No, Seriously. You Can’t Do That

My son is nearing his test for his Junior 1st Black in Kenpo. This summer, after years of training, he’ll be at that first plateau that we look at as the really the first step in a life-long journey.

Of course, being steeped in the martial arts these days means you have to wade through a ton of crap and lies that have sprung up over the centuries. Recently, on the drive home, he told me it was possible to hit someone’s nose so hard it sends shards of bone into their brain and kills them instantly. The trick, he assured me, was to use an upward palm strike so that you blast that nose with everything you’ve got.

In case you’re wondering, it looks like this:

Ninja hoods and Marines shirts add +5 to your strikes. But don’t tell anyone I told you that.

This exact strike – and the killing theory behind it – has been the stuff of martial arts legends for as long as I can remember. We talked about it on the playground when I was in school and everyone knew someone who knew someone who totally swore it worked and back off or I’m gonna test it on you and then you’ll be dead and no one will care.

It’s been used in books and movies. This was the strike that got Nicolas Cage busted at the beginning on Con Air. It seems any time someone needs to die from a single strike, this is the tired old trope that gets trotted out. Unfortunately, it’s utter hogwash. Pushing nose bones into someone’s brain falls into the same category of fighting nonsense as the Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique and the Hurticane. Simply put, the human body doesn’t work like that. Your nose is mostly cartilage (sexy cartilage, in my case) and there’s another layer of bone behind your sinus cavities that you’d have to pierce into order to shove bits of nose into someone’s brain.

That’s not to say it’s not going to hurt like hell. The nose is always a good target in a fight because it’s so close to everything else on your face. I’ve been popped in the beak a time or two and I can assure it’s no fun. Your sinuses swell up, your nose starts leaking fluids you’d rather it didn’t, and your eyes leak water like a comic book fan watching someone burn the original X-Men. In other words, it’s a great place to hit someone if you want to take the fight out of them quickly. It’s not always an easy target to hit, but it is effective. It’s just not deadly in and of itself.

What about all that anecdotal evidence about people getting killed with one punch? Is that all bull, too? Well, yes and no. It has happened, but in most cases death comes from someone hitting their head when they fall down.

I guess the takeaway from that is if you want to kill someone with one strike, make sure they hit their on something hard on the way down.

So, if you’re writing about a fight scene and want to have your main character kill someone with a single blow, choose something realistic. If you want to have your character do some really crazy stuff, look into Dim Mak. On the other hand, if you’re in the middle of a fight and are worried about killing someone with a palm strike to the nose, don’t fret. Just fire that sucker and get the heck out of Dodge.

This gif cracks me up. Fun fact about Bolo Yeung: he swam from China to Taiwan to escape oppression. Fun fact about VanDamme: he can do the splits.

Just make sure your opponent doesn’t hit their head on the way down.

Start Early

We’ve been doing an exercise in Kenpo lately that nicely illustrates something that most people don’t quite understand. Your hands and feet have a fixed range and, unless you’re Plastic Man or Dhalsim, you’re not going to be punch someone if they’re further away than you can extend your arm.

The exercise works like this: find a partner who doesn’t mind getting tapped every now and then. Have him or her take a fighting stance and extend an arm, fingertips out. You do the same thing, but don’t worry about taking a stance. Stand naturally, like you would if you were hanging out at the grocery store or picking up people at the bar. Or disco. You know, whatever floats your goat.

The distance between you two is your kill zone. Even though you’re both out of range of each other, this is the distance that a normal person can cover with a single step. That’s right. At fingertip distance from someone, all it takes is single step and they’re on you like flies on a Taco Bell dumpster. If someone steps into that zone, you’re in danger. But, the really cool thing about it is you’ve got all the time in the world to get out of the way.

Unless you’re a lumbering monster.

Start with something simple. Have your partner step in and try to punch you in the head. All you have to do is step to the side and they’ll go right past you. As your reaction time gets better, start mixing things up. Instead of a punch to the head, try a nice, big roundhouse kick. Instead of just stepping to the side, step out of the way and punch ’em in the noggin. Go back and forth and appreciate the give and take. It seems simple, but it illustrates an important point. What you’re training here is awareness. If you’re looking off the to side or checking your phone, you’re going to get clobbered. If you’re focused and aware, you’re a much harder target.

There are a couple of important takeaways from this exercise. The obvious is paying attention to distance is extremely important. The less obvious one is the question at least one person reading this is thinking right now. That’s not how fights start, right? You’ve got to be closer.


Give this guy a very large kill zone.

All fights start at a longer range that you’d expect. Unless you’re standing right next to someone when they decide you need a beat down, that attacker is going to have to cover some distance to hit you. As soon as someone you don’t know gets within your kill zone, be ready to act. You don’t necessarily have to attack everyone that gets close, but you should be aware of their position and what you can do if they decide to attack. If someone gets too close and you don’t know their motives, move to a better position. That’s what I mean by start early. Before the first punch is thrown, be aware. Watch your surroundings, watch the people around you, and watch anyone who gets into your kill zone.

If we define winning the fight as “getting to go home that night and hug your loved ones instead of spending the night in the E.R.”, then you’ve got a much chance of winning if you’re aware of the world around you. Awareness gives you more time to think, more time to prepare, and – most importantly – more time to avoid the fight altogether. Start early, and you can win the fight before it even begins.

Got any self defense tips? Drop ’em in the comments! I love comments.

Smash, knee, elbow, kick

My son and I spent last weekend at AKKA’s bi-annual (biennial?  Hell, twice a year) Black Belt test weekend.  As always, it’s auspicious affair marked by loud music and rampant goofiness.  Don’t get me wrong, there’s a serious component to it, too, but we also get Chinese lion dances and guys pretending to be grumpy Scotsmen.  I also got pestered more than once to test for 3rd Black.  I really don’t see the problem with holding a belt for nine years; so what if my rank is older than some of the kids I teach and if I had kept up my momentum I’d probably be heading for 5th now?

But I digress.

After spending the weekend surrounded by Kenpo I hopped on Facebook and found this image floating around.


Being the martial arts geek I am I immediately recognized some of the moves.  Steps one through three are almost directly from Defendu and are regularly used in military martial arts.  A headbutt to the underside of someone’s chin is pretty debilitating and I have no doubt that guy would be in a world of hurt as soon as her head impacted his jaw.  Step 4, the knee to the groin, would probably finish him off.  The rest may well be extraneous, but I’m assuming this guy is a potential rapist and he probably deserves what’s coming to him.

At a glance, it looks like a simple set of strikes that anyone can learn in a short amount of time and employ effectively against an attacker.  The devil’s in the details, though, and there are a couple of potential dangerous spots and at least a couple of murky areas.

Now, let me back up a bit and throw out a bit of an explanation.  As you may have surmised, I study Kenpo.  I’ve been at Kenpo for just over fifteen years now (yes, I know I need to test for 3rd, let it go.  I had my reasons), and studying various other arts for 25 years now.  I have a pretty good understanding of what I’m talking about.

Kenpo is an art that emphasizes multiple strikes all over the body, usually to soft targets and we’re not averse to kicking someone when they’re down.  It’s a fight; we aim to win it.  There are certain predictable elements to a fight that can be used.  For instance, if you’re facing someone and knee them in the groin their head will come forward and their knees will buckle.

I think it’s the little predictable things that make me wonder about the picture.  In step 4 she knees him in the groin.  In step five, she’s at his side.  How did that happen?  There’s a step we’re missing here.  The same thing happens in step 6.  Now she’s in front of him again.  After step 6, he should collapse straight to the ground, but in step 7 he’s on his side and she’s beside him.  Steps 8 and 9 seem to show an axe kick, which works like this:


The axe kick goes high up and then smashes the heel down on your opponent.  But the opponent is already on the ground so the axe kick is going to be less effective.  A better solution would be a kick to the back of the head or to move and stomp his ankles.

I guess the bottom line is this: you can’t really learn how to fight from a picture.  There are too many nuances and gotchas that you need some experience to catch.  If you’re really concerned about getting attacked, look around and see if you can find a personal defense class or something like that.  You could embark on a study of Karate, Kung Fu, Tae Kwon Do, Krav Maga, or whatever, but those are long-term studies.  Someone out there has to have a shorter class: a few weeks, a few nasty tricks.  Most of the people you’ll ever tangle with will back off after a couple strikes and most people will never need to fight a dozen ninjas at once so unless you’re looking for a long-term study, stick to the shorter classes.  If you are looking for long-term study, research schools, attend classes, try it out before you commit yourself to it.

How would I handle the situation in the picture?  If someone were to try to grab me like that I’d keep it simple.  Kick him in the side of the knee and get the hell out of the situation.  If your opponent is close, stick your fingers or thumbs in their eyes.  Be mean in general.