Artifacts of the Legacy Self-Defense Training Paradigm

“Purpose-designed weapons…are the most effective means of self-defense…”

So I got this issue of a prominent firearms magazine a while ago, and just got around to looking at it. Frankly, I opened it wanting to find a magazine full of gear reviews and EDC equipment articles because I was a little riled up about the state of the firearms training community. I wanted to write a “#!*$ the gear” article, so I was looking with that bias.

I didn’t find it in this magazine, being both pleasantly surprised and a little disappointed I couldn’t confirm my bias! Out of about 20 articles, only 9 of them were gear-related; the rest were actually about training topics in both hard and soft skills. Cool! I locked in on one about improvised weapons and started there.

Instant facepalm. I have something to write about, after all. Here’s my take on that particular article, and why it’s indicative of an outmoded paradigm.

lol knives

A Little Archeology

Let’s dig right in and see what we’re dealing with:

“weapons such as firearms and knives are the most effective means of self-defense…”

Hoo-what?! First of all, knives? You’ve got to be kidding me. No one who has a) thought it through, and b) practiced with a resisting opponent, carries a knife as a defensive tool. That’s a utility blade, or maybe a Hail Mary, but as a defensive tool it’s a pretty poor choice for regular folks. Even in the context of the 1% of personal-protection-minded people, “regular folks” is the vast majority.

Putting that aside, though, the fact that weapons and hands-on tactics are discussed as “the most effective means of self-defense” is indicative of a legacy paradigm that needs to see the inside of a coffin. In my opinion, anything hands-on is the lowest form of self-defense – I actually just call it “damage control” for when your real self defense (life choices, preparation, education, awareness, avoidance, deterrence, disengagement, de-escalation) has failed.

You might think I’m splitting hairs here, but consider the consequences of having a tools-focused perspective on self-defense. If you’re focused on the tools, not only will you fixate on gear, but you risk getting trapped holding a golden hammer. You know, that artifact people typically express as, “I’ll just shoot ’em.”

Admittedly, there is a lot to be said for tools, techniques and tactics, considering a lot of violent attacks on normal folks are ambush-style, close-quarters shanking or bludgeoning. Even so, specific tools – purpose-made or not – are far less important than your awareness, positioning and trained (or not) response.

The artifact here is being tools-and-techniques-focused, rather than thinking about self-defense in terms of contextually-dependent strategy.

Improvised Context

The very next paragraph talks about why improvised weapons are important to consider in your training. Alright, cool, now we’re getting into context and strategy.

“As non-permissive, weapon-free environments become more and more common, staying properly armed everywhere you go has become increasingly challenging.”

I’m not sure what qualifies as “properly armed” here, since it’s contextually dependent, but let’s put that aside. When you think of “non-permissive environments” (“look at me” speak for “places you can’t carry weapons”), the concept of improvised weapons makes sense and is definitely a good thing to train and practice. My problem with the overarching approach here is, again, it reveals some blind spots in the legacy paradigm of firearms training.

About 80% of assaults are “simple assault,” meaning they are not deadly-force situations. In other words, you would probably not be justified in transitioning to deadly force (firearm, knife) in the large majority of situations. In these cases, might improvised weapons be useful? Possibly, as long as your improvisation does not constitute deadly force.

So why are we only talking about improvised weapons in the context of non-permissive environments? We’re statistically more likely to have to deal with non-deadly force in the context of normal, everyday people (i.e. not LOE, not MIL, not gang activity, and hopefully not violating “the rule of stupids”).

Further, why is “improvised weapons” the primary subject with respect to non-permissive environments? Hands-free skills are even more important, in my opinion, and in fact I’d argue the body is sometimes the best improvised weapon.

The artifact here is hard to spot; it’s not tools-focused, but it’s tactics-focused. Our golden hammer is “weapons,” improvised or not.

Goals & Priorities

Continuing on, the article gets into higher-level concepts in self-defense:

“In every self-defense situation, the goal is always the same; to stop the attacker.”

Another relic of the legacy training paradigm is speaking in absolutes. In EVERY situation? I completely disagree. In my opinion, the primary goal in most self-defense situations should be to escape and survive. Sometimes that might mean stop the attacker, sometimes that might mean running away, and everything in between. Might that change based on the attacker’s actions? Yes! So what’s the answer? I can’t tell you, and neither can anyone else, because no two situations are ever going to be the same; it’s contextually dependent.

Sure, I get it: if you escape successfully then you effectively stopped the attacker. But that’s not what the author of this article means. He’s specifically talking about a defensive encounter that has already gone hands-on. Then he points out “the topic is rife with misinformation.”

To be fair, the author continues on and makes some great points about training education, logic, simplicity, versatility, and mentions flashlights, which are my favorite improvised defensive tool. Kudos.

Even better, he ends the section mentioning the importance of hands-on defensive skills, because improvised weapons may not quite do the job. Great, awesome, and agreed. But given the aforementioned 80% stat, I would suggest these skills be given prominence in any hands-on self-defense discussion.

Eminence and Egos

At this point in the article I had to go back and see who is even writing it. Turns out this article is written by Mr. Michael Janich, of Martial Blade Concepts fame. Now things make a little more sense to me; I’d expect a blade master to have a bias for edged defensive weapons.

But isn’t that the problem? Personal preferences being advanced as “the most effective means of self-defense,” is an artifact of a dying paradigm. It’s especially egregious when those preferences are held and advanced by someone with a prominent position in the firearms and martial arts communities, lending those preferences the weight of eminence. We really crave that aristocracy, don’t we?

Now look, I don’t know Mr. Janich. He’s been around a while so I figure he’s probably a pretty good dude, and he clearly has more knowledge and experience under his belt than I. I’m not going to judge the man by one article. Hell, he probably had to leave a lot out because of space and other constraints. Even so, I’ll go ahead and point out what I think is wrong with it because we need to talk about this.

The old ways aren’t wrong, they’re just obsolete. The new paradigm in firearms training includes many principles, concepts and techniques given by the old. But we’ve come a long way, have new data, information, and wisdom that light a new path.

Tool Fixation

As this article continues, Mr. Janich makes great points about classifying and naming possible improvised weapons. I see no fault in this tactical evaluation of the subject. He also mentions that flashlight again, oh yeah!

No, the fault I see with this is, again, the strategic approach. Look, I realize we’re reading an article titled “Improvised Weapons,” but given the specifics of the subject (and the bad foot we started on), I have to mention this. We’re discussing places where we can’t carry actual weapons: for some of us that might mean work, church, federal buildings, schools, courthouses, and foreign states (like NY and CA).

Why do we jump straight to improvised weapons? I understand the concept of a force-multiplier, but when we’re also discussing timing, distance management, and assessing the attributes of potential tools, why are we ignoring the empty-hands skills that are more likely to be employed alone or along with improvised weapons? This is more of that golden hammer.

Intermediary Skills & Training Priorities

At long last, at the very conclusion of the article, we’re allowed to consider the integrative nature of all this; shining light on another artifact of the legacy training paradigm, which tends to be isolated, reductionist and static.

Mr. Janich mentions improvised weapons in the context of situations where we might still be carrying our firearm (or knife, of course, for all the blademasters out there). Then he says, “[an improvised weapon] provides a low-profile, extremely effective first line of defense against non-lethal threats…”

I’m face-palming again. First line of defense…is that not the previously mentioned “Awareness, et al.?” And even if we agree to only discuss physical-force defense, unless you walk around carrying your flashlight or other improvised weapon, your first line of defense is more likely to be your empty hands.

While the article does offer a breakdown of how to use certain weapons and techniques (and it’s a pretty good breakdown for a print article), there is no mention of the importance of actually training with a live, resisting opponent. Perhaps it’s assumed, but things left unsaid have a tendency to be unheard. And this is pretty important. So let’s say it: you should train with a live, at-least-somewhat-resisting opponent in order to find out what works best for your context and goals, and to increase your ability to execute what you’re training under stress.

I’m not saying improvised weapons are unimportant, or that Mr. Janich is wrong about everything. This isn’t even about him. This is about the glaring flaws in the legacy training paradigm, and the training (and methodological/philosophical) scars it has inflicted on the community. These flaws weren’t always so glaring. The Old Ways were typically the best we had at the time. But we know better now, and if you understand sunk cost fallacy, it shouldn’t be hard to shed those old ways.

But I might be wrong. So go train (or come train) and draw your own conclusions.