Story and Photos by Michael Janich
One of the frightening realities of real-world self-defense is that criminals will attack you when conditions most favor them and least favor you. Attackers armed with contact-distance weapons will therefore do their best to launch their assaults suddenly and from close range, to minimize your reaction time.
Situational awareness and the ability to recognize pre-incident indicators—the behavioral patterns that attackers typically, and often subconsciously, display prior to an assault—are obviously the best ways of avoiding a close-range ambush. Unfortunately, in today’s busy world and the complex environments we often have to contend with, maintaining a “reactionary gap” isn’t as easy as it would seem. In those circumstances, the best defense is sound tactics built on a foundation of instinct.
Millions of years of evolution have hard-wired us with instinctive physical responses that allow us to react reflexively to sudden physical threats. These instincts provide a basic, but surprisingly effective, level of defense that maximizes our chances of survival—even without any formal training in fighting skills.
The body’s primary instinctive response pattern is the “startle response.” When surprised by a loud noise or a physical threat—especially to the head or upper body—nature has hard wired us to instantly raise our hands, shrug our shoulders, and crouch slightly.
This reflex makes us a smaller target and, very importantly, establishes a physical barrier to protect the vital targets of our head and neck. Sometimes also known as a “flinch response,” this powerful protective instinct has, over the course of history, saved countless lives.
Many systems of combative training spend a lot of time trying to eliminate or override the startle response in favor of trained patterns of movement that are theoretically more effective.
Untraining instinct, however, is not an easy task. Even after many thousands of conscious, programmed repetitions of a trained skill, when confronted with a sudden, unexpected threat, instinct typically still takes precedence. Only when you approach the highly trained skill levels of elite combatants can you really “untrain” hard-wired instinct and replace it with a purposeful response.
So, what’s the best way to capitalize on the benefits of both instinct and training? In my opinion, it’s to accept and embrace what evolution has given us first and then do our best to “educate” it to make it better.
One shining example of this approach is the Hubud tactic of Martial Blade Concepts (MBC) and its related systems. Hubud comes from the Filipino martial arts skill of hubud-lubud, a Tagalog term that means “to tie and untie.” In its traditional form, it is a three-step defense that generally consists of an upward block with the left forearm, a wiping deflection with the right forearm, and a downward check with the left palm. In this form, it provides an effective defense against a downward attack and can be used with or without a weapon in the right hand.
Traditional Hubud is also used to defend against linear punching or thrusting attacks by replacing the initial forearm block with an inward parry with the left palm. Unfortunately, relying on two different versions of the tactic requires a conscious decision-making process based on the characteristics of the attack.
As mentioned earlier, nature’s untrained, instinctive response to a punch or downward strike is what’s commonly called a “startle response” or “flinch response.” In this involuntary reaction, you quickly raise both hands to create a protective barrier around your head and neck. At the same time, you instinctively hunch your shoulders, “turtle” your head, and crouch slightly to provide further protection. Not exclusive to a physical attack, the startle response is also our natural reaction to unexpected loud noises and many other sudden surprise stimuli.
Since the startle response is a deeply ingrained defensive mechanism, rather than trying to “untrain” it or replace it with something else, MBC’s approach is to accept it and use it as a foundation for our version of Hubud.
To eliminate the need for a conscious decision during a moment of extreme stress, we also focus exclusively on the version that begins with the palm parry, which works equally well against both linear and downward attacks of all types.
To execute the MBC version of Hubud, have your training partner strike at your head with a downward hammering or chopping attack with his right hand. As his hand approaches, use your left hand to slap the back of his hand to knock it slightly off course. This action should be as natural and instinctive as possible—like swatting an insect.
Next, raise your right arm with the elbow bent about 90 degrees and wedge the back of your forearm against the back of his. This should deflect his striking hand further off target and keep you from getting hit. Move your left hand down and check the top of his forearm just below the elbow. This should push his arm down slightly, leaving his head exposed as a target. The most natural counter would be to strike him with a downward hammerfist of your own.
Once you get a feel for the basic movements of Hubud, start relating them to the startle response. That instinctive action naturally prompts you to raise both hands with the elbows pre-bent as you hunch your shoulders slightly. Using that instinct as a starting point, allow the slapping and wedging actions of Hubud to “ride” the motion of the natural flinch, making it even more functional and effective.
To really program this in, practice Hubud with a partner as a reciprocal drill. When your partner strikes at you, defend with a startle based Hubud action. At the end of the slap-wedge-check sequence, strike at your partner with your own downward hammerfist, prompting him to defend the same way. His counter then prompts your defense, and the sequence continues as a cyclical, counter-for-counter drill.
This training method not only provides high numbers of repetitions in a very efficient way, its speed and intensity can be gradually increased to make it an adrenal vehicle for high-intensity training—the kind you really need to build reliable skill.
Hubud works extremely well as an unarmed defensive response against a variety of sudden attacks. It also provides a platform for more purposeful weapon-based tactics, especially “fist load” weapons like flashlights and tactical pens.
Average people don’t have the time or resources to train like Navy SEALs. When confronted with a sudden violent attack, it is likely that you’ll react instinctively first. Accepting that fact and educating your instinctive responses to make them even more functional is the best way to maximize your chances of survival. K&G
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Martial Blade Conceptswww.MartialBladeConcepts.com
Nine-year veteran of the U.S. Army Intelligence and Security Command, Michael Janich also served a 3-year tour at the National Security Agency. Highly decorated, Michael is a two-time graduate of the Defense Language Institute and served around the world in intelligence and investigative capacities for many years. Utilizing his extensive training in various martial arts and military/LE combatives, he established Paladin Press’ Video Production Department in 1994, running all aspects of video production for 10 years – personally recruiting some of Paladin’s most popular authors and being selected to work with the late Col. Rex Applegate as the producer of his landmark instructional videos on handgun point shooting. Published book and magazine author, Michael has been featured on various television programs and designed knives for many different knife companies throughout the industry. Michael is the founder and lead instructor of his signature knife defense program, Martial Blade Concepts.
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