Defense against a gun to the chest. In this article, I will go over the attack, the disarm, some training tips, and general points to remember in learning and doing the disarm. The above video goes through the disarm (you'll have to jump to 7:41 to see it in action). Thanks to Mike Lee Kanerak for the technique, thanks to Randy Proto for uploading the video, and special thanks to Prentiss Rhodes for teaching me this and most everything else I know about self-defense.
One of the first techniques that self-defense students want to learn are gun disarms. There's an interesting criminological point here because most Chicago robberies do not involve a firearm. In 2012, just 40% of all reported robberies saw the perpetrator(s) using one or more guns. Handguns are even less prevalent in Hyde Park robberies, where only 30% of such crimes involved these weapons. Statistics aside, if you get robbed at gunpoint, you aren't going to care about the official Chicago Police Department tallies. Unlike strongarm or snatch-and-grab style robberies, getting robbed at the point of a pistol is a uniquely helpless experience. You can fend off a guy who grabs or slaps you. You can chase down a kid who filches your iPhone. But a guy with a Glock represents a much more serious threat, even for experienced martial artists.
Whenever facing a weapon, especially a handgun, the best option is always to immediately comply and then to flee as fast as possible. Unfortunately, this is not always possible. You might be unable to flee, whether in tight quarters or a closed space. Or you might be unable to comply with his request. He may want your child, your significant other, or you yourself. He may be dissatisfied with the contents of you wallet, or annoyed with your reaction. He may be intoxicated, not thinking straight, and unable to realize that you aren't resisting. And, more frighteningly, the crime being threatened might not be robbery. 2012 saw about 1340 criminal sexual assaults across the city, of which about 100 were committed with a gun (looking only at reported data). Statistically, it's a small chance that this might happen to you, but if it does, you won't care about the probability of your situation.
In this article, I go over the most basic gun disarm in the Haganah curriculum: Gun to the chest. Haganah, a martial art system in the family of Krav Maga, emphasizes gross-motor motion, stress training, and strength-agnostic techniques. These moves are designed for anyone, regardless of size, muscle mass, or experience. I vouch for any of them both in the gym and outside. These techniques, however, require ample training and practice to work outside of a class. If you are interested in this disarm, and other techniques like it, this article is just an introduction. There is never a substitute for formal training (shameless promotion for UChicago Self Defense Club!). And even then, this disarm should never even be considered unless absolutely necessary. Just in case that disclaimer is unclear, here is the full one that I gave before my last gun disarm piece:
- Don't try this disarm in real life. Period. You should (almost) always acquiesce to a criminal's request, especially if it is just for your property. Home invasions, abductions, and sexual assaults get in trickier territory, and as a general rule, you will always do what you feel is necessary to stay safe and survive. If you ever envision yourself disarming a gun for any reason, be sure to have practiced it under the lowest and highest levels of stress for many hundreds of hours beforehand. Don't ever try it if the extent of your martial training is YouTube and blogposts.
An attacker holds a handgun to your chest and makes demands. The gun might touch your chest or be an inch away. It might be aimed at your stomach, your ribs, or your collar bone. The handgun itself could be an automatic, such as the archetypical Glock or Colt M1911, or a semi-automatic revolver. Your attacker might hold the weapon in his left hand or his right hand, or even gripped in both if he has been watching too many action movies recently.
This disarm is that it works from a variety of angles. The attacker does not need to hold the gun at the geometric center of your sternum for this move to be operable. As long as the attacker is standing somewhat in front of you pointing the weapon generally towards your front, the disarm can work. Of course, regardless of the angle, it is critical to remember that you should never attempt any disarms unless the gun is touching you, or otherwise extremely close (a few inches at most). We don't live in the Matrix and we don't have the movie-enhanced reflexes of Chuck Norris or Jet Li. We definitely don't have the armored skeletons of a Wolverine or a T-800.
Additionally, as mentioned in the intro, only attempt the disarm if you have no other options at your disposal, or if you have only bad options. If the attacker is demanding your brand new Nokia, it's probably time to think about a new phone. If the attacker is demanding that you walk to the nearby alley or his car, then the disarm comes into play.
POINTS TO CONSIDER
- THE TWO DANGERS OF DISARMS: 1 - GETTING SHOT
It's almost not worth mentioning, but I need to do my instructor's duty and say it anyway. Don't get shot by the attacker and don't shoot yourself. Similarly, don't put yourself or the weapon in a place where you can get shot. That means you need to watch the gun's line of fire during the entire disarm so it never crosses your body or limbs. All good gun disarms keep that line of fire away from you at all times; there is never a "split second of risk" where the gun is aiming at your own vital targets.
- THE TWO DANGERS OF DISARMS: 2 - SHOOTING SOMEONE ELSE
The second danger, however, is definitely worth mentioning because many martial artists forget about it. I see a lot of wild disarms that involve kicks, crazy grabs, other flailing limbs. At some point during such a disarm, the gun will be pointed in a random direction at roughly chest level. That's fine in the gym, but not fine if you disarm a guy in front of a playground. Even in a low-traffic area, it's neither morally nor legally acceptable to redirect the line of fire away from your chest and into a family's living room. Or at a passing vehicle. Martial techniques can't just be technically effective. They must also be safe and legal. As such, this disarm, and its practitioners, take extensive steps to prevent collateral damage.
- DEESCALATE. THEN DISARM
If your attacker wanted you dead, he probably would have just shot you from a doorway as you walked by. In holding the gun on you, your attacker is trying to establish dominance, to threaten you into agreeing to a demand. That demand could be "give me your wallet", in which case you are (hopefully) likely to comply. But it could also be "walk to that doorway over there", in which case you need to make some quick decisions. In either case, however, your attacker wants something else besides your life in that first moment. Use that time to deescalate and gather your bearings. Temporarily agree to his demands or, at least, appear to agree to his demands. This gets him to calm down and tricks him into thinking that he has "won".
- AN ATTACKER WILL NOT PLAY NICE
It's rare that an attacker will just hold the gun at the perfect distance and sit there as you steel yourself for battle. He might tug at your shirt. He might slap or hit you in preparation. He might stand far back or he might be spitting in your face. Although you don't necessarily need to replicate every conceivable situation when training, you should be mindful of these variations. Practice recovering from a blow, whether physical (a punch to the jaw) or psychological (a slur or insult). Practice closing distance or luring an attacker to come closer. Learn when you can't attempt the disarm at all. These skills won't be needed in every situation, but when you do need them, you want them to be part of your muscle memory.
This Haganah disarm varies from those I have seen in Krav Maga and in other martial arts. It's not a big difference from afar, but from a mechanical standpoint, it's a decisive one. So although it may look familiar to experienced martial artist, you will notice the big difference in step 4 below. I'm going to illustrate my verbal explanations using screen captures from Mr. Kanerak's video, complete with fancy MS Paint vectors and symbols. Again, thanks to Prentiss Rhodes for teaching the disarm to me over many years of training, and for Mr. Kanerak and his system for making the move available to the public.
- DEESCLATE: "Hey man, whatever you want"
Almost every disarm starts with this simple acknowledgement because deescalation is almost always the most important first step. For one, it calms your attacker down and encourages him to lower his guard. If you don't look like you are prepared to resist, he is naturally less likely to expect resistance. Equally important, this phrase acts as a cognitive trigger for you to get ready to do the disarm. It activates your muscle memory, centers your breathing, and generally prepares you for the impending engagement. Finally, it signals to any bystanders that you are the victim in the confrontation. This will help both during the event itself, in case you need reinforcements to subdue the guy, and in its aftermath, when you face the police and (in the worst case scenario) the courts.
- DEESCALATE: Raise hands an inch or so below the gun
Part of deescalating is in physically signalling that you are complying with your attacker. A nonthreatening "hands up" gesture is a good way to do this. But you never, ever want to bring your hands over the gun and into the attacker's line of sight. He's just as panicked as you are, if not more. Any sudden jerk of your hands might cause him to panic and fire the weapon, and shooting your hands towards the air is a great way to get the bad guy to jump. If the gun is held at your solar plexus, bring your hands up to your stomach and hold them there in a nonthreatening gesture of compliance. If the gun is held at your shoulder, bring your hands up to your chest. Keep your palms open and stay calm. This will not only relax the attacker but will also bring your hands closer to the gun for the next step of the disarm.
(NOTE: Mr. Kanerak brings his hands too high in the video)
- Grab the gun's barrel with your dominant hand and press it DOWN to the opposite side
Time to redirect the line of fire. Shoot your dominant hand towards the gun barrel and grip it tight. Press it away from you, angling down as you do so.
Grip circumference in green.
Line of fire in red (angling away)
Now let's think about the trajectory of the gun as you press it away and down. The two panels below give a side-by-side progression of how the gun travels away from you as you push it down. You will notice that the defender is sliding in as he does it, but for now, just pay attention to the angle and path of the gun. That first movement, indicated in the left panel, is to push the gun away from you (in the direction of the camera/reader) while simultaneously angling it down. You then slide in, continuing to press the gun down and out to the side. The red line of fire looks like it hits the defender, but that's just a trick of the onlooking perspective; in reality, it's probably about a foot away.
- Still gripping and pointing the barrel down, slide in and go forearm-to-forearm
Astute readers or experience martial artists might wonder why the attacker doesn't just yank the gun out of your grip. Indeed, there is an entire video of a Krav Maga disarm where the instructor justifiably criticizes this maneuver just because it is so easy to get the gun away. That's where our slide comes in, and that's why the slide is arguably the most important part of the entire disarm.
Solid green arrows show the pressure both
down to the ground and into the forearm.
Dotted arrows show the slide.
Plant that foot in the direction of the solid
green arrow. Slide back foot in along dotted
arrows. Keep forearm pressing down.
- Slide in and strike opponent's neck (the "triangle") to "short-circuit"
With your weight pressing into the weapon and your body to the side of your attacker, fire off a punch with your opposite hand. Your target is the bundle of nerves, arteries, and veins on the side of the neck called, in our system, the "triangle".
The attached picture shows the strike in action. If the forearm-to-forearm contact is the arguably most important point of this disarm, then the short-circuit is the runner up.
Strike to the triangle. Don't forget to pivot
into that punch to guarantee stopping power
You never want to get into a wrestling bout with your attacker, especially when he has a gun, and especially if there is a difference in your size and strength. My partner and co-instructor weighs in at 120 pounds at 5'2". If she is held up at gunpoint by a 6'3", 230 lb man, the last thing she wants to do is wrestle him for the title belt, let alone for an active firearm. The short-circuit gives you an extra second to work while your opponent takes a stunning blow from the punch. When aimed at the triangle, the strike will cause your target to wince, shrug up, see stars/lose vision temporarily, and generally cause pain and damage. MMA superstar Rashad Evans talks about this punch in his Black Belt magazine article on winning a street engagement, and we put it to good use in Haganah. Make sure you are pivoting into the punch with your downward leg, as shown with the arrow in the accompanying photo. One punch not cutting it? Fire a second or third. I generally train a 3 punch barrage before moving to the next step.
- Reach under the gun and grasp the weapon
Now it's time to take the weapon away from our attacker. Draw your punching arm back and position it at chest height before shooting it under the gun. Your hand must go UNDER the gun and not in front of the barrel. Once under, you are going to grab the back of the gun and slide (the hammer) and hold tight.
The three panels below illustrate the path that your hand will take to get under the gun and where it stops at the end of the step. Even though you (hopefully) short-circuited the attacker, he can still tug the weapon away, so maintain your side stance at all times. Note that this movement is executed very quickly and is only broken down here for the sake of illustration.
Left panel: Hand aims under the gun while keeping the line of fire away
Center panel: Reach under the weapon. Do not reach in front of the barrel.
Right panel: With your hand under the gun, reach up and grasp the rear of the barrel.
- Torque weapon into attacker, break trigger finger, and slam it to ribs
You have grabbed the weapon with one hand on the barrel and one hand, reaching under, on the hammer. With the barrel hand, lever the weapon up towards the attacker. Assist the levering by pulling the rear of the gun back into you. Once the weapon is pointing towards the attacker, slam it into the target's ribs (or other convenient, vulnerable target). Depending on how the attacker is holding the gun, this will likely break his trigger finger and/or tear the tendons. This will all have the effect of breaking your attacker's grip on his firearm.
This levering motion sounds more convoluted than it actually is. With your under-reaching hand, you are just grabbing the back of the gun and pulling it towards you along the path that you took in the first place. With the hand grabbing the barrel, you are just bending the weapon into your attacker. The diagram below shows the path of the gun and the movement of your hands. It's a slightly different angle than the pictures above but it was the best image available in the video:
Notice the line of fire that rotates around as you rotate the gun around. There was no
clear image of the final rotation, where the weapon is rotated towards the attacker, but
the general idea is still clear.
Hands rotate the gun around. In this picture, the defender has removed his top hand from the gun to
offer a better angle, so you just need to envision the hand as still grabbing hold of that barrel.
- Back up and disengage
With the weapon now under your control, take a few steps back, re-rack the gun, and aim it on your attacker with your finger off the trigger. Either run, tell him to get down, or whatever else the situation demand (and the laws allow).
I could write a whole article about firearm retention in a close-quarters scenario like this, but it's not necessary for the purposes of this disarm. Just create some space and issue your commands to the attacker. If he runs, you let him run. If he tries to negotiate with you, you back up while keeping the weapon on him. If he charges or reaches for another weapon, you do what you have to do to survive. In all cases, make sure that your finger is off the trigger. You will be more stressed than that first time you asked a girl or guy out back in 7th grade, and the slightest provocation could cause you to flinch and pull the trigger. You do not need either the moral or legal ramifications of a murder/manslaughter charge or conviction.
If you are uncomfortable handling a weapon, keep it with you and run away. The police will want it after you dial 911, and if nothing else, you want to be sure that this guy doesn't get his weapon back for a vengeful round 2.
It's easy for me to get carried away in the disarm explanations, but that's mostly for the sake of my readership. In effect, the article is intended as a comprehensive pocket reference for the disarm and any points you might have in training it. That's not to say that this article is a substitute for physical training: It's not. But for those who have the physical training, it's a great set of reminders and tips.
This is a solid disarm and it is quite effective under stress. We have tried this with cap guns, water guns, BB guns, training guns, and actual, unloaded guns. In all cases, the technique will prevail with training and practice. The keys are in a) pressing your weight down on the gun with the forearm-to-forearm contact and b) a solid short-circuit strike. The part where most practitioners mess up is in the forearm contact, because that's the part where you are going to keep control of the weapon and prevent your attacker from yanking it away.
The other point to remember in this disarm is the line of fire. I've tried to emphasize this with the red lines in each illustration. If executed sloppily, you can shoot yourself and, probably worse, shoot someone else. When training this with your friends or in class, it's easy to forget the line of fire and focus too much on the rest of the technique. After all, plastic yellow guns can't shoot, so who cares if it is redirected into the onlooking students? It doesn't matter against a training partner, but it will matter against a real assailant with real bystanders.
It is my hope that this article gives you both solid technical tools for practicing the gun disarm, and also generalizable principles of self-defense and self-defense training that you can consider. I apologize for any ambiguities in the descriptions, and for the prose style of the article in an era dominated by video walkthroughs and guides. If my research, training, and experience has taught me anything about martial training, it is that there is still great value to the written accounts and descriptions of techniques. Although not even close to the level of mastery exhibited by a Fiore or Liechtenauer , this article nonetheless offers a meager attempt at spreading martial competency to all practitioners regardless of training. And again, any reader is welcome to join us at the UChicago Self-Defense Club for some hands-on training in this technique and others like it.