Kajukenbo authority aamon dilbert looks at the role weapons should play in the training of a modern martial artistK eis opinions come from a career in law enforcementI so you can rest assured he knows what he’s talking about.
I haven’ t seen Damon Gilbert’ s martial arts resume, but it’ s got to be among the most diverse in our world. He’ s trained and competed since he was 6. He’ s been a black belt ink a juke nb o—a hybrid system composed of karate, jujitsu, judo, ken po and Chinese boxing—since 1991. He’ s served as a police officer in Oakland, California, since 1997, and for most of that time, he’ s taught defensive tactics. And he’ s earned 14 world titles in tournaments, which is why he was named Black Belt’ s 2017 Competitor of the Year. What does all this add up to? Some sage advice on practically any martial arts topic. We delved into several such topics in our February/ March 2018 issue. Here, we concentrate on weapons.—Editor For self-defense, are there any tools or weapons you recommend people carry? Let’s exclude guns because of all the laws that need to be followed.
I recommend all the usual weapons — a knife, a kubotan, pepper spray, a tactical flashlight — but you have to get training. Basically, carry anything that’s legal and that you can get training with.
All tools are decent when you have the opportunity to use them at the right moment. It can go bad when you pull out a tool you haven’t trained with and it ends up being used on you.
For a tool to work, operator manipulation has to be there. Often, when a tool doesn’t work, it’s because of the operator, not because of the tool itself. When it’s legal, there’s nothing wrong with pepper spray. There’s nothing wrong with using your car keys. There’s nothing wrong with a kubotan. But you have to get training in how to use them, as well as how to retain them in case someone tries to take them away from you. You shouldn’t think an altercation involving a weapon will always be one-dimensional.
Do you also advise people not to think that deploying or using a weapon will end the confrontation?
Yes. I was recently lecturing a police academy class, and I told them that until they invent a Taser that also deploys handcuffs, they will still have to get into hand-to-hand range. They will still have to grab the person and effect the arrest. It’s the same with civilians. Not everything works the way it’s supposed to.
One example is pepper spray. Not every form of it works on every person, just as not every control hold works on every person. There are guys who rush you and finish their takedown after being sprayed with pepper spray. We actually train our people in the academy to do that. We spray them and make them do 25 push-ups and 10 baton strikes on the bag, after which they must take the role-player into custody. Only then do we let them flush their eyes out with water.
We want them to learn the limitations of particular tools, which in this case is pepper spray. Some people immediately scream bloody murder. Some people get in punches as long as they can stand it. You have to understand the pros and cons of any tool before you start carrying it.
Why do so few people recommend using a stun gun for self-defense?
When I first got hired [at the Oakland Police Department], we would receive lots of reports in which lawenforcement officers used a stun gun and it was effective. I think they came into question because they didn’t give you that distance you want. OC [gas], on the other hand, does give you distance. With a stun gun, you have to be in punching range and maybe grappling range to use it. So if it’s not effective or the clothing doesn’t permit it to be effective, you’re in a fistfight and the other guy might be bigger and nastier than you.
How important is training in weapons defense?
I believe I’m alive today because of the training I’ve had in kajukenbo and law-enforcement defensive tactics. Training is the No. 1 key to surviving a violent encounter. It always goes back to the training and how practical and realistic it is — and how open you are to everything. I’ve been shot at, had knives pulled on me and been in hand-to-hand combat, and I’m lucky to be here, and it’s because of the reflex development that comes from regular training.
Remember that it’s a perishable skill. The thing about martial arts is, once you stop caring about her, she’ll treat you the same way. Do you want the techniques to be instinctive and work under pressure? Then you have to give her the attention she deserves. If your techniques don’t work, don’t be mad at her because she wasn’t around. You weren’t around for her.
Just how prevalent are weapons on the street these days?
They’re very prevalent. When we look at FBI studies from the 1960s and ’70s, we see a higher incidence of clubs and knives being used. Since the ’80s, it’s gotten progressively worse. Now we see a lot more firearms. Weapons are more common than some people want to know. Sometimes it’s drug related, and sometimes it’s not. A lot of crimes that involve weapons occur in areas where there’s a turf war. They also occur when people feel they need a weapon because of the trade they’re in.
When an altercation is unfolding, should martial artists tell themselves that every adversary has a weapon even if they don’t see one — just so they’re ready?
What I tell myself and my students is that the hands kill. If you keep part of your awareness on your adversary’s hands, that will cover the possibility that he has a knife, a gun or any other weapon. That’s something I preach.
Some people in the traditional martial arts community think their styles are best for weapons defense — particularly if the user has had success in competition. Meanwhile, some people in the MMA community claim MMA is better because it’s more effective overall. What are your thoughts?
No sport is tougher than any other sport because none is even close to what goes on in a street fight. You can’t tell me that your UFC title will prepare you any better for times when somebody pulls out a weapon to use against you than my 14 point-fighting titles do. None of the martial arts sports address multiple attackers, impact weapons, edged weapons or survival during live fire. That has to be covered in training, not competition.
Instead, I really push stress-inoculation training — getting your stress level up and still being able to function. You want to make your training as realistic as possible. For police officers, that could mean using paintball rounds and protective gear or doing knife defense with knives that give you an electric shock. That makes everything a little different, but it teaches things like, Did you get off the line of fire when you did your gun defense? Did you control the knife during your disarm? This is the only practical way to train when you have to put yourself in positions where weapons are likely to be involved.
What advice do you have for martial artists who are worried about becoming a victim of a mass shooting?
In the end, you have to live your life. You can’t just live in fear all the time. In law enforcement, we always tell people, “You can train for a lot of things, but the one you can’t prepare for is the ambush.” By definition, that means you didn’t see it coming.
You should, however, be alert. You have to think about the kinds of situations you’re putting yourself into and then try to expect the unexpected whenever possible. Where are the exits? What around you could be used as cover or concealment — in other words, what will stop a bullet and what will just mask your presence?
There are other things, of course, like watching the hands of any stranger you’re talking to, but it’s a thin line between making yourself alert and ready and making yourself paranoid.
“The thing about martial arts is, once you stop caring about her, she’ll treat you the same way. Do you want the techniques to be instinctive and work under pressure? Then you have to give her the attention she deserves.”