Step away from knee jerk fantasies

The loss of life and terrible injuries that occurred in the low-tech vehicle and knife attacks in London earlier this month shocked many across the world.


A Thank You

Before I write further on this topic I want to pay tribute to three particular groups of people.

Firstly the professional responders to the event. The courage and professionalism of those on-duty who delayed or stopped the attackers, provided in-situ medical care and who have continued that medical and pastoral care as well as criminal investigation after the event. These are all demanding tasks and like many others around the world I have a tremendous respect for everything you have done.

Secondly those who were just enjoying their personal time or going about normal working lives who did what they could to stop or delay the attackers. From barring doors, getting people inside, throwing objects or directly attempting to stop them. These actions (for which some people paid with their lives) no doubt saved many others, and to act in such a way to help others or protect themselves under such circumstances commands respect.

Finally I want to pay tribute to those survivors who circumstances dictated did not directly have to fight the attackers, but who followed the direction of others to wait inside, to run, and who succeeded in protecting themselves from harm, no doubt to the great relief of their friends and families. These were natural actions and nobody should forget that fact. Some among them may be blaming themselves, wishing or thinking they could have done more, and that is also a natural response after such a traumatic event. They are not to blame, they have nothing to apologise for; they did not cause this event and the reality is that it is highly unlikely that they could have done anything more than they did, and that we are thankful for their safety that they did not.


Taboos and Adrenaline

There are many unspoken taboos when it comes to discussing events such as this, and there are many things that armchair warriors say that should be dismissed.

One taboo I would like to address is that of the effect of adrenaline in unanticipated violent events such as this. It is something that I have written on in my books and in martial arts magazines, as have many of my respected peers. Freezing and/or fleeing, experiencing memory distortion of time, recalling future projections of events that did not happen recorded as memories, creating ‘false’ memories based on the brain struggling to arrange events, visual perception narrowing, aural perception narrowing, and suffering memory gaps are all normal responses. I have seen all of these occur in training programmes I have run and studied many accounts of them happening under stress in real events. I have also experienced some of these myself in violent events outside of training. Loss of bladder or bowel control under the influence of high adrenaline is also a natural programmed biological response, and one that men can be more susceptible to than women (due to the higher intensity of the initial male adrenal dump and the quantities of liquid men imbibe on a night out). No-one should feel ashamed if this happened to them in an event such as this. No-one should mock anyone if they saw or heard it happen to them. All that has happened is that their body has prepared them for the anticipated event.


Aftermath – Martial and Media Myths

Since the event, I have been approached a number of times by people concerned by what they saw in the media about these attacks. “How can you deal with that?” I have also seen a number of dangerous half baked Hollywood approaches advocated in the press and online by instructors using the event to bring themselves greater publicity, and while I have no objection to seeing more people engage in martial arts or self defence training, I do worry when the material advertised betrays a deep ignorance of the subject matter.

I have written in the past on knife crime and you can find one of my articles in Jissen and in my book Karate and Self Defence, and another here on Headlines, knives and kneejerk reactions. While a significant problem, knife crime still makes up only a small proportion of overall violent crime in the UK, and in the majority of instances the knife is used as a tool of coercion rather than to injure or kill. Such crimes naturally can cause other forms of injury, and I do not wish to belittle these in any way, but the vast majority of people are at low risk of being a victim of knife crime, especially compared with the risk of being a victim in a road traffic accident or of having cancer or heart disease – all of which can be terrible and traumatic events for sufferers and their families.


Carrying a weapon

In some countries people legally carry knives or guns as defensive tools or deterrents against being a victim of violent crime. These can work, especially if the people have the training necessary to utilise such tools effectively under the conditions of the surprise and stress of an unexpected event. In the UK however carrying an object with the intention of using it as a weapon is illegal.

If anyone in the UK is tempted to break the law and carry a blade for the purpose of self protection I invite them to undertake a simple reality check. For most people the odds of being targeted are so low that you are wasting your time and risking a criminal conviction. Carrying a knife increases the likelihood of using it and escalating the level of violence in a confrontation with unnecessary life changing consequences.

If those arguments do not convince you then there is a simple reality check that you could either experience professionally at a Filipino Martial Arts (FMA) School or try with rubber blades smeared with jam. If you watch a knife on knife altercation with skilled knife users you will see how hard it is to deal with a trained aggressive attack. If you try it with jam you’ll see how covered you get in a jam v jam event. Fighting a knife with a knife is not cool, it isn’t practical under pressure, and will take decades of regular practice to gain a proficiency that could give you a high percentage of success. That success will also depend on who you are. Are you really prepared to kill someone else to protect yourself or others? If you are not then it is unrealistic to train to do so. You have to have that resolve.


Moving forward

In my book Karate and Self Defence I wrote about ways to test and develop your knife defences if you are a martial artist. It is an uncomfortable process. It is possible to survive an attack with no injuries, but it is not a situation anyone should want to find themselves in. It is a last resort if the need is there to protect yourself or others and escaping without contact is not a viable option.

Forget the Movie Fu. If your jacket isn’t already off then don’t expect to have the time to disrobe and use it as a flail. Don’t think you’ll have time to take off and use your belt. Such things are for prearranged choreographed action scenes. Do not buy into such rubbish or bolt-on knife defence courses – they will only work if fully integrated and drilled with your normal training.

The solution is no different to normal self defence training.

Avoid trouble if you can.

Deter by appropriate confident but non threatening body language.

Negate aggressive situations through appropriate social behaviour.

Escape the confrontation through running if possible, but if you believe an attack to be imminent escape by taking necessary reasonable sustained action with speed and aggression. That means using anything to hand to help you if you believe the other person to be bigger, stronger or have another advantage such as a weapon. If attacked with a weapon it is reasonable to believe your life is in danger and you must have the resolve to respond with the same level of violence.

The real solution should be to keep on doing what you are currently doing. Be alert out in public, as you should be, but go out and live your life. The risk you face is lower than the everyday risks you face in your transport choices. Worrying about what might happen should not prevent you from living what is.






  1. Wise words. Oss

  2. […] It is a fact that when your heart rate goes up the ability to use complex thinking and fine motor skills deteriorates and you need to rely on simple motor skills instead. Some teachers, such as John Tichen, do scenario training and he has some great information about what happens to people when the shock kicks in. I particularly like this post on kneejerk reactions. […]

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