up the second day with the transition to available weapons.
To say that the course was an eye-opener is an understatement, Tony and Jeff have a unique ability to boil down all the non-essential fluff that surrounds close-quarter combatives and take an objective approach to what’s truly going to work in that “holy shit” moment when you realize that someone’s trying to kill you. In all honesty, there’s no better way to explain it.
Something that really resonated with me along these lines, was the way Tony explained how stories of incidents get retold. What’s often left out is the “oh my god, I thought I was going to die” part. When you’re that scared and in the fight, you’re not your reputation, you’re not your weight classification and you’re not your weapon systems.
What’s paramount, according to Tony, is that you take the threat seriously and fight back. He stressed in the opening mindset introduction that you truly need to look within yourself and answer this question, “what will it cost you if you don’t fight back?” Use these three p’s; personal, passionate and present. What will personally motivate you, what are you passionate about that will motivate you and what’s present, meaning here and now, that will motivate you? Remember that words are icons and be as descriptive as possible. Go ahead a take a few minutes to do that, the rest of the article will be here when you get back.
Combatives Paradigm Shift
I think you’ll agree with me that nearly all training emphasizes shooting, meaning that it’s the most prevalent skill-set taught in a self-defense scenario. Tony mentioned that statistically speaking, when there’s resistance, it’s usually physical; meaning you “fight” more than you “shoot.”
He also made the point that due to being more at risk during resistance than compliance, combative skills are every bit as important as shooting, if not more. Also, your hand-to-hand tactics shouldn’t be complex or technique oriented and must work “in motion” with your gear. It should also pass the “will it work in the street?” test.
Analyzing common practice methods for defense against attacks was also extremely enlightening. More often than not, practice starts from in-contact, meaning that everyone gets in a line and starts the practice for getting out of a headlock, in a headlock. If you practice defense against this 100X, you’re simultaneously practicing letting someone put you in a headlock 101 times. SPEAR is all about getting to the “left of the ambush” and getting off the X. While Blauer does advocate practicing the counter, his focus is more about picking up pre-contact cues that develop before the actual attack and intercepting the ambush.
Keeping in mind that no one looks good in a real fight will allow you to realize that the move doesn’t necessarily matter, because the counter is usually accidental or incidental to the outcome in an ambush.
While we’re at it, let’s define an ambush, because more often than not it’s what going to happen in a real fight and why avoidance (if possible) should be your primary step. I’m not going to spout off a dictionary definition, but more of strategic look at what an ambush is. An ambush is an attack of total surprise, where the victim has no prior knowledge of where or when the attack will occur, or any way to escape it. This also gives the attacker a strategic advantage over you, no matter how alert you are.
It’s also important to point out that if you’re not paying attention to your surroundings or practicing good situational awareness, you can miss out on important pre-contact queues that can help you avoid a potential ambush in the first place and get off the x.
The reality of it is that you can’t walk around in condition red all the time, so there’s always going to be a measure of surprise during an ambush and you won’t know you’re in an ambush until it’s too late. This leads us into what the body does when it gets surprised and the fundamentals of the SPEAR System.
The SPEAR System is a behaviorally researched close-quarter personal defense method that utilizes the body’s natural flinches and reactions to fear or violence and converts them into efficient counters. Because these techniques are genetically wired and behaviorally inspired, anyone can learn the SPEAR System and everybody can do it.
While SPEAR as an acronym stands for spontaneous protection, enabling accelerated response, it’s also what the body physiologically does when it’s confronted with an ambush or surprise. Take a look at the photo below (Courtesy of Sports Illustrated), everyone but one saw the bat coming because they were watching (situationally aware.) They picked up on the pre-contact cues, (bat slips from hands) which allowed their body’s survival system to move first.
Your flinch will always beat you to the “punch” in a surprise attack and as Tony stated, it’s the foundation of all SPEAR System training. Being able to embrace the flinch as a lifesaving body reaction, which is what it truly is, will allow you to overcome and convert it faster through training. Guess what though? You can’t embrace a flinch that never happens if you’re not paying attention or miss the pre-contact cues, so stop staring down at your phone when you’re out in public.
So what exactly is SPEAR? Take a look at the photo above again and look just above and to the right of the guy getting hit with the bat. No, not at the guy that’s already seemingly tracked the trajectory of the bat perfectly and smugly knows it’s not going to hit him. Look at the woman with her hands up, the woman that’s just been “ambushed” with the life-threatening realization that that bat is headed right for her. Her reaction is primal and protects the body’s command center; the head. Her hands are also extending out towards the threat.
With the exception of her locked out right arm, pushing away danger, look at the position of her fingers and the angle of her left arm. This is what Tony refers to as “outside 90, fingers splayed.” The arm isn’t at a right angle, or 90 degrees, it’s just outside of that. Her right arm might be a bit too extended past 90, but the idea here is to see her body’s natural reaction and explain how SPEAR integrates that.
Using this natural stance and converting it, is what SPEAR is all about. If you can remember “outside 90, fingers splayed” and the “accelerated response” from the SPEAR definition, you’ll understand the concept.
Outside 90, Fingers Splayed
This mnemonic device is a chant of sorts to help you remember the crucial position you should be in after converting the flinch. This was one of the many eye-opening experiences of the class. Tony had everyone get with a partner as he explained a few positions to get into to drive the point home of how the mere position of your arms and fingers can give you near super-powers.
Yes, that’s a bit over the top, but this is jaw-dropping stuff, I’m not going to lie. The first thing we did is stood face-to-face with our partner at bad-breath distance. One of us placed an extended arm out, resting on top of our partner’s shoulder with a clenched fist. The goal was for our partner to wrap both of their hands over that outstretched arm and try to pull it down.
Next, we simply switched to splaying out the fingers of that outstretched arm while our partner pulled down. It’s amazing the strength difference that occurs by simply splaying your fingers. Also, with the stronger method of splaying the fingers for this drill, try looking down at your feet while your partner is pulling down on your arm. Observe how weak it becomes when your spine isn’t in-line.
As a side note, if you’re going to try this at home, don’t be dumb. You can get injured here if you’re trying to truly stop the other guy from pulling your arm down. This is purely meant to show the difference between the two positions and what’s stronger. Please ensure you watch this video where Tony demonstrates the proper speed and pace of this, so that no one pulls a WWE move and hurts their buddy.
To further demonstrate “outside 90,” we again partnered up at bad breath distance. This time, a 90 degree arm was placed out in front of our body to act as a buffer while our partner tried to compress the arm with a tightening bear hug. This was then compared to that same arm turned to outside 90 degrees with fingers splayed while a bear hug was attempted. Wait until you see the difference with that one!
What was great for me was not only seeing these things for myself, but coming back to ITS HQ after the course and showing the guys and even Kelly these drills and watching their expressions. It’s truly like unlocking a mystery of your capability that you never knew existed. Don’t just take my word for it, try it yourself!
Now that you can see the power behind the position, next is using this to convert the flinch of an ambush into an accelerated response with devastating outcomes. A true ambush will always create some kind of flinch and you’ll never completely weed it out. The more you know about it and embrace it as a lifesaving body reaction, the better you can use it to your advantage and overcome it quicker.
Our body’s natural reaction is to move away from danger, how many times have you been taught to “create space?” What direction do you need to move to take care of a threat? Forward. There’s a contradiction here at a behavioral level, as Tony explained. Real fights happen within the space of a phone booth and everything in a fight is at extreme close-quarters, meaning you can’t hit someone if you’re not making contact.
Using this analogy, it makes sense to move “into” the attack to deal with the problem at extreme close-quarters distance. This is done by dynamically lowering your center of gravity, keeping your feet slightly offset and your body pointed to the threat. Your arms come to outside 90, with your fingers splayed. Your rear hand comes back slightly like a cheek weld and the middle finger of your outstretched arm acts as your “front sight,” facing the threat. You’re also keeping your body pointed towards the threat and looking up in the direction you’re traveling and intend to go.
While your foot comes back, but it’s not a step back, it’s an accelerated response. It’s also important to mention that SPEAR is completely ambidextrous. Depending on where the threat originates will determine what arm creates your “front sight.”
Prior to converting the flinch, there’s also things you can do to set yourself up for success, such as the position you’re in being able to lend itself to converting your flinch faster. SPEAR teaches multiple non-violent postures, which follow the trojan horse metaphor. Meaning that you want your opponent to only see the horse, not the warrior inside.
If your flag, badge or gun was a deterrent, then no one would ever punch you. It doesn’t work. Let the bad guy see a wooden horse, i.e. a non-violent posture. This is also interesting from a psychological point of view, where a non-violent stance can even defuse a situation. On the flip side, if a criminal detects an aggressive, violent or even well known “ready” stance, it could provoke him into taking a different approach than he would if he didn’t detect one at all.
This isn’t to say you should never ever be in a stance, but while you’re doing threat discrimination, use a non-violent posture. Examples of these are having your hands on your hips, crossing your arms (without a hand “tucked”) or even a Jack Benny position with an arm on your chin and the other cupped under that elbow.
Using one of these non-violent postures will not only prevent you from sticking out to the trained criminal, but will allow you to easily move into the SPEAR. You’re always mentally playing battleship with the guy across from you, thinking of what your next move will be if he turns aggressive. Always be ready for the “jack-in-the-box.”
The SPEAR Litmus Test
The Litmus Test for SPEAR is police dashboard video, as SPEAR was developed by reverse engineering scenarios and in skills around real fights, not bringing in a boxer or MMA guy. Tony had a great quote about this, “don’t mistake the trademark (move) for the truth.” SPEAR doesn’t teach strategies of tactics, meaning if your opponent throws a right hook, you do A, B, and C. There aren’t any “moves” other than your brain initially picking up pre-contact queues and a way to naturally approach movement that’s already physiologically ingrained into your body’s survival system.
What would an MMA guy do in a street fight? This isn’t to put them down, or to say their skills aren’t effective in the ring, rather that those skills aren’t always transferrable. You can’t tap out in a street fight.
To bring a bit of perspective to this for those that say, “well I’ll just shoot him.” Tony suggested a drill you can do at home with a buddy. Put on a head protector and a mouth guard and have your buddy stand within the reactionary gap and throw a punch. Try to draw and “shoot him” before this happens. We allow people into extreme close-quarters every day and learning how to deal with potential issues at this distance just makes sense.
Tony explained that SPEAR is also a “bridge to your next move,” meaning that the techniques explained on how to convert your flinch sill need action. However, there’s no right or wrong action. The only thing that’s wrong is inaction. Being right there in that bad breath distance, having just converted a flinch and defended against an ambush, doesn’t get you out of trouble. It does put you in a prime position do inflict maximum damage with your weapons in close proximity of your attacker’s command center. Forearm strikes, palm strikes, finger rakes, eye gouges and elbows are all right there for you to take advantage of.
This also leads us into day two of the Counter-Ambush Course and Jeff Gonzales’ methodology for transitions.
Transitions for the Fight
There’s a certain overconfidence that I realized I had carrying a firearm, while attending this course. It’s not that I didn’t think I was capable of defending myself and loved ones with it, but that I’d somehow convinced myself that I could handle any situation that arose with a gun solution. What’s the old adage? If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail? Guilty as charged.
I quickly changed this mentality as Jeff started to walk us through drills that were based on drawing a gun in an ambush scenario after the transition from SPEAR to a weapon took place. Additionally it’s easy to get caught up in the “this is the only weapon I have” mentality, while ignoring potentially available improvised weapons and tools at your disposal.
Jeff spoke about how in a real combat scenario a gun might not also be the best solution and that it’s really hard to draw when someone is pounding your face in. That’s where things like range, distance proximity and other tools come into play. What if you can’t get to your gun? You not only need a contingency plan, but to know what your transitions to that plan look like.
Transitions aren’t always going to be done efficiently and with two hands, especially when you’re engaged in the fight and wrapped up with an aggressor. Jeff’s solution is to look at your body bilaterally; you’ve got your right side and your left side. If both of your hands are tied up in something like a gun grab that you’re trying to prevent, you’ve effectively taken any kind of transition to another weapon off the table.
If you’re occupied on your right side, you need to be able to get to something on your left side and vice versa. The only time that’s not viable, is if you’re down an arm to an injury and you’re operating at a disadvantage in the first place. The beautiful thing is that there’s most always a transition available to different tools. If your pistol is on your strong side, what else can you carry on your weak side to transition?
What I also appreciated is how much work we had in just trying to transition from different positions; standing, kneeling, on our back, etc. Following drills like this will allow you to quickly identify areas you can get to for a transition in different scenarios and recognize the strengths and weaknesses of each.
Some things that Jeff mentioned for improvised weapons were flashlights, pens, and even pistol magazines. Think outside the box and remember that when you’re fighting for your life, everything becomes an option. Your personal safety is your personal responsibility.
Weapon Strikes and the High Ready
After we went through some options for transitions, we discussed the use of your pistol as an impact weapon, again getting us in the mindset of using everything at our disposal.
When you look at shooting in general, it’s either a “shoot” threat, or a “no-shoot” threat based on target discrimination. In the real world, there’s a grey area called the “unknowns,” which present some of the most difficult, challenging and dangerous scenarios you’ll ever encounter.
The shoot/no-shoot threats are easy to deal with in theory. Examples of the unknowns include noncompliant, in close proximity to you, a compliant no-shoot that turns to active aggressor. These present a challenge and a need to be ready at all times. When you look at shooting positions, especially in the context of what we’d been learning from Tony the day before, the High Ready presents a large advantage over others. For a bit more background on the High Ready, Jeff wrote a fantastic article on it that you can find here.
Taking the SPEAR system into account, it’s clear that someone with their hands above their belt line is much more effective than someone with their hands below their belt line. Look back earlier in the article to non-violent postures. This goes right along with the effectiveness of high ready vs. low ready. How many shots to the head can you take before you can no longer defend yourself? The high ready gives you options, not only of being in a better position to protect the body’s command center, but offensive options as well.
The first is obviously lethal force, you can come straight out, mount the pistol and take care of business. You can additionally use your weapon system as an impact weapon, either with muzzle strikes or the multitude of other strikes available to keep someone off of you. The third is soft contact, where you break your two hand grip and go into an empty hand scenario.
In an example scenario, if you walk into a room and there’s a shoot threat, you can deal with it. If you walk in and someone collapses in on you quickly in a fighting position, you can muzzle strike. If you walk into a room and there’s a less aggressive threat to deal with, you can move to an empty hand so that you’re not causing as much destruction.
High ready gives you the level of control to make spilt second decisions and directly ties into the outside 90 position of strength from the SPEAR System. Someone darts out at you from the side? Your hands can stay on the gun while you use your accelerated response and forearm at the outside 90 to deflect them off.
Another way this directly correlates to the SPEAR is through the physiological constant that whatever you’re holding onto when you flinch, you’ll still be holding onto. Your hand will grip whatever you’re holding onto even tighter as you’re contracting at a violent speed. Knowing and understanding this will allow you to convert it faster. Being in the high ready will allow you to convert much faster from the startle-flinch reaction.
It is important in a high ready that your arms aren’t too far outside 90 because that’s more of a “have to shoot” position since you’d need to come back to cock for a muzzle strike. It’s incredibly effective and not much movement is needed to get the point across that you mean business. It’s also important to not go so hard (in drills) that you’re hyperextending your elbows and injuring yourself.
There are three types of weapons strikes. The muzzle strike, which is a quick extension from the elbows; the muzzle slap, which is a slashing motion from left to right (or vice versa) to get someone’s attention and the third is a push with the muzzle to move someone out of the way. Just keep in mind that this can create an out of battery scenario with your pistol if your threat turned into a shoot scenario.
It’s a common misconception that flailing extremities from an aggressor will slow down a weapon strike. As Jeff mentioned, it’s not easy to disarm from a high ready, which is the primary argument against it’s use. What’s easy to do is push people’s teeth in with it. Jeff suggested to try it out with a buddy, put on a helmet with face protection and try to grab a buddy’s gun from the high ready before he can muzzle strike you.
If someone reaches in to grab your gun from the high ready, what are the options you have available? There are quite a few techniques around to counter this, but you now need to practice and become efficient at them in order to execute them in a split second. Or, you can just go to the muzzle strike, which is probably the strongest deterrent to the gun grab, as Jeff mentioned.
You can try to dance away from an aggressor’s impact weapon at close distance, including knives, but closing the distance and doing damage may even be quicker that reaching out to shoot. The theme at this point is to gain positional advantage to employ available weapons.
Contact Shots and Near Contact Shots
In an ambush scenario, a contact shot may be all that you have at your disposal and you might only be able to get into a tuck position, or the first point at which a gun is pointed downrange in a draw stroke. You can shoot from this position, but you may need to adjust your body position before doing so. Think of the tank turret in this scenario and always have a kinesthetic idea of where you’re at, it’s easy for things to go wrong while you’re rolling around with the bad guy.
The question was brought up to just push the guy away to create distance before the shot. Jeff mentioned that this can be a double edged sword because it’s easy to lose control and put yourself in more danger. Additionally, in contact range the distance is known and increases the likelihood that your shots will be effective. A SIRT pistol is great for these kind of contact shot drills and it’s what we used in class for this.
As long as you can put the muzzle on the target you’re guaranteed at least one shot. Whether it will be a fight stopper or not remains to be seen, but you now have an impact weapon at your disposal if it fails to fire after the first round.
You can try to have a slight offset to prevent out of battery issues, as this will engage the internal safeties and the gun won’t fire. As long as you’re going straight in and even favor the recoil spring guide as your leading edge, you’ll always stay in battery. You definitely don’t want to press into the body because then you really run the risk of the weapon being out of battery.
One last thing to mention here is that while an edged weapon is good at close range, a pistol is superior. Jeff used the phrase; superior position, superior weapon.
Unconventional Positions and Concealment Complexities
As Jeff started to talk about unconventional shooting positions and we started to drill some of this, I had my lightbulb moment learning how hard it is to get to a weapon or tool to defend yourself when you’re fighting for your life. This is where unconventional placement for weapons and tools comes into play. Remember earlier when we talked about bilateral placement.
Concealed carry can present an additional complexity when you’re rolling around with someone on the ground, than it would for an officer with a gun belt. There’s pros and cons to every method of carry and limits to each as well. What’s more important than trying to judge what’s better, is to know the limitations of each.
An example is that If someone’s pinning down your shirt, you might not be able to get to your gun. That’s a limitation of concealed carry and knowing these limitations will help you in identifying what options you can provide yourself should those scenarios occur. Another is that you might not always have two hands available for one to clear your garment and the other to draw the gun, this is where a strong-hand only clear can become a better option to learn. A single hand can clear the garment with an outstretched thumb and also then draw the gun. This can be applied to any type of carry, holster or garment combination as well. The utility of it and ability to be flexible give it an advantage over the two-hand clear.
Some will argue that the two hand method is faster, but Jeff mentioned that he’s found in realistic situations, like when you’re on the move, that the two hand method is actually slower. The seated position is also slower with a two-hand clear. The only time he’s found that it’s faster is when you’re standing at the 7 yard line shooting a paper target and that realistic situations are how you should evaluate techniques like this.
Knives are an interesting topic and one I was excited to learn about from Jeff, as I’ve yet to have much formal training with a knife. Most of us carry them on a daily basis and I’ve noticed a few different reasons people own knives. They collect them and keep them in a safe, they carry them and use them for anything and everything, or they carry them and never use them. This last group is one I didn’t pay much attention to, until Jeff brought it up during class.
He stated that in addition to his knife, whether it be a fixed blade or folder, he carries another knife or tool for utility use and never uses his knife for anything other than a weapon. He treats it as a firearm, never playing with it, showing it to others or removing it unless it’s needed to be used as a weapon. He related this to the range safety rule of treating all guns as if they were loaded and that if you saw a knife being pulled in the real world, it can be treated as a lethal threat.
This was an interesting methodology for me to learn about, since I’ve always fell into the “anything and everything” usage group with my knives. It certainly caused me to rethink my usage with a knife and the respect it deserves as a weapon. During class, our first introduction to edged weapons was blade etiquette and blade management. We learned how to properly open a folding knife (yes, there’s a correct way) and even how to tactically and safely pass it to another person.
Just to be up front, there’s a lot I won’t be going over here as we talk about edged weapons. Jeff also mentioned that knives can be your last best weapon and that they’re extremely efficient and effective. Some options that we went over related to blade material, composition and even opening methods. One of the biggest takeaways from this section of information was how important it was to have a knife that can open from either side.
If you look at your folding knife right now, there’s more than likely a direction that it was made to open from. You made already have an ambidextrous opening knife, but there’s also a right and wrong way to carry it in your pocket. The clip should be facing outboard on the pocket you’re carrying it in, but additionally the blade should be in a “tip up” configuration and open towards the seam of your pocket, so that if the blade accidentally deploys, the seam in your pocket will keep it closed. If it opened the other way, which would happen if you switched and clipped it into the other pocket, it could open into your pocket and cause some damage.
This is why the option to flip the clip is desirable, as you can move the clip to the opposite side to keep your knife in the right orientation when changing where it’s carried. Another thing that I took away from this portion of training is that while Emerson’s Wave feature is extremely effective at quickly opening a blade, it’s now pointed away from the intended target, which is more than likely in front of you.
Towards the end of class, Tony presented a great way to look at the process that takes place during a fight, which is a loose term for the daily threats that you face. The first fight is always in your head and with yourself, meaning you’re asking yourself if you have the will to go up against this threat. The second fight is between you and the bad guy. The third fight is between you and a lawyer, CNN, Internal Affairs, etc. If you let the third fight cloud your judgement or interfere with fight one and two you’re screwed from the beginning. Win the fight and then go get a good lawyer. Design your training around survival.
If the most important part of the fight is you giving yourself permission to be in the fight and win the fight, then who’s your most dangerous opponent? You or the bad guy?
Jeff added that training like this helps you to overcome anxiety, which in turn creates panic and leads to bad moves and/or choices. By getting into these positions and movements, there’s a degree of familiarity attained so that if you find yourself needing the techniques, you have less anxiety, panic and are able to think your way through it and rescue yourself.
I can say with 100% certainty that I learned more about myself and my capabilities in this two days of training that I ever have before in a class. Jeff and Tony are phenomenal teachers and I’d encourage anyone that has the opportunity to train with them, to do so. This class I attended was only open Government / Law Enforcement and Military, but before you get that look on your face, Jeff and Tony let me know that they’re working on a civilian version of this course in the near future. Be sure to keep up with what they’re doing be checking out the courses on Trident Concepts and Blauer Tactical Systems.
The overall take home for me during this training, was not only mindset driven and truly answering the question of what it will cost me if I don’t fight back, but that every person out there is capable of using these techniques (SPEAR, transitions, etc.) to unlock a hidden potential most don’t even know exists. That may sound like some elevator pitch to you, but I mean every word of it.
With all the buzz about the Knockout Game still circulating, this entire system is the philosophical culmination of the tools you need to possess. Not just for defense against that particular threat, but from everything you might face out there.
Detect, defuse, defend. Words to live by.