Tag Archive for: physics & physiology

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.


“All fights end up on the ground” is right, but for the wrong reasons.

We just completed our 53rd biannual testing cycle — yeah, we’ve been doing this a long time — where a bunch of people leveled up, including three new Instructor Candidates and several Instructors picking up degrees in the march toward Master. The day was a veritable soup-to-nuts display of humanity’s predatory birthright.

After six hours of teaching, testing and training I was exhausted… but lit from within by the afterglow of the pure, unfettered freedom of it — mat time is the only place we can shrug off civilization’s straightjacket, Houdini-like, and vanish from polite society, if only for a brief lung-filling, horizon-striding moment before returning, resigned to buckling ourselves back in so we’re fit to order a burger at the drive-thru.

And this time I kept enough man in the human to remember to take pictures and video.

That night I settled in front of the screen, drink in hand, to scrub through the day’s good work, to find those moments in the vacation slideshow worth sharing, the ones that might let you feel the thing, a call from twilit woods you just might answer…

But instead of the drama of the hunt there was just the curl of bodies, a recursive infolding, each turn a crumpling of the human frame into a ball like the final page of an unfinished manuscript. Again and again they met and folded, half of them in the way it was built to go, the other half in the completely wrong direction. The video was a banal scrum of clumps of people oscillating open and closed in this fashion. To the initiated, there’s information in there — a finger in the eye, a fist in the groin, a wrist broken just so to chain up into the rest of the skeleton to put the throat at risk — but to everyone else it’s just the static hum of rolling bodies. Practice, it turns out, is not nearly as interesting as performance.

So I switched over to pictures. Surely the camera caught some kinetic moment, a frozen hurling, a brain inches from the deck after an accelerated fall, the face registering the power of what that might mean outside on concrete — but no. The pictures — all of them — showed half the class lying on the ground, the other half wound up over them, the cocked harbingers of busted ribs and cracked skulls.

And that’s it. Every. Single. One. Someone stomping, someone getting stomped.

What would have been more affecting? Combatants standing, brandishing tools, lighting up your brain with possibilities: “Who will prevail?” And your armchair quarterback pops the popcorn.

Real violence is boring — it’s not the back-and-forth drama of the fight, but the unidirectional gut-sick crunch of pedestrian-vs.-truck. There’s a moment as the parties vector for each other, lining it up, and then the brief flurry of action that makes us think fight and piques our interest, but as soon as something horrible happens we’re no longer titillated. The sane and socialized aren’t going to stick around while the loser gets set on fire, and even psychopaths are bored by inevitability.

Indeterminate, non-specific trauma and struggle — the fight — is a dominance display that speaks to deeper brain structures in the language of dance, whereas one animal destroying another says capital-N Nothing.

That’s why the four-year-old said of our training, “They knock people over.” The five-second sequence of any given turn looks like this: lance your skeleton through their soft tissue to pop it, foul their stagger to put them down, then the real work begins.

That’s what I’d do to me.

The needs of injury — catastrophic volume change in critical anatomy (you have to smash it faster, harder, farther than it can stretch) — are always at odds with dominance games. The body’s evolved penchant for yanking things away (organisms move away from negative stimuli) reduces pressure and gives ribs and spleen the best possible chance of mitigating the damage. (Eyeballs can only stand the massless feather-dusting of photons, after all.) Combined with the compromise of bipedalism — people who have their balance taken from them fall away, further reducing pressure — means that the calculation for the standing man is a full-throttle overrun of three feet, three inches. Inches for the amount ribs can flex before breaking, feet for the off-balance travel from the collision. This is why stuff socked at arm’s length sometimes breaks, sometimes doesn’t. But a spleen socked squarely 3’3” blows a gasket.

Ah, but on the ground…

The ground is where both of these incidentally protective mechanisms fail. The body is stuck flat, it can’t move appreciably when intersected at speed, and it’s done falling away, every piece of anatomy firmly fixed to the anvil of Earth. Now the falling hammer is all of you, accidentally, your entire mass jacked through the superior leverage of your leg, shod at the end in something sturdier than flesh. Your feet bear your weight effortlessly; now they will transmit it just as easily.

The goal of all violence is the offlining of the brain — whether by triggering hopelessness through attrition, or physically tripping the off-switch — and the easiest way to do that is with sudden, sharp acceleration, flooring the accelerator so hard the passenger slaps the seat, or angling the car into the bridge abutment so the passenger tries to flee through the windshield. And nothing romps an accelerator like a boot. When you lay him out, he lays his brain on the starting line. All you have to do is punch it to turn his consciousness into a rooster tail of smoke.

This is why bar fight fatalities spike when someone hits the ground — they strike their head at the end of the fall, and then they get the boots put to them, greatly enhancing the physics of the untrained drunk. All they have to do is accidentally line up the anatomy and their amateur efforts are magnified into professional results. “The ground is where you die” has to do with the fact that while most people can’t Bruce-Lee a standing man to the head, everyone can punt a brain laying on the ground.

And so in our attempts to make our practice jibe with reality it ends up looking like nothing more than a couple of thrown punches, a serendipitous trip-and-fall, and a gasp-inducing news clip of full-bodied stomping. It’s not sexy, it doesn’t look cool, and there are no bragging rights — everyone you meet has a frame that can knock you out — but isn’t that exactly how you’d want your attempted murder to go? I’ll take the boring, five-second physics and physiology workshop over the multi-minute fight to the death any day. Even if it won’t look good on social media.


— Chris Ranck-Buhr