Whether we are talking about Kali, Silat or Krav Maga, efficient and effective self-defense techniques must always employ natural body movements, be easy to learn and remember. They must also be effective under stress and exhaustion. That means advanced techniques for disarming, while useful training tools for our muscle memory, are not what we will have a chance to employ in most armed self defense scenarios. Most “bad guys” do not aim weapons at you (or use them on you) like they do in the movies.
How do I know?
For starters, I have been in several armed confrontations – sometimes where the aggressor was armed, and sometimes where we both were. I have had guns drawn on me, and I have had them fired at me. I have had them misfire at me, and I have, in more than one instance, taken loaded firearms away from the person wielding them. Here are a few of those examples, and then we’ll get into the heart of the discussion: Gun Disarms vs. Gun Trapping.
I have worked as one of the heads of security for the largest consumer goods corporation in the world. I have also worked executive protection details. There are many experiences through both of these jobs which brought me face-to-face with violence. Neither of these professions, however, lead to as much direct self-defense as what I have experienced in day-to-day life…
In the early 90s, those of us fighting back against the plague of Neo-Nazi gangs in the Clifton neighborhood of Cincinnati, found ourselves in constant violent conflicts, which we never initiated, yet could not retreat from. In one case, the police literally stood by, at the end of the Vine street, outside of the Bogart’s venue. They were all the way up the block by Krogers, looking on as literally dozens of people fought it out – some armed, some unarmed. We were on our own. No one was coming to help us or save us. We had to fight back against angry, notoriously-violent attackers, who were often armed. A good friend of mine’s older brother was among us on many of these occasions where we were forced to defend ourselves. He ended up being killed in a drive-by shooting by these violent gang members, right outside of that same venue. This was no joke. These weren’t like people today claiming to be “trolling” online “for the lulz.” These were people in the real world, coming to concerts to start trouble, and sometimes to initiate their own members through violence.
Back at home, in the Forest Park neighborhood of Cincinnati, I had guns pulled on me multiple times, and even fired. In one case, I was in a verbal confrontation with a man who drew a gun, aimed it at my head and I froze up. I was 17 at the time. He pulled the trigger and thankfully, it misfired. He was astonished that his “magic wand” had failed him. He kept trying to pull the trigger, apparently hoping that the dud round was going to ignite if the firing pin hit it again. It didn’t. He ran. I ran after him.
We do a lot of things wrong when we aren’t trained, and me freezing up, as well as running after this guy are great examples of what not to do.
In another case, much more recently, a woman ran towards me – fleeing an attacker who was swinging a baseball bat. In this more recent incident, I disarmed the bat, but then saw the attacker reach into the pocket of their hoodie for what turned out to be a Glock 36 handgun, chambered in .45 caliber.
I employed the techniques I am discussing in this article, to redirect, then “jam them up.” Only after that, did I force their hand out of their pocket and disarm them.
Other times, just having the confidence to know I can handle someone who is armed has neutralized conflict – using words alone.
On the anniversary of a good friend’s son being killed in Beavercreek, I had just left a memorial service and arrived at one of my properties in West Dayton. There was a violent altercation between a man and a pregnant woman. As my mood was somber from the service, the last thing on my mind was getting in a fight, or trying to be a tough guy. Still, I knew that if I didn’t drive down the street to engage them, someone might end up seriously hurt, or worse.
The police do not patrol West Dayton. That is a fact anyone who lives there can attest to. This was evidenced by the fact that this “stand off” encounter went on for a long time – neighbors say upwards of 15 minutes – without police arriving.
With no police in sight, I engaged the man who was chasing his five-month-pregnant girlfriend. He ended up being armed with a small pistol. In the end, after a stand off with guns drawn by both of us, I was able to calm him down and get everyone to safety. I even gave the guy a hug before driving him home (he had been drinking). We exchanged numbers and from time to time I check on him and his new family to see how they are doing.
After the successful, peaceful resolution, I spent the night talking with him about the loss of his grandmother, about why he was so angry, about mutual domestic violence in his relationship, and so on. I talked with his girlfriend’s mother, as we stopped there to give him a place to “sleep it off,” while I told his girlfriend to head back to their apartment solo (she had not been drinking).
The solution to the conflict was not found in a Krav disarm, it was found in what Sifu Li, Jun-Fan (“Bruce Lee”) called “the Art of Fighting Without Fighting.” But in order to have that peace and calmness that afforded me the ability to “fight without fighting,” I first had to be confident in my ability to fight, and to neutralize an armed attacker. Without that peace, I would have had no recourse but to react with more violence than was actually needed.
One more story… In another recent encounter, a man armed with an AR-15 rifle was making violent threats to a young lady as I passed by. It was clear that the man believed his weapon was being carried lawfully, but when coupled with his “Street Harassment” of this woman, it was clear the weapon was being brandished to intimidate rather than simply to carry for self-defense. I approached him, got very close to him and asked calmly, “how does it feel to know that I could take that weapon away from you before you even knew what happened?”
His eyes betrayed his confident words. He was scared. “I’d… I’d… Like to see you try.”
“No you wouldn’t,” I said, “I promise you. Leave her alone.”
I did not have the legal authority to disarm this man unless and until he crossed a line which he was tight-rope walking at the time. I did not want to see him cross that line, and have someone potentially get hurt. He seemed dangerously close to crossing that line and raising the weapon towards the young lady he had been arguing with. Putting him in check verbally neutralized the confrontation without needing to disarm him physically – he had been disarmed psychologically.
My oldest son took a photograph of this confrontation for posterity, but I rarely mention incidences like these because they are not “bragging-rights.” I speak of them only now to illustrate a number of points about self-defense encounters with firearms. First, that I have seen my fair share of real-world armed self-defense scenarios. Second, that even if you never have to use these techniques in the real world, knowing that you could successfully execute them gives you the confidence to neutralize potentially-lethal confrontations with “the Art of Fighting Without Fighting.”
The Problem With Only Training Disarms
The problem that I have found with many who train in self-defense is that that when we just memorize disarms, we are training for the ideal scenario that I have never actually seen play out in real-world conflicts. Sometimes someone might lung at you with a knife, overcommitting to the stab, but if the person is a skilled knife-fighter – even with no formal training – he will not likely make such mistakes. As well, very few people hold guns on people in the real world from the stances or distances we see in movies or in many gun disarm seminars.
It is true that we must known how to execute any number of disarms. It is important to train them, and wire it into our muscle memory – whether pistol, rifle/shotgun or edged weapon disarms. But at the same time, we may never get to the stage in a fight where the weapon can be disarmed through the means we trained. We have to be read to isolate that weapon and the arm holding it, and incapacitate the attacker. Once we do that, the “disarm” may simply be their hand releasing its grip as they lose consciousness.
This should be our foundation upon which we build disarms.
Typically, in Krav Maga schools, when we teach handgun disarms, we teach one defense and then practice the different scenarios that the defense works for. Learning one defense for many problems cuts practice time, gives us only one defense for our muscle memory to learn. Thus, this defense is able to more readily come out of us under stress, without us having to think about it. Hick’s Law states that the more options are available to a person, the longer it will take for them to make a decision about which option is best.
Krav Maga includes some of the most practical and effective techniques in existence for self-defense. The techniques Krav Maga teaches for gun defense allow you to create responses that work in a wide variety of circumstances. That reduces the number of techniques you must learn and remember, which results in faster application under stress. For instance, Krav Maga uses the same technique when a gun is placed anywhere in front of you, whether it is touching you or not. The same technique, with very minor adjustments in body defense, works when the gun is pointed at your forehead, under your chin or at the side of your head.
The specifics of these techniques are beyond the scope of this article. One of the take-aways I hope any reader has, is that you cannot and should not attempt to defend yourself with online tutorials. Get in a legitimate martial arts school and start training!
With that said, all Krav Maga gun techniques employ four basic principles, which we should think of as the Order of Operations for all disarms:
1. Redirect the line of fire
2. Control the weapon
Pay close attention to that Order of Operations. The “Disarm” comes last, not first, and not in the middle.
The main handgun defense that I have seen taught in Krav schools is called the “Cupping Technique.” Again, the specifics of this are not practical to attempt to teach in an online article. But suffice it to say that there are many reasons why this technique has advantages.
Krav utilizes the natural reaction to reach for the handgun that is pointed at us to get it off line. We redirect and “clap” at essentially the same time. We end up with both hands on the handgun with one ideally wrapping the hammer (or area where it would be), so we have the leverage to keep it redirected no matter how big and strong the assailant is. In any case, however, if it is a semi-automatic pistol, we can usually force a jam, preventing subsequent shots from being fired.
The first of the four Disarm Order of Operations is “Redirect.” What this means is that we use an open hand, aiming the webbing of our thumb to the trigger guard. As soon as we touch the weapon, we redirect it off our body and wrap our hand around the barrel to control it. As we are redirecting, we keep the handgun on the same plane to ensure we are taking the weapon off our body in a straight line and with the shortest route possible. In other words, if the handgun is at neck level when aimed at us, it is still at neck level after it has been redirected. We are doing a slight body turn simultaneously, with the deflection. In doing this we maximize distance without even moving – the hand deflects, the turn minimizes our surface area and takes us out of the original line of fire. We don’t stay squared up but let our right shoulder turn toward the attacker. This makes the torso a smaller target and getting the weapon off of us much faster than otherwise. It is said that “seconds count” but in gun defense, milliseconds literally count. The difference between being shot or not being shot lies in milliseconds.
There are a lot of what ifs that are often not accounted for. The problem is not with the technique of cupping, but with the assumptions a person makes once they learn it.
Many people speak of these techniques as if they are “magic bullets” so to speak. But that is far from the case. Why do we assume the firearm is a semi-automatic, slide-operated weapon? There are plenty of revolvers out there. Still, cupping has – in every case I have attempted it with a live weapon – successfully jammed the firearm and prevented subsequent rounds from being fired.
More importantly, however, what if you are in a crowded area, and there are innocent people all around you? What if you only have one “safe” direction for the weapon to be pointed, and there is no real way to disarm it from that angle? In such a case, you must control and utterly obliterate the aggressor, before taking the weapon away from them.
Opponents Who Resist Make For Less Than Ideal Disarms
For many instructors and students weapon disarming is seen as the pinnacle of self-defense training. It is often practiced without any real understanding of the various factors at play in a violent situation where a weapon is involved.
The first of the aforementioned four-steps in the Disarm Order of Operations is almost always focused on, in any martial arts school or system interested in disarms: Redirect.
Okay, we got that. But “control the weapon” – the second key step in this process – is often glossed over or nearly-ignored. “Control” is often underemphasized and underdeveloped, in terms of how we practice. Cupping is Krav’s solution to that, but it isn’t the only solution, as alluded to above. So you cup. Now what? Cupping isn’t disarming. You must control. Cupping can be part of that, but so can trapping.
Again, Krav is not a martial arts style, it is a set of martial principles. Controlling means just what it says: having control over where the firearm is pointed.
“Jamming” or “Trapping” the Weapon Hand
Krav Maga techniques assume that once you’ve made an initial redirection, the assailant will pull back on the weapon to put you in front of the muzzle again. As such, the “control the weapon” stage is key.
Disarming will almost always only occur after successful control or trapping of the weapon or weapon-bearing arm, followed by a devastating counter attack on vulnerable bodily targets, while you retain control over that trapped weapon or arm.
Maybe you cup but can’t disarm without the barrel crossing an innocent person who could be shot in the process of disarming the aggressor. In such a case, you cup, or trap, jam, and deliver knee after knee, elbow after elbow, headbutt after headbutt – or any combination thereof. Sometimes doing a flashy disarm is not the answer, even if you can do it. There is no magical formula that will solve every armed confrontation. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: you have to understand these principles and react and adapt on the fly.
Krav, like East Asian Martial Arts of Kali and Silat, as well as Chinese arts like Wing Chun, Xingyiquan and Taijiquan (as well as many others), like to be in close, jamming up an attacker, so they cannot achieve a good external arc of momentum with empty-hand attacks, as well as with sticks or edged weapons. But this idea of closing the gap and trapping is even more important when it comes to firearms self-defense. From a distance, you are a literal target. Up close, you really only have to worry about the “business end” of the weapon.
Adapting on the Fly
Once you get the weapon “down and inward,” or “jammed up” so to speak, the attacker’s control will be limited. That is only half the battle… actually, not even half. You must then be prepared to move your feet to keep putting weight on the weapon even if he struggles or even collapses from your punch. This is where sensitivity training comes in to play, whether it is hubad drills in East Asian systems like Kali, or Wing Chun Chi Sao “Sticky Hands,” or Baguazhang and T’aijiquan Tui Shou “Push Hands,” or even simply the sensitivity born of a good grappler or wrestler, you have to be able to move with the aggressor once you engage. They will not just stand there and allow you to disarm them – again, like in the movies, or even in online “tutorials” for disarms.
You want this to work right?
There are no simple formulas for success. You have to follow principles and adapt on the fly or I promise you, they will regain control of their weapon and kill you.
After the Disarm
So let’s say that we have cupped, trapped, jammed-up or whatever the attacker, and subsequently disarmed them. Great, but now what?
In self-defense circles, we often operate from the erroneous and wishful belief that once we have disarmed an assailant of their primary weapon, they cease to be an aggressor anymore.
Where firearm disarms are concerned, we seem to naturally assume that the person we have just disarmed, will become subservient and comply with our demands after the disarm. This is often coupled with a mistaken belief that just because we are in possession of a firearm we are naturally in the superior, dominant position. Dominance only exists where another accepts it, and not everyone will accept that because you hold a firearm you are in a dominant position.
That is, we imagine that – like in the movies – the aggressor suddenly respects our position of being the weapon holder and thus submit to being the potential target or victim. As they expected our compliance, we now imagine they will comply with us. Nothing could be further from the truth.
It is a major misjudgment to believe that an assailant won’t try and retrieve their weapon. Remember that a gunman will not be passive whatsoever. This is not the movies. It isn’t a comic book.
The moment you defend yourself, the aggressor will fight to put the line of fire back on you. To imagine that you can go from simply controlling the weapon to disarming assumes a lot. You know the old saying about what happens when you assume don’t you?
Instead of this wishful thinking of compliance, we must control the weapon so the line of fire can never be redirected at us again, nor at any other potential innocent victims in our vicinity.
We cannot rely on the weapon or the individual’s fear at us having the weapon. Our brains have simply not evolved to properly appreciate and provoke an appropriate “Fear” response – in the sense of Gavin DeBecker’s Gift of Fear: And Other Survival Signals That Protect Us from Violence. I have seen people talk tough with a gun in their face. I have never seen someone talk tough with a knife to their throat or face.
Why is that?
Put simply, our brains have evolved to naturally recognize and “fear” sharp, pointed blades. We recognize this as an even more deadly form of what we see in Nature with horns, fangs, and claws. But a gun is potentially even more deadly, but its shape belies that reality. As such, you should expect that a certain percentage of “bag guys” are not going to respect you drawing a firearm on them, or even aiming their own at them, after a disarm.
Even if you shoot someone center of mass, they may still keep aggressing. This is not as uncommon as you may think, especially if highly motivated, aggressive and adrenalized. For example, Ibragim Todashev, one of the terrorists involved in the 2014 Boston Marathon Bombing, quickly recovered from being shot several times by an FBI agent to launch a second attack. If such a person is armed with a knife, they may still be able to stab and kill you before they succumb to their own injuries.
One instructor who I trained with in firearms tactics, back in the 1990s, had unloaded three high capacity magazines from his sidearm, as well as the entire tube magazine of his shotgun on a man high on PCP, just years before we met. He ended up beating the man to death, because he was completely out of ammunition.
For most of the situations we are likely to find ourselves in time and distance will be restricted, and our environment may not afford us the luxury of an easy disengagement where we can either get to our own weapon or use our assailant’s firearm.
When you do disarm someone of a firearm, you equip yourself with a heavy solid striking object which is capable of delivering extreme concussive force, whether it is loaded and functioning or jammed. Repeatedly hitting someone with this object will put them out of commission – this is the first thing you should do when disarming them of such a weapon. That is, you use it to finish them off, if you haven’t already. You don’t use it in any capacity where it could turn out to fail or let you down if it happens to have been unloaded or became jammed in the “cupping” process, for instance. Just because you are proficient at using a firearm, don’t presume somebody else’s weapon is operational. I have seen more than a few schools where it is common to clear the jam and aim the attacker’s weapon at them. That’s fine, if you were previously unarmed. If you do carry your own weapon, however, once they are completely incapacitated, disable the assailant’s weapon, discard it, and then draw your own.
As for the very common practice of lawful concealed carry in the United States today, it is not enough to carry a firearm and assume you are in a good position to defend yourself against an armed attacker. Unless you have trained in the sort of “Close Quarters Combat” (literally “Krav Maga” in Hebrew), then the chances of you ever getting to your gun are slim to none.
Once someone is disarmed, after they have drawn a weapon on you, you should make absolutely certain that they are completely incapacitated before going for your cell phone to call for help. To get to that point, you have to understand the Disarm Order of Operations. In 9 times out of 10, you will never get to an advanced disarm technique. That is okay. That doesn’t make those advanced disarm techniques bad, or “unrealistic.” It just means that we must first and foremost focus on “Keeping It Simple Stupid,” as the design principle noted by the U.S. Navy in 1960 said. Control the weapon and beat the attacker until they are unconscious and you still go home safe and sound at the end of the day.
Understanding this simple fact and not trying to necessarily manipulate the weapon out of an attacker’s hands, just might save your life, or someone else’s.
Looking to find out more about Gun Disarms vs. Gun Trapping? Give us a call at 937-254-7035 to schedule a time for you to come in and start trying classes out! Also, don’t forget to add TAMA Martial Arts and Kali America on Facebook. Check out Kali America’s OFFICIAL website and follow us on Instagram!