You are a mid-tier predator; your ancestors ate everything below them in the food chain, and were eaten by everything above.  Big brains and fire dramatically altered that equation; we picked up a rock, then put an edge on it, then put that sharp rock on the end of a stick — and as that axe was handed down from generation to generation, so, too, the truth of it:  the first one to brain the other wins.  Eventually, the rock became increasingly durable metals even as the brain, and what had to happen to it, remained the same.

Walk that process of innovation far enough forward in time and it’s no longer necessary for you to know how to deal with a lion.  But we’ve always had to know how to deal with each other.  The information around how to hunt humans has been passed down in an unbroken chain of ever-finer refinement…

Like fire, the invention of writing changed everything.  We were no longer constrained by what a single human brain could hold; the dead could speak to the living, freeing us to move forward beyond where they ended.

The advent of firearms lead to a slow bleed of what had, up until that moment, been critical knowledge:  how to handle humans with your bare hands.  This was due to a combination of the effectiveness of firearms, the reduction in the amount of effort required to achieve the desired result, and the natural laziness of the human brain.  Why spend hours training mind and body for hand-to-hand action when you can just pull and point?

But the loss of that original knowledge means that without a gun you are helpless against those who have them.  You are helpless against those who know that most people don’t know how to put a human down with nothing more than their brain, their mass, and their skeleton.

The loss of that vital, ancestral knowledge makes us cattle.  Those who know the truth about violence — and how to use the threat of violence — have unearned power over the masses who don’t need that knowledge on a day-to-day basis (or perhaps ever across their lucky lifetimes)… until, of course, they suddenly do.  And as violence is a critical life event — a bottlenecking that can pinch your lifespan short — a little knowledge can go a long way.  Like the-rest-of-your-life long.

The information we teach has existed in written form for 100 generations, only three of which have been in the modern, Western, capitalist mode.  That’s 97 generations where it was handed down purely because it was useful.  It has been far less necessary for daily survival in those last three generations, which means it is in perpetual danger of being fumbled in the handoff.

We can’t be complacent and rest on the laurels of those who came before us, or even our own hard-won laurels; “But historically it kicked ass!” doesn’t mean it kicks ass today.  Regardless of myth and legend the system is only as good as the last time someone had to use it to thread that existential bottleneck — which was just a few short weeks ago.  For that one person in that one moment, the millennia of effort to research, record, maintain and transfer the information was more than worth it.

We draw an unbroken lineage all the way from the first human who put a rock in their fist and cracked another in the head with it to that most recent incident.  The axe came into our hands from the deep past; we practiced swinging it, took it apart, cleaned it up, reengineered the haft, recast the head in modern alloys, and put a monomolecular edge on it.

While this sounds like we did something amazing, we really didn’t — we just took hold of it with one hand and figured out how to pass it to the other.  We didn’t invent it, we don’t own it.  It belongs to everyone with a brain, mass, and skeleton.  We are merely the conduits through which it will get handed down to the next generation.  This is an invitation to come and be a part of that — to claim your birthright — as we extend the haft to anyone with the strength to wield it.


— Chris Ranck-Buhr

Action & Silence: How to Dress for Violence

We have a very simple dress code for seminar training — baggy, loose-fitting blue jeans and a heavy-duty, plain white T-shirt — and yet this generates a surprising amount of pushback from clients.  They want to wear yoga pants, tactical BDUs, board shorts, anything but blue jeans; they show up in cute tops, T-shirts festooned with the standard iconography of aggression, logos, product advertisements and political statements.  And all that in a spray of every color of the rainbow.

The class ends up looking like a riot at a beach barbecue.

And meanwhile, movement is restricted, no one can put hands on each other like they need to without tearing something, and brains do what brains do — read words and process logos.  For your brain it’s a riot of clashing surface noise, obscuring the signal underneath.


You need clothing that won’t bind or restrict your movement, while also being a useful tool for your partner to grab and pull without tearing.  In violence, you can grab a fistful of skin or other soft tissue (like the groin) to use as a handle for causing further injury; with loose-fitting, tough clothing we can grab a fistful of fabric instead, saving you from all the screaming and handprint bruises.  Tight-fitting and/or light-duty clothing means your partner either 1) can’t practice these things realistically, or 2) they can — but you won’t be happy about it.  (Most people, being polite, and, well, people, will default to not practicing the groin-grab — a potentially deadly mistake should they ever need to do just that when their life depends on it.  The brain can only go where it’s gone before, and you don’t want the first time you’re going to grab and pull a groin to be during your attempted murder.  That’s what training is for — to do it a hundred times so the 101st is nothing new.)

When everyone in the room is dressed for the work, everyone can get the practice they need without interruption or hesitation.    


The choices we make in what to wear on a daily basis are rooted in personal expression and communication — we want to blend and belong or differentiate ourselves (within certain socially-acceptable boundaries) and communicate something about who we are and how we view ourselves and how we wish to have others view us.  Clothing is language, and what we need for the optimal practice of violence is dead silence.

The goal on the mats is to create and work in an asocial environment, one that is entirely devoid of communication.  Just like at the shooting range, we’re not going to talk while pulling the trigger — because people are bad at doing two things at once, and because we don’t want to train to talk to our targets while we’re in a firefight.  

If clothing is communication, then having everyone expressing their individuality through their sartorial choices that morning gives rise to useless noise the brain must ignore in order to get to work on other things… only the brain won’t ignore it because it can’t.  (Don’t believe me?  Next time you’re out and about try not to read.  Ignore the text and logos in your environment.  Don’t think about the pink elephant.)  A shirt with logos will snag your eye.  Words will cry out and demand to be read — and so you will give them voice, echoing in your skull.  And while the room might be quiet — save for the sounds of breathing and bodies hitting the mats — that quiet will not be present in your head, where you need it most.  We’re silent on the outside so we can be silent on the inside; we want that silence to seep into ourselves so we can do the work of violence with mechanical dispassion — cool, calm, focused.

When everyone you’re training with is dressed the same — blue pants, white shirt — it allows your brain to look for and recognize similarities and differences in SHAPE, to build a generic target map of the human machine.  It’s the same machine every time, just a little taller, or wider, or shorter in the torso; but the groin is always where the legs meet, the solar plexus is always dead center in the torso.  This is the process of learning the ways in which all individuals are similar — we strip out the individuality of dress and replace it with a flesh-robed skeleton… in blue pants and a white shirt:  a blank canvas upon which your brain can paint anatomy.

The dress code isn’t for us, the instructors — it’s not about control, or institutional uniformity, or even looking professional — it’s for you, so you get the most out of the experience.  If everyone in the room is quiet and useful we can all get straight to training in dead silence, to pack a thousand turns into the weekend so that the 1,001st — the one where your life is on the line — is nothing new.


— Chris Ranck-Buhr

A Difference You Can Taste

In the 28 years I’ve been teaching, the most common question I’ve heard is:

“How is what you do different from self-defense, self-protection, or fighting?”

(The question is usually about specific schools or popular styles, examples of which I refuse to list for reasons you’ll find at the end.)

The simplest answer is:

“Injury.  We’re far more concerned with what’s happening inside of him, rather than what’s happening inside of you.”

In other words, something crushed, ruptured or torn — not the “cool move” that supposedly does that thing.

For a more involved explanation, here are the fundamental differentiators, including the visceral one:

We strive to model the successful use of violence in our practice, based on observable reality — instead of trying to defend or protect ourselves or get into a fight.  We don’t want to “win a fight”, we just want to deliver a beating.  What the other person wants to do is immaterial.  Violence is unidirectional and heavily favors the one doing it.  The defender, not so much.

Successful violence causes and exploits debilitating injury as a first principle and sole goal — the only thing that means anything in violence is ruptured anatomy.  We seek to cause results similar to firearms (stripping the man of function until we achieve a nonfunctional state), using the relatively slow, heavy bullet of our mass leveraged by our skeleton.  To this end we use similar training methodologies — working more like a tactical shooting course than a sparring match.  (Slow is smooth, smooth is fast.)

The human machine only breaks when subjected to catastrophic volume change, when tissues are compressed or stretched farther and faster than their elasticity will allow before failure.  The action of the limbs alone (punching and kicking with no overrun) can produce useful injuries, but usually doesn’t.  (This is why fights go on and on — people can easily withstand nonspecific trauma.)  Body-weighted collisions with overrun get us the traumatic volume change we need to break things inside of people.

In figuring out how to get results we start with the injury first, then work backwards from there, reverse-engineering the process to make a given sports accident happen on purpose.  We are only interested in what’s happening inside of him, not what’s happening inside of you — result vs. technique, a broken knee instead of a knee-break move:

It’s his knee, but you can feel the difference in your gut.

– Beyond the “one-and-done” crash course (for raw effectiveness) we have a 10-year curriculum in writing that incorporates striking, joint breaking, throwing, knife, baton, and firearms into a seamless whole — meaning we’re never suddenly having to switch gears into “knife defense” or “gun disarms”.  It’s all the same because it all hinges on causing injury and then exploiting that state change.  The 10-year curriculum is about efficiency (getting an effective result more quickly, with less effort) but does not improve upon baseline effectiveness — if we both knock someone out they’re still KO’d, regardless of our relative efficiency.  This is the curriculum we use to produce instructors.

In summary:

 Pure offense — not defense, protection or fighting

 Entirely directed toward causing debilitating injury

 Looking at the physics and physiology of collisions rather than techniques

 A 10-year curriculum, in writing

It’s important to note that I’m not saying what we do is “better” than anything else — effective violence is as old as hominids and no one has a patent on concussions.  All training has the potential to work.  The best training is the one you know in your bones you can make work for you.  If someone looks at what we do and doesn’t think they could make it work, then they’re right.  If a specific school, style or system makes more sense to them, then that would be the better choice.  In the end all we have is some technical information that you may or may not find useful.  That determination is up to the individual.


— Chris Ranck-Buhr

Keeping It Simple

In nature, everything takes from something else. There is no evil and there is no innocence. The relationship of predator and prey is a fixed equation, but the variables can be fluid. One day you are predating on a blueberry bush, the next day you’re lunch. So all animals, even apex predators like grizzly bears, killer whales or human beings can run either set of behaviors: predator or prey.

For predators it’s simple. ATTACK. They incapacitate their prey by inflicting grievous injury, often (but not always) resulting in immediate death. In true predation events the outcome for most prey animals is inevitable no matter what they do. Ultimately, the only long-term effective response to death rate is birth rate.

For prey items however there are actually five recognized responses to a perceived threat: fight, flight, freeze, posture or submit.

Fighting is hard work and a risky business. It is seldom employed in the animal kingdom except by prey animals attempting to wrest themselves from the current day’s menu or by individuals of a social species testing/reinforcing the legitimacy of their hierarchy.

Flight, with its low cost-to-benefit ratio, is often the preferred response. This covers everything from going out of your way to navigate around a sketchy area to running in terror from a rustle in the bushes — as long as there is a flight window with enough time and space to make the success of a flight attempt likely. This is how most potentially dangerous unknowns are dealt with in the wild.

The freeze response occurs when the efficacy of a potential threat is being evaluated or as a last-resort form of concealment from a predator that might be inside the flight window. This too is a very economical response as it costs almost nothing to be still and it makes for effective camouflage as most predators visually scan for movement. This innate response in animals can be beneficial, like when a newborn elk lies perfectly still (and nearly scentless) at the feet of a marauding grizzly sow — or maladaptive, like when a deer is “caught in the headlights” of an oncoming vehicle or an office worker huddles motionless in plain view while an active shooter manipulates their third reload.

If physical contact is imminent the decision becomes whether combat can be avoided or not. Animals attempt to avoid combat whenever possible because it is likely to degrade their function… even if they’re successful. A mountain lion with a broken jaw doesn’t get better; it slowly starves to death. In order to avoid the perils of physical combat, animals may posture or submit. Posturing is an attempt to intimidate your way out of combat while submission is an attempt to capitulate. I use the word “attempt” because unlike with fight, flight or freeze, these two options (posture/submit) put the ball squarely on the other side of the court. Unless the motivations and inclinations of the other individual(s) involved (as in the social dynamics of a wolf pack) are intimately understood, these options have the very highest cost-benefit ratio and are therefore extremely risky.

So what’s the lesson in all this? Behaving like a prey animal is complicated and treacherous. Better to keep it predator-simple: Attack and injure!


— Taylor Good