Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Tactics & Strategy

By Joel Persinger

Everywhere I turn, I am bombarded by the words “tactics” and “tactical”. Every folding knife is a tactical blade. Every new firearm has a “tactical” version or some new “tactical” attachment. Surefire has all of its “tactical” flashlights. Every mixed martial arts school in the world is “tactical combat” this or “combat tactical” that. We are so overcome by the marketing of “tactics”, that we have forgotten something just as important. In fact, what we have forgotten may be more important. It is called strategy.

The problem is, there isn’t much money in selling a “strategic” knife, firearm, attachment, flashlight or class. That’s because strategy happens in your head and on paper. It requires serious forethought, planning and execution to develop and implement a working and successful strategy. None of which gives us the chance to punch, kick, stab, slice or shoot our way into feeling like James Bond or Chuck Norris. But, it just might be the ticket to keeping us and our families safe.

So before we go any further, let’s define both strategy and tactics. Strategy, according to my handy Webster’s dictionary is defined as “the science and art of employing the political, economic, psychological, and military forces of a nation or group of nations to afford the maximum support to adopted policies in peace or war” and “the art of devising or employing plans toward a goal”. Tactics on the other hand are defined as “a method of employing forces in combat” and “a device for accomplishing an end”. So then, strategy is the over all plan and tactics are the specific means and tools used to execute the plan. This explains why nobody is selling a “strategic” knife. A knife, being a tool with which to achieve an end, can only be tactical.

For the sake of argument, let’s say I have purchased my tactical knife, tactical firearm and my tactical accessories and flashlight. I’ve even taken my “tactical combat” classes and I took some “combat tactical” classes just in case the first instructor had it backwards. I’ve gotten my concealed carry permit, so I can carry all this stuff and I’m ready for anything! Bring on the fight! I can take on the devil himself and defend my family, no bones about it! And when I go to bed at night, I stack all this crap next to my bed in the sure and certain hope that, when somebody busts through my flimsy front door or my paper thin windows in the middle of the night, I’ll be ready!

Sounds kind of silly doesn’t it? But, silly or not, it’s all too common an approach to the problem of personal and family security.

Now, before you get your knickers in a knot, let me be clear about a couple of things. I own a tactical knife, firearm or two, a tactical flashlight and some accessories. I’ve studied single combat in the form of traditional martial arts, firearms training and various “combat” & “tactical’ seminars for years. There is nothing wrong with doing any of those things and I applaud you if you have done them. However, developing the means to execute a plan without ever developing the plan is a fool’s errand in the extreme.

It should also be noted that “self defense”, the process in which all this “tactical” stuff would be employed, is only one part of personal security. Actually, it is the part that is employed as a last possible resort and, in most cases, the least often used. It’s just the most exciting, which explains why it sells! Nevertheless, a personal security strategy has many components: deterrents and provisioning to name just two. Like a mission statement for a business, your personal security strategy does not need to be complicated and can be stated quite simply. Here is the personal security strategy we have adopted in my family:

  • In order to provide for the security of our family, we will take steps to make our home, our surroundings and ourselves less attractive as potential targets to criminals.
  • We will acquire the training and tools necessary to defend against criminals should they not be deterred.
  • We will provide for the event of a natural or man made catastrophey by preparing and storing supplies and equipment, preparing to defend our home against criminals who might take advantage of such an emergency and providing for evacuation should it be necessary.

The strategy written above is simply a general overview of the steps we planned to take and the attitude with which we have approached the problem of personal security. Once we had a strategy, we began to implement it by employing the tactics or means necessary. For example:

In order to make ourselves, surroundings and home less attractive to criminals we have employed the following tactics:

Our home:

  • Lights, lock & landscaping. Our house is well lit at night, we have good, solid locks. Our doors and windows are of good quality. Our landscaping is properly trimmed so that criminals cannot hide behind it.
  • We installed a monitored alarm system in our home, with the stickers and sign to warn off criminals.

Our surroundings:

  • We do not associate with trouble makers.
  • If we know trouble exists somewhere, we do not attend.
  • We have all been trained to be more aware of surroundings and to make good choices.


  • We follow our training in the three “A’s”. Awareness, Attitude, Avoidance.

Most criminals will be deterred by the tactics listed above. However, if they are not, we have the training, skills and tools in place to address the threat and eliminate it. The nice thing is that, because we have adopted our strategy, the chances of our ever having to take such drastic steps are significantly reduced. This, after all, is the goal. If we are the good guys, and we are, then we must take those steps necessary to avoid trouble whenever and where ever we can.

Therefore, as you travel on your martial arts journey, remember that martial skill is only a small part of personal security. The tactical is more glamorous, exciting and fun. But, the strategic is vital, if we are to first define and then achieve our goal. You need not take my word for it. I think Sun-Tzu said it best, “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Just when I think I have it all figured out…

By Joel Persinger

The last couple of days have presented an opportunity for me to put the little gray cells in my head to work and to practice the humility I’m always preaching and not always very good at.

I had a discussion via email with Shrfu Mike Patterson of the Hsing-I Martial Arts Institute http://www.hsing-i.com/. Shrfu Patterson is my Kung Fu instructor (a man for whom I have enormous respect as a person and as a martial artist. And besides, I just like him). He was kind enough to check out this blog and offer his input.

If you are a regular visitor to the site you may notice changes that came about as a result of his advice. There is a mission statement, the links on the right have been changed and organized (we still have a ways to go with that) and we have clarified our focus by informing you that some articles on the site are placed there for the purpose of sparking discussion even though they may not be in line with our mission. From time to time we may post such articles because they represent common arguments we need to address or simply because they’re thought provoking.

In addition to helping with the website, Shrfu wrote some other things that really got my mind churning. In fact, I am still thinking through them. I thought you might find them interesting as well. Here are some excerpts:

On the subject of “basic self defense”

There is an old saying of which I am sure you are familiar; "A little knowledge is a dangerous thing". I don't believe that there exists a set of "basic skills necessary to defend..." period. What I think can be valuable are some of the other things you mentioned; Awareness of what could be a threat and how to avoid them, Basic negotiation tactics and habitual perspectives on the potential of violence, etc.

Response to physical violence requires a great deal of training. The reality of what actually happens is almost always misconstrued and misunderstood by those that would teach "self defense". My experience tells me that the approach does not work and can actually breed a false confidence in the "self defense" student that can get them into serious trouble. Actual physical self defense is best left to experts, not amateurs.

The more I think about this, the more I tend to agree with it.

In answer to my comment in which I stated: “Having studied several arts, I do not believe that any one art has a monopoly. However, by examining the different approaches to a given problem I have discovered approaches in each art which have the potential to build upon the other.”

He wrote:

Having a "monopoly" is not the issue. Technique without principle is empty. Understanding of principle is the only true path to ability. One must study a system, any system (although I do believe there are some that are better than others) to full depth to truly grasp principle. Mixing and matching is analogous to grabbing a hodgepodge of car parts from different makes and models to build a working automobile. You might be able to build something that looks like a car but it will not run effectively, if it runs at all, simply because the parts are not made to work together.

This last comment is one which I am still thinking through, so forgive me if I think out loud.

I came up through a traditional system and I am still working on studying it to “full depth”. At the same time, I am drawn to the internal Chinese arts because of their incredible depth. Yet, I have also attended many seminars which have allowed me to ad bits and pieces which seem to fit well into the system I have studied. So, I have asked myself “am I a person who has been grabbing mismatched parts and trying to force them together?

I never noticed it before, but I tend to discard the bits and pieces that don’t fit. At first, I thought they just didn’t feel right to me. But what I believe I’m learning is that I discard the bits and pieces that were not made to work with the system I have studied. If I had not studied a system to at least some depth, I would have no conscious or even instinctive way of knowing what fits and what does not.

No, I am not a martial artist who has collected a hodgepodge of parts and tried to build a system, but I have come across these folks from time to time. In most cases as I think back on them, what they have lacked is depth or what you might call “grounding”.

Some instructors who teach a non-traditional “system” actually studied traditional systems and then combined or altered them to teach their “system” while abandoning as unnecessary, that which gave them their skill. I don’t mean to pick on Bruce Lee, but he was such a person. He downplayed the usefulness of traditional teachings even though his humble beginnings were built upon the foundation of the traditional arts. I have often wondered what made him think his students would be able to achieve similar results without the foundation that allowed him to do so.

When you get beyond the martial ability, I have met very few collectors of bits and pieces who possessed the peace I have witnessed in others who have depth of training and understanding. This may sound a little spooky, but when I’m around Shrfu Patterson or Master Stegall there is something about them that I just can’t put my finger on. It’s the same thing I feel when I’m around a friend of mine, Jerry Jordon, who is an elder in my church. It could be said that these men are dangerous. Even Jerry has a dangerous quality to him, though he is not a martial artist. But the restlessness is gone. The need to prove something is absent. There is a quiet peace, a solid foundation.

I can’t say that I have come to a complete conclusion or understanding yet. At least not one beyond what I have written here. It may take a while. But, I have been excited to have this conundrum dancing around in my head once again. It has brought home that age old truth, that everything I learn just points out how little I know.

Friday, October 20, 2006

The Dangers of Overconfidence

By Joel Persinger

A few weeks ago David and I were working with a student who is most interested in the use of and defense against the knife. During the class an interesting thing occurred which the student later related to me.

But before I get too deeply into the tail, let me start out by saying that the best defense in a knife fight is not to get into one in the first place. The second best defense being a gun, the next best thing is to at least bring a knife. Otherwise, if your attacker has a knife and you don’t, it might simply be called murder instead of a “fight”. This is quite possible when we consider the statistics which show that about half of all violent confrontations in the U.S. involve a weapon of some kind.

With this in mind, we have tried to impart to our students the simple fact that defense against an armed attacker is almost always more effectively accomplished if the defender is also armed with, at least a comparable weapon and preferably a superior one. Nevertheless, in spite of being armed it is quite likely that the defender in such a clash will be injured, and there in lies the rub.

It has been my experience, that a little martial skill can go a long way toward making students feel invincible. Teach a person a few techniques and he is instantly Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Jet Li and the Green Lantern all rolled into one. By the way, handing someone a weapon often has the same effect.

Having seen my fair share of people suffering or dead from knife and bullet wounds I can say without question that no matter how great my martial skill or the number of weapons in my hand, I can still be hurt or killed. Therefore, while it is positive for a martial artist to feel confident in his skills, it can be disastrous when confidence gives way to a feeling of invincibility.

Knowing this, David decided that a practice session was in order. He handed the student and me each a foam practice knife and a pair of racquetball goggles. Eyes protected and properly armed we began a series of knife duals. It should be mentioned here that while knife duals are rare in real life, they can be instructive in practice. The student performed well given his level of training and David and I were able to sharpen his skills a bit along the way. But then, it happened! He lunged at me with a thrust to my abdomen. I tapped it out with my left arm, shifted my weight to avoid the blade and slashed neatly across his eyes and back across his throat. He stood there stunned.

Days later he returned to class with a little less bounce in his step. I asked how he was doing and that’s when he reminded me of the story. It seems that for several days after our practice duals he could not escape the vision of my blade slashing across his eyes. Never mind the fact that my cut to his throat would have practically separated his head from his body. It was the sight of that blade cutting across his goggles that stunned him. That was the moment at which he understood the gravity of a knife fight and why it is a thing to be avoided.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Halloween Safety

We hope you and your family will have a safe and fun Halloween. With that in mind we've put together this list of websites where you can find great safety tips.

Have a happy and safe holiday!

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Surviviing Armed Assaults

I picked up a great book the other day and thought I would pass the name on to you. The book is called "Surviving Armed Assaults" by Lawrence A. Kane. The forward is written by Loren Christensen, one of my favorite martial arts authors, with quotes from everyone from W. "Hawk" Hochheim to Alfred Hitchcock. The book is laid out brilliantly and packed with information and advice for those of us who either work in hostile environments or are concerned about defending our families. I particularly appreciated the sections on awareness, attitude and avoiding trouble. I strongly recommend this book.