“You know it ain’t cool to kill on Christmas.”

(Title quote from the inestimable Johnny Cash.)

One of the truths about studying violence is that it makes you really uninterested in being involved in it.  Dramatic ass-kicking, on the other hand, is attractive—mainly because of your perception of increased social standing.  “Teaching someone a lesson” makes you a badass… and who doesn’t want that?

Of course, “fighting” is necessarily nonspecific.  It won’t be any more explicit than “hit him” or “kick his ass”.  The moment you begin to apply specifics it gets a lot less fun.  Gouging an eye, crushing a throat or snapping a knee backwards are all obviously awful, and usually go far beyond whatever lesson you hoped to teach him.  You recognize that once you get specific you’re no longer teaching, but destroying.  And your social standing will, if anything, probably decrease as you freak your friends out.  That, and finding out the cold difference between the title of “badass” and “psychotic”.

Knowing the truth about violence and still being eager to engage in it is crazy.  So we lie to ourselves, make a game of it, a contest, we try to believe violence is something that can be dialed up or down… that there’s such a thing as “extreme violence”.  We cling to these ideas because we still want it to be fun and to be the badass of our fantasies.

But real violence, the unrestrained use of it (and that’s the only way it works—just ask a bullet) is dirty, kind of scary, and truly awful.

Looking this reality full in the face is both sickening and, secretly, disappointing.  The love affair with being the hero ends abruptly in blood and screaming.  You realize that if you get to choose whether or not to be involved, the answer is always, with some relief, no.

This is what we mean when we say that training to use violence leads to a more peaceful life.  Not as a fortune cookie aphorism, or because we forbid you to use it, but because the truth repels and lessens your ardor to do these things to people in all but the most dire of circumstances.  Keeping the fantasy alive makes you more likely to engage—after all, it’s just an ass-kicking, and he really does deserve it.  When you know there’s no such thing, that physical violence which does not permanently alter peoples’ lives isn’t skill, but just dumb luck, you’ll do what you can to not have to break his leg.

The three most important outcomes of this training are:

1.  Reduced desire to be involved in violence (unless you have no choice)

2.  Ceasing to look like a victim

3.  Knowing how to shut off a human being.

In that order.  So it’s peaceful, predatory, and having the teeth to back it up.  

Early in my career as an instructor I put number three as the only reason to train.  It wasn’t until the stories of those I trained began to filter back—not just the ones where they shut someone off (that was to be expected), but the ones where they spoke of predators waving off when they believed contact was inevitable, and, most telling, stories of changed behavior, solving conflict in new ways that didn’t involve fists.  Simply because they realized it wasn’t necessary… and that if it could be avoided it should.  The importance of this hit me because now the practice of shutting people off had real daily benefits, instead of a few frenzied seconds someday, or perhaps never.

And so it turns out you can use your training daily without ending up in prison.  It can make the worst among us pass you by in search of an easier mark, and having the tool of violence in your back pocket can give you the confidence to try solving problems where in the past you may have reflexively fought or fled.  Besides, if your read on the situation turns out wrong you can always break his leg, right?

This is how violence can lead to peace, at least on a personal level.

So train for that moment where nothing else will do, but enjoy the fruits of that labor on a daily basis:  trading fear for resolve, paranoia for relaxation, violence paradoxically becoming peace.

All the best to you & yours with wishes for a peace-filled New Year,

Chris Ranck-Buhr & The Injury Dynamics Team

That New Victim Smell

If you have the nose for it, it’s more obvious than cartoon stink lines.

One of our Master Instructors, Dave S., went on vacation to San Francisco.  A great thing about that city is that unlike most west coast cities, it is almost entirely walkable.  He spent a week there with his wife, sans car or cab.  It was all feet and open air.

This is a very different way of life for those of us down here in southern California.  The San Diego/LA metrosprawl requires a car to get anywhere and so we spend most of our transit time alone and isolated from those around us.

Dave’s experience walking around a city where everybody walks means he saw lots of people every day—a tableau writ full of information for those who can read it.  Gait, body language, the way people move when they come into close contact with others.  These things tell the story of that person’s interior life, their secret fears and intentions.

In short, who’s a victim and who’s not.

The first words out of his mouth when I asked about his vacation were:

“Walking the city you could see the victims.  It was really sad.  You could scan the crowd and count them off:  victim, victim, not a victim, victim.  Some people I just wanted to grab and shake them and scream, ‘Don’t walk like that!  Don’t stand like that!’”

When the criminal sociopath looks for a victim, they do the same thing Dave was doing.  They scan that tableau and register everybody as a target or trouble.  And because they (usually) didn’t get out of bed this morning looking for a fight, or an epic battle, they slide past the trouble-makers and focus on the targets.

To the trained, and to the predator, the victims stand out.  They can smell it… and see the stink lines.  Acting tough doesn’t hide it.  It just amplifies it.

You can’t pretend to not be a victim.  The difference between victim and not-victim is unconscious confidence.  It radiates from the core, outward, and shines like a beacon even when you’re not paying attention to projecting anything.  Your gait, your stance, your body language will give you away, one way or the other.  If you know what to do, it shows.  If you don’t, well, that’s where the smell comes from.

This is the real utility of training for violence.  The chances of you actually having to use this information in a life-or-death situation are so small as to approach zero.  (Of course, if you do find yourself there, nothing else will do.  Just as knowing how to swim is the only thing that will keep you from drowning.)

But you’ll never know how many times being trained saved you from getting picked out of the herd as a victim in the first place.

In my experience, this training changes the way people walk, stand, and carry themselves.  It gives you that unconscious confidence that is beyond badass posturing or bluster.  It’s always on, even when you’re not paying attention.

Though it’s a cliched martial arts oxymoron to “learn to kill so you never have to,” it turns out there’s a kernel of truth in that fortune cookie notion.  As a husband, father, and instructor this is what I want for my wife, my kids, and the people I train.  To be able to pull the trigger on it if that’s what’s required, but really to never, ever have to in the first place.  To get passed over when someone’s sniffing for victims.

That’s what I want for you:  to never know how many times this training has saved you from trouble.


— Chris Ranck-Buhr

Be the Problem

“What did you do today to prevent being sexually assaulted?”

Jackson Katz, a social researcher, asked the men in the room that question; they laughed.  Then he asked the women.

Image credit: Jennifer Wright

The data is telling:  Women live in a very different world than men, and, on balance, already know the preventative measures.  They think about them every day, and constantly make decisions and alter their behavior to avoid putting themselves in vulnerable situations.

I’ve learned so much about this from the women in my life — those who train with us, female instructors, my wife.  Seemingly minor details like how her car only unlocks the driver’s door when she thumbs the key fob — something I found annoying as a passenger, having to wait while she opened her door, got in, and then unlocked the rest of the car — annoying, that is, until she told me why.  With that shift in perspective it not only made sense — it was necessary.

This is why when I was asked to put together a video series of “10 tips for women to keep themselves safe,” I demurred.  Women already know how to keep themselves safe.  What’s missing is what to do when all those measures fail, and the situation goes physical.

We live in a society where women are not truly encouraged or supported in going hands-on physical for debilitating injury — oh, we pay lip service to it, *wink-winking* the whole time while death row inmates laugh at the resulting training.  And so women are given weak-sauce options (“women’s self-defense”) based on socially-acceptable sporting frameworks put together by men who have no understanding of the real issues (i.e., not in touch with their inner psychopaths, so the solutions tend to be more social than operational).  Everyone should be suspicious of any physical training for women that a man would not also find useful.

What’s lacking is verifiable, gender-agnostic information on how to put hands on someone so they can’t continue.  I can recount as many situations as you’d like where something as simple as knowing how to take an eye would have prevented a murder.  (See also:  true crime TV shows.)  These stories affect me deeply, because many times the outcome was entirely avoidable with the smallest bit of actionable information.  The last three people who used what we do were women who found themselves over the event horizon of the physical — the place where prevention and social interaction cease to make a difference — so they doled out broken legs, crushed groins, unconsciousness, and gouged eyes instead.  This is why we do what we do.

The real difference for women is in the profiles they’ll face — primarily being grabbed in an attempt to overpower them.  But the solutions to those issues are found in injury, not in gender-specific moves.  We trained the women mentioned above the same way we train military and law enforcement, the same way we train men.  The same way we train everyone with a brain, a skeleton, and mass.  In the realm of physics and physiology, minor differences in plumbing don’t affect the outcome.

So instead of telling women what they already know — and practice daily — I thought about what I, as a male hand-to-hand combat instructor, could offer as advice.  After double-checking with the women in my life — those who train with us, female instructors, my wife — we agreed on these stair-stepped concepts:

• Do all the preventative things you already know how to do — but when that fails you must ATTACK & INJURE.  Escape will occur as a side effect to you hurting him so he can’t continue!

• Your survival is up to you — and you alone.  You can’t rely on others to save you.  But you can do this.  Don’t have a problem — be the problem!

• It’s not strength-to-strength — it’s effort-to-vulnerability.  (Eyes-throat-groin & knowing what’s required to crush them.)  A finger in the eye can change everything!

If just one woman sticks her finger in an eye instead of struggling to get away or, worse, doing nothing because she doesn’t think there’s anything she can do, then all our efforts as a training community are worth it.


— Chris Ranck-Buhr

For Want of an Injury

For want of an injury, the solution was lost.

For want of a solution, the intent was lost.

For want of intent, the initiation was lost.

For want of initiation, the target was lost.

For want of a target, the body was lost.

For want of a body, the mind was lost.

For want of a mind, the life was lost.

All for the want of actionable information… a life was unnecessarily lost.

An instructor in our program, knowing that I grew up a block from the ocean and still enjoyed beach culture daily, sent me an e-mail about a harrowing experience he and his wife had endured earlier that day while vacationing on the gulf coast of Texas. As a hurricane blew somewhere far off in the gulf, they waded in chest-deep water along the beach, unaware that the leading edge of the storm had kicked up enough wind energy to generate rough waves. The two quickly found themselves swimming for their lives—along with “Mr. Luck”—just reaching the beach before being overcome by exhaustion. “Luckily, I’m a really strong swimmer,” he said, “but what the heck do you do in a rip current?”

An ocean rip current is a relatively strong, narrow current that flows outward from the beach through the surf zone, and may present a hazard to swimmers. A lack of actionable information about rip currents can, and often does, lead to the death of untrained swimmers, barring the intervention of Mr. Luck. Just a tiny bit of immediately useful information, however, can mean the difference between life and death.

My reply e-mail was brief. What he needed was actionable information. He had some skills and data, primarily the ability to swim hard enough and long enough and the resolve to not give up or panic in the face of impending doom. Mr. Luck was also with him that day. The current could have been stronger, the waves bigger or more consistent, his wife could have given up or dragged him under, either of them could’ve swallowed sea water or succumbed to panic. I could go on… “Swimming and not giving up” was not actionable information under the circumstances. He needed something more. The points I included in the short paragraph described how rip currents work and what to do if you find yourself in the middle of one. I included an image from the National Weather Service that illustrated, in the simplest terms, rip current survival. I then told him his experience was a textbook example of what not to do. If you don’t know, well, you don’t know. I described the variables involved with engaging different wave action, as well the basic solution for a rip current:

1) Relax.

2) Swim parallel to the shore until you are out of the current.

3) Then swim to shore.

In life-threatening emergency situations, your survival depends heavily on the amount of actionable information that you possess inside your mind and your skeleton, and the degree to which the gods have sprinkled “luck dust” on your corpus. In moments of high stress and/or danger, your chances of survival increase if you focus on what you can control rather than what you cannot. Said another way, luck is a poor strategy in these situations.

If the solution to the emergency requires actionable information, then having no information prevents intentional action no matter how much you desire to act. Thus, you are likely to respond with useless or even disadvantageous action, like freezing up or actively working against your survival. If you don’t know what you are doing, doing so intentionally becomes, by definition, a nonstarter.

Further, if you cannot intentionally do something because you don’t know what that thing is, initiating the relevant action to begin the process of intentionally going after the required solution is like… trying to catch a train that’s already left the station. The failure to initiate what you don’t know leads to a catastrophic tipping of things out of your favor. And emergency situations, by definition, have a ticking-clock component: hesitation kills. That first missing piece—a lack of information—is the opening for a cascade of catastrophic results.

Enter luck. If you are “lucky,” the situation just rattles you with the horror of how bad things could have gone. If you are not lucky, the result is a chain of events that rapidly slips out of your control and into a catastrophic death spiral, irrecoverable and non-survivable. You are unnecessarily overcome by the situation for want of a little actionable information… and not quite enough luck this time.

Knowledge is power that is enhanced through experience. For the first-timer, a rip current presents unimaginable feelings of terror and hopelessness. And I highly doubt that the instructor (who barely survived his first experience) wanted to frolic anywhere near a rip current ever again… But if you’re an avid surfer, the rip current becomes just another datapoint in your decision-making process: sometimes you can use the rip to help get through the waves; sometimes the rip can make or break a particular wave. And sometimes you can get stuck in a rip and almost die despite all your knowledge and experience.

It’s important to understand that your knowledge and experience does not immunize you from the power of the ocean. Many big waver surfers have drowned pursuing their passion in situations where they had survived hundreds of times before. Yes, Mr. Luck is a big wave surfer, too. Even small wave riders have lost their lives in “normal” surf. I almost drowned less than ten feet from the shore in Hawaii, after breaking my leash and losing my board, and then trying to swim against a rip while navigating which four-foot wall of whitewater I was going to let rake me up the razor-sharp lava “beach.” Knowledge and experience give you a higher probability of success in an emergency, not a hall pass.

A few days later, I received a second e-mail from the instructor. While walking along the same beach, he and his wife were approached by a young boy in an absolute panic pointing into the stormy surf and screaming to help save his parents. With just his limited experience with rip currents (one horrific, uninformed, and damn lucky go) and the short paragraph of actionable information, the instructor swam directly out into the rip current that had almost killed him days earlier and, following procedure, swam the mother safely to shore. Unfortunately for the family, Mr. Luck got tired of waiting for the instructor to go back out and decided not to stay with the father long enough for the instructor to reach him in time.

So… what does any of this have to do with criminal violence?

In a criminally violent encounter, the first person to impart traumatic injury so that the other person cannot continue wins. If you didn’t know this fact, you’re swimming in that rip current right along with the instructor, his wife, and good old Mr. Luck. For want of a solution, intentional action evaporates. Frozen or flailing, you’ve got nothing useful. Like swimming against the tide, the injuries you receive progressively stack against your survival as your body fails and your mind fades shortly behind. You’re a statistic.

However, if you know this reality about criminally violent encounters, actionable information would include:

1) How the human machine breaks.

2) How to do that work with your bare hands.

3) How to take advantage of the results.

This would provide a solution that you could intentionally initiate, driving you forward to break one thing, and then another, until the other person stops moving or can’t continue. Now you’re a better statistic.

As is true with the rip current, surviving a violent encounter requires knowledge that is enhanced by experience. Let’s say you don’t live near any beaches, but you like visiting them, or you’re about to take an open ocean cruise. In both of these cases a two-day, all-inclusive educational course on open ocean and rough water swimming would be just the thing, where you could get hands-on experience from professionals who have spent their lives not only teaching the material but training the material week in and week out. Moreover, you would want these educators to be invested in your successful understanding of the material. The next best thing would be a one-day course that hit the basic principles and targeted your specific need to understand rip currents so you could enjoy all beaches…

This is what we do—and what we can do for you—when it comes to the use of violence as a survival tool.


— Matt Suitor

Stop! Hammer Time

We don’t sell hammers—we teach hammering.

Search the google-sphere for framing hammers, you’ll see everything from a $345 all-titanium super-hammer to the good old fashioned $24 generic California framing hammer. Nothing too dissimilar from the rock our ancestors tied to the top of a stick to help accelerate a hard object into another object to increase the work being done to the object being struck. Just a bit more efficient and durable.

Originally, the object was struck to obtain food of some sort (opening shellfish, killing prey, etc.), or to prevent you from becoming food (killing another predator). And the reality of the way things worked out, pure necessity dictated that every one of our ancestors had access to this information for survival. We all learned and knew how to “swing the hammer” to smash something to eat and/or to survive violent encounters with other humans or animals vying for similar resources.

As societies developed along the way to modernity, hammer-swinging became compartmentalized, either removed from everyday use due to specialization by craftsmen and farmers or monopolized by “society” through governments and laws. These days the grocery store puts shellfish in a can for us, the butcher and farmer remove the laborious task of killing and harvesting animals ourselves, the carpenter builds our shelters, and the state “swings the hammer” of justice. The good citizen goes to the store for food and calls the police to intervene when the need to “swing the hammer” arises.

Over thousands of years of relying on others to “swing the hammer” for us, the skillset has been lost, buried deep in the DNA of the average citizen. The biomechanics of the human machine haven’t changed at all in that timeframe, leaving the ability to “swing the hammer” dormant inside each one of us: a concept proven day-in and day-out through the execution of criminal violence. Humans wisely relinquished the responsibility of daily “hammer swinging” so that we would not have to take resources by force and/or face potential violence on an ongoing basis, but as a side effect most have lost connection with or understanding of the utility of “the hammer” itself.

The human skeleton, when used to do violence to another human skeleton, is as utilitarian and design-ready a tool as the modern framing hammer is to a carpenter. Even without instruction, practice, or experience, an enthusiastic novice using either tool could get successful work done. With a little instruction, some common sense and a couple of errant shots to the thumb, you could probably nail some boards together and build a shelter to get out of the rain. Likewise, a couple of tips from someone well versed in How Swingeth the Hammer could end up saving your life.

A couple summers “humpin’ lumber” for your uncle’s construction company and you could pretty much get a job bangin’ nails somewhere again (if you worked hard and weren’t just there because your uncle owned the business). Ten to 15 years on the job, you could be a foreman or own your own company. A lifetime building homes and learning from the wisdom of hammer swingers before you, well, someone might one day call you a master carpenter.

The utility of the hammer as a tool has been proven out over thousands of years by the relatively small change in design. Because humans designed the hammer to increase the capacity of the human machine to do work, there are only so many efficient ways to swing a hammer. The road to master carpenter, then, lies not in the hammer used but in the experience wielding the tool, multiplied by the quality and breadth of that experience over time. (If you spend the first five years trying to hit a nail into wood with the wrong side of a claw hammer, or if your teacher is more interested in selling you his overpriced, signature series, all-titanium super hammer than training you how to swing your hammer yourself, well, your road might be longer.)

One thing to understand is that no one has a patent on “swinging the hammer,” including us. The hammer has been in the public domain forever, and can only exist there because when the law is gone the hammer remains. A broken neck (one potential result of “swinging the hammer”) extinguishes the need for patents, as the process to achieve a broken neck is immaterial to the result. A broken neck does not care that the person doing so was trained or untrained, what “style” or “technique” was used to break the neck, or who has the rights to said technique, or whether that technique was the most efficient way to achieve the result. Moreover, the broken neck cares not of the Laws of Man.

At Injury Dynamics, our training compliments any prior training and we are not interested in anything other than educating people about the confluence of physics and physiology with catastrophic results. With a body of knowledge and a curriculum for training that knowledge, the Injury Dynamics technicians are experts at showing people how the human machine breaks, how to do that work with your bare hands, and how to take advantage of those results.

What marketing people tell me is that if I really want your money I should sell you my Master Matt Signature Series All-Titanium Super-Hammer, which I used in some awesome story about myself that makes you feel good about giving me money for a hammer that doesn’t make you build (or break) things any better, or give you experience wielding a hammer yourself. I should tell you that in a few easy lessons, you’ll be able to swing nail-for-nail with the best craftsmen in the world (including myself, and being the most awesome person possible it’s going to cost you.) And all this because I’ve boiled down my years of experience into the three easy secrets of carpentry that cuts out the hard work of actually learning how to hammer. Which you can also have access to in my video series, Hammer of the Gods, in which I finally reveal to the Average Joe the Inner Circle secrets of master carpenters everywhere…

Unfortunately, with the proverbial hammer, all you’ll have is you, your experience wielding your hammer, and your willingness to do the work in front of you. At Injury Dynamics, our instruction is designed and committed to service those three goals.

So… grab a tool belt and a bag o’ nails and come swing the hammer with us.


— Matt Suitor

As we head into our 30th year…

…the work continues without pause, unabated.

We train and teach violence as a survival tool constantly, never off the mats for more than two days in a row.

We are in classes three days a week, with six-hour Saturdays every month (seventeen in a row so far).  We continue to hold multi-day seminars, both public and private, and do private specialty training for people and groups who, for many reasons, cannot attend regular classes—and appreciate our discretion.

We just completed our 54th biannual testing cycle, and as a result we have four more instructor candidates on track to join the other 50 instructors this summer.

Last week I put the finishing touches on the 2018 compendium of the basic lesson books (more than a thousand lessons to train people from absolute beginner to instructor) and distributed it to the instructor staff—so no matter where we are in the world, we’re all pulling from the same page.  And that doesn’t include the advanced lessons that take an instructor all the way to Master… I’ll be updating those on an ongoing basis.

To further support our instructors and students we’ve captured more than 400 of the basic lessons on video for our online program.  While that’s something like only one-fourth of the total number of lessons, it’s a good start.  The visual encyclopedia is growing.

Why didn’t we document all of this on social media, in real time, with breathless hashtags and yet another post of someone kicking a downed man in the groin?  Because none of that dopamine-drip thumb-swiping has anything to do with doing the work.  It takes an obscene amount of time to shoot, curate, edit, and post the junk mail of our era—time that could have been spent rewriting another lesson, taking another turn on the mats, helping a student get that neck break just right—you know, the stuff that actually matters.  Our social media policy is that we’ll say something when we have something to say, and not just shout to hear our own voices go into the black hole of atrophied attention.  We do not spam.

In addition, we refuse to trade on the reputations of the people and groups we train.  What they’ve done is theirs and theirs alone, and we have not done those things.  We are scholars and technicians keeping the information sharp, viable, and easily trained.  We simply make it available.

Of course, this makes marketing a challenge—but that’s fine.  We’re not here to talk about the thing—we’re here to do the thing.  This means we rely on word of mouth—a far more difficult tack—but the results create a better experience for everyone involved.  The people we’ve trained know what we do, and they tend to share it with the people they care about.  That’s enough for us.

Actually training is everything, because we are only as good as the last course we taught, and the information is only as good as the last person who used it.  By both counts we’re pretty damn good at what we do.


Come train with us!


— Chris Ranck-Buhr