I am James “Smokey” West. A little about myself. I am a retired Special Forces Operations Technician. I retired from 7th Special Forces Group. I am a combat veteran. I have been involved in martial arts and combat karate for the past 42 years. I have deployed on top secret missions, including work with the CIA and the Maritime Organization.
I am a 10th Dan (Grand Master) in the American Open Style Karate System, with a background in Boxing and Kung-Fu, Wrestling, American and Brazilian Jiu-jitsu.
I have trained American Special Forces, Delta Force, Navy Seals, CIA Operatives, Army Rangers and Foreign troops in hand to hand combat, hostage rescue and negotiations, Close Quarters Combat, and Sniper Training. I have been in numerous street fights and have trained two UFC fighters, professional boxers and kick-boxers as seen on the UFC, USA Tuesday Night Fights and HBO Heavy-Weight After Dark.
This article has an aspect that is very important to anyone looking for answers on why their knowledge and experience about fighting, and possibly other activities requiring specific training, doesn’t work. In part, this is an attempt to provide you with insight, the little secrets to make basic fundamentals work for you.
There may be a gap for most people between training and the reality of having a self-defense system work under fire. It can be confusing when you spend so much time learning and training, and yet the practical application just doesn’t work under fire. I want to fill this mystical gap between making your technical application work and the disappointment of failure.
There are many aspects to winning and surviving in a fight, whether in the ring, cage or street, when you are forced to defend yourself or protect friends and family from assaults and street attacks. Once you are forced to defend against criminals, crooks and crazies, you must do so with one thing in mind: “winning” surviving, just staying alive at any and all costs.
You must have a purposeful and deliberate strategy and action, much like a game of chess. Remember, he who hesitates loses.
There may be many different reasons you may have subjected yourself to attack or assaults by others. That’s right subjected yourself! It takes only a moment of complacency and you may be the victim. Some people don’t belong in a ring, cage or sporting event. I have heard, “I just want to try it once so I can say I did it,” and, “My friends talked me into it…” and so forth.
There is only one reason to compete against a trained fighter, and that is to kick his or her ass to win. You have to have a fighter’s mind-set. This takes professional, experienced or qualified trainers, someone who has been in the fray. I have won many street and bar fights and have looked like hell, cuts, bruises contusions, yet still won. Just because you get hurt doesn’t mean you can quit.
In the street, it only takes one moment for you to chose a bad route or location. Maybe your baby is coughing and you want to go to the store and its 3 a.m. on a Saturday night in a shady location, rather than driving a few extra miles to well lighted location. Or you’re out at a party, drinking and simply letting your guard down.
It’s all understandable, but often with a predictable outcome. Too many of us become complacent, simply because we have experiences without an event resulting in an attack of some sort. Well, isn’t this true for all of us? Until the first time, you are never a victim. If you interview victims, the general response is, “I can’t believe it.” “I didn’t think it could happen to me,” blaming everyone else and not accepting personal accountability.
Why do we need to know the smart and effective ways to defend ourselves and loved ones? “Knowledge is the Key.” Knowledge will open the doorway for survival.
Here are some crime statistics from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:
Violent crime rates by gender 1973-2003

(Note: According to the legal systems of the United States, Hispanic and/or Latin American persons are generally classified as white.) For 2012, law enforcement made approximately 12,200,000 arrests nationally, down 200,000 from 2011. Arrested offenders in the United States tend to be male, over age 18, and white.

Characteristics of offenders vary from the average for specific types of crimes and specific crimes. In terms of violent crime by gender, in 2011, 80.4% of arrested persons were male and 19.6% were female. Males were 88.2% of those arrested for homicide, while females were 11.8%. Among those arrested for rape in 2011, males were 98.8% and females were 1.2%. For property crime in 2011, 62.9% of arrested persons were male and 37.1% were female.

For violent crime by race in 2011, 59.4% of those arrested were white, 38.3% were black, and 2.2% were of other races. For persons arrested for homicide in 2011, 49.7% were black, 48% were white, and 2.3% were of other races. For persons arrested for rape in 2011, 65% were white, 32.9% were black, and 2.1% were of other races. For property crime in 2011, 68.1% of arrested persons were white, 29.5% were black, and 2.4% were of other races.

In 2011, law enforcement reported 6,222 bias-motivated incidents, known as hate crimes, for which 5,731 offenders were identified. Of these, 59% were white, 20.9% were black, 7.1% were of various races, 1.4% were Asian or Pacific Islanders, 0.8% were Native American, and 10.8% were of unknown race.

Clearly, one has to be aware that no one is absolutely safe!
Additionally, our nation seems to be running out of middle-class income status, and more and more everyday people are becoming more and more willing to take what they need via robbery. There is an ever growing and endless pool of violent potential. Violent offenders are becoming more openly aggressive, and even coming at you in extremely well-organized gangs. Included are hijacking, kidnapping stealing cars, rape-killings and on and on.
An example being in Chicago from 1991-2004 there were 3,422 gang-related murders. In both Detroit and Chicago, violent crime and murder went down 25% since 2013. The following excerpt is from Here’s What Happened to Crime in Chicago After Illinois Finally Passed Concealed Carry Law, published on “The Blaze,” by Jason Howerton:

On July 9, 2013, a bill to recognize Illinois gun owners’ right to carry concealed firearms was passed by both chambers of the state Legislature. Illinois became the last state in the nation to allow public possession of concealed guns.

Gun control advocates warned that high-crime areas, like Chicago, would only see more violence if residents were allowed to carry guns in public.

In reality, the opposite may be happening.

On Tuesday, the Chicago Police Department announced that the city experienced its lowest murder rate since 1958 in the first quarter of 2014. There were 6 fewer murders than the same timeframe in 2013 — a 9 percent drop — and 55 fewer murders than 2012, police said.

Further, there were reportedly 90 fewer shootings and 119 fewer shooting victims compared to last year. There have also been 222 fewer shootings and 292 fewer shooting victims compared to the first quarter in 2012.

All crime is down 25 percent from 2013 and police say they have confiscated over 1,300 illegal guns in the last three months.

Now, it’s entirely too soon to conclude that the concealed carry law is partly responsible for Chicago’s across-the-board drop in the crime. However, it is not unreasonable to conclude the drop in crime may undercut gun control advocates’ argument that more guns equal more crime.

It should also be noted that the first concealed carry permits were issued in late February, so the decrease in crime can’t yet be attributed to more people carrying guns.
The first step in self-defense or personal protection is simple awareness:

  • Pick your routes and times of day, with an alternate route in mind.
  • Stay with a friend or on groups. Never walk alone.
  • Determine your choice of weapon and practice concealment, have plausible denial and practice defense and attacks with each weapon. In truth, who is really safe?
  • You must believe you could be the next victim and prepare yourself.
  • Trust your instincts; go with the “gut feeling.”

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:
The Gift of Fear is a nonfiction self-help book (1997) written by Gavin de Becker. The book provides strategies to help readers avoid trauma and violence by teaching them various warning signs and precursors to violence.
De Becker’s book presents a paradox of genre: the Boston Globe described it as a “how-to book that reads like a thriller.” By finding patterns in stories of violence and abuse, de Becker seeks to highlight the inherent predictability of violence. The book explores various settings where violence may be found—the workplace, the home, the school, dating—and describes what de Becker calls pre-incident indicators (PINS). When properly identified, these PINS can help violence be avoided; when violence is unavoidable, de Becker claims it can usually be predicted and better understood. The Gift of Fear also describes de Becker’s MOSAIC Threat Assessment Systems, which have been employed by various celebrities and government agencies to predict and prevent violence.
PINS (Pre-Incident Indicators)
Forced Teaming. This is when a person implies that he has something in common with his chosen victim, acting as if they have a shared predicament when that isn’t really true. Speaking in “we” terms is a mark of this, i.e. “We don’t need to talk outside… Let’s go in.”
Charm and Niceness. This is being polite and friendly to a chosen victim in order to manipulate him or her by disarming their mistrust.
Too many details. If a person is lying they will add excessive details to make themselves sound more credible to their chosen victim.
Typecasting. An insult is used to get a chosen victim who would otherwise ignore one to engage in conversation to counteract the insult. For example: “Oh, I bet you’re too stuck-up to talk to a guy like me.” The tendency is for the chosen victim to want to prove the insult untrue.
Loan Sharking. Giving unsolicited help to the chosen victim and anticipating they’ll feel obliged to extend some reciprocal openness in return.
The Unsolicited Promise. A promise to do (or not do) something when no such promise is asked for; this usually means that such a promise will be broken. For example: an unsolicited, “I promise I’ll leave you alone after this,” usually means the chosen victim will not be left alone. Similarly, an unsolicited “I promise I won’t hurt you” usually means the person intends to hurt their chosen victim.
Fear to me, and through my training and experiences both in the Special Operations community, fight training, firefights, and personal street fighting experience, is your gut feelings. Fear is a signal from you, to you, and is a gift of nature. I call it animal instinct.
Most would not believe it of me, but I am normally fearful and paranoid, feeling I might get hurt, or worse, killed. At the times I feel threatened, I visualize varying defense choices. This keeps me calm and allows me to project strength and confidence through my attacker. There is a reason you should visualize possible outcomes coupled with defense choices and practice.
When most people sense danger, their gut kicks in and the adrenaline flows. This could be a danger to most people who don’t train and don’t believe that they could become a victim. You know, “it can’t happen to me.” With 12 million violent crimes happening each year, believe me, it could happen to you.
Take advantage of your knowledge and training and begin to formulate a defense strategy and mentally review the potential outcomes. If all else fails and you are scared and confused, JUST FIRE! It’s okay to strike first. Trust me, in the streets your attacker is not expecting you to attack them first. This is somewhat counterintuitive to most. A first strike will disrupt their mindset allowing you time to continue your attack, scream, or run. One thing, when I say time, I’m really talking about a microsecond. This is why you train with repetitions.
Awareness is the first step towards protecting yourself. Knowledge is number two.

Former Delta Force soldier’s opinion on hand to hand combat and combat physical training

Read Next: Former Delta Force soldier’s opinion on hand to hand combat and combat physical training

  • You must build a case for yourself that crime happens
  • Protect your home by locking doors and windows, using alarm systems and pick hiding places and rehearse even with weapons, shot guns, knives, baseball bats etc.
  • Knowledge of self-preservation and defense choices
  • What will you do to protect yourself and family, you must be able to kill for survival.
  • Knowledge of your body e/g strengths and weaknesses, conditioning under stress, soft under belly, old injuries restricting range of motion. The list goes on.
  • Knowledge of the human mind and body. If you need to intimidate an attacker, how do you do this and take away his intent?
  • Knowledge of avoidance.
  • Knowledge of weapons.
  • Knowledge of yourself;
    • Body mechanics
    • Positioning technique
    • Stances
    • Reaction timing
    • Controlling Distance
  • When your gut tells you an assault is immanent, how do you project through your opponent’s intent?
  • You must appear to be high spirited and self-confident
  • Visualize the possible attacks and your solutions to the finish.
  • Avoid natural macho aggression and anger
  • Our natural instinct seems to be putting ourselves in harm’s way by;
    • Getting in someone’s face
    • Hands down by your side in natural defiance as if you can’t be hurt
    • Watch the hands as the threat is normally in the hands and immediately control the distance.

Force your attacker to have to move in order to attack you. “Move to Move.” If you control the distance, you can take your attacker out of his comfort zone.
All of these will become a part of your critical decision making process. It’s all about survival and requires vision and training with a realist approach. Pain and blood in the gym means success in the streets.
There are a few simple rules that will help.
Fire first and don’t wait to build courage. Waiting to build courage will have a negative effect on your bio rhythms and cause you to expend adrenaline and become weak and defenseless.
Make your defensive choices based on your instinct and weapons choice, even if you are bare handed. I once threw my jacket on top the head of a knife wielding attacker, causing him to reach up to get the jacket off of his head, giving me the time to disrupt his attack, break his ankle and win the fight.

Speed, Demon Speed!

Once you have choices and a basic understanding, I want to discuss speed! In 1974, I was told by a Japanese Master Level Black Belt, that when you are tired and your muscles seem to be failing, “Speed, and demon speed alone, will never fail you,” when all else will! I made it a point to study the different aspects of speed, eventually applying speed and deception to all newly acquired skills.
Speed for me came through practice, practice and more practice. I learned all I could from the greats – Danny Wilson, Jerry Piddington, Joe Lewis, Anthony Bradley, and others. I considered myself a practical martial artist, leaning more towards sparring and fighting even in the streets to learn for myself what really works for me. Being aware of attackers intent, positioning myself when needed, controlling the distance and when assaults seemed emerge, strike first!
The three areas of a fighter’s make-up that allow you to be as fast as you can (speed), are:

  • Physical Make-Up
  • Psychological Make-up
  • Your ability to execute the technical knowledge: Mechanical, psychological and technical

All of the fighter’s make-up applies to a fighter’s speed. How? Physical make-up and conditioning. Use your muscles when you are training at the same speed or faster than you will when you are in a fight. You should learn the correct mechanics of a punch, kick or weapons strike. Figure out the effective angles of each strike or defensive move.
Practice each movement at least 1,500 repetitions at each angle and each level of speed so you muscles are more relaxed when you are forced to react. This will assist with you overall coordination. If you take a punch or a kick and just start punching as fast as you can for as long as you can you will find your muscles start to fail, and the proper mechanics will be rapidly lost, thus failing you. Therefore you have to increase the length of time you can repeat the same motion without your mechanics failing.
Each person is different. Some have more of the slow muscle twitch and others more of the fast muscle twitch. Much like shooting a gun, a person with slow twitch can potentially increase his speed with his take off or initial timing speed. This would require lots of repetition with your foot work drills and understanding your distance and effective range. Remember, the power is on the end of a punch, a punch can be a jab, right hand, elbow, knee strike or even an uppercut when you are chest to chest in fighting, not always at an arm’s reach.

Relaxation Is the Key to Success

In each working muscle group you have muscles that punch and muscles that pull, sometimes fighting against each other.
Agonistic vs. Antagonistic: Agonist works with the muscles, and the antagonist is the muscle working against it in a contraction i.e. Bicep curl, the agonist is the Biceps brachii and the antagonist muscle is the triceps brachii.
The word agonist means “producing an action” – an antagonist opposes that action when a muscle contracts it relaxes. If, when you are punching, it feels like you are flexing your bicep, then you are slowing your punch down and further making yourself tired. If your fist is being held tight prior to and when you are punching, this will also slow you down.
So here it goes in the world of James “Smokey” West. You must train everything you choose to learn, respecting your trainers, at the same time realizing what works for them, may be different for you for a multitude of reasons. Physical and psychological make-up; fighters have natural tendencies such as runners, aggressive fighters, or counter fighters who are a bit more cagy and like to make you miss with you techniques, but stay close enough to make you pay with counter attacks, moving, countering and reacting.
You must learn how to stand so your weight is evenly distributed over your center line and pressing down through the balls of the feet, allowing you to move quicker. Joe Lewis said to me, “we are like tanks on a battlefield moving and shooting.” Joe said, “but if you get a track damaged and cannot move, but still shoot, it doesn’t matter how much fire power you have, you are still just a target.”
Your feet should be a comfortable distance apart, not too close i.e. high center of gravity, or too far apart with a low center of gravity causing you to have to move to move again for striking. Learn how to defend and fire while moving side to side and backwards too.
Don’t allow your upper body to lean outside of your hips as you lose part of your natural built in defense, and don’t duck, losing eye contact. Always watch your opponent’s hands as that is normally where the threat is.
Next, learn how to isolate your techniques, strikes and weapons so you do not telegraph your intentions and techniques. Stay calm. Make sure you breathe slowly. You can train for this by holding water in your mouth when hitting a heavy bag or mitts and force breathing through your nose.
Remain relaxed. Never and tighten up when you are training and working your repetitions. Work until muscle failure, shake it out until you feel relaxed, and repeat the same theme. Avoid antagonist muscles when delivering a strike. Be aware of any physical limitation, flexibility, old injuries, and protect your center line.
If you take a few pieces of paper and hang them from string, practice hitting the paper as fast as you can for both speed and accuracy.
Learn how to punch in every direction, moving forward, side to side and backwards. Most fighters are one dimensional.
I would recommend 3,000 of each strike for practice every week. This is about 430 punches a day. Not much right, when you consider a 3-minute round should easily be about 100 punches. This leaves you adequate time to work of the proper mechanics at varying speeds until your balance and technique feel in synch.
Your ready position, which is hands up, knees slightly bent, is what I sometimes call a crash position. Visualize bumping into someone by surprise as if you ran into a crazy when walking around a corner or a turn in a hallway. This initial body position is critical. You have to practice getting into this defense/offensive crash position as fast as you can throw an elbow, punch or knee. Brass knuckles work well.
When you are punching, you have to break down each element of a punch. There are two terms to get familiar with:

  • Single extremity motion
  • Conservation of Angular momentum

Basically, these two elements give the fighter the technical knowledge of how to isolate their techniques breaking down the push pull mechanics and working the punches/strikes at different speed and angles without putting it all together at one time. The foot work should also be trained and practiced separately. As you start putting all of this together for a full range of motion punch, you will punch or strike from the floor up. Every movement from the floor to the end of the punch has to be practiced.
The angular momentum is in a simple way like the theory of a whip. The power starting from the feet and pivoting the heel outward while maintaining the weight on the balls of the feet, allow the speed and power to flow through the ankle, up the leg, though the knee, thigh, hip, back, shoulder, elbow, wrist and hand generating more speed and power every time you rotate your momentum and energy through a joint and a muscle group. This motion should be nearly simultaneous and seamless to avoid telegraphing. If done right, you feel like you are nearly falling off balance. The power of a punch comes from the ankles. All of the other muscles are relaxed. I would recommend tightening the fist a micro-second from impact allowing for faster recoil.
Recoil is another animal. You should pull your elbow back to your side, and not your fist back to you shoulder or body. In theory, your recoil should be faster than your strike. Recoiling the elbow to your side allows for faster protection and defense, as well as throwing multiple strikes or combinations, while remaining protected and defended in place.
Some advice with your training for the best outcome of your speed as it relates to speed and accuracy in striking. You must visualize a real attacker coming at you when you practice your defensive and offensive solutions.
1. If you wish to improve your performance, be specific to your training: if you want to strike fast and hard, then practice striking, not baseball or weight lifting.
2. You will develop better coordination using your muscles in the same manner in which you will fight.
3. Train both quick and slow twitch muscles by varying your speed, endurance angles and power levels. Practice as fast as or faster than when you are fighting.
Remember, it is possible to hit your opponent regardless of your physiological make up. Your training will determine your fighter’s make-up. If you feel you are unable due to genetics or physical disabilities, then learn and practice from the floor up. This is really just about speed. There are timing rhythms, footwork drills, sequences, and deception you can apply to your fight strategies to win. Remember, like shooting a gun, “smooth is fast.” It is a blend of miles-per-hour speed and initial timing speed with purposeful action.
You must develop a clear “point of view” and visualize the outcome before the fight begins. We call this purposeful action, as described to me by the late Joe Lewis. The right point of view will provide you with the theory of commitment for winning and surviving. You must be able to turn a negative or reactive point of view into a winning strategy by using committed and purposeful action. Fire first and never quit!
There is so much more to learn about fighting and surviving, but you can truly learn a few well-executed techniques combined with fighting strategies that will allow you to take out your opponent without terrible stress. Things we can talk about later, such as how to close and clinch, or break space and counter strike, reactionary strikes, can all be used from a simple on-guard, crash, or fighting position. You just need to get there quick and give yourself an opportunity.