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

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

The Silence That Comes After

Unlike most physical endeavors, ours has no target demographic.  It’s not possible to tell whether or not our training will resonate by just looking at someone.  I’ve seen young, smart, athletically-gifted people miss the point entirely and fail out of the first testing cycle; at the same time I’ve watched out-of-shape, “least-likely” people (who I’ve pegged as quitters inside of a month) end up going the distance with an eerie, natural ease.  And I’ve seen everything else in between… with the only common feature among those who take to it being the fact that they took to it.  Something spoke to that tiny sliver of sociopath lurking inside them.

Of course, this is a huge problem when it comes to running a business; what we really need is to know who this stuff resonates with — in terms of a marketing pie chart — and then aggressively market to that segment.  But when that thing is the littlest bit of non-pathological sociopathy — essentially being lit up by hands-on domination and obliteration via the breaking of the human machine — well, you can see the problem in trying to figure out just who to send a postcard to.

The obvious answer would seem to be found in evangelism, with excited practitioners sharing their newfound experiences of happiness (the feeling as power increases) with like-minded individuals — and here we hit the other issue in spreading the word:  the more people train, the less they want to talk about it.  Talking about the truth of it makes you sound like a psychopath; watering it down to make it palatable is disingenuous and causes people to recoil when confronted with the actual thing:

“How do I defend myself from [insert Facebook terror of the week here]?”

“You don’t.  The only available action is to hurt people so they can’t continue.”

“But I don’t want to hurt anybody!”

“Then you won’t.”

And so on until either you give up or they’re convinced you’re crazy.

So much easier, then, to never even mention it, to keep it as a delicious secret that only you know and no one else suspects — the credo of the ambush predator:  While you were sleeping in front of the TV, I was practicing putting my fingers into people’s eyes.

I run into this in ongoing training all the time.

“Bring your friends and family!” I say.

Everyone looks back with pained faces.  “Tried it once, got weird looks,” is the usual reply, “not interested in doing it again.”  Besides, they think in quiet asides, It’s my delicious secret.

You’d think I’m writing this to admonish you, to get you out as ambassadors for this training, to earn hashmarks on your hilt for every body you bring into the fold — and you’d be wrong.  I’m just as guilty as everyone else who’s ever hit the mats:  I don’t talk about it, I don’t proselytize; when people ask me what I do I demur and get them talking about themselves.  (This works great, by the way.)  It’s my delicious secret that last night, while they were sleeping in front of the TV, I was puzzling out the smallest discrete set of movements necessary to dislocate a shoulder with a baton.

So this is here for no other reason than to wonder at the phenomenon:  the fact that those who train shut up after having joined a silent cabal that meets in secret to study the undermining of Nature’s pinnacle.


— Chris Ranck-Buhr

Naked Ape Kung Fu

I did not enter this monastery by choice — I was born as another twist in the labyrinth, a monument to the winners who at one time had their hands around throats as a matter of course.  We are all of us the spawn of killers.

As predators we have “theory of mind,” the ability to construct simulacra of our prey inside our skulls, to intuit how they will behave — essentially running their behavior-set as a simulation so we can plan on how to zig when they zag.  We can think like an animal, communicate with them (especially fellow mammals), and even put the construct in the driver’s seat briefly in order to experience “being” that animal.  This ability gives rise to things like shamanism and domestication.  When the topic of how a person should fight comes up, there are, inevitably, references to much more powerful predators, e.g., “like a tiger.”  Big cats are impressive, terrifying, and ferocious — all aspects we’d like to take on when circumstances revert to a state of nature.

So, which animal should you fight like?

Being civilized and embedded in modern humanity, we forget that we’re the top predator on the planet, and that we long ago solved the equations for the intersection of hominid skeletons at speed.  We had the solution before we had the language to describe it:  all the ways you can line up ramrods of bone through an eye socket, all the ways he might move to prevent it, a possibility space of geodesics.  (Imagine the human form waving all its limbs around to describe a shape, DaVinci’s Vitruvian Man rotated in three dimensions, if you will.)  Before language, formal society and civilization, this solution set had but one outcome:  your genes went forward in time; the losers, not so much.

Now, raw survival is one thing, but nature prefers that we not murder ourselves out of existence (animals that do are just proof that the system works); this necessitates some kind of formalized, non-lethal competition.  If we can assume the loser doesn’t get eaten, then capitulation becomes an option.  Add language, formal society and civilization — dimly understood conventions giving rise to rules and laws — and you take the geodesics of the solution set and weave them into the Gordian Knot of fighting.  We all agree to agree that while fighting like hell is human, treating each other like prey is verboten.

And so the modern human is stuck in a state of perpetual competition — touching the blurred surfaces of those possibility spaces (the slapping of hands, the imposition of artificial rules) instead of striking at the heart of the thing as Alexander the Great might, cleaving through the tangle with a single stroke to render it undone.  At Injury Dynamics we go straight for the heart of it because what you are facing is the planet’s most potent nightmare — the species that brought you genocide and nuclear weapons, with a natural propensity and hunger for organized warfare; have you met humanity?

Don’t get me wrong:  I would love for this discipline to be rendered unnecessary — for there to never again be cause for a human to kill another human — but unilateral disarmament is only possible within the make-believe confines of polite society, and even then it turns out to be a terrible mistake when you meet the ape who revels in his authentic self and honors the ancestors at your expense.

In the end this thing is quintessentially human, as important to wholeness as spirituality — and it is in denying what we are that gives rise to the deadly stresses of modern life.  What we have to offer is more than a mere survival skill:  training is the experience of feeding what you are, leashing the beast, letting it out of its cage and taking it for a walk on the mats.

With that handled, you are free to be the one who does everything in their power to prevent violence (knowing its true face, and where even the mildest of provocations can go) — knowing full well that should you ever meet that fellow ape who lives and takes as our crude ancestors did you can remind him (if only briefly) that you remember where you came from, too.


— Chris Ranck-Buhr

Stop Making Sense

There are no contradictions in the physical world.  At the scale of our experience the universe is a perfectly tuned machine that simply does what it does — everything can be mathed out in a predictable dance of cause and effect.  Contradictions only exist in human language, a necessary construct to provide flexibility in social interaction.  Our survival as a species depends on our ability to make non-deterministic, nuanced, judgment calls.  We have a word for the kind of hyper-literal people who are incapable of that:  psychopaths.

The cause and effect of violence — a simple physical interaction like a finger in the eye — contains no contradictions.  In terms of monkey-see/monkey-do training, nothing could be more straightforward… until we try to make violence fit into a social framework, round-holing that square peg with the mallet of language, contradictions meant to make ourselves feel better about doing it and to communicate our sanity, stability, and continued trustworthiness to others.  In other words, to convince everyone — including ourselves — that we’re not psychopaths.  But there is nothing about “self-defense” that suggests the finger in the eye.  Indeed, such language obscures the necessities of physical action, injecting our hopes and fears into the matter — thick strokes of contradictory emotional content that obscure the requirements of cause and effect — language that acts not as a window but as a painting.

Trying to make violence “make sense” is pointless, and even dangerous — violence is by its very definition irrational, an utter failure of everything language seeks to build.  This is why the finger in the eye is not “self-defense”, and why “self-defense” does not communicate the physics of the finger in the eye.  There are lots of ways to describe the simple physical act of breaking the human machine, and the most direct and straightforward are naturally repellent.  Our response to this must be to understand that it is a separate thing from our emotional selves and our desire to cooperate with others — it’s not about maintaining our social standing, it’s about maintaining our existence during the very thin slice of time of our attempted murder.  And it’s okay for the descriptions of the action required to hurt another person so they can’t continue to be chilling, disturbing, and otherwise uncomfortable.  We’re describing facts, and the more we use language that gives us comfort or distance from them the less likely we are to be able to execute on those facts when our survival is at stake.

There are two ways to arrive at what’s required:

  1. We can do violence every day, where we will learn a thing or two through trial and error, and how we do that work will begin to converge toward a specific point — form following function where all effective violence ends up looking the same, or
  2. We can look at examples of that work (videos of effective violence) and emulate that movement on the mats, all the while seeking hard, spare language that describes that mechanical work (and the results) in the clearest way possible.

What’s required is the objective description of science, not the poetry of the heart.


— Chris Ranck-Buhr

VIOLENCE:  If It Feels Right, It’s Wrong

The way you’ve been taught to think and speak about violence is fundamentally flawed.

How do I know this?  Because you’re taking the time to read about it here.  Dangerous people, those who already know how to use violence as a tool, don’t go looking for answers on the Internet.  They know in their bones the Iron Law of what physics does to physiology; they know that the person who gets it right first wins.  They don’t waste time or effort on defense or protection.  They know that the answer to every problem in violence is ATTACK & INJURE.

Imagine, if you will, a fancy dinner party where someone asks you about “that class you’re taking.”  The entire table of pinkies-up dignitaries and chic-coiffed influencers pause mid-slurp to listen.  So you say, “I’m learning how to defend myself from an attacker with a knife.”  And the room makes an appreciative noise followed by a mild golf clap.  Polite society approves.

Now let’s go back after you’ve learned the truth about violence.  Someone asks the same question.  So you say, “I’m practicing how to stab people in the eye when they’re not looking.”  And the room makes the shocked sound of ruptured sensibilities, followed by you never being invited back again.  What you said sounds crazy.

But how do you want to behave during your attempted murder?

Do you want to “try to defend yourself from an attacker with a knife” or “stab him in the eye when he’s not looking”?

Which one sounds more definitive?  Which one would you bet your life on?

This is the difference between rabbits describing what wolves do, and what wolves actually do.  When rabbits talk to other rabbits about wolf-stuff it’s with a mixture of disgust, fear… and queasy awe.  But when a wolf comes for that rabbit, somewhere deep down inside that rabbit wishes it could do wolf-stuff.  If only, in that too-brief moment, it could behave like a wolf.

That’s why we’re here.


— Chris Ranck-Buhr