Friday, July 27, 2012

Techniques: Rear Pushing Choke Defense

Some of the first techniques that students learn tend to be choke defenses. This is true in my current gym, Rhodes Fusion Fitness, and it was true in my Krav Maga training during freshman and sophomore year at UChicago. These techniques give a valuable introduction to both the body mechanics of self-defense (gross motor movements, short-circuiting, targeting, using momentum, etc.) and to the way in which self-defense is trained today (partners pair up and simulate attacks/defenses at ~50% speed, high repetitions, building sensitivity to hits, etc.). Some students are initially squeamish about making contact with a partner's neck. Choke defenses throw students in so they can build; if you are uncomfortable with choking or being choked, you are definitely uncomfortable with kicking to the groin or elbowing a collarbone.

This particular choke defense is one of my favorites. It has some sound body mechanics involved, is not strength dependent, and incorporates a brutal strike that has a high probability of putting an attacker down. I must admit that the attack itself, a rear pushing choke, is probably one of the more uncommon moves in an assailant's arsenal. But it is good to be prepared, and the fundamentals of this defense can apply in many other situations.

Rear pushing choke. An attacker grasps your neck from behind, one or two-handed, and pushes you straight ahead. The attack's name is a bit of a misnomer because it is hard to suffocate under a pushing choke from your back. Their weight is pressing on the back of your neck, not your windpipe, so your airflow should be (relatively) free. Instead, the primary danger is falling and/or being moved to a secondary location. It is not the tool of a brawler looking to rumble. Rear chokes are for predators looking for targets. The worst case scenarios include a faceplant into the concrete with your opponent crashing atop  you. Or a slam into a backalley wall. Or being hurled into a waiting van. If you find yourself in this position, a grizzly end awaits at the end of the attack.

  1. Your attacker might be trying to throw you into a car, ram you into a wall, topple you to the ground, or maybe even choke you with an admittedly inefficient grip. The defense needs to work against all of these possibilities because you won't have time to figure out which objective your assailant has in mind. 
  2. Anyone who tries to choke you from behind is probably larger or stronger than you. At least, they think that they are larger and stronger than you. This is a big man strategy, much like a bear hug or a tackle. Our defense needs to work regardless of strength and size differences. 
  3. A rear attack means that you can't see your attacker. This seems like an obvious point, but even veteran self-defense students and teachers forget it. If you can't see your attacker, you can't see a lot of targets: Eye gouges, ear strikes, pressure points, etc. This severely limits your responses.
The technique here is a modified version of the Haganah defense I learned at Rhodes Fusion Fitness. Ultimately, any technique can (and should) get modified with practice. In this case, one of the strikes was neither comfortable nor consistent. There is nothing sacred about any one technique. Admittedly, there are some relatively sacred principles that techniques should conform to (Can they be executed under stress? Do they work at full speed? Will they work on larger/stronger opponents? etc.) As long as you remember these points, however, you should always be looking for techniques that you can change to fit your own needs.
(All directions assume you are right-handed; sorry lefties. Switch the sides around if you prefer your left)
  1. You feel hands around your throat and a forward pushing motion from behind. Stutter step in the direction of the push. You will take a rapid series of steps, the exact number of which depends on the force of your push, to regain balance and prevent yourself from falling over. They are similar steps to those you take when you stumble on ice or trip on the sidewalk. 
  2. After a few balancing steps, plant yourself in a strong athletic stance with your right leg forward and your left leg back. Your lower body should resemble a front stance from Tae Kwon Do, although not as pronounced. (The image below is not quite a front stance worthy of a black belt, but it would work for this technique. For our purposes, imagine that his right leg is forward, not his left).
    Your stance gives you a moment of balance. Bend your torso forward so your spine is almost in line with the left leg. If you stand up too straight, your legs are stable, but your heavy upper body can still tip you around. Your attacker will push hard and continue to try and move you . You need to have your body leaning forward so you can distribute weight over your legs.
  3. SIMULTANEOUSLY with step 2, shoot your right arm out ahead of you with your palm flat. Do your best Superman pose. Your arm should be in line with your spine (and your rear leg), at a roughly 45 degree angle to the ground. You might feel foolish when you execute this step in open space. Try it again with your partner pushing you into a wall. This outstretched palm and arm will stop you from hitting any surfaces s/he tries to push you up against; you do not want to get pinned down. It also helps with balance. Even if it seems silly at first, you need to program it into your muscle memory in case you should ever stare down a wall in this position.
    (Note: Steps 1-3 happen quickly and almost concurrently. In self-defense lingo, we would call this 'establishing a base'. Without a balanced base, you are likely to topple as your attacker continues his forward momentum).
  4. You can't sustain a balanced posture for very long against a committed push. Once you have your base, take a forward step with your rear leg. As you do so, turn into your dominant leg and step back with it, spinning your body into the attacker. You are effectively switching your stance and direction; if your right leg was forward as you faced north, your right leg will now be forward as you face south (and into your attacker).
  5. As you spin, slam towards your opponent's head with a high right elbow. Your point of contact will be either the point of the elbow or just behind the elbow at the base of your tricep. This is a devastating blow that can easily concuss the attacker in one hit. Not only are you turning into the attack with your entire body weight, but your assailant has his own forward momentum. He is charging to meet your elbow head on. Literally. You want to strike with your elbow as (or immediately after) your right foot lands. After you hit, you will be more or less facing your attacker with your right elbow buried in his neck, temple, or jaw. This strike will stun your opponent, at the very least giving you a second to move to the next step.
    (Note 1: Students and partners often ask me how you know where the attacker's head is if he is behind you. You don't, but you DO know where is arms are. His hands are still around your throat and he is still standing right behind you. You want to use his arm as a rail to guide your own elbow into his head. You can't see the target, but you can feel all of the steps along the way)
    (Note 2: This is the modified strike from the original technique. Haganah teaches you to backfist, although it does leave room to modify the move if you want. The backfist doesn't work for me against the pushing choke, because the fist always lands behind the attacker's head. They are pushing into you even after you establish your base, and as you spin, they tend to keep on moving. But an elbow will hit them even if they fall into you turn)
  6. If you hit your opponent hard enough or in a vulnerable part of their head, the defense might just be over. Self-defense, however, isn't really about magical, one-hit death punches, so you need to prepare for a more realistic finish. After you hit, keep your elbow planted in your attacker's neck. With that right hand, grab the back of their shirt and dig the tip of your elbow into their chin. 
  7. With your left hand, lock up the assailant's right arm. Grab just above the elbow joint and hug their arm into your chest. The attacker's elbow joint hould should be trapped in the crook of your own left elbow as you pin it tight to your chest. Done properly, this will lock out the joint and prevent them from engaging their right arm.
    (Note: In the Haganah system, steps 6 and 7 are called "getting the reference point". This is just another term for a clinch or hold. There are a number of different reference points in the curriculum, and the goal of most techniques is to get your attacker into one of these reference points/clinches/holds.)
  8. Fire a series of knees to your locked down attacker. Aim for the thigh, the knee, the groin, or the ribs if flexibility permits. Avoid targeting the stomach. Overweight attackers and strong attackers might not even feel it, and if your knee is strong enough to penetrate a cushion of fat or a shield of abdominal muscles, then it is definitely strong enough  to damage a more vulnerable target.
  9. Push the attacker away and to the ground. Run.
    (Note: There are a lot of ways to end an encounter. Pushing out and running is by far the easiest. Other options include an incapacitation with an ankle break, a ground restraint, and 'taking a hostage' if against multiple foes.)
Definitely need to add pictures to these posts. Regarding the technique, the most important steps are definitely 1-5. Even if you forget 6-9 and just keep striking with your elbow, you have a good chance of surviving the encounter and taking down your attacker.
This is a great technique for women to learn, because the attack itself is one that a predator would deploy on a female. I am not suggesting that males will never face a rear pushing choke. Women are just a more likely target for a rear attack, especially from a stronger adversary, and this technique is well-suited to dealing with that. The first five steps of the defense are all about using the opponent's force against them. The stronger they push, the easier it is for you to spin an elbow into their face. Even if they initially have a tight grip on your neck, the force of the turn is enough to loosen it.

  1. The attacking partner needs to push with controlled aggression. If they aren't pushing with force, then the defending partner can't work on stutter stepping into a balanced stance.
  2. IMPORTANT: Make sure your partner keeps pushing you even after you stutter step and establish a base. I have seen a lot of attacking partners who see the defender get a base and then stop pushing. Do you think that a real attacker will see you establish a base and then think to themselves "Well shit, they established a base, so I shouldn't even bother pushing anymore!"? Test the base every time.
    (Note: Every time I teach this technique or see it taught, there are always at least two students who aren't honestly pushing after the base is established.
  3. As an attacking partner, do not let your arm naturally fall into the lockout position. Keep it neutral and let the defender grab it and clinch it on his own. 
  4. Get pushed into a wall. This teaches you to respect the outstretched "superman" hand.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Techniques: Underhand Knife Defense

This is the knife disarm that I am most comfortable teaching. We will be working on it this Saturday in class. I don't know if it works against an actual knife. I have never faced a knife. But I can get it to work at high speeds under high stress in drills without getting gutted by training blade or sharpie marker (the latter being a good tool to help simulate cuts and stabs). That counts for something in the uncertain world of self-defense. My training partners and students can also get it to work, even when their opponent doesn't "give them" the move (to give someone a technique is to artificially weaken an attack so as to help your partner get the technique). My own teacher vouches for it, as do his fellow instructors in our system. None of those reasons alone make the technique work, but all together, they give stronger than average evidence as to its effectiveness.

An underhand stab. The tip of the knife is aimed at your stomach, groin, thigh, oblique, etc. This attack starts low from your foe's hip, his pocket, or whipped out from behind his back. It is prison shanking and a barroom stab, a move used by both punk teenagers and cartel assassins. The attack is fast and you probably won't see the hand, let alone the knife that it is carrying. Your assailant might step in and attack from less than a foot away. They might grab your shirt or arm or back with their free hand, so as to prevent escape and drive your body into their blade.

  1. There is never just one stab. The defense must not only block the first attack, but also remain strong against subsequent strikes. 
  2. Underhand stabs start close. Your defense must work even if the attacker is directly in your face, less than a foot away. 
  3. You will not know how long the knife is (or even if it is a knife at all), so your defense must be workable against both long and short weapons.
This is the underhand stab defense that I practice in my Haganah class at Rhodes Fusion Fitness. It is similar to most other Israeli martial-art defenses in the same category, but by no means representative of all. Like with every technique, there are some excellent points to it, and some that might be lacking.
Also, advance apologies: This explanation should really have a photo accompaniment, which would lessen the need for such lengthy descriptions.
  1. The instant you see a flash of movement, bend your torso forward, suck in your stomach, and shoot your rear out. Your feet should hop back slightly to increase the distance between the blade tip and your gut. This technique is called "hollowing out". It capitalizes on the natural instinct that humans have when a low attack gets aimed at your belly. You want to create as much space as possible in as little time as possible. You can test the reflex easily; just have a friend try and poke your stomach with a pen. 
  2. As you hollow out your stomach, execute a low block with your forearm to the enemy forearm. When blocking, your upper arm should be perpendicular to your body, and your forearm should be parallel to your chest. It does not matter which forearm you use, nor does it matter which side your opponent is stabbing from. Anatomically, you want your ulna slamming into your opponent's radius.Press your weight into the arm, but be sure to remain on balance.
  3. This low block stops the stabbing arm. Make sure that your block is always parallel to your chest (and your forearm to the ground). If your arm bends, the knife can slide into your body and a strong opponent can blast right through.
    (Note: I like this particular block because it is reflexive (you naturally want to reach out with an arm and stop the attack) and because it is sturdy against that first move. My worry, however, is that the block is weak against multiple strikes. When the opponent stabs repeatedly at your core, there is nothing preventing him from winding back up and striking again. You CAN fall into your arm if he withdraws it, but there are other grabs you can use to flat out jam the arm from stabbing at all.)
  4. With your opposite hand, strike to the opponent's groin. Your own strike should be much like the underhand stab itself, albeit with fist, open palm, or blade of hand instead of knife tip. The strike's goal is to distract, to cause pain enough for the opponent to slow their attack.
    (NOTE: I am sometimes skeptical of this particular step. If the opponent is a) wearing groin protection, b) wearing thick or baggy pants, or c) intoxicated, adrenalized, and/or otherwise committed to the attack, then the simple groin strike might not work (yes, some bad guys go out and rob with cups on). A better strike would cause actual damage, not just discomfort; perhaps to the neck or a joint? Something to think about.)
  5. Before or after your groin strike, your opponent will almost assuredly pull the knife back for another stab (if they don't, the move is actually easier). This is one reason it is so important you press your weight into the blocking arm. As he withdraws for a subsequent attack, you must fall in to the arm and the attacker's chest. Your chest will slam into theirs, although it is less a strike and more a function of forward momentum. To be more precise, your right side will press into the opponent's left side (or your left into their right). This is just a function of where their knife is; whatever side it is on is the side that you will be focusing on.  
  6. IMPORTANT: Be sure that your forearm remains in contact with your opponent's forearm. Your blocking arm still remains a barrier between his knife and your skin. 
  7. As you fall in, your blocking arm needs to shift into a position from which you can secure the enemy's knife appendage. You will sweep it upwards slightly, pressing forearm into forearm, until you can comfortably engage your elbow. At that point, clamp the opponent's arm in between your forearm muscle and your bicep. Imagine doing a bicep curl, and insert the enemy arm in between your curling motion. Take your hand, still on the blocking side, and grab a fistful of tricep and skin. Your arm should be clamping from midway up his forearm (at your elbow joint) to his mid-tricep (at your hand). It should appear as if you poise your arm in preparation for the pledge of allegiance, except with the enemy limb locked up inside your curl.
    (NOTE: For shorter martial artists, or against opponent's with burlier arms, you can forego the grabbing of skin and muscle. Instead, lock your hand around your shirt to provide the necessary securing leverage. HOLD TIGHT.)
  8. Jam your opposite elbow into the opponent's neck, with your hand clutching to their back collar. Stretch the opponent out using the elbow to press their neck away and the clamping arm to pull in the opposite direction. 
  9. Knee the attacker once in the thigh, the groin, or the ribs, whatever target presents itself. Do not knee repeatedly; you are holding onto their knife arm and you need to disengage before they start to wrestle it back. 
  10. Stomp on the top of their foot with your own. Press down with your weight, making sure that your toes are pointed outside of your body. 
  11. Throw your opponent forward with intent to land them on their back. Your foot prevents them from stepping back to regain balance, ensuring that they stumble. Use your elbow, the one planted in your opponent's neck, to strike them backwards. Simultaneously, use the clamping arm to throw away the attacker's knife hand. Do not just release the arm; the attacker can still slash at you on his way to the ground. Push it away with force to complete the disengage. 
Writing out the steps is a lot harder than demonstrating them. The move is mostly reflexive, with your body undergoing motions that it would naturally want to use anyway. Hollowing out the stomach and blocking with the forearm are instinctual responses to low attacks. Falling into the body to counter subsequent stabs is similarly reflexive. Techniques that make use of natural instincts are always better than those which do not, and in that sense, this disarm is one of my favorites.
As noted above, however, there are some parts to it that I don't like. The groin slap is particularly problematic because it does not always disable and, even worse, it doesn't work from both sides. If the stab comes from the attacker's right (the defender's left), it works fine. If it comes from the right, the groin strike gets tangled in the stabbing arm. You can stab yourself or knock the assailant's arm into your body. There is a modification to make it work, but I would rather have one move that covers all low angles; the attack is so fast that I would not have time to figure out which move I need to do.

  1. Practice slow.
  2. Train at a realistic distance. This attack comes from less than a foot away. If you aren't accustomed to the closeness of the stab, you will freeze if it ever happens. 
  3. Test your grips and locks at every step of the drill. It is easy to loosen up in practice, but in reality, that leads to a blade getting drawn across your chest or arm.
  4. Have your partner go for multiple stabs. Whether they stab two times or twelve times, the defense is the same. You block, you strike, and you fall in with the withdrawn stabbing arm. 
  5. Train the block to work no matter what side the stab comes from. Have your partner come up to you with a knife behind their back. When they stab, you will execute the same block regardless of their attacking side. This builds up the reflex.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Chicago Crime: July 4 sees record smashing heat and violence

Does high heat equals high crime? It's a lot more correlation than causation, but the age old Chicago logic of hot summers being violent ones does hold up under scrutiny. The higher the temperature, the worse the crime. The question is, why does high crime occur on hot days? What is the mechanism involved in this relationship?

Navy Pier and Grant Park weren't the only Chicago places with fireworks popping through the night. Chicago's South and West Sides had busy and bloody evenings, enjoying a firework symphony with gunshot accompaniment. It was the most violent 4th of July in the last 6 years, continuing a disturbing crime trend that has sent Chicago's homicide rates to the pages of the New York Times and both Forbes and Time Magazine. But Chicago's summer has also broken records in a much more neutral statistic: The weather. This week alone has seen 3 straight days of 100+ degree weather. Today might be the hottest day on record since the turn of the century, and it would set us up for an entire week in the 100s. Inquisitive minds might wonder if there is a connection between the two factors of temperature and shootings. Let's take a look and see if a hypothesis holds up.

Date # Wounded # Killed Temperature
07/04/2012 21 5 102 F
07/04/2011 11 1 86 F
07/04/2010 15 6 92 F
07/04/2009 8 3 69 F
07/04/2008 12 0 75 F
07/04/2007 7 6 85 F
# Wounded from
# Killed from
Temperature from

Just looking at the data, it seems pretty clear to me that there is some correlation between the shootings and the temperature. In 2009, with a 69 degree Independence Day, there were a total of only 11 shootings. The hotter it got, the more shootings there were. 2012 saw 21 total with 92 degrees. 10 degrees hotter gets us to 2012 with 5 more incidents.

For those interested in the rudimentary statistics of it all, we can run an admittedly too-small-sample-sized Pearson's R Correlation test to figure out if there is actually a trend to the numbers. Yes, the sample size is small. Yes, there are other tests to use. Yes, I am enamored with statistics although my understanding of them often borders on the sophistic. But even so, when we run the test, we find that:

Correlation = .88
(A more extensive study of violence would want to look at every single temperature entry for every day since, say, 2002. You would then want to run the correlation test for every value of total shootings and high/average/low temperature. I suspect you would still find a >.4 correlation, but probably not one so strong as .88.)

If, and it's a big if, this were an appropriately sized sample (which it isn't in this case), that would be a gigantic correlation that is often unseen in social sciences. Sadly, our data pool is a bit small, but it does confirm our eyeballing of the data. Simply put, there is a correlation, a fairly strong one, between temperature and shootings on the 4th of July.

Given that this is the case, why do Garry McCarthy and various other criminologically inclined public figures claim that high temperatures do not lead to high crime? Are they just ignorant? Or is there something more nuanced to their claims?

It turns out that temperature is not the only factor at play in crime, although on the 4th of July it tends to overwhelm other parts of the equation. When the temperature rises, more people go outside. This is especially true if, like most impoverished minorities in Chicago, you do not have air conditioning in your oven-like apartment. Between breezes, beaches, pools, fire hydrants, cooling stations, etc. there is just more relief from the heat outside than there is inside.

This is particularly pronounced on July 4th, when people are inclined to go outside regardless of the weather. Parades, barbecues, block parties, and gatherings in the park are the events of the day, and this necessarily brings people into close proximity with one another. Add in sweltering temperatures and extant conflicts and disputes and you have a particularly explosive situation, especially once you consider that the parties involved are gang members, not the average working class guy with a nice day off.

Does a heat wave make a crime wave? Yes and no. It gets people outside, it keeps people outside, and it puts them in a sweaty and irritable mood where they are disposed to conflict. But unless the conflict is already present, the heat is unlikely to create it. The same population that commits crime in the cold does so in the heat. Warm weather doesn't turn UChicago students into a drove of murderous academics. It just worsens the situation in already distressed communities.

The real interesting bit of this comes when you consider its implications for possible interventions. In a rather Levittian (Steven Levitt, that is) turn of thinking, if you were to give people air conditioning units, or provide them access to air conditioned building with activities, you might lower crime. This would keep people off the hot streets and otherwise engaged. Similarly, summer programs and jobs would also divert young people away from the antisocial street alternatives on a hot summer day. These are only rough sketches of ideas, but all of them center around the notion that high temperature amplifies criminal conditions and worsens violent crime rates. The air conditioning idea, or at least the provision of air conditioned havens, is also fairly affordable and decidedly concrete. Obviously, the quick-fix, one-page solution is never enough, but it is definitely something that can be incorporated into extant strategies.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Chicago Crime: Police strategies not working

 Chicago violence is on the rise at a level unprecedented since 2002 and 2008. CPD strategies are not working and there are still three more hot summer months.

Compstat. Violence boxes. Saturated area policing. Gang audits. These terms are at the core of the CPD's strategy for this new year under Superintendent Garry McCarthy. And since Garry started unveiling these strategies in May, he keeps promising us that the next weekend will be better than this one, that the numbers really are not as bad as they seem. He claims we are suffering from a "perception" problem of high crime, not from actual high crime itself. I was skeptical, but willing to give faith. At least, until the last 4 days.

15 shot Tuesday,0,5556828.story

9 dead, 22 wounded over weekend

These are outrageous numbers. They are not so much outrageous in their magnitude as in their context. 9 dead and 22 wounded in a weekend is actually a huge improvement, objectively speaking, from the past weekends of 7 dead and 40-50 shot. But then you need to consider the context of those statistics.

As anyone who lived in Chicago will tell you, we had a rainy weekend this past Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. It rained on and off all Friday, including at night. The same goes for Sunday evening. Historically, shootings don't really happen in the rain. It's not that there is some secret, unwritten rule of gangsters that thou shalt not shoot in the rain. Criminals, like you and me, don't want to go outside and get drenched. There just aren't too many people out in the rain, and similarly, not too many crimes going on. And there was a LOT of rain this weekend.

So the fact that Chicago accumulated 31 shootings in a weekend that was dominated by thunderstorms is remarkable. Imagine if there had not been rain! We might have tacked on another 10 victims into that tally. For all the money and expertise supposedly being dumped into the CPD strategies, there is still no crime deterrent better than a good downpour.

And then there is Tuesday. 15 shootings within 6 hours. On a TUESDAY? Tuesday is normally a slow crime day. Until this week! Admittedly, here is some weather-related explanation for this. Tuesday's heat index was at a solid 102 degrees F, with flat temperatures ranging from 92 through 97. This isn't Arizona or Sahara heat either, the crisping sun that mummifies kings and camels. This is the Norwegian sauna, except everywhere you go. Stand behind a car exhaust pipe as it belches gas at you. That is how it feels, minus the stench, everywhere in the city.

That said, high temperatures and humidity do not necessarily lead to higher crime. There are dozens of factors involved in crime increases and decreases, and weather is just one. Amongst those factors, weather is just an amplifier, magnifying the effects of other parts of the crime picture. Hot weather just gets people outside and keeps them there (remember, it's actually hotter in the oven-like apartments of the South and West sides). If there is already a disposition towards conflict and violence on the streets, the heat will only make it more acute. Folks like my readers probably get irritable and bothered in the heat, and are more prone to verbally lash out. Young men of the cliques get out their guns and are itching to point and pull. An argument over a woman that was once confined to texts and Facebook will erupt if the parties meet on the sidewalk, covered in sweat seeking a cool breeze away from their furnace home.

So yes, high temperatures make things worse. But last summer was hot too. So was the summer before that. Only in 2012 are we seeing an almost 40% uptick in homicides from the past 4 years. Heat is not the only explanation, because it is only a few degrees hotter now than it was in the past summers. Something else is going on, and one thing is certain; current CPD strategies are failing at preventing the violence.

Chicago is deploying city-funded CeaseFire interrupters into some of these neighborhood to hold back the violence, but it remains to be seen how effective this strategy will be. Garry promised results with his strategies, and every week he promised it was getting better. This weekend shows that the trend is still going up and the CPD can do little to hold it back. For now, the CPD strategies are just not working. Crime is on the rise, and as the summer months get hotter, the violence promises to only get worse.