Thursday, February 21, 2008

Michael Janich Self-Defense Concepts Seminar

In February 2008, Sabumnim Howard went to a Michael Janich self-defense concepts seminar at the Millard Black Belt Academy, sponsored by the Security Solutions Group. Mr. Janich is a well-known (and well-respected) instructor of martial arts and self-defense concepts, particularly in the realm of knife work. Here is Sabumnim’s review of the seminar, his opinion of Mr. Janich and his training, and some commentary on concepts:

This particular seminar was an introduction to the basic concepts of Mr. Janich’s empty-hand self-defense system, which is based on gross body movement and as near-universal applicability as he can manage. We started (as most seminars do) with a discussion of safety, and effective practice. Finding partners, we started drills building basic movement and gross motor skills. After some discussion and practice of the basic concepts, an expansion to the use of small tactical flashlights was discussed and practiced. At the end of the evening, several questions from the participants led to some empty-hand vs knife work that clearly showed Mr. Janich’s understanding of the differences between knife dueling and knife self-defense situations.

Before this goes any farther, it should immediately be said that I solidly enjoyed the seminar. There are many reasons to enjoy a seminar, but in particular, one of my main criterion is that it needs to either 1) provide me with at least one good solid concept (not merely a technique) that I can use to more effectively teach self-defense, or 2) provide me with solid data showing that what I am currently teaching will be effective for my students, while hopefully giving me some new drills to use with my students. This seminar provided both.

In addition, Mr. Janich is not only an effective teacher (as opposed to merely an instructor) but his explanations and commentary were both engaging and humorous. (My description of it to my students was that he had a very Hapkido sense of humor---and if you are a Hapkidoist, you know exactly what that means.)

So: the first useful concept I received from the seminar: downward motion is more intuitive for gross motor skills than outward or upward motion. In specific, the idea of a downward hammerfist strike is much easier for people to learn and perform under stress than outward palmheel strikes, or upward palmheel strikes.

I'd actually been thinking about this for awhile, as out of everything I've ever taught someone for self-defense, a basic palm-heel strike seems about the most difficult for women to understand and execute—and I never could understand why. It certainly wasn't something that was going to work well under stress, and yet something was needed for initial arms-length striking and followup. Every other hand strike I could come up with was even worse, so I have been sticking with simple variations on a basic palmheel—but I didn't really like it. It was just that I had nothing better.

A downward palmstrike (outward and downward, not merely downward) however, makes excellent sense and is very easy for people to pick up—and just as easily, transitions to hammerfist strikes without any difficulty at all. Even a badly done hammerfist strike can be strong, and a well-done one takes only basic gross motor skills that are intuitive, and thus easily learned and easy to execute under stress.

Janich followed the palm-reach/hammerfist combination with additional strikes, and then discussed (and had us practice) transitioning to knee strikes.

This part also made me happy,because it matched both what I knew about effective basic self-defense, and what I teach. The opening block/deflection palmheel, to distance strikes, to knees is something my self-defense students learn from the beginning, so it was good to see that what I have been teaching matched knowledgeable self-defense expert's opinions and concepts.

Various finishes and disengaging motions were covered, in particular Mr. Janich's strong proclivity for breaking ankles—not his, the other guy's. As he said, if you break their ankle, it makes it difficult for them to get up and chase you. Unsurprisingly, I also enjoyed this part as the techniques he used for ankle breaks matched some of the low kicks we do in Hapkido—exactly both in form and in execution.

Next we got out the tactical flashlights (also known as “small metal sticks”) and practiced similar movements—which fed directly into the prior movement concepts. Mr. Janich's comment was that you want to be holding something that extends past your hand slightly so that when you hit something, you are hitting with something that has no nerves in it—so you can hit as hard as you like. With the flashlight held correctly, the earlier hammerfist was suddenly turned into a much stronger strike—but the movement and positioning stayed the same, and thus worked well for self-defense.

Mr. Janich made the comment that empty-hand and weapons use should be integrated, movement-wise, because it makes little sense to have to change to an entirely different type and manner of movement just because you are holding something different in your hand.

Towards the end of the evening, we spent some time working basic reactions to some standard knife strikes, including inside strikes and stabs. Here is where I got my second conceptual “Ah-Ha!” of the evening, when he discussed the difference between the way many people presented knife attacks, and what many knife attacks look like.

In real life, true deadly knife attacks are often not some duel-oriented, large-scale wild attack. Quite the contrary—most knife attacks are ferocious, direct-line repeated stabs to the midsection. Unfortunately, most martial arts don't practice defenses vs these types of attacks. (Possibly because they don't know them? This isn't saying that various arts don't have the defenses as part of the style—but I have run into plenty of instructors who would not know how to defend against realistic knife assaults.)

I should say here that in my Hapkido class, we don't practice defenses against those types of assaults for quite some time—so many of my students would not know how to defend against them at lower ranks, either. There is a rationale for that, which I'll probably talk about in the next article. Whether that rationale is actually rational, I'll have to think about. Currently, I teach knife defense as I was taught—we'll see if that order changes slightly after next month's article when I give it some thought.

The conceptual “Ah-Ha!' that occurred wasn't exactly in the blocking technique that Mr. Janich used, nor was it exactly in the movement after the block (which tied up the knife arm of the attacker)--but it did have to do with both of those things.

Repeated direct-line stabs are just hard to block—and if you can't block them against a knife, you are dead. The bad thing is that in practice, people don't really do direct-line stabs. After awhile, most people start doing upward swings that start low and swing full-arm upward into the stomach area. These are easier to block, and most people (even when blocking correctly) stand there for a few strikes, with their hands outstretched, blocking the upward swings, then move in and catch the arm and complete the technique.

Unfortunately, while the original block may have worked against a direct-line stab, the practice turns into something that won't. My conceptual moment occurred when I watched a couple of people who were otherwise skilled, initially have problems completing the control technique, but later do it easily (and congratulate themselves on their understanding) once the original attack had been modified into the upward swing. They weren't actually proficient yet at this (and Mr. Janich caught this, and worked with them on it) but it seemed so to them because they didn't understand the important difference.

The blocking technique Mr. Janich taught worked in both cases equally well. However, the followup to stop the remaining attacks and set the control technique worked only if your movement followed your block. In other words, blocking once, twice, three times merely by leaving your hands out there may have been effective on upward swings, but not on realistic direct-line attacks. The block may be used against multiple attacks—but it can't just sit there, as direct-line attacks will then either go above it, or attack your block.

So conceptually, something that had been bothering me suddenly had a solution, after watching Mr. Janich demonstrate a technique I knew, but with movement in such a way that it worked in a majority of situations, instead of merely in a specific one. Good stuff!

So, overall Pros and Cons of the seminar:

  • We didn't trade partners nearly enough. In most seminars, if the instructor doesn't make people trade, they won't. I worked with the same partner for the entire evening, and I very much would have preferred to work with a variety of people and body types.
  • There could have been slightly more instructor supervision. Mr. Janich did a good job of trying to keep an eye on everyone, and I and my partner had Mr. Janich or one of his assistants come discuss things with us several times. That being said, my partner had very little experience with this type of movement, and it always works better with corrections coming from an instructor than from a partner (especially since he didn't know me from Bubba).
  • Personal Con: would have liked to do all of this at a higher level—either higher intensity training, or higher level of attack (either commitment-wise or proficiency-wise). However, this con doesn't really count, as this was advertised as a introduction-level seminar, open to anyone. As such, Mr. Janich had no choice in what level he could teach, and allow training-wise.
I should note that out of all of the Cons listed, the first one was the only one that really should be addressed in future seminars (in my opinion).

Pros (I'm actually going to have to limit this, because the true list is somewhat lengthy):
  • Mr. Janich has outstanding fundamental movement. Watching his fundamentals through the seminar was just fun, as his body movement, focus, and use of center was outstanding. The seminar was worth going to just to watch his demonstrations, because it was an excellent example of how fundamental movement principles are universally applicable.
  • He also has an excellent teaching manner—his instructions are clear, to the point, humorous (for those who appreciate dark humor), and engaging. Makes it easy to retain knowledge.
  • Good solid useful self-defense technique taught for the level of seminar. Again, the focus on gross body movements and integrated movement made it highly intuitive.
  • Excellent training area and equipment—the Millard Black Belt Academy hosted the seminar, and we were able to use their striking pads and nice soft floor area for practice. It worked well for the size of the seminar. (Large enough that we weren't crashing into each other, small enough that people had to retain at least a basic level of situational awareness during drills.)
Overall, a very good seminar. I told the sponsors (Chris and Thane from the Security Solutions Group) that if they ever invite Mr. Janich back to let me know, because I'll bring a number of my students next time. Good stuff for them to see and practice.

One last thing that impressed me about Mr. Janich:

About the middle of the seminar, he was talking about how a certain type of block was applicable in a number of situations, and had one of his assistants strike him. The assistant came forward (hard!) with an attack that was incorrect for the situation Mr. Janich had been discussing. Mr. Janich had been in the middle of still speaking as he started his block, and as such his attention was on the audience, not the attacker. So—he caught a good solid punch right in the face, striking his nose and his glasses. His assistant froze. Mr. Janich simply pulled his glasses off, inspected them, said mildly “You bent the frames,” bent them back, put them back on, and had the assistant hit him again.

No expression of anger or annoyance, no attempt to cover a mistake, no repercussions for the assistant (though I'm fairly sure he got made fun of later) just a brief pause while the glasses were fixed, and a continuation of the seminar. No comment about "you attacked me wrong" or anything of the sort.

THAT is professional. And shows both class, and self-control. You don't always see that, even in seminars with high-level instructors. Matter of fact, sometimes it is the high level ones that most can't handle being seen to make a mistake in front of people.

So: The seminar was enjoyable, and Mr. Janich was both fun to watch, and good to learn from. If he comes into your area, go. Whether you have seen the stuff he teaches or not, it'll still be a good time.

After the seminar, Mr. Janich was good enough to stand for a picture with me. Note: he doesn't know me from anybody, so don't take this picture as any sort of endorsement from him. I'm not one of his instructors, though I must admit I'm thinking about perhaps taking some of his knife training...

Blog Explanation

Welcome to the blog site of the Nebraska Hapkido Association! Periodically, we’ll add new articles about the martial arts in general, ideas specific to Hapkido, or concepts relevant to self-defense. In addition, we’ll post links to seminars we find interesting, and videos or articles found elsewhere that we consider important.

On the right are links to the Nebraska Hapkido Association website in addition to the YouTube site for the NHA where we will slowly build our library of video clips discussing/explaining aspects of Hapkido. At the top right is an announcements area, which for the most part will simply give class meeting times. However, in cases of emergency, other announcements (such as class cancellations) will also be posted there.