What Makes Dynamic Self Defense Different

by Grandmaster Lowery

Grandmaster Lowery with Master MulhollenDynamic Self Defense is different from traditional martial arts. Here’s a little history of traditional martial arts, how they evolved over the centuries and where Dynamic Self Defense fits in.

Many practical self-defense techniques evolved through years of trial and error in real life and death struggles. Unfortunately, some very impractical techniques and training methods have also evolved, and are often blended with practical applications, much to the confusion of students.

One reason for this may have been a tendency of some ancient masters to take their best techniques to the grave with them. Traditionally, only a select few of a Master’s most trusted disciples were ever taught higher level skills. The best among them might then be chosen to carry on the masters entire system. But if a suitable heir couldn’t be found, the most practical skills would die with the master, leaving a watered down version of his system to be handed down through the years.

Another reason may be that fighting skills were sometimes mixed with native folk dances. Folk dances were a traditional way that many cultures impart skills and knowledge to the next generation. In some cases, the people of overthrown countries mixed fighting skills with dance as a way to disguise practicing combat. This would enable them to continue practicing the skills needed to overthrow their conquerors. When this was done, however, many techniques became mixed with art, and evolved into a less practical self-defense.

Culture and technology also have a frequent role in impractical self-defense technique. For example, some Japanese systems of self-defense evolved almost entirely to protect unarmed practitioners against the Samurai’s Katana (sword). These systems utilize many kinds of grappling and throwing techniques. Some of these techniques are still useful today. Others have little practical application in a society without swords. Yet the whole system of self-defense continues to be taught as closely as possible to the original form and principles with which it developed. These are cases where the primary objective is to preserve the cultural and historical integrity of the art.Self-defense practicality is of secondary importance.

In other cases, founders of a martial art may specialize and focus on a particular technique or training style to the point that it is no longer practical for the general population. For example:grappling can be very effective in certain situations, yet some arts base their entire defense format on grappling skills alone. In other cases, they may focus on just a small, highly specialized spectrum of skills, such as complex wrist and arm manipulations, or memorizing and striking specific pressure points.

“Many traditional martial arts evolved impractical techniques from mystical or quasi-religious beliefs. Sport applications of martial arts has further obscured many practical self-defense tactics.”

Many traditional martial arts evolved impractical techniques from mystical or quasi-religious beliefs. Granted, there are many things that modern science still cannot adequately explain, and it pays to keep an open mind. But common sense dictates that mystical powers should be evaluated and re-evaluated based on modern knowledge. For example, some instructors still teach that the source of power in strikes comes from tapping into a supernatural power of the universe. They claim this power can knock out a person with just a touch to a nerve point. So far, rational examinations of these claims have proven them to be more trickery and showmanship than a real ability.

Finally, tournament fighting (free sparring) and other “sport” applications of martial arts has further obscured many practical self-defense tactics. Rules and regulations necessary for safely practicing sport martial arts restrict the most practical tactics for self-defense. These include techniques such as low kicks, knee, head butt, and elbow strikes, eye gouges, etc.

While there are superficial similarities between the street fights and sport fights, they are actually entirely different. Training in sport martial arts can actually decrease your ability to defend yourself because the skills and tactics needed to win tournaments are often useless or even detrimental for street self-defense. 

Generally, impractical self-defense techniques can be identified by the following characteristics:

  • Use of extremely low, rigid, or awkward stances.
  • Punching with the hands held at the hip, instead of the natural hands up position.
  • Large, unnecessary movements performed prior to, or after a technique. (Such as crossing the arms before executing a block, or pulling the hand back to the hip after punching.)
  • Stopping, or pulling back kicks and punches, rather than letting them follow through naturally.
  • Memorizing long and complex movement sequences that have little to do with actual self-defense situations. (Traditional forms or Katas.)
  • Emphasis on techniques requiring extreme flexibility (e.g., doing splits.) The most common are very high kicks to the head. Generally, kicking at targets above your waist level is impractical for self-defense, except at advanced levels of training. (And even then, only in a few, very specific situations.)
  • Movements requiring leaping, spinning, or gymnastics stunts. Acrobatics are impressive, but have little to do with practical self-defense, despite what you see in martial art movies.
  • Emphasis on dangerous tricks or stunts that aggrandize those performing them, or mystify and mislead the people watching (e.g., breaking huge stacks of spaced concrete slabs, bending iron bars with the throat, lying on beds of nails, etc.) Some martial artists try to equate the ability to break inanimate objects with self-defense ability. This outdated concept is not only false (since concrete slabs don’t move or hit back) but often leads to serious injury.

In with the New…

The founders of Dynamic Self Defense sought to take self-defense training to a higher level by using a modern, scientific approach, combined with their years of practical, military, and police training experience.

First, they chose what they felt were the most practical applications from many different martial arts. They chose no techniques simply to preserve the history or culture of a martial art. They also excluded all mystical, religious, and cultural concepts from their program.

Next, following Grandmaster Choi’s emphasis, the founders based all the techniques and training methods on principles of modern sport science derived from biomechanics and kinesiology. This forms the core criteria for all techniques taught in Dynamic Self Defense program.

Techniques must incorporate:

  • Dynamic Balance – Our stances give much greater mobility to adapt to fast changing street defense situations.
  • Economy of Motion – Using one motion to block instead of two separate motions – e.g. The traditional practice of crossing the arms before a block.
  • Continuity of Motion – Using the momentum from one movement to help in the performance of the next. This is achieved in Dynamic Self Defense by using flowing, rounded motions that flow together naturally. This eliminates wasted movement and increases the speed of combinations necessary for effective self-defense. This also gives a better aerobic work out than the traditional stop-and-go type of training.
  • Maximum Impact Forces – Generated by combining three essential elements: 1) Sequential movement of the body. This occurs when the movement of one body part precedes the next, generating maximum velocity in the punch or kick. 2) Shifting the body weight forward to maximize the weight behind the impact. 3) Adding a full follow-through to impart the maximum kinetic energy to the target.

These three elements generate the maximum force based on the standard formula for kinetic energy:

E_k =tfrac{1}{2} mv^2
m; is the mass of the body
v; is the speed of the center of mass of the body.

This is the same method used to produce maximum impact in striking activities in all other sports. Traditional practices of stopping a punch or kick, or pulling it back works against accepted laws of physics.

  • No Lock-Out Movements – The traditional practice of locking-out kicks and punches limits follow through and impact. It also causes injury, as previously explained.
  • Minimized Risk of Injury – We examine all techniques to make sure they are physiologically sound. For example, we use the back or inner forearm for blocking techniques verses the common traditional practice of using the bony outer or inner edge of the forearm. This puts the arm in a mechanically stronger position. Any impact force would be absorbed by both forearm bones, and padded by muscle. Many traditional blocks risk taking the entire force on a single, unprotected forearm bone.
  • Effective Self Defense – Many traditional martial arts techniques are ineffective for self-defense. Likewise, many traditional teaching methods are also ineffective. Masters Lowrey and Hennings went on to examine the psychological aspects of martial arts training. Using new understandings in Modern Learning Psychology, they came up with six basic training requirements:
    • All movements must be biomechanically correct, as described above, to maximize efficiency and minimize the risk of injury. This makes training a much more positive and enjoyable experience.
    • All movements must be easy to learn, perform, and remember for the average person. We do not use overly complicated techniques or training sequences, or emphasize “splits”, leaping high kicks, or other acrobatic stunts.
    • All movements should employ gross motor skills using the entire body. Fine and/or complex motor skills deteriorate and are therefore unreliable under the stress of actual street defense encounters.
    • All training must be based on “positive transfer”. This means that the skills learned in class must directly apply to self-defense applications. You should train the way you fight and vise-versa.
    • All movements must be practiced repeatedly under gradually more realistic but safe conditions. This allows the student to develop confidence as he or she develops proper conditioned responses.
    • Training must be conducted in a positive learning environment. This means kind, supportive instructors who take time to explain things clearly, and help the students understand.

To develop self-defense skills to their highest degree, our drills are based on police and military training practices rather than traditional free sparring or tournament competition. Students first practice general conditioning drills, which develop fundamental reflexes and timing. We then make their training more realistic by using counter-attack drills with scenario training. As the realism increases, we continue to maintain a high emphasis on safety precautions against injury.

This type of training results in a higher degree of self-defense effectiveness, because students develop conditioned responses without the negative attitudes, injuries, and fears that often accompany sparring and tournaments.

Dynamic Self Defense students are taught that proper awareness and avoidance tactics are the first and best tactic for safety. If those fail, striking skills (strong, fast, punches, strikes, and kicks) are the most practical way for an average person to handle most self-defense situations. This is particularly true when the opponent is much larger, or multiple opponents or weapons are involved.

If an attacker continues to close in, we teach students to use close range offensive techniques, such as knee strikes, head butts, elbow strikes; even groin grabs, eye stabs, and biting. These are the best way to escape when someone trying to grab or wrestle with you.

We then teach how to handle scenarios such as being thrown or pushed to the ground, training in various falling and ground escape techniques. Finally, we progress into various throws, joint locks, strangle holds, come along holds, and hand-cuffing techniques. These are of particular value to police and/or security personnel.

Defense against commonly encountered weapons such as knives, clubs, chains, and handguns are part of the curriculum for advanced students of Dynamic Self Defense. Training in traditional weapons such as staffs, swords, or nunchaku, are not used due to their limited modern day practicality.

We also practice some board-breaking techniques as a way to demonstrate focus and develop confidence. Generally, this is only done for promotional testing, and during demonstrations. Soft, ¾-inch pine boards are used, and are sized to appropriately match the student’s size and strength.

Breaking these boards poses very little risk of injury. However, when breaking boards, students are always allowed to wear padded safety equipment if they wish. Professionals who depend on full use of their hands or feet may wish to make use of this extra protection. We require children to wear safety pads for some board breaks, because their hands and feet are more susceptible to certain types of injury.

To conclude, nothing in Dynamic Self Defense will be practiced simply for tradition’s sake.Dynamic Self Defense is a live martial art, not an historical reenactment of a traditional or cultural martial art style. It constantly grows and changes as the founders pursue better, safer, and more effective training methods.

Grandmaster Lowery is a co-founder of Dynamic Self-Defense. Learn more about him here…