On gun defenses

Just about any “modern” martial art (i.e. one being taught for martial/self defense application, as opposed to as a traditional/historical art) will include some sort of knife and gun disarms.

From the first wave of "ninjitsu" to hit the USA- "Chick" Moody in the 70s

There’s over a thousand videos on YouTube of firearm disarms. At least when and where I learned them (through Bujinkan and various workshops from other martial artists and stage combatants in other styles) it was always couched as a “you’d never actually want to try to do this, but it’s a cool move, so lets learn it anyway”. They’ve certainly had their place on film, whether handled realistically (as some of the Bourne movies popularized) or just over-the-top slick (like Jet Li doing the combat field-strip of a Beretta in Lethal Weapon 4).

America has undergone a bit of a cultural shift since 9/11 on this, though. Where once the commonly taught wisdom was “if someone draws a ____ on you, just give them what they want and hope they leave”, we no longer have that kind of faith in our bad guys. We’ve gone from “here’s my wallet, just let me go” to “Let’s roll”.

We witnessed this again at the recent and unfortunate shooting in Arizona.  In a way the most surprising part of this to me was just that nobody in the crowd had their own concealed handgun to draw*, but the general reaction of citizens at the site of the shooting demonstrates the new American response to senseless violence.  The story of citizens resisting the shooter does us proud- one woulda-been victim grabs the fresh magazine the shooter’s trying to load and she tosses it in to the bushes, another grabs a folding chair and tries to bash the shooter in the back of the head- unsuccessfully, but it throws him off enough that another gentleman (a 74 year old former US Army Colonel,  also already shot in the head himself) is able to tackle him to the ground. Meanwhile a gay hispanic intern (who Slate covered nicely) moved quickly to aid Congresswoman Gifford with sensible first-aid and comfort.

None of this was expertly done- the folding chair bit was straight out of 1980’s pro-wrestling, and the Colonel’s tackle move sounds worthy of William Shatner (grab the hand without the weapon and do a rabbit punch between the shoulder blades?); both dubious sources of martial training, at best. But the cumulative effect eventually did the job.

I should note that this isn’t always the case. In the recent school-board shooting, a woman tried to smack a gunman in the back of the head with her purse. She’s lucky to be alive, and hopefully will learn to either pick a more effective technique or start carrying bricks in her purse. It’ll be a different purse now too, as that one apparently just went for $13,000 on ebay (we live in a strange, strange world).

In that case it was an armed security guard who eventually dropped the gunman- although not as fast as he could have (there’s a reason for the double-tap!).

Furthermore, not everyone can or will be able to stand up. The reaction of folks like Tamora Pierce (described well on her blog here) is not unusual. But sometimes it only takes one or two people to change things, either on their own or by energizing the crowd. You can begin to see why combat psychology is of such interest to me, both professionally as well as just something to geek over.

Now I’m still not eager to ever stake my life on being able to grab the cylinder of a double-action revolver that’s pointed at me, or take someone’s firearm in a nice slick reversal… but I no longer think of these moves as entirely hypothetical movie fluff, or the kind of thing that only the craziest, hard-core soldier or law enforcement officer would ever feel the need to attempt. America has a long tradition of democratizing self-defense, and it may be re-discovering it to some degree. It’s not just a question of firepower, of gun laws or police presence. Ultimately it’s about the reaction of ordinary citizens when it counts. The police just can’t be everywhere at once even if we wished they were- and let’s face it, most of us don’t.

And those crazy slick moves we like to stage in our fiction? They may still be slicker than how they’d generally go down in real life, but maybe they don’t look so crazy anymore.


*edited to add: Apparently there was one armed citizen within earshot, who ran to the scene to try to help. Granted, he’d had no training whatsoever, and almost shot the wrong guy since he arrived after the actual shooter had been disarmed… but to his credit, he made the right decision in that split-second, and didn’t pull the trigger.


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  1. […] Them's Fightin' Words Fightdesigner.com Talks Stage Combat & Stunts Skip to content AboutContact MeRentals Home  « On gun defenses […]

  2. By Bonzuko » Real vs. Fictional Self-Defense on January 12, 2011 at 7:12 pm

    […] https://fightdesigner.wordpress.com/2011/01/11/on-gun-defenses/ […]

  3. By Indian Flavors « Them's Fightin' Words on January 28, 2011 at 10:09 pm

    […] Indian Flavors Short post tonight, as it’s been a crazy day/week… but I wanted to share an Indian (Southeast Asia, not Native American) take on some Western ideas I’ve discussed here recently in my post on gun defense and civil self-defense. […]

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