Self Defense/Self defense with spinal problems
QUESTION: Hi Marc!
I'm a 31 year old man, living in Sweden with my wife and daughter. I have been training Wadoruy karate, boxing, Muay Thai and Krav Maga for a couple of years each. My height is 5'10'' and my weight is about 175 lbs. I have been pretty good at avoiding conflicts, due to my tough look (which is tougher than I actually am), ability to eyeball people pretty well, a certain talent for talking myself out of dangerous situations, reasonably good situational awareness and overall carefulness.
Unfortunately, several years ago, I got several spinal disc herniations, which left me slightly disabled. Since both my neck and lumbar area are affected, this severely reduces my ability to train most martial arts, as I can't do push-ups, wrestling and grappling are out of the question due to the stress on my spinal column, and impacts to the head may affect my cervical discs.
However, reality is not very forgiving to my health problems, as the area we live in has gotten a lot worse in the last year. Sweden has received a lot of Syrian and Afghan refugees this last year, and a building 100 meters from my own has been converted into 158 small apartments, which now house those refugees, mainly young males aged 15-25. Since they don't have any jobs, they have a lot of time on their hands and crime has gotten a lot worse. Some of the refugees have ganged up and there have been several muggings, assaults and gang rapes in my area. There aren't many firearms around, and I doubt that refugees can afford them, but knives are probably prevalent. Even worse, my area is very lightly policed, and police rarely shows up until several hours after an incident, except for shootings, gang rapes, murders and really serious offenses like these, so they are not much to count on if I'm just mugged.
The obvious solution to this is to move, however this can't be done soon due to financial issues and overall lack of housing in my city, and even though we are working on this, this is more of a long term solution. However, I feel the need to increase my ability to defend myself and my family if the need should arise. I used to be a decent fighter, but after I got my spinal problems, my left arm is much weaker than my right and hard enough punches to the head could damage my spinal cord and leave me tetraplegic. So what I am looking for are martial arts and techniques that focus on footwork and avoiding getting hit, as well as neutralizing my opponents enough to escape.
Regarding weapons, basically everything that can be used as a weapon is illegal in Sweden. Firearm possesion lands you in prison for at least a year. Pepper sprays, tasers and the like usually give you a hefty fine, but could also land you in prison. Knives and telescopic batons give you a fine of about 200$, which I consider an acceptable price to pay for a vastly improved ability to defend yourself. There are 'self defense sprays' based on alcohol, but I assume that they are more of a painful distraction than an actual weapon.
To summarize, here are my questions to you:
* Which martial arts are good for improving footwork and ability to dodge?
* Where can I learn counter-grappling techniques to avoid ending up on the ground?
* Which martial arts are good for improving my offensive abilities, given my health problems?
* Any advice on improvised weapons or something to increase my capacity to quickly neutralize my opponents?
* Any other advice on what I should do in my situation?
ANSWER: I can't really answer specifically because I don't know the nature of your physical limitations.
The general direction would be towards tai chi. Except the kind of tai chi I'm talking about can be hard to find. The fella you want to talk to is Wim Demeeere. Wim is a dear friend and someone that the only way I'd fuck with him is shooting him through crosshairs. (That's a sign of respect where I'm from.) Although he's in Belgium he may be able to introduce you to someone in your part of Sweden.
You ask about a lot of stuff, that is really hard to answer. Most of the time people are looking for quick fixes for complicated problems. My most common reaction to strike enhancers for example is LEARN HOW TO HIT!
There are no short cuts. But more than that you want to have a skill that you can use anytime, anywhere and won't leave you helpless if you don't have it. Thing to understand is that Wim's version of Tai Chi would hit you so hard you'd get a speeding ticket in Warsaw. Learn how to move effectively to end it. That's the first step
---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------
and thanks for your reply!
I'll elaborate on my physical condition: my limitations are mostly in the area of repeated movements that stress my spinal cord. For example, I can get down and do 30 push-ups right now without any problems. However, if I do it as a regular exercise, especially when I'm tired, I'll exacerbate my injury sooner or later, which means about 6 months of pain and sick leave for me. The same goes for punching bag exercises. Wrestling and grappling inevitably means impacts, and my training partner pulling my spine in unnatural directions, which will also make things worse. Otherwise, I have the full range of movements and can do pretty much anything, except that my one arm is weaker than the other and I get very little exercise, so my shape is pretty lousy right now.
I'd also like to rephrase my previous questions: Since my goal is to avoid getting hit, or at least get hit less, I assume that I must learn to move around better than I do now (my footwork has always been a weak spot). Dodging punches, kicks and grabs is also a priority. Since I don't want to end up on the ground with someone, especially facing multiple opponents, I need to learn to counter grappling holds and get back up as soon as possible. From what little I know about tai chi, it might cover some footwork, balance and some pretty effective pushing, but it lacks offensive techniques almost entirely and I can't think of how it might counter grappling holds or teach me how to dodge, even though improved balance and footwork is of course beneficial. Please correct me if I'm wrong, my late dad did a lot of tai chi chuan, so that's where most of my knowledge comes from. So what I'm looking for is something that covers these focus areas (footwork, dodging, counter-grappling), a martial art or any other sport.
My question about weapons wasn't about strike enhancers, I hit pretty hard anyway (confirmed by most MA instructors I've trained with). Since getting punched in the head is more dangerous for me than for most other people, most self defense situations will be focused on neutralizing my opponents as quickly as possible and getting away. For example, how effective is a telescopic baton against two or three unarmed opponents, given that I learn to use it more or less properly?
About evasion. Go read "Meditation on Violence" by Rory Miller. His model of social and asocial violence is a great tool.
Here's the link to the book
Here's probably the least odious interpretation of the idea by someone else
The reason knowing the difference between social and asocial violence is so important is that social violence comes with ALL kinds of subconscious rules and default programming. Failing to get off line is DEEPLY involved with the rules of social violence.
Getting off line is a lot easier if you're not 'fighting.'
Here in the Rocky Mountains we have Big Horn Sheep. They're a form of mountain goat that 'fight' for the right to mate every year
I show you that because as violent as these encounters might seem, they are seldom lethal. (If death does occur it's usually because they get their horns tangled up.) What's more important is that injury is also rare because the BHSheep's body is designed to take impact this way. So there's lots of sturm und drang, but -- because it's social -- it's safe.
Cougars (mountain lions) however don't attack BH from the front though. A predator hits from the side or the back. At the same time if a cougar does get hit by a BH Sheep, it's usually from the side and causes major injury to the cat.
Well humans engaging in social violence are like two rams butting heads. We are designed to take impact from the front. That is the same safety. So when we 'fight' over social issues we default to certain behaviors. Behaviors that send us into head butting contests. I call this "staying on the train tracks." Going forward, backward or hunkering down and bracing for impact ALL leave us on the tracks.
The challenge is NOT in finding the 'best footwork.' The challenge is getting out of the social violence head space where you stay on the tracks. Learn to break that unconscious, default wiring.
You want some truly awesome footwork for getting off line? You and your wife go take ballroom dancing lessons.
I'll still stick with the combat tai chi recommendation though with two caveats. One, there's a difference between 'hitting hard' a being a freight train. What I'm talking about is blasting the guy so hard he hits the ground and -- assuming he even can -- isn't going to want to get up. The elbow, arm and shoulder hits/checks they do are pretty much one move and he don't want to play no more.
Two, the most dangerous opponents I've ever gone up against were hard/soft combos. When I was moving against them, they were like trying to attack smoke. When they moved against me, they became a falling boulder.
You ask about a telscopic baton, Aside from the legal issues, there's the problem of getting it out in time. Weapons increase range, and if you have time, they're great. If you have one with you, it's even better.
On the other hand, if you know how to blast someone then it's really easy to blast one guy into the second so they go down ass over elbow then turn your attention to the third -- and now very much alone -- dude.