Attack of the zombies

Back in about 2007 I met a youngish man at a training seminar over East. He used to train with a particular kung fu school where they practised "deadly" and "invincible" martial arts.

To demonstrate the effectiveness of his former art, during the break he directed some of the other participants and me to a Youtube video. I forget which one it was, but similar ones are featured in the video below (although I hasten to add that while the combination techniques might be similar, I am not suggesting that the persons in the video embedded here are making any of the assertions made by this particular fellow).

Let me summarise what we saw:

The video comprised a series of clips pasted together which revealed a speed and ferocity of response that was truly breathtaking; the sheer number of blows being rained down upon the hapless "attackers" seemed "insurmountable" and "irresistible". It was like being attacked by a hurricane (perhaps an inspiration for Master Ken's "hurticane"!).

The other attendees and I watched in stunned silence until the video ended. Then the fellow closed the browser, clicked in triumph and said (smirk firmly in place): "That, ladies and gentlemen, is how it's done."

But the real reason we were rendered speechless wasn't the fact that we were over-awed. Yes, the speed and "ferocity" of response was really quite impressive. The skills were, in many respects, highly admirable. I found myself wanting to revisit some of the interesting combinations I was seeing and study them a bit more closely. But we remained silent for a totally different reason. You see, we were all, to a man/woman, martial artists with 30+ years of hard knocks martial experience. And we could see there was no point in discussing the matter any further. Why? For this simple reason:

Yes, the video featured some fast and impressive combinations. But as admirable as these were, they were never once, not in a single instance, demonstrated or applied against a resistant, determined or otherwise realistic attacker. Instead, they were applied against attackers who were, for all intents and purposes, as animated as slow moving zombies from a George Romero movie.

You know the kind of zombies I mean: the kind that walk slowly towards you with arms outstretched (perhaps muttering "Brains" with partly decomposed mouths).

Zombies who might, given half a chance, overwhelm you with numbers in a slow, inexorable crush, but who are individually so glacially slow, so non-responsive, so... well... moribund, that they verge on the catatonic. On their own, the best they can hope to do is place a decomposing limb on your shoulder. Or, at worst, slap you with a floppy arm (even if it might fall off as a consequence).

Okay, I'm being more than a little facetious here. But the principle is more or less the same. What do I mean? Take a look at the video below.

You'll see many truly awe inspiring "defences": hand speeds that seem to defy physics, combinations that are truly innovative and novel. But who are they applying these combinations against? People who either just stand there - or whose attack is so token, so mild and inoffensive, that it might as well be a zombie's exhausted effort at lifting a limb so as to place it on the "defender's" shoulder. Either that, or the zombie has enough (but only just enough) extant musculature to lurch forward slowly and throw a patently ludicrous, doomed attack (usually leading punch in a forward stance - more on this attack another time).

Having exhausted its (diminishing) resources (decomposing flesh is obviously not very energy efficient), the zombie then pauses to rest, permitting all manner of vicious counters to be rained down upon its corpse.

Now, before I get too many complaints about this article let me make something perfectly clear: I understand only too well the need for "kihon kumite" and "ippon kumite" (ie. two-person standing and "one step" drills) in training. While I have previously detailed the limitations of "standing start" drills, I have never sought to describe them as less than useful. Indeed, I consider them to be necessary, particularly when students are first learning a technique or otherwise when they are isolating a concept, analysing a kata/xing/form/pattern or exploring applications.

In other words, such "artificial" drills are essential - not only for beginners but even advanced students. Every time you get try out a new technique or examine a new principle, safety, prudence and common sense necessitate that it be examined slowly and in an environment that removes certain variables.

You might have a "standing start" (to avoid the complicating feature of both parties being in movement along chaotic vectors). You might have (especially at first) a slower execution (to avoid the complicating feature of speed before you've even had a chance to get your bearings with the technique). You might avoid commitment or penetration (for safety, obviously). For this reason you'll see my own videos unashamedly feature techniques demonstrated in such a setting.

So what's with my "zombie comments" then? Well let me make this important distinction:

I don't purport - or even imply - that my own "slow attacker" drills are "realistic". I don't try to impress others by demonstrating "lightning fast" applications against attacks that couldn't possibly be a threat to me.

Instead, if my attacker "attacks" slowly, I respond slowly. If he/she "attacks" quickly, I respond quickly. Because to do otherwise is plainly misleading - if not dishonest (although I am certainly not suggesting that anyone shown in this article is being dishonest - they are merely highlighted as demonstrating fast combinations).

Why would it be dishonest to imply "realism" in the context of such a drill? Because the drill focuses your attention on the "defender" and his/her "impressiveness" - while completely ignoring the insipid attack. The attacker might as well be a zombie - or even a dummy.

Now I have a lot of time for "dummy drills". Here's a great one by Zoran Sevic.

I love this guy's stuff. But note carefully that he isn't promising that it is "real fighting". He explains very clearly that it is a drill designed to teach speed, power and accuracy in hitting targets. It does not comprise a literal fighting method.

On the other hand, the fellow whom I mention at the start of this essay went a step further - as I think did his school's video. That video was carefully edited (specifically, by almost totally editing out anything preceding the "defence") to imply exactly what the fellow was saying to us; that the techniques demonstrated were literal fighting methods. And that they were "invincible". How could they not be? Look how "fast and furious" they were! How could one deny their efficacy?

I had another young man come up to me at a similar seminar at the start of this year. He told me that fast and furious chain punches (à la wing chun) were "unbeatable". At my invitation, he proceeded to demonstrate them into my face (pulling the punches, of course). He then said: "I have yet to see anyone answer that sort of attack." So I invited him to repeat the attack; only this time, I occupied the centreline as soon as he started to punch. I used a fist to do so, but the principle was same as that employed in this fuk sau video:

"Miraculously", each of his chain punches was deflected off target. My one fist extended towards him on the centreline ensured that every chain punch slipped harmlessly away. Now I want to be clear: I am not saying this to illustrate that I had effected an "unbeatable defence"; rather, I want to illustrate that his "attack" could be very easily thwarted via this simple principle:

A "train" of techniques can be derailed by one single obstacle.

And that is why you don't see chain/train/string punches in resistant fighting - be it surveillance footage of attacks against civilians or in MMA (and you should; there is nothing preventing them being used in the latter environment - despite what people, including your's truly, say about MMA not being "real fighting").

As I've previously noted, there are simply too many variables, too many predictive uncertainties, too many possible permutations, for a string of techniques to be executed against a resistant opponent. Instead, I believe the following is self evident:

You can only realistically execute string attacks once your opponent has is "on the ropes", "on the canvas" or similarly incapacitated.

Otherwise chaos theory ensures that even one "spanner" will jam up the works. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why every single one of these demonstrations of "donner und blitzen" combinations (loosely called "defences") are always (and I mean always) demonstrated against an "attacker" who is indistinguishable from a dummy (at worst) or a zombie (at best).

Now, once again, I don't want to imply that practising such combinations isn't useful. Combinations are always useful to the martial artist, as is speed practice. As Zoran notes, you want speed, you want "power" and you want accuracy. Practising such drills can help hone these attributes so that if you should ever need to effect a defence, at least one effective blow will find its mark.

But here's the operative word: defence.

As I've previously discussed, civilian defence involves much, much more than hitting things (or people). Instead you have to deal with the fact that your opponent is:

(a) trying to hit you; and
(b) not letting you hit him/her!

As to the first point, the fact that your attacker is trying to hit you necessitates defence skills, as I note in my articles "Attack, attack, attack" and "That first punch: can you block it?" (among others).

Yet for all their "impressiveness" in raining counters down upon their "attackers", the responses in the first video do not contain even one defensive skill: not one deflection, not one evasion, not one "negation" of any other kind. Instead, there is an underlying assumption that the "attack" (such as it is) is not worth being concerned about (and in truth, in most of these drills it isn't!).

The most you usually get is a token "block" (for a punch that is out range and lacking any speed or commitment anyway). Alternatively, you get a mere "entry" - an aggressive push into the "attacker's" guard (which is fine, but it isn't a defence; it is an attack).

Put simply, learning to "donner und blitz" your opponent does not answer the question: "How will you address/negate your attacker's own 'donner und blitzen'?" After all, your attacker is likely to be attacking at least as fast and hard as you plan to respond. You can't ignore this issue; as I have often noted (see my article "Surviving the surprise attack", for example) it isn't swept away by focusing all your attention on how fast and hard you can hit things.

So you need to learn defence. You won't learn or practise defence if you only ever face "dummies" or "zombies" in class. You won't even learn counter attack.!

Someone whose videos are often referred to me. This one's titled "How to defend yourself against an attacker" - which is all very "nice". But where is the "attacker"? Am I the only one to notice that the "defender" is the only one doing any "attacking?" I think the video is better titled "How to be an attacker" (although even that is not a good title, since the video assumes your "target" is "inanimate" and will let you punch here, twist there etc.).

Which leads me to the second point above: the fact that your attacker is trying actively thwart each and every one of your counters necessitates more advanced counter attack skills; skills that are far more advanced than simply hitting a dummy, as I note in my articles "Boards don't hit back" Parts 1 and 2 (among others).

Yet, once again, for all the impressiveness of the "donner und blitzen" attacks showcased in the first video, I can't see one single tactic that deals with an opponent who is actively resisting your counters - thwarting them as best as he or she can. Even if an attacker has ceased trying to hit you, you'd be surprised how just a single punch thrown on the centre line can "derail" your own counter attack plans (as I demonstrated to that young man at the beginning of the year).

Accordingly, for a drill to be "impressive" in its "realism", it needs more than just a ferocious response on the part of the "defender". It needs to be pitched against a ferocious attack - and an on-going strident resistance to any and all of your counters.

But this issue is skillfully avoided by many proponents of the "donner und blitzen" method of civilian defence. The whole question of "defence" and "resistance" is ignored. Like any "mentalism", recourse is made to distraction:

"Where's the realistic attack - and the resistance to your counters?"
"Don't worry about that. Look here! Look at my handspeed! Look at how I pummel this fellow until he turns to jelly! Impressive huh? Can you see yourself resisting that? I bet you can't!"

And so on. This is either self-deception or it is deception of others. Either way, it is misleading and inaccurate. And it is the oldest trick in the "mentalist's" book: "Look at this hand so you don't see what I'm doing with the other." Except in this case it's: "Look at the 'defender', so you don't notice how pathetic the 'attacker' is." The more brutally spectacular the "defender", the greater the distraction and the less the paucity of attack realism is noticed.

Now, I want to make it clear that I am not suggesting that the people in the video embedded above were/are trying to mislead anyone. I haven't watched their full videos to see what it is they are demonstrating. Perhaps (and very likely) they have adopted Zoran's approach:

"Here are some drills for developing fast, powerful and accurate combinations."

That is fine. But equally, I do know of people (like the fellow I mentioned at the start of the article) who are clearly under a false impression as to the "completeness" of skills taught by these sorts of drills. And the school to which they belong clearly gave them that impression.

If you are from a school that specialises in fast hand combinations, then all credit to you: you have very good combination skills: skills I'd love to learn.

But, if you have any doubts after reading this article, ask yourself - in all honesty - whether you are accurately reflecting what is being gained from such drills. If you are implying (or simply allowing your students and others to assume) that these skills obviate the need for proper defensive and counter-resistance tactics, then you're doing these people a disservice.

Because we're not living in a zombie apocalypse, nor are we ever likely to. Real attackers are far more proactive. They want to take you out, and stack the odds in their favour as much as possible. This means striking first, striking hard, striking fast and striking last. It doesn't mean lurching forward with outstretched arms, or pausing for you to effect an elaborate "counter" plan.

And if you do manage to get a shot in, your attackers aren't just going to "stand there and take it". They're going to try to block/evade/avoid/stifle/thwart your endeavours as best they can.

If you're serious about civilian defence drills, remember this rule of thumb: the attacker's speed and force should match the defenders and vice versa. If you're both going "soft and slow" that's okay. If you're both going hard and fast, that's also okay. If one is going "soft and slow" and the other is going "hard and fast" something is desperately wrong. Because this sort of thing only happens in zombie movies.

A taekwondo instructor friend of mine likes to say: "You can try to fool yourself, but don't try to fool the rest of us." Zombies don't exist. Real attackers do.

Copyright © 2012 Dejan Djurdjevic


  1. The school where I learn has drills that are similar to (but much slower than) the ones shown in the videos to act as a sort of form made of joint locks or other such techniques. I can see how these can be misinterpreted as an invincible offence or even misused by certain schools as the backbone of their instruction. When performed, they certainly look like it; but that's just it: We use them as a way to remember a few techniques and practice them all at once.

    There is one problem with this article, though. Because I watched these videos, they are going to show up on my recommended videos list whenever I'm on Youtube. How could you do this to me?! I'll have to watch all of your videos again just to get these ones off the list.

  2. Criminals aren't thinking of things in the martial arts sense. There is no preparation for counter-attacks from the target. There is no preparation for defending against the target or to prepare defenses or attacks to deal with the victim's attacks or defenses.

    The idea of fighting, by two trained individuals, each using their own attack and defense techniques, is a martial art idea. But it's not what modern users are using.

    In the ancient world, all the defenses and counter-attacks were developed expressly to defeat other fighters like themselves, since martial training was present in all warrior classes and warriors usually fought other warriors, rather than untrained and defenseless civilians.

    Even with modern implements like guns, they aren't necessarily used with the intent in mind to get into a gun fight with other gun users. As seen at that kid school in Connecticut. In many instances, they don't even wear body armor or think about escape, because they either want the police to kill them or they will kill themselves to avoid capture, after having made their point. At that school, all a person had to do was leave their friends behind and run faster, get under cover, and leave. If they wanted to live. That was their defense. In the end, I wonder if it is truly the best thing for society engender that kind of defense for civilians into people's minds. The ancient warriors of China, those that adhered to a knight errant type code, didn't seem to think so.

    The criminal intent is very different from the martial arts idea of fighting or winning.

    The only real question of worth is whether any training methodology prepares an untrained fighter to defeat or survive against modern day predators with modern day untrained firearms and H2H skills. Given a choice between picking up a gun and spending 1 day in a dojo to learn H2H, most criminals will prefer the easier surer path. Unfortunately, firearms were not a specific concern to those who developed and preserved the martial arts.

    If the worry is unrealistic estimations concerning the opponent or threat scenario, then the same is true whether one speaks of dolls or about human criminals. There is a problem when anyone mistakes the true nature of the goal they are training towards/against.

    The criminal element of humanity aren't as stupid as people like to think. People will find ways to get power over others, and it doesn't matter if one particular segment of the society is armed and able to defend itself, when another particular segment is weak and defenseless. The ancient martial ways never solely sought defense for the self, but defense for all those that might be unjustly attacked. The civic duty of protecting one's society and family.

    Unfortunately, the belief that one's own life is all that matters, has gained an inordinate amount of philosophical priority in the decadent West. Many martial artists have confidence issues with just their own personal protection. But if it wasn't for the diluted knowledge of several past generations, they might have been thinking of higher goals in mind. All this concern over personal protection, should have long ago been addressed. People cannot advance beyond that level until they gain the confidence to worry about more important issues. The fact that humans aren't getting past this point, highlights the various existing problems with current methods of teaching, because that has been diluted beyond the point of return.

  3. Thanks SirReberal and Anonymous.

    Ymar, you said:

    "Criminals aren't thinking of things in the martial arts sense. There is no preparation for counter-attacks from the target. There is no preparation for defending against the target or to prepare defenses or attacks to deal with the victim's attacks or defenses."

    That's very true: criminals do not prepare for a martial arts contest. But they do, nonetheless, engage in a certain "preparation". Criminals prepare by stacking the odds as much as possible in their favour. They want to hit you first, hit you hard, hit you fast and hit you last. They don't want to leave anything to chance. Nada. Zip.

    With that sort of mentality, you can't assume that they will allow you to execute a similar "response plan". That is the last thing on their minds. So you need to do more than adopt the same tactics as the criminal - for ethical, legal and logistical reasons. If it comes down to both sides preparing a "target focused" plan (and no more), quess who is likely to win? The guy who starts first. And criminals try to start first - that is their raison d'etre. Civilians need to do more than assume (as so many people in the RBSD "industry" get their customers to assume) that all they need to do is practise hitting certain targets in a certain sequence. That's what the attacker is also intending to do. They'll get in first, so it might not be much help if you're a bit better at it than your attacker. A smack on the head with a bottle is, after all, a smack on the head with a bottle. A civilian's job is to negate that sort of threat.
    Frequently - due to the pressures of law/ethics/logistics - this involves a response; not some sort of "targeted pre-emption".

    "The criminal intent is very different from the martial arts idea of fighting or winning."

    You got that right. They don't want to fight. They want to take you out. Assuming they will stand their like dummies or zombies to give you a "sporting chance" at a "fight" is possibly one of the stupidest notions I've ever heard/read/seen. How it can creep in, seemingly unnoticed, into various "reality-based" systems is beyond me. That is the purpose of this article. To expose this manifestly flawed and irresponsible "reasoning". [It's actually just marketing for a specific product - which makes it even more reprehensible.]

    "The only real question of worth is whether any training methodology prepares an untrained fighter to defeat or survive against modern day predators with modern day untrained firearms and H2H skills."

    Yes, that's right. Now it's just a question of exposing manifestly lacking civilian defence methodologies for what they are (despite any inherent "attractiveness" brought about by "impressive" aggression. The first quesiton should always be this:

    Where's the "attacker"?

    Alarm bells should start ringing when someone talks about their system being "target focused"; they are already broadcasting to the world that they consider attackers to be inanimate objects - targets - not individuals contriving and schemeing to take you out as unfairly as possible and with as little accommodation/facilitation of your own "defence plan" as possible.

    As always, thanks for your patronage.

  4. This subject is not new to people used to reading your blog, but this article deserves to be an instant classic because of its importance, utility and the instructive and funny video references. :D
    Anyway, you have to concede that in the hypothesis of december 21th's end of the world happen with a zombie catastrophe, those who are trained to combat zombies (one at a time, off course) will be in advantage.

    1. Thanks Samir, I did have some fun with this. And yes, zombie defence skills might well be of benefit in the next week if the Mayans were right!


    Couldn't bother to divide it up for the 4000 character limit, so posted the reply on my blog.

    The Mayans needed that day as Creation Day, because they couldn't make a calendar any further along without recalculating the celestial orbits. Even the stars tend to stray off course after 5000 years.

  6. Ymar, you seem to keep flogging this "dead horse" idea that somehow most (if not all?) attacks can be effectively pre-empted, negating defensive skills and promoting instead certain "attack-centric" methodologies (which suit your pre-existing political/social/philosophical ideologies on how violence can and should be handled).

    I've spent many articles discussing why this is logistically impossible. The fact that this is amply borne out by statistics relating to civilian defence - even among the most trained combat specialists - is something of which you seem to be totally unaware (or, due to cognitive dissonance, unwilling to be aware).

    Instead, (in your inimitable fashion) you make lengthy, confusing, and vague allusions to mythical figures like Musashi, almost perfect zen-like awareness. You also make various hypothetical hindsight analyses of things like Sandy Hook (again, consistent with your ideologies but totally inconsistent with how violence has generally played out anywhere except in far-fetched revenge/justice Hollywood B grade violent fantasies).

    You seem to be observing the obvious: that one who initiates aggression is better off than one who responds to it. You then go on to imply that simply making this observation (along with some zen or TFT-like training etc.) can and will ensure you are never such a "respondent"; ie. that you will always be able to be an attacker. And that better attack (ie. pre-emption) skill circumvents defence (perhaps in a way that would enable you to effect successful defence of the kind we see in the movies but which rarely, if ever, happens in real life, even with the best-trained defence specialists). This is patent nonsense. I'm sorry, but I can't say it any other way.

    To "support" your argument (and I use that expression loosely - because your thoughts do not really connect in any cogent or obvious way) you make incorrect statements about things like the nature of the internal arts. But of greater concern to me is that you make totally unsubstantiated, sweeping, simplistic and obviously wrong generalisations about human behaviour and society generally - eg. about "ordinary people" having "no plan" because of what "people on the internet keep telling them". Are you serious? I mean, really serious? Do you believe the latter or are you just pulling my leg in a rather tortuous, time-wasting way? Because I won't bother dignifying what is wrong with this, nor will I repeat my considered, detailed, and highly structured articles about the logistics of reaction.

    What I will do is point out that even if you did have the "most perfect awareness" and "best offensive tactics", and you could pre-empt every attack that might be launched against you, this would require a kind of paranoid hyper-vigilance on your part that would make life almost unbearable.

    It would also require you to "pre-empt" even vaguely suspicious scenarios - regardless of whether there was any real threat there or not. This is so contrary to the law and general morality that I'm not going to bother addressing it further. You can re-read my fairly recent article about necessary and reasonable force - and how, to a greater or lesser degree, the law (and common sense, ultimately) require you to be "respondent" rather than "pre-emptor" - whether you like it or not.

  7. To cut through some of the bulk and waste, let's come to a clear premise.

    Are you confident you can train a pure civilian with no fighting or even aggressive tendencies, to survive or defeat/kill a mass murderer, in 3 days of training, Dan?

    That is what Tim Larkin's claims logically lead to, although perhaps he never specifically claimed he could or couldn't, and from what I've seen, his claim is genuine and backed up by several client feedbacks.

    I couldn't match his 3 day promise if I wanted to. At best, I would say 6 months of training, at my teaching levels.

    How long do you think you would need to train such a regular civilian to defeat or kill, say, a mass murderer with a gun at an Elementary school?

    I'm not familiar with other instructors, there's too many to be honest, so I'll cut to the bone with just the one I know of on a semi personal level.

    On a side note, do you think killing a mass murderer armed with a "military style" automatic or semi automatic rifle, without any weapons attached to your body, would count as pre-emptive attacks or a counter attack?

    If a person can survive that kind of threat scenario, what things would he need to do differently against a lower threat scenario in your view?


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