Effective Human Incapacitation

“Effective human incapacitation results from physiological phenomena.” †

The goal of life-or-death violence is complete and irrecoverable incapacitation — to remove, entirely, the person’s ability to think or move.  (Preferably both.)  We are not attempting to communicate, or reason with, or change the mind of the person we are breaking.  We are not trying to “make them stop” — we are making it impossible for them to continue imposing their will on the physical world.  For this we need unambiguous incapacity — an obviously nonfunctional state.

They need to be laid out on the deck, body contorted in trauma, silent and still — or convulsing and braying with agonal breathing:

If there is any doubt, continue breaking things until you would feel 100% comfortable turning your back on them and walking away.  

Context is crucial here:  we are talking about your attempted murder.  For social considerations, capitulation is sufficient.  The tension of an argument ceases to ratchet upward when someone leaves, or changes tack by simply apologizing, walking things back with words or otherwise shifting into a posture of de-escalation.  In life-or-death violence stopping at the request of your would-be murderer can get you killed.  This is equivalent to shooting an armed man once, and then stopping because he said he was done… the only thing preventing him from shooting you dead is his word-is-bond honesty and the trust inside your own head — mere ideas, as weightless and intangible as ghosts.  Much better to trust in the concrete beneath your feet.

The gold standard for “nonfunctional” is an interruption of brain function; without a firearm this is most easily and quickly achieved via concussion.  With boxer-like precision and good timing this can be had by catching the person “on the button” of the chin to snap-rotate the head — an oversized result for what looks like relatively little effort; but we are not interested in getting into a fight and waiting for an opening to deliver that single specific shot.  As with everything in life-or-death violence we are interested in absolute overkill.  If an arm delivering roughly head-equivalent mass-in-motion to the head at speed is sufficient to “shake the pickle jar” and result in a KO, then his entire mass falling, accelerated by your mass in motion, and terminating in the collision of his head against the ground should be more than enough to get it done.  And if not, well, now he’s down and you can impart huge accelerations into his head with your boots.

Everything we do in violence — every thought, every movement, every injury — is done in service of this goal.  The kick to the groin — as awful as a real, full-bodied, hard-as-humanly-possible shot can be — is only there to render him incapable of preventing, or safely landing, a sudden fall.  We only need a moment of traumatic preoccupation — the body’s spinal reflex in response to injury, the executive function’s “What the fuh—?” stutter — for us to take advantage of that precious loss of function and balance and turn it into a very bad, targeted fall.  It’s the dirty rotten poker-table flip in order to pull our holdout gun and shoot the man in the head… with the impossibly heavy bullet of the planet.  

If everything hinges on that function-obliterating *smack*, then all action in violence is done in anticipation of it.  And the sooner the better.

One critique we often hear at our “Dangerous in a Day” and Crash Course trainings is:  “I really wish we could’ve worked on more ‘stand-up’ stuff — it seems like I only got to land a couple shots, then my partner was down, and all the rest was me stomping on them.”

First, isn’t that how you’d like it to go in the real world?  Do you want to get into an extended brawl where the loser gets set on fire?  Remember:  the longer it goes on, the more likely you are to make a mistake, and the more likely the other person is to get something right.  And whoever gets it right first, wins.  Wouldn’t you rather break a couple things on the standing man, put him down, and then finish him on the ground?  (This line of thought — the desire to do more “stand-up” work — stems from a misunderstanding of what we’re up to; it’s the conflation of “fighting” with “killing”, the social and antisocial bleeding into the asocial, like using wrestling against a firearm:  which would you rather do, wrestle him or shoot him?)

Second, this is precisely how instructors work out.  Every turn on the mats is about seeing how quickly — and how hard — we can put the man down.  It all starts with blunt force trauma, breaking something important, with the second or third shot being the takedown or throw.  This is because we know what’s at stake — and what we would do if someone failed to shut us off — and so we’re interested in getting it over with as efficiently as possible.  Injury to the body makes injury to the brain easier… and more severe.

Third — and most importantly — this is how it works in the real world.  The effective use of violence does not look like a fight.  It looks like a beating.  We don’t see gut-wrenching, abject brutality in a toe-to-toe stand-up fight — such a thing is interesting and exciting in a social (or even antisocial) context.  But one person standing over another, stomping their unresponsive form?  That looks like nothing else.  Acts of violence that are morally shocking are entirely one-sided, entirely unidirectional:  one person doing it, one person getting done.  And we seek only to model reality on the mats.

So — hate the brain.  Drive everything toward that traumatic plunge with the hard stop at the end.  Break the body out from underneath the brain, deprive it of its tools, take and take and take and then spike Nature’s Ming vase — ancient, unique and fragile — into a thousand incoherent shards.


— Chris Ranck-Buhr


† Duffy, Michael J.  “Cranial Gunshot Wound Incapacitations.”  2016.

5 replies
  1. Chris Ranck-Buhr
    Chris Ranck-Buhr says:

    Though the initiating article referenced above is focused on the specific use of firearms to incapacitate (spoiler alert: it’s about intersecting the brainstem with a bullet), the general goal of life-or-death violence — regardless of the tool or mechanism — is the same: take the brain offline.

    Here are some of the more general bits that I found interesting in how they pertain to what we do (serial blunt force trauma):

    “There are a variety of definitions related to the temporal onset of incapacitation, mostly concentrating on the one’s inability to act in a conscious and purposeful manner such as escaping or attacking.

    “[…] capability to act is the ability to participate in the interaction between victim and perpetrator or victim and environment, resulting in discernible events or forensic stains. Thus, incapacitation is an early and necessarily occurring inability to perform complex and longer lasting movements.

    “Hampered physical activity but not incapacitation may be produced by injuries to sensory or optic brain areas, the spinal cord and large peripheral nerves, static structures such as long bones or joints and by pneumothorax (collapsed lung).

    “Instantaneous incapacitation can only be produced by direct disruption of brain tissue. In the case of gunshot injuries causing acute bleeding, the speed of blood loss is too slow and normal physiological compensation mechanisms are too effective for immediate loss of consciousness and incapacitation. So the only way to immediately cease the activity of another person are penetrating / perforating gunshots to the head.

    “Immediate incapacitation, therefore, can only be produced reliably by injury to the upper cervical spinal cord, brain stem including the mid-brain, cerebellum, and major paths of motor conduction.

    “[…] the oxygen stored in the CNS ensures a potential for physical activity for about 10 seconds […]


    “[…] the mechanogenesis of commotio cerebri is a matter of sudden acceleration of the skull, which by means of inertia results in wounding of the brain […]

    “The crucial physical parameter in this is the change of impulse per unit time or in other words the product of mass and acceleration of the head. A maximum acceleration of the skull will be achieved when the mass of the impacting object is equivalent to that of the head and when the velocity of the object is relatively high. (i.e. boxing glove to head resulting in K.O.)”

    — Duffy, Michael J. “Cranial Gunshot Wound Incapacitations.” 2016.

  2. Richard Howell
    Richard Howell says:

    Thanks for this. It’s always a challenge to find relatable info about possible results from our human generated, empty-hand injury.

    From Cindy Bir, Wayne State University; “When it comes to knocking someone out with a punch, “it’s less about the force of the blow than it is getting the head to whip around, to move in a rotational kind of way,” Bir said.
    The shear forces from a strike that whips the head back stress out neurons, and the brain shuts down as a protective response. A blow that gives the head enough spin to go from 0 to 43,000 rpm in just one second has a 25 percent chance of knocking a person unconscious.”

    Hmmmm. O-43K RPM

    She also comments on bone strength, trauma, fractures, etc


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