Friday, September 6, 2013

Martial Blade Camp 2013

The dust has settled from Martial Blade Camp 2013 (which took place 23-26 August) and I can now look back on it and say without reservation that it was the most successful MBC training event to date. To put it simply, it rocked on many levels.

Originally slated for a maximum capacity of 70 participants, I overbooked it slightly to accommodate some late registrants who were veteran MBC students. Despite a few last-minute cancellations, we were still on target with 69 hardcore participants from all over the U.S. and Canada, making this the largest camp to date. I also had about a dozen folks on a waiting list with the hope of getting in, but decided to restrict the numbers to keep things manageable and ensure plenty of room to train.

The fun began in Friday night with a short get-acquainted session during which campers received their souvenir packages. This year’s package included a commemorative Spyderco Matriarch2 folding knife laser engraved with the camp logo, a custom-machined non-folding Matriarch2 trainer from Steve Rollert and Keen-Edge knives, an embroidered camp shirt, a custom-minted challenge coin, and an MBC window decal courtesy of camper Robby Cook.

After the meet-and-greet, the campers settled in and I got down to business with a presentation on the logic of MBC and the core principles of the system. Through a comprehensive PowerPoint presentation, I “front loaded” the core concepts of the system to enable campers to understand the “why” of MBC before stepping on the floor to train. This presentation was complemented by live-blade cutting demonstrations on “pork man” to quantify the destructive power of the knife and relate it to MBC’s preferred targets. These demonstrations were complemented by live close-up video feed—a feature used throughout the camp to more effectively share detailed information with the large group through close-up video shown on a large flat-screen TV. By the end of the presentation, campers had a clear understanding of what they were trying to accomplish in their training, why we were doing it that way, and the methodology they would use to achieve it. With that important mission accomplished, I cut them loose to get a good night’s sleep before Saturday’s training.

Saturday morning started with an excellent buffet breakfast that got campers fueled up and gave them another opportunity to get to know each other. We then jumped into the core skills of MBC’s standard-grip system, its combative application, and the drills and training methods necessary to promote rapid skill development. Because of the broad range of skills represented, we established novice and advanced sub-groups that allowed all campers to play at a level appropriate to their skills and knowledge. Although both groups worked the same material, they did so at different levels of intensity and with different levels of detail and understanding.

Saturday’s program of instruction also included Counter-Blade Concepts (CBC)—including a detailed analysis of videos of actual knife attacks—and a presentation on medical treatment for knife wounds. The medical treatment block of instruction was an outstanding addition to the camp and was presented by Affiliate MBC Instructor Eric Vinson, a U.S. military officer and veteran of service in three combat zones.

Sunday again started with an outstanding breakfast followed by more CBC training and instruction in MBC’s quick-and-dirty approach to reverse-grip knife tactics. Sunday afternoon was the setting for the largest instructor testing session in MBC’s history. This session included five senior MBC practitioners testing for Proficiency Certification (the equivalent of a black belt in a traditional system) and Associate Instructor certification and five MBC Associate Instructors testing to become Certified Instructors in MBC. Although testing for all these individuals actually began the moment they arrived at camp, it culminated in a grueling two-hour session that required them to demonstrate their comprehensive skills in and academic knowledge of the MBC/CBC systems. In the final phase of the testing, the “Conga line,” each candidate faced a line of 10 other MBC instructors and senior practitioners. As each one stepped up, he announced one of MBC’s reflex training drills and immediately pressed the candidate to perform the drill at high speed and with full intensity. After roughly a minute, I called time and a fresh instructor would step up to repeat the process. I then took my place at the end of the line to personally challenge the candidate with the “chess game”—a dynamic and spontaneous combination of reflex drills that requires endurance, focused intensity, and highly developed reflexes. Finally, I required each candidate to put his knife away and attacked him with a full-force knife assault to validate his ability to perform CBC tactics under conditions of extreme stress and fatigue. As those who witnessed this year’s testing can attest, I held nothing back in these final attacks.

All the candidates who tested this year did an incredible job of demonstrating and validating their skills and knowledge and I am extremely proud to have them representing and sharing MBC. I also recognized three Affiliate Instructors—experienced instructors of other disciplines who are now authorized to share MBC through their teaching.

On Sunday night, we took a break from knife-related topics and explored my approach to stick tactics—Sobadiwan Eskrima. Drawing from a broad base of Filipino stick systems, Sobadiwan takes the same practical, analytical approach as MBC, but applies it to impact weapons.

Martial Blade Camp 2013 had amazing support from a number of extremely generous sponsors. During each break, I conducted a drawing to give away prizes donated by the sponsors. Altogether, this year’s prizes included nearly $15,000 worth of products and gift certificates. The two grand prizes were a Rock River Arms AR-15 engraved with the MBC logo donated by Lane's Gun Shop and a Robar-customized CW-45 donated by Kahr Arms. I am incredibly grateful to all the camp’s sponsors, which included the following: Lane's Gun Shop, Kahr Arms, Tuff-Writer, Spyderco, Stay Safe Media, Keen-Edge Knives, Fobus, Mission First Tactical, Kitanica, FAST Holsters, Robar, Outdoor Channel, AP Tactical, and Blackhawk. Thank you all for your generosity and support!

Monday morning—the last training session—was devoted to study groups that explored topics of interest chosen by the camp participants. These topics included Bowie/large knife tactics (taught by MBC Certified Instructor Keith Jennings), Martial Cane Concepts, and my irreverent approach to joint-locking tactics, Junkyard Aikido. The joint-locking segment even explored some of my take on groundfighting tactics and the benefits of small-joint manipulation in ground defenses.

Like all Martial Blade Camps, the success of this year’s camp was due largely to the incredible support and assistance that I received from my cadre of MBC instructors. Every time I presented a topic or technique, my instructors waded into the crowd to offer immediate support and assistance to the other campers. When learning complex drills, every novice was paired with an instructor or senior practitioner to speed the learning process and ensure the highest degree of personalized attention. In 35+ years of martial arts training, I have never seen a training experience like the one we offer at Martial Blade Camp. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to my instructors for making that possible.

Martial Blade Camp 2013 was an incredible experience. Based on the feedback I’ve received thus far, it was the best event we’ve done thus far. I welcome camp participants who read this to share your comments and feedback here or directly with me so I can continue to make every camp better than the last.

Again, to all who participated, thank you for your trust and confidence in me and MBC. I can’t wait to train with you all again!

Stay safe,


Tuesday, June 18, 2013

50/50 Exercises and their Place in MBC Flow Drills

During a recent seminar in Michigan, I had the pleasure of working with a number of high-level MBC practitioners and instructors. This “Instructor Development Workshop” was an outstanding opportunity for me to get feedback from other MBC teachers regarding their experiences and the challenges they face in getting their students to understand and master MBC and CBC skills.

One great question I received had to do with the place of “50/50 drills” in the MBC learning progression and teaching methodology. Since it was a question that resonated with the group, I thought it would be great fodder for a post.

As you probably know, MBC’s training methodology includes a number (basically 15) of reflex training drills or, as they’re commonly known in the Filipino martial arts (FMA), “flow drills.” Some of these drills are borrowed directly from the FMA, most are modified versions of traditional drills (changed to support MBC methodology), and some are MBC-specific creations. In the FMA, there are many variations of these drills and practitioners often spend more time arguing the virtues of their preferred version than appreciating the deeper value of the training method.

MBC’s approach to flow drills is “Drills give you repetition; transitions give you reflex.” In other words, a specific drill isolates and refines specific skills. Taken too far, however, and the drill becomes the end in itself and you get stuck in a hamster wheel. Add a transition to another drill—or at least a spontaneous variation within the drill—and now you have a worthwhile pattern and an unpredictable element that keeps you on your toes. That’s what develops useful reflexes.

One of the easiest ways to do this is to replace one of the standard Defensive Responses in the “rote” version of the drill with a different one. For example, in the Six-Count Drill (known in some other systems as “Small Box”) the pattern of angles is 1-4-overhead-1-4-overhead. In the rote version, the defense against the 1 is a “meet”—a cut and check with the live hand—followed by an angle 4 counter. That angle 4 is defended by your partner with a “push-pull crossada”—checking and pushing forward with the left palm while cutting down and back with the knife.

If you analyze these movements, you’ll find that they are very efficient and follow the principle of “the shortest distance between two points.” If you attack with the angle 1 and your partner responds with a meet, your knife hand is stopped dead long before it reaches his centerline. When your partner counters with an angle 4 to your exposed lower right quadrant, the most natural and efficient thing to do is to check his incoming arm and cut straight down. Per the drill, you would then cycle your knife hand up, much like the piston arm on a locomotive, and attack with an overhead strike.

Now imagine that instead of a meet, your partner responds to your angle 1 attack with a crossada—cutting your wrist while simultaneously slapping your hand with his left hand to amp up the cut. Done properly, his crossada will force your knife hand (your right hand) to swing across your centerlines to your left. This leaves your zone 4—your lower right quadrant—wide open. When he attacks it with an angle 4, your most logical and natural response is to “ride” the motion of your right hand, circle it down and to your right and execute a meet, cutting and then checking with your left hand. Trying to pull your hand back across your centerline to position it for the aforementioned push-pull crossada is awkward, impractical, and far too slow. As such, you flow with the motion imparted by your partner’s crossada of your angle 1 and do a meet against his angle 4 instead.

In addition to providing variations in the drill that allow for the expression of other techniques (i.e. a crossada defense instead of a meet) and promoting the development of spontaneous reflex against unexpected events, this training method has another important benefit: it teaches you to respond in the most direct, efficient way from wherever your hands happen to be. You may not realize that this is happening, but it is and your skills will benefit greatly from it.

So what does all this have to do with the “50/50 Drill?” Well, in the “old days” of MBC, I taught every conceivable variation of each drill to give concrete examples of the variations. For example, for the Six-Count Drill, we’d start with the standard: Meet—push-pull crossada—roof block (aka “opening” crossada). Then we’d do crossada—meet—roof block. Then, ideally, students would grasp the concept and the goal of being fluid and spontaneous and would change back and forth between the two. The key word there is “ideally.” Many students could not grasp the concept behind the two different versions of the drill and tried to treat them as two different drills—missing the entire point in a stunningly effective way.

Based on that teaching challenge, I developed the 50/50 Drill. I had a student throw an angle 1 at me and I’d do the meet, followed by the angle 4, which he would dutifully counter with a push-pull crossada. We would isolate these two movements only and do them multiple times. Then, we’d stop and change gears. When he threw the angle 1, I would crossada it, making sure to slap his knife hand far across his centerline. When I threw my angle 4, he would learn to “ride” the motion, curving the path of his knife hand down and to his right to yield a meet for my angle 4. Again, we’d do this many times, isolating the 1—4 sequence over and over. Finally, in the midst of the crossada—meet pattern, I would change gears and do a meet. Invariably, he wouldn’t miss a beat and would cut straight down, checking my knife hand with a push-pull crossada. After doing it perfectly, he would then stop, wide eyed and ask me what just happened. I would explain that he just demonstrated perfect spontaneous reflex. Eventually he’d believe me and would understand the concept.

In simple terms, when he threw the angle 1, he had a 50/50 chance that I would do a meet—and a 50/50 chance that I would do a crossada. He knew exactly what to do for both of those possibilities and had practiced both enough to do them well. He just had to allow himself to respond as he’d been trained.

In hindsight, the term 50/50 “drill” was a poor choice of words, since it seems to equate it to the other full-fledged drills. In reality, it’s more of an “exercise” that allows you to isolate a specific aspect within a drill to understand it thoroughly before you attempt it within the context of the drill.

This same concept also applies to the angle 3—angle 2 section of Sumbrada, Punyo Sumbrada, and the Serrada Drill. To see that in action and understand it more clearly, watch Martial Blade Concepts Volume 3. To see it in agonizing detail, watch Advanced Fighting Folders. Although the latter video has been superseded by the MBC Volume 3, it does offer the redeeming quality that it provides overhead views of the drills. Mastering Fighting Folders also does this for MBC’s reverse-grip skills. If you have them, take advantage of that view of the drills to see the mechanics from an overhead perspective. For some people, seeing the drills in this way makes it easier to relate left and right sides and may make learning them easier. Once you understand the movements, focus on MBC Volume 3 and MBC Volume 5 for up-to-date explanations of the drills and, more importantly, their relationship to practical defensive applications and targeting. In that respect, the older videos are obsolete.

As long as I continue to learn and evolve, so will MBC and my ability to teach it more clearly and efficiently. The “50/50 Exercises” are examples of that evolution. I hope this helps you understand and appreciate their place in the system.

Stay safe,


P.S. Thanks to MBC instructors Bryan McKean and Keith Jennings for their questions during the recent instructors' workshop. Your insights keep me sharp and really help promote the continued evolution of the MBC system--not to mention inspiring blog posts!

Friday, February 1, 2013

"Options for Consideration" DHS Active Shooter Training Video

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recently released an informational video called "Options for Consideration," which is supposedly intended to provide information that will increase your chances of survival during an active shooter situation ( Although the video has already been justifiably criticized in many other venues, because it suggests and demonstrates the idea of arming yourself with scissors to attempt to "overpower" the shooter, I felt compelled to address it here on the MBC blog.

The video does provide some useful information, advising you to know your building's floorplan and take the time to plan and rehearse evacuation routes to get you out of the building quickly. It also provides a useful description of what to expect and how to conduct yourself when law enforcement arrives. Beyond that, it is a typical "feel-good" government presentation that does little to prepare the average person to survive an active shooter event. Sadly, it also undermines the concept of decisive individual action and reinforces the belief that running or hiding are enough to keep you safe until the authorities arrive to resove the situation.

In my opinion, the most irresponsible and misleading aspect of the video is the statement: "If you are caught out in the open and cannot conceal yourself or take cover, you might consider trying to overpower the shooter with whatever means are available." This narration is accompanied by a shot of a person reaching into a desk drawer to grab a pair of scissors.

First of all, let's look at the DHS' choice of terminology. "Overpower" may be an appropriate term for arm wrestling, but not for a life-or-death situation. Faced with an active shooter, your goal is to STOP him by rendering him physically unable to continue his attack. Similar terms, like "tackle" and "subdue"--often used in the media--also create a dangerously inaccurate impression of the reality of the situation and the actions necessary to resolve the problem.

I have trained very actively in edged-weapon tactics for nearly 40 years and consider myself reasonably proficient with them. I have also trained extensively with improvised weapons and worked hard to dispel the many myths that surround their practical use. For the sake of argument, let's assume that you follw the DHS recommendation and find yourself, scissors in hand, facing an active shooter armed with a firearm. What is the missing piece of the puzzle? What would it take to actually "overpower" the shooter if you were armed in that way?

What's missing is the part where you approach the shooter quickly from behind and stomp into the back of his leg to drop him to his knees. As you do, you rip his head backward with your free hand so you can drive the scissors full force through his eye socket and into his brain. You then stir the blade in his skull and continue to fight with extreme violence until he is physically incapable of offering any resistance.

Does that sound gruesome? Yes. It is. However, THAT is what it would realistically take to bridge the gap between the DHS' feel-good propaganda and an actual plan to save your own life.

In an active shooter situation--or any other violent incident--you will be on your own. While having the will, the skill, and the determination to survive with a weapon like a pair of scissors MIGHT be enough, facing a situation with substantial pre-planned resources and potent purpose-designed weapons would obviously maximize your chances of survival.

DON'T mislead yourself by buying into feel-good propaganda. Start making REAL preparations now. Some tangible suggestions to start the process might include:

  • Look at your work environment and plan primary, secondary, and tertiary evacuation routes. Then, rehearse them and evaluate them based on speed, safety, and availability of cover and improvised weapons along the way.
  • Practice those routes starting from different places in the building, not just your office.
  • Have a plan when you get outside. That should start with scanning for secondary threats before you break the cover of the building and blindly run out in the open. Your routes should continue, ideally bounding from cover to cover, from your building's exit to a place of safety.
  • Evaluate the physical security of your office and take steps to maximize it. If you don't have a locking door, request one. If the management won't authorize it, achieve it by alternate means--like an aftermarket security bar or wooden door wedges.
  • Carry a weapon with you at all times and train to use it competently. Don't THINK you know how to use it; KNOW how to use it and practice those skills regularly.
  • Rearrange your office to make it a hard target and maximize the potential of available cover. Bookcases, filing cabinets, and other paper-filled objects are great sources of ballistic cover.
  • If you can't or won't carry a firearm, invest in other projectile weapons like pepper spray and practice with them to know their capabilities. Choose wisely so they are appropriate for your environment. A fog-style spray that affects you and your co-workers in a confined office can do more harm than good. A stream-style that offers greater range and more selective application is much smarter. Learn and know the difference.
  • Buy your own dry chemical fire extinguisher and keep it in your office. It offers more volume and range than pepper spray and is so politically correct that even extremely non-permissive environments can't prohibit it.

If you want to be safe and maximize your chances of survival, don't fool yourself; take action. Prepare your own plan, your own resources, and your own weapons and practice the skills you'll need to make them work for you. As part of that process, continue to fight for your Second Amendment rights and your right to lawfully carry the weapons necessary to defend yourself and other innocent parties effectively.

Leave the scissors for shearing the sheep.

Stay safe,