If you are devoting yourself to the martial arts in order to defend yourself or others you must ask yourself a simple question, “Who is the enemy?” It is no different than a pilot asking the question, “Where am I going to fly to?” The answer will dictate what kind of airplane will be used and how much fuel is needed.

If you were to walk into some martial arts schools as a casual observer you come to believe that the “enemy” is an ancient warrior coming at you with a sword, a spear, or with empty hands. In other schools you would believe your enemy to be a wrestler that wants to do nothing more than to throw you to the ground and put you into a submission hold. Still, other schools will tell you that their system comes from some foreign military, but you observe that the courses being taught there are missing gun training, other than a few fancy gun disarm techniques.

I don’t know about you, but my enemies are today’s criminals, terrorists, the occasional person who goes into a rage (out of anger in a bar fight or resulting from a mental disorder), and yes, my enemies can be martial artists as well. These enemies are not confined to one particular fighting method or system. Their training and experience range anywhere from a terrorist camp in Somalia, a maximum security prison in California, to a karate school in Lyon, France. Since my potential enemies are many, and varied, I must learn how to deal with them all. I can’t simply adhere to one self-defense style and develop the “group think” mentality. To understand all of my enemies I need a system that knows about all of them: the criminals, the terrorists, the mentally disturbed, the brawler, and all martial arts styles. That system is Reality-Based Personal Protection, and to know how to defeat your enemies you must keep four words in mind: Aversary. Training. Tactics. Act. Condition. Keep. Even if you are not a disciple of the reality-based movement know the meaning of these four words can make your own training more realistic, regardless of what system you are currently studying.

The first step in defeating your enemy is to know who the enemy is. Of course, who the enemy is depends on your locality. If you live in the Los Angeles area one category of enemy are vicious gang members who do drive-by shootings and could care less if you are caught in their crossfire. If you live in Madrid your enemies may be Islamic extremists who plant bombs in commuter trains. If you live in New York City you not only have the high probability of terrorists to contend with, but the city is filled with robbers and other predators. In London one of your enemies, besides terrorists, are youths who will jump you and beat you with their hands and feet just to take your mobile phone. If you live in a small village in Germany your enemy may be an obnoxious drunk who wants to start a fight with you simply because you look at him the wrong way.

“My enemies, like I have mentioned before, may be martial artists that have gone to “the dark side.” As such, I must know what they all study, and as you might have guessed, there are a lot of systems to be aware of. Just in my own personal life lately, every time I teach a seminar in New York City I make it a point to learn the Russian martial art of SYSTEMA from my good friend Denis Dmitriyev who teaches at the Fighthouse on 27th Street. Why do I do this? I study it because a lot of people are learning it worldwide, and I want to be able to defend against it. When I am in Tel Aviv I get together with Lieutenant Colonel Chaim Peer and Major Avi Nardia to refresh myself on the Israel Special Forces system of KAPAP (Krav Panim Le Panim or face to face combat).

Once you know who your enemies are the next step is to discover what kind of training they receive. Criminals and terrorists learn their destructive trade from somewhere. If your future enemy is possibly a Filipino Kali practitioner then it would in your best interest to enroll into a Kali, Escrima or Arnis course so you know what you will be up against. If you can’t enroll in such a course for whatever reason, then at least watch a course or two or buy the many DVDs on the subject (these DVDs are available through Budo International). Not only do many martial artists ignore other systems they are not involved in, but I’m always shocked at how few police officers know nothing about the Filipino martial arts, and yet Filipino Kali is becoming popular within the prison system of the United States and other countries. God forbid that one of these police officers encounter a criminal skilled in this deadly art, because they will stab and cut to pieces the ignorant police officer before he or she could ever pull out their firearm to defend themselves. I know this for a fact because I am a police officer and police Defensive Tactics instructor having trained in police stations worldwide.

If your enemy is Islamic extremist terrorists you should first of all read the Koran, their holy book. That will help you get “into their minds.” If you start here you would soon realize that the “War on Terrorism” is never going to go away, and the Western world is on a collision course with the Islamic world no matter how desperately Western capitols seek “peace.” The National Intelligence Council of the CIA released a 119-page report, January 2005, which predicts that Islamic terrorism will be active for at least 15 years. Now, if I were a Muslim, which I am not, my hero would be Osama Bin Laden and Abu or Musab al-Zarqawi, and I would be 100% for the conquest of the world and the elimination, or slavery, of the “infidels.” The reason I know this is because I take time to learn about those who would harm me. Don’t forget, I have not only walked the streets of Egypt, Jordan, and the Palestinian areas of the West Bank, but I was also a counterterrorist for the United States government having done 146 counterterrorist missions after 9/11. According to the Koran these terrorists justified in what they are doing.

If you want to know how to defend against terrorists you need to find an instructor who knows this field. You don’t want your information from a karate or kung fu instructor who picked it up in a book somewhere, but from someone who was actually been “on the ground.” The only self-defense instructors teaching civilians how to protect themselves against terrorists are myself (Reality-Based Personal Protection), Avi Nardia of the KAPAP system (DVD available through Budo), Dennis Hanover of the Hisardut system, Kelly McCann of The Crucible system, and Mike Lee Kanarek of the F.I.G.H.T. system.

Tactics are the actual methods and techniques that the enemy will use against you. The one thing you can be sure about is the techniques that criminals and terrorists train in will be the same ones they use against you. For example, many criminals who have served hard time in prison have a very simple approach to attacking their victims with edged weapons. Imagine if one of them came up to you. It would be like this. They come up close to you in a non-threatening manner then, without warning, he smashes his fist in your face. As you move your arm to block the attacker’s punch he pumps the blade into your belly a few times like a sewing machine with the other hand. He stabs low in case you are wearing body armor (in prisons they make their own home-made body armor because they are always afraid of getting stabbed by other prisoners). Of course, they don’t need to change their tactics when stabbing a police officer who is wearing a ballistics vest once they get out of prison. How many martial arts schools prepare for such attacks? There are virtually none that I know of. Rarely do inmates, or prisoners turned loose on society, use slashing moves. They go in for “the kill” immediately and effectively  for vital organs, not large muscle groups. I know this to be the truth because I worked in a jail for two years and I have trained prison guards in a few countries.

One of the problems that I have observed over the years with traditional-based martial artists is that they train one way, then do it an entirely different way when it comes to tactics. For example, when I trained in Japanese karate as a young man my instructor would have us do techniques from a very rigid, precise, fighting stance. However, the moment my class would start sparring all the stances I was taught “went out the window.” It was hard to be rigid and mobile at the same time. Perhaps if I would have had Samurai armor on while doing the stances it would have been more practical. After all, those fighting stances originated from that time period  the eighteenth century, and before. The Reality-Based Personal Protection philosophy is that training and conflict should be identical  minus the injuries in training. Even so, we often use stage blood in training to get used to the sight and feel of blood, like I wrote in my last Budo article.

It is not enough to know how your enemies train or what tactics they are most likely to learn. You must “walk in their shoes” as the old proverb goes. In the Reality-Based Personal Protection system we include Conflict Rehearsal (role playing to simulate likely modern self-defense situations). For example, when I teach people how to defend themselves against robbers I don’t just have the students stand there facing each other, holding up a rubber gun that is easy to grab. Rather, I go a step further by actually having a student (the victim) pretend that they are at an ATM machine withdrawing some money. They push the buttons, look around, and act as if they are really there at the machine. Then the “bad guy” (another student or one of my assistant instructors) comes up to the victim with an air gun (one that shoots small plastic 6mm pellets) for out-of-reach distance training, or a rubber gun for in-reach distances. Yet, to make the situation feel more real the robber has on a ski mask, a jacket to conceal the gun, or I have some white powder on their face and some dark make-up painted around their eyes to make him look like a drug-crazed robber desperate for money to buy their drug of choice to feed their drug habit.

You, or your training partners, can learn how to “act” like your enemies by reading or watching news reports. If a particular attack is reported by a news agency, then you can simulate such an attack in your own training. This is how I get a lot of my training material. Of course, some things never change, such as typical bar fight; not much imagination is required to set that up. The days of a sterile training room, with everyone wearing nicely pressed uniforms, with mirrors and diplomas on the walls, will one day be the thing of the past when it comes to realistic self-defense schools.

Conditioning your mind and body for an encounter with your enemies is what Reality-Based is all about. In my training I include sprinting (running) short distances, because running is always a self-defense option. Rather than call it “running away,” I prefer to call it a “tactical retreat.

In other cases I condition my body to dive to the floor as fast as possible, because many of my enemies might shoot at me or throw a hand grenade. In such attacks the ground is sometimes the best place to go or at least that is what the U.S. Army taught me to do in my combat training.

If a technique is not likely to be used, or succeed, in a real physical conflict then I don’t waste my time conditioning for it. For example, I would never kick an enemy above the pelvic area. I will thrust my foot through his knees, his groin, or his hips, but I will never kick him in the chest or head from a standing position. High kicks may work in the dojo or in the ring, but not on a rain slick sidewalk in Rome, on the cobblestone streets of Old Jerusalem, or even on a blood covered floor of a jail cell somewhere in Belgium. My goal is match my conflict conditioning with real situations I may actually encounter, or my “reality,” and not to condition myself based on fantasy or outdated methods.

Life changes, and so do the training methods and tactics of my enemies. One day when the criminals and terrorists I may face are using laser guns and sickness sound wave machines I’ll change some of my techniques to accommodate these changes and the new technologies. I’m not ever going to stick to a particular set of training methods or techniques just because I like them or they make me “look good” as an instructor. I must change as fast as my enemies change, or better yet, try to stay even with them. That only comes if you keep current. You must be constantly reading the news paper or watching the news in your area in order to understand what kind of attacks your enemies are doing. You must talk to police officers, judges, lawyers or anyone else who may know what criminals are doing now. You can even glean a lot of good information from Hollywood movies, but keep in mind that some of it will be sensationalized.

The Reality-Based Personal Protection system is just not “another self-defense system.” It is a REVOLUTION, and it’s changing the way people around the world are learning how to protect themselves. Since 2000 Budo magazine has been reporting on the reality-based movement, and knowing who your likely enemies are, is just one of the elements in this vast system.

Be A Hard Target.


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Jim Wagner
Jim Wagner, one of the first self-defense instructor to introduce techniques, tactics, and training methods to survive terrorist attacks and modern crime (active shooters, criminal chemical attacks, drive-by shootings, etc.). His teaching is based on his tactical career as a U.S. Army combat soldier, corrections officer, police officer, S.W.A.T. officer, team leader of a Dignitary Protection Unit for America’s fifth largest Sheriff’s department, a U.S. federal agent counterterrorist during the Global War on Terrorism, Reserve Military Police soldier, military bodyguard, Terrorism Liaison Officer (TLO), Security Forces sergeant, and a team leader of a military Special Reaction Team. He worked in the private security and bodyguarding sectors, most notably protecting Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie and working for the Walt Disney Company. Since 2003 Jim has been teaching his Reality-Based Personal Protection system around the world and in martial arts schools, where he offers self-defense instructors a way to increase their business by teaching Terrorism Survival, Crime Survival, and other courses. If you want to become certified to teach at your school, you can purchase the Jim Wagner Reality-Based Personal Protection Instructor Package at a discount through USAdojo.com by using the code USARBPP1706.