Training for the Real World

Albo Kali Silat is a combat art, an art rooted in and dedicated to the ability to survive a real attack. Since we all live in the present, weaponry and tactics evolved long in the past would seem to have little utility. In fact, some aspects of modern life have rendered many techniques and tactics irrelevant, but validated and reinforced some knowledge from the past.

First of all, Albo Kali Silat trains in unarmed techniques, to include striking and grappling, and weapon techniques, to include stick and knife combat. In the United States, where Albo Kali Silat is currently headquartered, criminal attacks frequently involve impact weapons (clubs, baseball bats, tire irons, rebar, batons, etc.), bladed weapons (razors, pocket knives, large sheath knives, machetes, bush knives, “short swords”, etc.), firearms, “other weapons,” and strong arm tactics (empty hand attacks, grappling, punching and kicking, etc.). Training in wielding sticks and knives, sparring against those armed with sticks and knives, and empty hand training and sparring all can be helpful in situations involving attacks that occur in today’s America. The “classic” training and time-tested techniques are still relevant and very effective in modern confrontations. However, in order to address many of the changes that have occurred in modern society, particularly in technology related to firearms and their use by criminals, the art has had to adapt. One of the hallmarks of the Filipino Martial Arts in general is adaptability and the ability to adopt new concepts and techniques from sources outside the main core of the arts in order to continue to grow and survive. Any art that does not address modern realities of combat is a “dead” art. Albo Kali Silat is set up to survive, and to train its practitioners to survive.

For those who are in the military or some law enforcement agencies, in addition to the threats delineated above, situations can include specialized chemical agents, radiation, explosives, and biological agents. Special equipment and training is provided to deal with some of these threats. To be perfectly honest, I have some training in operating in a Hazardous Materials (HAZMAT) and/or Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) environment. I don’t plan on operating in either, if at all possible, thank you very much. My rule of thumb when there are explosives or nasty chemicals involved is that, if I can raise my hand in front of my face, extend my thumb in a “thumb up” gesture, and not be able to cover the entire explosive/chemical scene with the tip of my thumb when viewing the event, then I am too darn close to the scene. I actually prefer to be over the horizon or in another state, as I know just enough about this type of weaponry/environment to know that I want no part of it whatsoever. In a more “normal” environment, private citizens have to be cognizant of chemical threats (Mace, tear gas, OC spray) and biological threats (blood-borne pathogens, etc.). In general, I suggest that the chemical sprays be treated like a firearm or any other “projectile weapon” in that they must be aimed, fired, and must “hit” to do damage. The biological components come to the fore once blood is spilled, especially if the “good guy” has any open wounds. In addition, biological factors come into play due to the environment within which you operate. If you are in a “rough area” as I was when I worked in housing projects, you should really try to avoid going to the ground in any confrontation, if at all possible. Asphalt, broken beer bottles, used condoms, used hypodermic needles, and the like are not a friendly “mat” environment. One excellent SWAT officer whom I respected and enjoyed working with had to retire due to the fact that he contracted hepatitis from a hypodermic needle that stabbed through his pants when he fell to one knee during an arrest. Washing with soap and water (or a chemical “wash”) and seeking medical attention for wounds, along with testing for various blood-borne diseases if fluid transfer may have occurred, are prudent precautions, but are stretching the limits of this particular missive.

How prevalent are the various threats in the United States? The answer depends on who you ask, whether rigidly controlled studies and statistics are seen as necessary, stories and experiences from “those in the know” are seen as sufficient, or some other criteria are utilized. Statistics from the Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) regarding crimes reported in the U.S. in 2006 (the last year for which complete data is currently available) show that firearms were the most likely weapon to be used in robberies, followed closely by empty hands, then other weapons (to include clubs, etc.), with knives or other cutting weapons being the least prevalent weapon used. For aggravated assaults, other weapons (to include clubs, etc.) were, by far, the most used weapon, with empty hands following, then firearms, then knives. Does this mean that defending from bladed attacks is something that we should not really focus on then? Maybe we need to look at other data. Surveys of victims have normally shown that many crimes are not reported to the authorities (and are thus not included in the UCR). In fact, many scholars and studies indicate that only about one-eighth to one-third of crimes committed are reported to authorities in the U.S. A review of the latest data available from the National Crime Victimization Survey (2005 data) shows that unarmed assaults and robberies seemed to be the most prevalent, and, when weapons were used, that firearms were the most popular weapons. In regard to actual killings, firearms were, by far, the class of weapon most used to commit homicide, with knives the second most likely type of weapon. Maybe we should look at what is for sale out there in the lands of commerce, electronic or otherwise? Twenty years ago, there were many pocket and sheath knives for sale. There were quite a few “fighting knives.” Today, however, there are hundreds of different “tactical” pocket knives alone. Many knives available are, or are claimed to be, designed and produced with the idea that they are for fighting or “self-defense.” There sure are a lot of “combat” firearms out there too, though. Let’s review anecdotal stories and personal experience, and maybe that will give us more insight.

Odds are, if you are in law enforcement for any length of time, you will be assaulted more than once. I have been attacked with empty hands, knives, and firearms. In my personal experience, I have been attacked slightly more often with knives than firearms (giving knives the “edge” in this contest, pun intended), but most often by empty hand. I have been sprayed with OC spray on multiple occasions. Most of these were the inadvertent cop-on-cop, “Sorry I sprayed your face while you were putting a joint lock on the bad guy” type of incident, and the others were training related (hey, you don’t shoot me before you let me carry a handgun so how come you spray me before I can carry this pepper gas crap?). I have arrested people who were armed with various weapons, with most preferring handguns, with blades a close second. Statistical studies, personal experience, and anecdotal reports have shown me that things in the United States vary by region. I have worked extensively in the Eastern United States and in the Southwest, and have some limited experience in a few other regions and foreign nations. Recently, Punong Guro Michael Blackgrave of Bahad Zu’Bu USA, stated that there seemed to be a resurgence of the “blade culture,” at least in Texas where he currently resides. I wholeheartedly agree. The blade culture never really was dead in the Mexican border regions or many other areas in the U.S., but along the border it seems to be much more robust currently. From some law enforcement friends “down on the border,” I have received some photos of some pretty horrific blade work. It seems that the bush knife/machete/short sword is becoming a very popular means of dispute resolution among drug gangs in the border regions. Especially prevalent is the decapitation of rival gang members and the “disciplinary homicide” committed with such blades in order to intimidate potential informants or reinforce cartel hierarchy. Being shot and killed relatively quickly is one thing, but being hacked to death with the express purpose of making the killing as horrific, painful, and drawn out as possible is another thing altogether. The blade is being used to inspire fear, according to my sources, and it is working.

In order to “keep up with the times,” Albo Kali Silat deals with attacks from the most commonly seen weapons used by criminals in the United States, empty hand attacks, firearms, knives, and impact weapons. In addition, students are introduced to some of the less frequently seen attacking mechanisms, such as OC spray, stun guns, etc. Using and defending against folding knives is stressed. The use of sticks and batons is taught, as is the fact that a private citizen carrying such a device concealed in many jurisdictions within the United States is illegal due to the fact that such devices are defined in many areas as “illegal clubs.” Students are trained in the use of empty hand and improvised or expedient weapons and to deal with attacks from multiple attackers (which some recent studies and some personal knowledge and experience seem to indicate are becoming more and more likely to occur). “Situational awareness” or keeping your eyes and ears open and scanning for possible threats is taught. What is legal and what is prudent in diverse situations that may be encountered “on the street” is reviewed. Rather than an “if this then that” mentality in how to apply training in combat or to determine prudence and legality, the focus is on concepts that can be applied by the student in whatever situation or altercation the student becomes involved. What to do after using force and perhaps seriously injuring an attacker is discussed. Articulation of any actions taken and the “reasonable man” standard are discussed. The gist of some of this discussion is that when using deadly force (a technique or weapon that a reasonable person would see as possibly causing death) you must be able to articulate to a “reasonable” person why you were in fear of imminent death or serious bodily injury. In other words, the attacker had to have the means and opportunity to seriously harm or kill you and the attacker had to be doing something that indicated to you that he or she was going to harm or kill you now, not some time in the future. What is prudent is sometimes different than what is legal. For example, a gang member with a handgun in his waistband is walking away from you telling you that he is going to kill you sometime in the future (“I’m gonna waste your a## next week”) or after a pickup smacks into your parked car, four drunk guys pile out of the pickup, which has a Mini 14 on the rifle rack visible through the rear window, and you see the whole thing from your living room window. In the first situation, it can be argued that it is prudent to deal with the gang member right then, rather than wait for a future assault you may not see coming, but it is not legal. In the second situation, it is legal to go out and contact the men in your front yard, possibly even to detain them for the police, but it may not be the most prudent thing to do. Sometimes the best self-defense item you have on your person is a cellular telephone utilized to call the police, sometimes that best item is a good pair of running shoes, and sometimes it may be your knife or firearm. If you are going to train for the real world and do not want to end up dead or in prison, you need to know when each item is the most appropriate. Of course, sometimes, no matter what you do, you wind up in a bad situation and you have to do the best you can.

Now, a law enforcement officer will often have a very different reaction to many situations “on the street” than will a person with a different job. A very good friend who works in a Sheriff’s Office in West Texas probably summed it up best when he said to me,” We are the guys who do the stupid things like run toward the area where we heard gunshots because we have to find out what is going on and protect those who may be being attacked.” From a martial arts standpoint, there are also differences. If you are a SWAT officer and working in full body armor, your mobility is somewhat compromised and you will not be able to use some techniques that you have used when not encumbered by armor. Law enforcement also has a need to physically restrain and position people for handcuffing and other restraints. Are these differences that important in a martial arts context? Yes and no. In reality, women who wear tight pants or skirts or high heels routinely and men who wear confining business suits with nicely tailored, form fitting, pants and jackets also need to take clothing into consideration when fighting, as mobility will be compromised. Citizens may need to position an attacker in a position disadvantageous to that attacker where they can be controlled prior to the arrival of help (from friends, the police, etc.) if the initial attack is defeated. Everyone, private citizen, military, and law enforcement officer, will have to be able to adjust to their particular situation and environment, use sufficient and appropriate techniques to deal with an attack, be able to articulate why they took the actions that they did, and know that the decisions that they had to make in a time frame smaller than the blink of an eye will be reviewed for hours, weeks, days, and maybe years, and that many, many people may feel that they were wrong to take action and will “Monday morning quarterback” the situation to death.

Environments, laws, and situations change as you travel from state to state and nation to nation. Knowing a bit about the law where you reside or are traveling as well as having good empty hand and improvised or expedient weapon skills and being aware of your surroundings can make travel much safer. In Albo Kali Silat, the root of impact weapon, edged weapon and empty hand fighting strategies and techniques has changed very little in the last several years, which is a testament to the skill, knowledge, and ability developed by the Albo family through hard combat in the past. A thin veneer or polish to deal with new weaponry, tactics, threats, and legal realities has been added to the art to assist the student in training for safety and security in the modern world.

Tuhan Holloway
July 2008

Copyright © 2006-2012 - All Rights Reserved.