How Being Complacent Can Get You Killed

img_4027How Being Complacent Can Get You Killed

This is an article for police officers, security officers, and self defense practitioners.  It’s an article about being complacent, and how your training can possibly get you killed.

When I used to work as a retail investigator for a large retail store, I would usually be partnered with a senior investigator. It was their way of training me.  Sort of like the tribal method.  The elders passing their knowledge to the young ones.

This investigator eventually became a fellow practitioner of Muay Thai, and we trained at the same academy.  He was pretty good and he was an amazing private investigator.

I remember one day asking him if he was ever concerned that a suspect would pull a knife on him. He would smile, make a fist and confidently state that his Muay Thai skills were sufficient enough to defend himself.

Well one day, this investigator discovered someone stealing from his store, and he followed him around the store, observing this individual select and hide more items from the store on his person.  However, unbeknownst to this investigator, the suspect had made him; he knew that this investigator was following him around the store.  And the investigator was unaware that the suspect had went to the kitchen department of the store, and had now concealed a steak knife in his waistband of his pants.

So, when they both left the store, and the investigator made his approach from behind and grabbed the suspect by the shoulder, he got a rude awakening.  The suspect whirled around and slashed him across the stomach.

My friend got into a Muay Thai stance and threw a jab.  The suspect immediately cut his arm.  Then my friend threw a cross.  He got another knife slash for his trouble.  My friend then did something bazaar.  He rushed the suspect and did some terrible version of a double leg takedown and took down the suspect, getting the FULL MOUNT in the process.  I have no idea where he learned that.  But when you are desperate, you will try anything.

The suspect then grabbed the back of my friend’s head and proceeded to scrap the knife along his face.  Many times.  All the while yelling “I am going to F$&#*#% you!”

During the ensuing struggle, the suspect was able to get his feet underneath himself, jump a fence, and make his escape.

My friend showed up at the club next day with all these superficial cuts.  What saved him? He was lucky that it was the cheapest damn steak knife known to man kind.

When I speak with a lot of police and security officers, I sometimes detect a little complacency in their tone.  Especially with regards to their own training.

I guess that 99% of their job is pretty routine.  But it’s not the 99% they kills you.  It’s that 1% that will kill you. And it just has to happen once.

And I think this is also an attitude that martial arts practitioners have with regards to self defense.  They are a little complacent when it comes to their own training.

Especially when it comes to realistically applying their martial arts to a self defense situation.

So what can you do to shake it up? To make sure that you are not complacent? That you are alert and can readily apply yourself in a self defense situation?

Here are a few training tips and mind games to keep you sharp.

Drill, Drill, Drill

This is an important one.  Like Bruce Lee said…

“I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”

  • Are you one of those guys that practices the technique 1 or 2 times, and then sits around and talk for the remainder of the class?
  • Or do your eyes gloss over when the instructor teaches a technique and you say to yourself “yeah, I already know this….?”
  • Do you just mindlessly do the technique, or do you actually spend time to understand the technique?

If this is you, then you will probably die.  Seriously. Why? Because you might know the technique, but you don’t own it.

Ask yourself:  can you do this technique, while under stress, without having to think about how to do it?  If you can’t, then you will never ever use this technique to protect yourself under stress.

So drill, drill and drill until you get it.  And then add some…


Try to apply it in the lab.  What lab? The ring, cage or mats.  When you spar, try it against someone who will resist you.  It’s one thing to kick the bag, it’s another thing to kick someone, when they are also trying to hit you at the same time.  When was the last time you got punched? How do you manage pain?  Of course I’m not advocating standing in the middle of the ring and punching each other in the face, to test your pain tolerance.  But safely and progressively try to apply this technique against someone who will resist you.

Get some experience, wisdom and knowledge on who you can use this technique against, and when and how.  It didn’t work? That’s great!  Why not?  Maybe your doing it wrong, or maybe it’s the wrong technique for the situation, or it has to be modified.  But you will never know unless you apply against a resisting opponent.

img_4030Step Out of Your Comfort Zone

Try a New Martial Art

Have you only been studying one type of martial art?  Well to be prepared for a self defense situation, you also have to be a well rounded martial artist.  I like how Sifu Burton Richardson of Jeet Kune Do Unlimited described his training:

The ability to defend yourself in all ranges, kicking, punching, clinch, with or without weapons, against one or many opponents.

So investigate what other martial arts have to offer and add some new tools to your tool box.  If you been studying Boxing, try adding some Judo, and some Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.  Add a weapon art like Kali.

Make it Exciting!

When you practice a stand up art like Boxing, have your partner try and take you down.  When we used to practice Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, we would add strikes.  Or we would throw a rubber training knife on the ground and yell “knife” and both players would fight over the knife and try to use to “finish” off the other.

  • Also try changing the environment.  Can you bridge and shrimp in the snow?
  • Try training in street clothes.  Can you do a knife disarm with gloves on?
  • Try applying your art against multiple attackers.
  • Turn off the lights and see what happens.
  • Do you wear glasses? What happens if you lose them during a fight?
  • Crank up the music and see how that affects your senses.

Remember, the goal is to not be complacent.

Train Your Mind

Visualize what you would do in a given scenario.  What do you visualize yourself doing if someone pulls a knife on you?  Would you run away? What if you have your child with you?  What if you accidentally cut someone off in traffic, and that person now follows you home?  What would you do?

Sometimes the best defense is orchestrating some plans in your mind.  Just in case something like this does happen to you.  It’s not paranoia.  It’s common sense.  Think of it like this:  what would you do if there was a fire in your kitchen? What are your action steps?  You are taking control by putting some thought into it and having a basic plan of what you would do, before it might actually happen to you.

Be the Hunter

This is a good one if you like relaxing and “people watching.”  Pretend you are looking for someone to mug.  Or even kidnap.  Look at the people in the crowd.  Who would you pick?  Why?  What makes this person more of a target then that person?  Try to see if there is a pattern.  Do possible victims carry themselves a certain way? Would you pick that person that is always distracted and on their phone?  Try to apply this lesson to yourself and make yourself a harder target.

Observe Your Environment

One of the first things I teach in self defense is to look for exits.  If something goes wrong, you want to know all the possible escape routes.  Next be aware of what can be used as an improvised weapon.  Can you use that chair to keep a knife attacker away? That coffee in your hand can be used to take their vision away.  Observe your environment and use your imagination on how you can use it to defend yourself.

Palms Kill

When I train police and security officers I use the old, but still useful phrase “palms kill.”  When I watch people and how they approach me, I look at their hands.  Is it bunched up into a fist? What are they holding? Are their hands concealed behind them or in their pockets?  Sometime when I am waiting in line for for my coffee I play this game were I watch people around me, and see what is in their palms; their hands.  I try to determine if they are right or left handed.

This also leads me to look at their belt and pockets.  You would be surprised how many people carry knives on their belts or in their pockets.

Learn the Pre-Attack Indicators

How do you know that you are going to get sucker punched? What are the signs that you can no longer rationalize with an irrational person and they are going to attack you?  Here is a short, but probably incomplete list of some pre-attack indicators that can tell you that you are about to be attacked:

  • They keep saying the same thing over and over
  • Their voice gets raspy or high pitched because of adrenaline dump
  • Unusual sweating
  • Tightening of the jaw.  Clenching their teeth
  • Mouth breathing
  • Weight shifting
  • Clenching their fists
  • Getting into a stance
  • Avoiding eye contact. They seem to be looking through you and not hearing your words.
  • They try to distract you with one hand, like poking you in the chest, while they are gearing to hit you with the other hand
  • If they are carrying a weapon, you will notice their hand hovering around that area, in anticipation of drawing it

Most martial artist can not defend themselves because they don’t realize they are already in a fight.  They only know they are in trouble if the other guy gets into a stance.  But the fight starts before that.  Take a second look at these pre-attack indicators, and try to be aware of them if you are ever in a heated situation.

The Eyes Know

Open Your Eyes When Under Stress

When we get stressed out we have a tendency to close our eyes a bit.  Think about when you are lifting a heavy weight or punching non stop on the heavy bag.  We all almost close our eyes.  Maybe we think that if we don’t look at the object causing us pain, it will be easier on us 🙂

But this trains us to narrow our field of vision when we are under stress, in combat.  This can be bad because we develop tunnel vision; we only focus on what we perceive is the immediate stress and nothing else.

This means if you are yelling back and forth with your possible attacker, and only tunnel in or focus on your attacker’s face, you might miss him reaching for a knife.  Or getting ready to punch you.  Or see his friend step in and sucker punch you.  So how do we try and train this out of us?

When working out, on the weights or hitting the pads, be conscious of the fact that as the workout gets harder, and stressful, your eyes will start to narrow into slits.  Open up your eyes and try and expand your vision.

Look for Other Attackers

Another good exercise is one I like when I practice Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.  When I’m rolling, I try to be aware of the other students.  I use the phrase:

“When on the ground, Look around”

I try to pay attention to my surroundings, even though someone might be trying to choke me out.  I also do this in Boxing and Muay Thai classes.  I treat the other students as possible multiple opponents and try to expand my vision to include them as much as possible.

So there you have it.  A few training suggestions on how to make sure that you do not become complacent in your training.  This is mainly for police officers, security officers and those interested in self defense.  But this can be readily applied to competitive and fitness training.  Mix up your training, so that you do not become a complacent student of the martial arts.

And if you are a police or security officer, remember, that even though 99% of the job is pretty routine, it’s not the 99% they kills you.  It’s that 1% that will kill you. And it just has to happen once.