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

Injury Dynamics — What We Do

We teach the use of violence as a survival tool:  how the human machine breaks, how to do that work with your bare hands, how to take advantage of the results.  We cover striking, joint breaking, throwing, knife, baton, firearms, multi-man work, as well as grabs, holds and chokes.

But what does that word salad really mean?


Violence is physical force intended to cause harm.  We call it what it is because padding language for comfort leads to indistinct outcomes.  “Self-defense” is a moral imperative and a legal finding — it’s not a description of direct action with a concrete result.  “Hurting people” is.

Discomfort with this idea is normal, natural and desired for 99.999% of your interactions with other people across your entire lifetime — but not during the black swan event of your attempted murder.  There you will need to set aside all of the imaginary constructs that make up society and civilization and behave like a primate using physics and physiology.

Reality is disappointing and inconvenient, but we have to train for it as it stands, not how we wish it were.  The bottom line is that in violence you have to hurt people.


Violence begins and ends with debilitating injury.  It is the sole arbiter of success — the one who gets it right first, wins.  This is a single piece of critical anatomy subjected to catastrophic volume change.  You have to break it so it doesn’t work anymore.  A ruptured eyeball, a crushed throat, a knee broken backwards — these things give us immediate advantages:

• Loss of function

• Involuntary movement in response to the injury

• Momentary helplessness

The goal is to break something, then use these advantages to break the next thing, and the next, and so on until we achieve a nonfunctional state, meaning you’d feel comfortable turning your back on the person and walking away.  This can be everything from unambiguous incapacitation to unconsciousness or death, depending on the needs of the situation.


The most obvious way to cause injury is through blunt force trauma — body-weighted collisions of skeletons with a single piece of vulnerable anatomy caught in the middle.  Instead of punching and kicking (the action of the limbs) we need to think from the ground up and crush things with our mass in motion.  It’s not about how far you can reach, but how far you can step, how far you can move your belt buckle (center of gravity) through their anatomy.  Think about how much you weigh, and then imagine hurling that three feet through a single square inch of them — their eye, their throat, their knee.  This is how you break things — by minimizing the anatomy while maximizing the physics.  Mass in motion leveraged by your skeleton gets it done.

This is the base engine of violence we will use to cause all injury.

Joint Breaking

Joint breaking is a special case of striking where we cause injury by using mass in motion and leverage to force joints beyond their pathological limit.  This isn’t “joint locking,” submission or pain compliance — we will grind the joint to the end of its range of motion and then ensure that we have:

• Mechanical advantage (leverage)

• Body weight positioned to drive the work

• Space for follow-through sufficient to tear out or dislocate the joint

In other words, we will make sure that the only possible outcome if we throw our weight into it is a broken joint.

We train to break every joint in the human body — from the wrist (to cripple the hand) to the neck (for paralysis or death).


Throwing is another special case of striking where we cause injury by using mass in motion to disrupt structure and balance and drive the person into a targeted collision with the ground — usually head first for debilitating head and neck trauma.  This can be as simple as kicking someone’s leg out from under them or as complicated as a shoulder throw.  Either way the goal is to bounce the brain off the planet.

Strike – Break – Throw

While anyone can be trained to be immediately effective (striking to cause injury), the highest expression of the work above is to strike, use that injury to effect a joint break, and then use that loss of balance to effect a throw.  This is the path of efficiency, the goal of ongoing training.

Tools — Knife, Baton, Firearms

Once you have the base engine of violence thudding along — mass in motion leveraged by the skeleton — we can clip things onto the end of the skeleton to magnify our efforts and do things we can’t do with our bare hands.  Knives allow us to penetrate deeply into the body and open up the circulatory system to cause him to bleed out; batons, being harder than the stuff we’re made of, allow us to access the entire skeleton as a target, breaking bones and directly accessing the brain.  Both of these are nothing without that base engine:  You must generate the physics for the tool to amplify.  (Firearms are an exception as the physics are prepackaged in the powder charge.)

On the flip side — when the other person has a tool — the answer is the same:  You have to injure them.  We don’t practice knife-, stick-, or gun-defense/fighting; we practice hurting people who are attempting to use the tool.

Multi-Man Work

You never know how many people are involved until they’re all there — so we’re always going to assume it’s more than one.  You can’t realistically injure more than one person at a time (this is why humans invented explosives and machine guns) so we need to use the initially injured person and movement (covering ground) to give ourselves the space and time required to injure the rest of them one-by-one.  No one’s going to wait their turn like a kung fu movie, so you have to go on the attack and make them have to deal with you.

Grabs, Holds and Chokes

This is injuring people while they hang on to you, doing all the things that aren’t allowed in competition — gouging eyes, crushing throats, getting fistfuls of groin.  All you need is that initial injury to get to the rest.  The key is to be the problem, rather than looking at it as a problem for you to solve.  Make them want to get away from you.

Everything above is what mat time is all about — serial target practice on the human machine to shut it off.  We roll with training knives, batons and firearms on the mats; with our partners trying to punch, kick, stab, beat, shoot, out-number and grapple us while we strike, break and throw while using knives, batons and firearms.  It’s a low-velocity scrum where anything goes and the answer is always the same:  ATTACK & INJURE.


All of this work is pulled from our 10-year curriculum — in writing — three massive tomes that describe the 1,560 stepping stones from absolute beginner to Master Instructor.  We can literally show you something new at every class, three times a week, for a decade — with no repetition.

All well and good if you live near an instructor and want to take on the training as a lifestyle — but what about everyone else?  The beauty of the curriculum is that it’s modular, and we can pull it apart and put it together in any number of ways to meet your needs:

“Dangerous in a Day” — This is a one-day course designed to make you baseline effective at violence.  You’ll learn how to cause debilitating injury to 10 different targets, from the eyes to the ankles.  At the end of the day we’ll use that new skill in a single module tailored to the interests of the group (grabs, holds and chokes; knife; firearms; multi-man, etc.).

2-Day Crash Course — This is our Gold Standard for training: two full days of hands-on mat work including knife, baton, firearms, multi-man, grabs-holds-chokes, as well as in-depth lectures on decision-making in violence (when to pull the trigger and when not to) and how the law views violence.

Multi-day courses / tailored events — We can do as many days with as much material as your group desires.  Want five days with joint breaking and throwing in the mix?  Three days with a special emphasis on firearms?  We can do that.  We can arrange something special here in sunny San Diego (have you seen our zoo?), or travel to you.  Just get in touch and let us know how we can help!

When it comes to violence, we have it covered from the stupid-simple (finger in the eye) to the crazy-complex (a joint-break throw using a knife or baton).  We can train short-term, long-term, or lifelong.  It all comes down to what you need, and what you want — regardless, we can make it happen.


— Chris Ranck-Buhr