FAST Defence Workshop, Bristol, 13 June 2012
After a few last minute dropouts, a smaller turnout than normal for the regular FAST Defence Bristol South workshop gave me the opportunity after the opening circle to talk to the group about the significance of escape within one’s self-defence arsenal. It’s very easy, especially for those practicing a dedicated martial art as opposed to complete self-defence system, to forget that this should be the primary goal of all unwanted encounters, whether physically violent or not. We can easily get up in the all too human need to prove or test what we know, especially the male of the species. The drive to escape should be drilled to the same unconsciously competent level as our physical techniques; this is one of the drivers behind the ‘hands up, look around, go get help” coda to FAST Defence drills and scenarios.
“It is better to avoid than to run; better to run than to de-escalate; better to de-escalate than to fight; better to fight than to die. The very essence of self-defense is a thin list of things that might get you out alive when you are already screwed.”
Rory Miller (1)
We then broke off into pairs to work on keeping a working distance of roughly two arms’ lengths between you and your aggressor and, should this not be possible, the need to keep a physical barrier, a fence, between you and the aggressor, protecting one’s personal space. We added some verbal aggression into the mix and the group’s imaginations and creativity were a joy to behold and several members showed a real talent for this! It’s an important part of the method to be able to put yourself in the aggressor’s shoes, both to look at confrontations from the other side and also to help in fostering the ‘switch’, the switch from being an ordinary person to one who has to use the range of skills from assertiveness to violence in order to defend oneself.
After some lively and entertaining multiple verbal aggressor scenarios, breaking just at the point of transition to the physical, we turned our attention to our hard skills for the evening. This time it was dealing with an attack from the rear that would take us to the ground. As usual, we took two or three high percentage techniques to work on, in this case a rear palm strike to the groin, using a hip bump to create space, and the hammer fist strike to use once you’ve managed to turn and face the aggressor. (As the majority of the group were also Wing Chun students, we also considered the similarities between the rear palm strike and hip bump to the space-making rear strike of the second part of the Siu Nim Tao form of that fighting system.)
This is the critical part of the FAST Defence methodology: learn the mechanics of the skill, apply it at various levels of aggression to the pads, then pressure test it against a live attacker at full force.
Following some pad work with these skills we turned to the combat drill, with the defender starting with feet together and eyes closed – one of our favourite pre-stress positions – and me in the Predator Armour coming up behind them and taking them to the ground. This is the critical part of the FAST Defence methodology: learn the mechanics of the skill, apply it at various levels of aggression to the pads, then pressure test it against a live attacker at full force. The goal of the drill was to use the skills we’d just practiced – and any others that appeared in the mix – to escape from the floor, hurt the attacker and effect an escape to the designated safe place, emphasising that the will to live and survive was equally as important as the physical techniques themselves.
And this the group did excellently! We ran through it at about 80% intensity to allow them to make the emotional and mental transition from a training mindset to a survival mindset, then repeated it again at a more intense level. Never have I been happier to be in the Predator Armour with a few of the groin strikes coming within a hair’s breadth, even within the armour, of making my eyes water and the hammer fist strikes making the headpiece creak merrily. It’s worth noting that this month, as in the previous workshop, the new members of the group managed to deliver strikes which almost equalled the power of some of the more seasoned people. I have often found this to be the case and there’s another line of thought to be followed here at some point; is it the lack of preconceptions, the training methodology, or access to the will to survive uncluttered by thought of technique?
As always, we finished with a closing circle, which allows the group to decompress and bring the adrenaline levels down and say as little or as much as they want about the session.
(1) Miller, Rory Meditations on Violence: A Comparison of Martial Arts Training and Real World Violence (YMAA Publication Center, 2008)