Forbidden Techniques (with Bill Mattocks)

This articles is an exchange between Gerry Seymour and Bill Mattocks (see below for information about Mr. Mattocks).

Bill Mattocks’ take:

I was recently asked by a fellow student, a young man who has just started his martial arts journey, if there were any techniques that he should avoid using in the case of having to employ self defense techniques.

I suspect he was thinking about certain techniques known to cause permanent, rather than temporary, damage to a person, or perhaps those which allegedly can cause death, the so-called ‘dim mak’ techniques.

However, the approach I took to answering his question was based on a different philosophy. It took me some time to explain it to this young man. I thought I’d summarize it here, in hopes it might be useful for others, or at least spur some conversation.

First, I told him that the only thing that is forbidden is to fight at all.

There are two exceptions, and those are fighting in self-defense or the defense of others. If that should arise, then there are no forbidden techniques, but certain circumstances must be met first.

First, if you can eliminate the danger by leaving, then do so. This is in line with the first rule of karate – don’t get hit. You can’t get hit if no punches are thrown at all. If you can leave, leave. If you can run away, run away. Don’t leave others in danger in your place, but if you can end the issue by leaving, then do it. The highest moral imperative of self defense is defending your *life*. Not your honor, not your ego, not your machismo. Your life. If you fight for anything else, you fight for the wrong reasons, unless it is simply sport.

Second, all techniques have the potential to be deadly. When you hit someone, using any technique at all, you may injure or even kill them. Unintended consequences sometimes happen; people have heart attacks, they fall down and hit their heads, they get pushed over the edges of precipices, etc. Rare? Yes, very rare. But it has and will continue to happen. In other words, be aware of the fact that if you engage in fighting at all, the risks dramatically rise that someone is going to be hurt, and it’s even possible someone may be killed. That someone could also be yourself.

Third, if you have to fight, you should fight for one purpose, and that is to end the danger to yourself or the person(s) you are defending. That means, in simple terms, get it done and leave. The longer you engage, the more chances that someone, again, will be seriously hurt or killed, and that person could be you.

Believe it or not, luck plays a major role in many so-called ‘street fights’. An unlucky step on uneven terrain, a slippery surface, a trip over an unseen obstacle. As time passes in a fight, crowds can gather, they may choose to interfere. The person whom you are fighting may decide to produce a weapon, or he or she may have friends that choose to intervene. Time is your enemy in a fight, as much as the person whom you are fighting. This is not a sparring match. Get in and get done. Engage if you must, and end it as quickly as you can.

So what about techniques, forbidden and otherwise?

Techniques will occur in the absence of conscious thought. In other words, when a real fight happens, we revert to the way we train, if we’ve trained well and long enough. We’ll not be thinking about pressure point 4B and meridian 2C and chakra Sun-Six and dim mak hocus pocus. We’ll be thinking ‘there’s an opening, hit now’! That’s not to say that chakra ben gazi or meridian 4F won’t be struck; it means we’ll do what we trained, and generally in the simplest and most direct way possible. With few exceptions, most of us won’t be playing a long game of strategy, give and take, hit and maneuver; we’ll be blocking and countering as quickly and as powerfully as we can, with the goal to end the fight so we can leave.

We will have the bitter taste of copper in our mouths, our vision will close down to a tunnel, we’ll have diminished hearing. Our blood will be pumping, we’ll have the urge to pee. Adrenalin and other chemicals will flood our bloodstream and we’ll control those based on our training, our instincts, and our personal proclivities.

Techniques, schmechniques. Get it done and leave. Forbidden? It is forbidden to fight at all unless you must. If you must, the only imperative is to defend yourself and end the threat, then leave.

The reason I say these things is two-fold.

One, I speak from a (very) small amount of experience. I’ve been in a couple ‘real’ fights, including with weapons. It’s been a long time, but I remember how it works, or at least how it worked for me. I wasn’t thinking about no five-finger-death-punch, let me assure you. I was thinking about continuing to live and what I had to do to ensure that happened.

Two, although I am not a lawyer and this is not legal advice, my opinion is that considering, discussing, or describing particular techniques as ‘deadly’ or ‘forbidden’ or etc can have dangerous consequences when talking to police and attorneys, as you most likely will be doing should you engage in public fisticuffs and live to talk about it at all. If you describe a technique you used or avoided using, you may think you are being accurate and doing yourself a favor; you’re not. My *opinion* is that you should avoid talking about anything except in the most general terms. “What happened?” “He raised his hands to hit me and I defended myself.” “How did you do that?” “I don’t recall specifics, but I wanted to avoid being hurt or killed.”

Describing yourself as a martial arts enthusiast, expert, a certain rank belt-holder, and so on, may be an ego boost, but they won’t do you any good when you get sued for breaking Johnny’s lower descending onomatopoeia and now he can’t work and suffers from severe mopery. You’re just a guy who had to defend himself and did whatever it was to end the fight and leave. A good prosecuting attorney may well discover that you’re trained; it may be obvious by the way you broke Johnny’s stacking swivel, but let them figure that out on their own, don’t help them. You were attacked, you defended yourself. Leave it at that unless you’re required by law to answer with specifics.

So, in summary…

Don’t fight at all if you can leave safely.
If you have to fight, fight to end the danger and leave.

I don’t think about techniques that might or might not be ‘forbidden’. I think about ending the danger. How that happens can take many forms, and I leave that to the situation, my training, and random chance.

Gerry Seymour’s reply:

Well said, Bill. If there was a technique I thought shouldn’t be used, I simply wouldn’t teach it. The only ones I’ve come up with, thus far, were ones I didn’t think were effective enough in modern context.

Every physical altercation is potentially deadly. Minimize the time spent in it, and you minimize the chances of you being the statistic. Zero is the lowest number you can get to in this, so avoiding the altercation entirely is your best odds of surviving it.

  1. Avoid.
  2. If you can’t avoid, defend.
  3. If you must defend, do whatever you can to end it NOW.
  4. “He hit me, we tangled, he fell down.”

Bill Mattocks is currently a nidan (2nd degree black belt) instructor at Holloway’s Isshin Ryu Karate School.

Gerry Seymour is the founder of the Self-defense Academy of Western NC, in Hendersonville, NC.

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