First off, Jim “Smokey” West is a fucking legend. No horseshit. Not so much in the “I’ve got lots of colored belts to wear with my white pajamas” department, but more in the “I need to know how to not get fucking killed while I’m engaged in hand-to-hand combat” one. So, it’s a little weird writing a review for his vids. Yet, it is also a complete honor to do so.
Second of all, Jim and I speak the same language: unarmed real-world survival combat. We’ve BTDT in the dojo, on the mats, learning shit like kata and other pre-arranged centuries-old fighting forms. And we’ve both spent years sifting through that dusty bullshit, spit-shining the shit that has eventually kept us alive.
Lastly, this shit is monumentally relevant to my interests (and existence). I may mention Smokey and me in the same sentence, but that is very much where the comparison ends. Jim’s been at this for a significantly more protracted period of time. In this game, that ain’t calling a motherfucker old, it’s calling a motherfucker dangerous.
In this video series, Jim covers very close-range non-“flight” combat. Fight versus flight, right? As he mentions in the vids, you sometimes have the option to GTFO of Dodge. Sometimes not. Historically, I make a point to bounce at the first opportunity. My personal mode of combat is geared toward creating or exploiting the opportunity to do so. I’ve got no pride when it comes to staying alive, and will happily clock your sack and head for the door. My general objective anytime I leave Casa de la T.O. (The ‘O’ Cave just doesn’t sound right, as applicable is it may actually be) is to return to said location at some point in the near future. Preferably not bleeding. With these videos, you can get some idea of how to do the same.
Jim explains how and why he ended up getting into personal combat. He covers a little of his background—personal and professional. He gets into details about the crazy shit he did on his own, outside of any sort of dojo, gym, or schoolhouse. (The brick thing. Man…I fuckin’ feel ya.)
One of the highlights of this video for me is when he talks about the psychology of combat/conflict. The first step in training is setting your brain straight, and identifying and intensifying your intent. Which may be as simple as, “Don’t get killed; finish my beer.”
This quote right here is what I’d call the Tootsie Roll center of this here Tootsie Pop: “You’ve got to be willing to hurt people. I think most Americans would rather be hurt…than hurt someone else.”
The messiness of real-world rolling is truly a shitty thing. Jim mentions training to be mean. On the one hand, I agree. You need to be able and willing to hurt someone in lieu of being hurt yourself (hopefully). On the other hand, I disagree. I do not need to be particularly mean to be able or willing to dislocate your jaw for being a fucking numbskull.
Fight escalation is the first thing covered in this episode. Shit talk ante-ups to jerk-offs getting in your face. Breath-smelling range crosses the contact threshold when someone pushes someone else…usually.
From there—both in a fight and in the vid—we move onto response and exchange dynamics. At the moment of that push, your muscle memory should be kicking in. No time for DMP at this point unless you are opting to disengage, but in this video, Jim specifically covers the “fight” option. Your response options at this point in the engagement really are pretty minimal. Your technical options become exponential with each technique executed, on both sides. When shoved, your footing should allow you to essentially bounce back to—and well inside range of—your opponent. This spacing/timing shit is called ma’ai in Japanese martial arts, and is a real causality ball-buster if you’re not on your game.
Throwing the greatest jab in the book while being two inches out of range is some amateur-hour bullshit. Likewise, rearing back for some monster hook is textbook dipshittery when I am within head-butting range—I will just fucking head-butt you while you’re thinking hard about collecting all that physics to make that hook work out so great for you.
Aside from the push/shove catalyst, and the follow-on bouncing back thing, Jim illustrates the interception of your aggressor’s leading limb. Keeping one hand in a defensive posture while one is set for offense maintains your ability to attack and defend in a cyclic pattern of cascading response. Never just execute a single technique with no inertia to move quickly into/onto the next one. Aggressively shift into each new technique until the objective is met.
At one point—and this is the gooey Tootsie Roll center of this Tootsie Pop for me—Smokey reaches over and picks up the fucking butter knife off the table. That shit right there is what separates dudes rolling around on the floor with other dudes from straight-up fucking scrappers. He mentions bar room furniture, as well. But picking up that knife completely changes the scope of the engagement. Butter knives aren’t exactly the sexiest weapon in your toolbox, but I’ll cut a motherfucker with it all the same. If you are involved in this game at any level, you better fucking be prepared to engage and exploit everything in your surroundings. I’ve used my car keys. I’ve used a full ash tray.
Among the other great technical shit that gets covered in this vid are open-hand strikes. Nothing like icing your knuckles after fucking yourself up nearly as much as the asshat you’ve punched in the cheekbone. So, aim for softer targets. Not to mention you can follow through with that open-hand strike and lead into a push of your own.
The head-butt technique is also a lesson that, for some reason, never gets covered in your everyday ho-hum self-defense class. Good shit right there. A strike using your head is rarely expected, and your forehead is harder than just about anything you’re going to be intentionally butting with it. Using low kicks while your opponent is trying to close the distance is also a good tech point. Most dudes aren’t thinking about their (or your) feet when they’re scrapping. A nice low kick to a planted, incoming knee will really fuck up a dude’s plans for the evening.
Bottom line here is, once the shit starts, aggressiveness and control of the timing and spacing are going to lean the engagement in your favor.
This kind of shit is of monumental importance, not only because self-defense is for everyone, kids, but “women’s self-defense” is usually glossed over bullshit designed inadvertently to get a woman deeper into the shit, rather than getting her out of it.
In this video, you see that the catalytic technique (read: shit-starter) is a grab, not a push. Now, I’m not a woman, but for some reason the vast majority of engagements I have been involved in start with someone grabbing me or trying to grab me. Of course, grabbing me is a much worse decision than pushing me, because when you’ve grabbed someone who knows what the fuck is going on, they have (in effect) grabbed you. Now that’s some Zen shit right there.
The psychology of the grab is that your usual creep or asshole is in no way expecting you to be able to disengage quickly, efficiently, or at all. Your response option leads you immediately to having an upper hand, as your follow-on technique will be even more unexpected than your disengagement. Basically, whoever has just lost hold of you is undoubtedly left thinking, “Wait…what?”
All in all, watching and listening to Jim—both in person and on video—never ceases to be an enlightening and engaging experience. Being able to chat with him in person and go over a few techniques was completely priceless.