For the past several weeks I was out teaching a series of seminars in the Pacific Northwest. My fellow instructors were Datu Kelly Worden and Professor Dan Anderson. Datu Kelly is a senior blade master in Modern Arnis, one of the 6 original Datu’s and he is an instructor over at Fort Lewis. Professor Dan is a former top ten fighter who maintained that ranking for over a decade, is the current Seniors World Champion and the most senior Modern Arnis practitioner in the US. We were booked to teach a seminar about “sticks and steel” the comparative use of impact and bladed weapons. None of us had talked to each other before the seminar but to confirm our being in Oregon and ready to teach. Why is any of this important? It’s important because independently of each other with no communication between us, we decided on what we were going to teach in each of our 2 hour segments on each day. We NEVER teach the same thing. Then Datu Kelly starts off with body alignment, posture and moving around and way from the attack. Professor Dan starts off with body mechanics and positional relationship from the opponent and body shifting away from the line of attack. Then I get out there and teach stepping out of the line of attack, body shifting to vacate the attack line and controlling the range from the opponent. All three of us before we taught the use of the stick or the knife or the empty hand decided we needed to teach and highlight the importance of body movement, body shifting and vacating the space of the attack.
While in the PNW I taught for over 11 full days and at several of those seminars the attendees including senior black belts, PSD, Security teams, law enforcement officers, US Military all requested that I teach body movement, footwork, stepping and body shifting and understanding range from the opponent instead of my usual slice and dice. Yes of course we did some slice and dice and real cutting but the interesting thing was the request of what is commonly known as “footwork”. Seems all my years of talking of get off line, step and body shift, step, body shift and you’ll be off line had finally sunk in. It’s the old Karate kid thing when Daniel asks Mr. Miyagi “how do you block a punch?” and Mr. Miyagi responds “Don’t be there”. Don’t be there is about footwork including stepping, body shifting and getting off line of the attack. You can’t be hurt if you’re not there.
With officers getting cut, stabbed, and poked people keep asking me how we prevent this from happening. No one can prevent the bad guy from using some kind of poking, stabbing or cutting tool. What can be done is to understand body alignment, range and body shifting. Awareness and use of these attributes won’t necessarily stop an officer from getting cut, poked or stabbed but they will make a difference in the officer just being injured rather than getting killed.
Body shifting is what it seems, shifting your body from one place to another. This can ONLY be done by pivoting on the balls of your feet. Most people tend to pivot on their heels and there is no way to shift from one spot to another by pivoting on your heels. I know it might feel like you do but you don’t. Easiest way for you to see this is to stand with your feet shoulders width apart, feet facing straight out in a natural stance. Put a pencil on the floor between your legs, parallel to your feet evenly splitting the distance between your body / feet. Pick the balls of your feet up and pivot on your heels to the right and to the left. Look down at the pencil between your feet. The pencil will still be exactly down the middle line of your body and evenly between your feet. Go back to your starting position. Pick up your heels and pivot on the balls of your feet. You will feel your core move side to side with your movement. Ok. Shift right and now look down at the pencil. Your body will be completely on the right side of the pencil and the pencil might actually make a line through your left foot. Pick up on the balls of your feet and pivot left and the mirror image happens. Your whole body and its core will be on the left side of the pencil and the pencil might actually make a line through your right foot. Pivoting on the balls of your feet actually moves you through space to a new spot where as pivoting on your heels leave you in the same spot just pivoted looking left or right with your core still on the line of attack. Remember pivoting on your heels is pivoting on a point in space and pivoting on the balls of your feet is pivoting AROUND a point in space.
Why is this important? Because under duress you react as you’ve trained or practiced. If you’ve practiced pivoting on the balls of your feet, then when you step out of the way, step back or forward, try to get out of the way of a strike, cut, poke or stab you’ll be moving your core off of the line of attack. If your core is off line away from the direct attack so are your vital organs, arteries and nerves housed inside that core. This is why I said you might get injured because of the attacker’s intent and commitment to the attack but if your core isn’t there you avoid getting killed. Stepping off line is important because if you don’t get off line everything else is a moot point: dead is dead.
One of the side benefits of stepping offline with body shifting is the control of range and distance from your attacker. If you step off line and away from the attack one of the unexpected benefits of the movement of body shifting is that it actually brings one hip closer to the attacker allowing for a better counter attack. Within the secondary motion of pivoting is the action of hip rotation bringing your hip side hand into the fray allowing for an immediate and devastating counter attack following in on a tangent to the attacker’s line. “BAM!” Yes, it’s really that simple. I’ve told you before combat MUST be simple.
Let’s prove that it works and that body shifting puts you in the right spot to counter attack. Go back to your original pivoting drill only stand facing a wall with your hands outstretched you can just not touch the wall, or where your finger tips are a couple of inches away from the wall. One the balls of your feet pivot right and set down. Now reach out with your right and a touch the wall. You’ll probably have to make a fist to not crunch your fingers into the wall. By pivoting you have changed the range of your counter attack from nonexistent to impact with focus and you’ve controlled the distance between you and the attacker because they will be off line from you on their original line of attack and unable to reach or counter you. You on the other hand WILL be in range to counter attack and hit them with your hand, impact tool, edged tool or projectile tool.
There’s nothing fancy or complicated in this drill. You don’t have to be a training fanatic, an athlete or a martial artist. This is a simple drill you can do when you’re standing around, after shower, in front of your locker, before bed, waiting in line, getting out of your car; just body shift on the balls of your feet. Don’t worry about what it looks like to others as a matter of fact I hope your fellow officers ask you what you’re doing and you show them and they start to do it. Do it often enough and it will become part of you and how you step. If you let it become part of how you step then under duress when you are attacked or under pressure you’ll step and body shift or just body shift and without trying you will be off line from the attack, ready to counter attack the bad guy. If you’ll do this you are helping all of us on our way to stopping officers getting stabbed, poked and cut by the bad guys. As Mr Miyagi said “ Don’t be there!”
Bram Frank has studied various fighting arts such as Wing Chun, JKD, and American Freestyle Karate for over 40 years. Currently, Bram is Director of Edged Weapons training at the S2 Law Enforcement-Security Institute. He is the SME (subject matter expert) on knives for the Hialeah Police Department and for the State of Florida. For the last 10 years, Bram has concentrated on the design and use of edged weapons / tools as an instrument of self defense and their use in military, police, and anti-terror applications. Bram was Black Belt Magazine’s Hall of Fame Weapons Instructor of the Year 2007. Action Martial Arts Magazine and their Martial Arts Hall of Fame in 2008 named Bram the Grandmaster of the Year 2008. He trains others in Europe, Israel, the Philippines, and the United States.