Fighting and Real World Self-Defense

Updated: September 13, 2015

Photo From Daily Record/BBC

Lately I have been asked a lot of questions about training, fighting and real world self-defense. I believe the questions are coming about due to I have a new start up business named American Extension Fighting. There are many people who know me and my history and many more who do not. For the record, a little more than a year ago, I met Jack Murphy. Jack and Brandon Webb are the Principles of a social media entertainment web-site and writer’s forum. Jack & Brandon are very sincere writers and former Navy Seal, Special Forces and Ranger seasoned veterans with a great interest in providing a forum for others to learn about military and special operations history. They are also masterful about busting out posers. I have another excellent friend and former student of mine Dale Comstock. Dale had previously written a book called “The American Badass”. In the later chapters Dale who is very accomplished Delta and Contract worker and highly decorated combat veteran, with a huge martial arts and fighting background, mentioned my name in his book. He said I gave him nightmares after one workout in my Martial Arts Fight Club. To make a long story short, Jack offered to write my autobiography. We came to an agreement and the book should be out within a year. The publishers are excited about it as well as I am pleased to have a venue to tell my story not only for me but to inspire others.

You see I have been retired for 23 years from Special Forces. I am a combat veteran, HALO, SCUBA (Combat Diver) & much more. I also have been studying martial arts, self-defense, Jujitsu, Kung-Fu and street fighting for 50 years. I am also a10th Degree Black Belt, with a 2nd Degree Black Belt in American Jujitsu.  Of course there is more.

The deal is until Jack pulled me out of the fire, I had been underground recovering from living so many years on the dark side of martial arts. At first, I retired after 20 years of service, opened my own Karate Club and started training world class fighters. My club was sort of a violent place to hand out, mainly because I attracted real world fighters as seen on TV, UFC fighters, Kick Boxers and professional boxers. Eventually I was plagued with tragedies in my life. The first having my oldest son getting murdered at the young age of 18 years old. Ultimately I became somewhat depressed and drank quite a bit, made a few bad decisions and fell out of the martial arts industry, basically giving it all away. The problem had always been I have been training and fighting my whole life. I had the privilege to train with Danny Wilson, Jerry Piddington, the legendary Joe Lewis and many more professional fighters and innovators. There are truly many others. If you know your martial arts and fight history, you will realize these names are from great fighters that took martial arts out of the closet, out of the secretive ancient oriental ways and in many cases made it better by adding fight principles, fight strategies, fight science. With the influences of Robert Trias, Bruce Lee, Bill Wallace, Danny Wilson, Anthony Bradley, I can drop names for years, but I won’t for now. Needless to say I have learned so much for so many years about fight knowledge.  My foundation is solid and vetted through my dark years with 100’s of street fights, thus experience needless to say, but not necessarily to boast about.

I am constantly being asked what it is American Extension Fighting is, what style is better and also being compared to other styles like Krav-maga. This is what I can tell you, all of my fight experience is a combination of technical learning and practical application. I am most closely related to the Krav-maga group due to their reality based no non-sense approach to self-defense and fitness. What I offer is much of the same, but more with respect to sports karate, boxing MMA (2xUFC Fighters in the early days before I went underground). What I will tell you is I have nothing but respect for all styles and systems. I agree some are more practical and effective than others and without question American Extension Fighting (AEF), Krav-maga, Bruce Lee’s Wing Chung are some of these.

AEF is completely reality based at every level.  This is the reason behind this article. With all of the questions I think the easiest way to answer is to let experience guide me with my answers. I have had so many street fights, (No Rules). I have seen and talked to 1,000’s of students and fighters through the years and they all want the same thing; something that works in any and all situations. For this I have an advantage in teaching, talking and training. When I mentioned “dark side” when I was young I would do physical training, martial arts and fight training for 6 hours a day when I was not deployed under a rucksack. When I was training at the Callahan Boxing Gym, I was sparring all out and having a daily bloodletting. In addition I was going out at night, drinking and bar room brawling every week and at times every night. In those days I really wanted to see if what I was doing in the gym actually worked in the streets. After some time, I feel velocity took over and I thought that was the way life that was supposed to be that way.  I was wrong, but I learned through the years what works and what does not work in a quick or sustained street fight, against one or a gang, armed and unarmed. What works in a gym or dojo doesn’t always translate to effective self-defense or street fighting. So I not only learned, but I took time to apply fight science and applied it to technique variations with complete confidence of how to train for the flight or fight syndrome.

When you get trained in the AEF programs you not only learn punches, kicks, strikes in general combined with blocks and counter attacks. This sounds like every other self-defense training in the world… right? Then they convince you everything is reality based and that it really works. Some of you know that many times the learned defensive techniques simply does not work when someone is trying to rob, kill or rape you. I will acknowledge is not easy. Anybody can pitch, but you will have to be able to catch. You know Joe Lewis once told me a fighter’s greatest asset is your ability to make quick decisions, while under fire. Trust me it is easier said than done. What I teach, is reality based. If it didn’t work in a street fight at full tilt when somebody was swinging a knife, bottle or piece of pipe at me, then I took it out or modified it to enhance your survivability. So I have won out over 2 knife wielding assailants and I have been stabbed. Experience is your best teacher. So here it is, a punch is a punch. How it works for you may make it different.

Along with awesome fight fitness for training and technical applications to fit you, you will also learn how to identify when someone with bad intensions is about to attack; how to be in the right place and time during the attack. Better yet you will walk away from the first training session knowing what type and style of fighter you are and how to identify the fight style and personality of your attacker. This already gives an edge when it counts the most, just before the first strike. Awareness training is just that, you will also learn how to enhance your awareness by a cursory visual search while you are on the move or what to look for and how to do this every time you walk into a room. Of course you will learn what works best for you on an individual basis. What techniques and how to regain your balance and fire at your own rhythm.

Most people fight from fear anger and energy. When these factors kick in, you will find yourself getting too excited, tired and most of the time panicked. For this you need proper training. I have studied the systems claiming to defend by using “natural movement”. My experience tells me if you have never been in a fight or had some serious reality based training designed to stress you, your natural movement is going to be much different from a real fighter’s experience. As one that has been hit 1,000’s of times while training, sparring and competing in the ring and street fights, mainly with inanimate objects like beer bottles, if you swing or touch me I will react differently from a person that has never been hit, trained or training has lacked, which represents itself of having  a reality based concept. Once I had a sayoc kali instructor ask me to defend myself from him, placing the blade of a knife along my throat, while he was standing in front of me. I immediately fell to the ground onto my back keeping him near my feet. I will never forget, he said “you are not supposed to do that” “what are you doing” I responded by saying, “You have never been in a street fight have you?” He asked what I meant. I said if I had attempted to move or even block in a “natural movement manner” I would in essence be cutting my own throat. I said after all the fights I have been in I find it best to move straight away from the threat or knife is to change levels by dropping down. This would cause him to have to come after me by leaning and reaching. With or without a knife these are simply bad habits for anyone. By extending his body and leaning over to reach me he would be opening himself up to a lot. You have to consider if you are in a knife fight you will probably get cut. You have to decide where you want to get cut to minimize the nerve damage and pain, deep penetrations and arteries. With proper training you can make these choices and make them under fire. So here is one of the many techniques I teach. Change levels and you will learn more as you go.

With respect to training, regardless of the style, system or program, you have to simulate real combat stress somehow. When most people are attacked, especially if they are caught off guard, panic and fear sets in rapidly. Once all this happens over the next few seconds, if you have survived, typically you are exhausted and incapable of effectively defending yourself. Without proper training, you will get tunnel vision and a shortness of breath, your world will get small and dark in a millisecond. You will feel and become weak and limp unable to fight back.

A training technique I have used while having students hit the heavy bag, while sustaining his or her punch rate to approximately 150 strikes per 3 minutes (rate), holding a mouth full of water! At the end of the round you must spit all the water out into a cup. DO NOT SWALLOW the water during the 2 or 3 minute round. This will give you an indicator how you control your breath while exerting combinations. My experience tells me most people simply do not breathe properly. They either hold their breath or mouth breathe, both are detrimental to your overall survivability. Your ability to breathe and stay relaxed, calm under fire will directly impact your ability to develop what I call “fight thinking speed”. This is a term I use for thinking, reacting and doing, all at the same time! This thinking speed is where you need to set your training goals. This will help you to develop “purposeful actions”.  Under fire at this moment your training and other experiences will allow you to open your mind, everything seems to go into slow motion, and your weapons and technique choices will be so vivid in your mind it will keep you relaxed and keep you from getting tired and panicking. This is the ultimate fight/self-defense operating mode. Like a movie, when it is real, everything should slow down and your world should get bigger, not smaller and defenseless. There are multiple training techniques, knowledge and scenarios allowing you to develop this natural reactionary strength and mind set while under fire. You will develop a warriors mind and true self-confidence.

Just to summarize a little, a few things you should learn and develop:

  1. Purposeful action
    1. Train technically at first
    2. Train under stress
    3. Make it real
  2. Learn a lot and use a little
    1. The more weapons choices you have to draw from under fire the more relaxed you will remain under fire
    2. Repetition will develop near perfection and help you with fight thinking speed
  3. Learn to identify what type of fighter you are up against
    1. This will help you in your movement and defensive or offensive choices
    2. Is he aggressive, a runner type or and slick calm counter fighter?
  4. Thinking and striking should be synonymous, don’t think and then do you will miss your targets of opportunity.

What is important?

  1. Believe an assault could happen to you or a loved one at any time or anyplace.
  2. Prepare yourself mentally and physically.
  3. Train by practicing real scenarios and situations that have happened repeatedly through the years. Study violent crime statistics, look for how the assault happened, how many people were involved, review location details, i.e. well lighted vs. dark alleyways, in a bar or a mall parking lot or maybe while drinking in a house party or bar.
  4. Develop a mind set for survival Realize your potential, what are you prepared and ready to do to save your life?
  5. Theory of Commitment Most people would rather be hurt, than hurt someone else. It is just the opposite for your attacker. You must have a mindset that will allow you to defend by striking your attacker with BAD INTENTION!
  6. Have a Plan
  7. How do you make it work?
  8. Be aware of your routes when traveling and all times of day.
  9. Travel or walk a wide path around bushes and other man-made obstructions even cross the street if you have to.
  10. In a car keep an eye on any car that is following you. If you think you are being pursued, drive to a well light location with lots of people or a police/fire station.
  11. If you carry any type of weapon, including improvised, practice concealment and deception when in use. Repetition is the key to effective use.
  12. Learn to relax: repetition can cause teach your body how to relax under fire. I will explain.
  13. Fight out of your comfort zone: Through my American Extension Fighting System you will learn just how to do this.
  14. Practice under fire: Remember, what you do in training you will do in the street or ring. If you drop your hands or become flat footed and immobile during training most likely this will happen in a real fight. It is my opinion when you give up and make excuses during training, you will quit in a real fight. Remember a sucker punch (first strike), if you do not achieve the desired result e.g. your attacker is hard headed and motivated or even on drugs, you are in the fight at this time and your greatest second asset is hands up and proper movement, just keep moving in and out and directionally. You may also be caught off guard and you have to use your superior training and motivation to stay in the fight. A man or woman is like a race car with a lot of horse power, if the engine runs out of gas, you win! That’s why once you are engaged in combat you must keep moving. You simply cannot let your opponent rest. Use simple jabs, eye racks ( that means using your fingers to scratch, hit their eyes) simple slaps anything to keep him disrupted, angry and moving. Most likely if your attacker hasn’t effectively gotten to you over the first 13 to 30 seconds he never will. In the beginning of a conflict you have to use more energy than your attacker can sustain. Start hard and finish harder!

James “Smokey” West