gun

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I keep seeing those TV commercials for house alarms.. A young women with a child is in her house, she turn on the alarm. You see a prowler outside. He kicks the door in, the alarm goes off, frustrated, he turns around and runs away. Sure, it could happen just like that, but the thug is already in, ten feet from the potential victims, and he just got pissed-off.. Why would he leave right then? Criminals do not think about the consequences of their actions, otherwise they would be in another line of work. Even if a squad car is a couple blocks away, he still has plenty of time to kill the mother and child, just because that alarm ruined his day, or he just feels like it.

Your first line of defense should not be a house alarm. By all means, get one, but you should think about your doors first. A good solid door with a steel frame and quality locks can save your life. Windows can be armored too, and you get the benefit of hurricane protection as well.

Martial arts training is a must, but what you really need in your house is a gun. That requires training too, but it is an excellent life insurance. Some will say “but I don’t like guns.” It’s just an object, it won’t shoot you all by itself. If you are not comfortable with one, you just need an instructor to show you how to handle it safely. You also need a safe, the kind you can open quickly by pressing a finger combination:

Gun vaults at Cabellas

Get at least a 9mm semi-auto, or a .38+P revolver. I highly recommend all Glock models of semi-auto pistols. Anything smaller won’t stop an angry robber. I personally have an affinity for the .45, but I would be very happy with a Glock model 19, with the right ammo.

A robber has to go through a series of evaluations and actions to get into your house. Why would he pick your house? Get outside, stand across the street and look at your place.. Imagine how you might break-in. Imagine watching yourself get in and out. Are you an easy target? You need to evaluate your value as a target to make yourself look less inviting to unwanted guests.

Next comes you physical protection. How strong are the entry points to your house? Not only doors and windows, but roof, garage door, and any possible weaknesses? Robbers will find ways to get into your house you would never think of. You need to plug those holes.

Last, your response to a home invasion. It shouldn’t be just calling 911 and hoping for the best. You do need a weapon. The choice is yours, but is limited. I see baseball bats near front doors fairly often; wrong place. If someone kicks in the door, they got your weapon! It takes a lot of strength to damage the human body, and if you can’t swing that bat hard enough, forget it. A gun, sure, but you must practice with it. A sword would be better than any kind of club. Non-lethal options like the Taser or mace are in my opinion not good options. The Taser is a one shot deal, and mace might just piss-off your attacker.

One last consideration is the legalities of self-defense. If someone breaks into your house, you have a petty clean-cut case. If however you shoot a robber on your front lawn while he’s getting away with you TV, you’re going to jail..

I am not an expert, but I hope these suggestions will help keep you safer. Comments and suggestions are welcome…

An often overlooked home self defense option is the sword. They work as well today as they did centuries ago, as we can read about in this recent news article. A Baltimore student killed an intruder with a Samurai sword. At short to medium range, a good sword is deadlier than any gun. It never jams, and never runs out of ammo. Modern reproductions of Japanese katanas made in China have come a long way and are now available for a couple hundred dollars. So, is a sword the self defense weapon of choice?

Well, it depends.. As with any weapon, are you willing to spend the time to learn to handle it safely and practice on a regular basis? “It’s just a sword” you might say, but a 28-inch razor sharp blade can ruin your day very fast; just look at this:

Sword injury.

Sword injury.

Picture from the excellent site:
Swords Buyers Guide

And this is what happens when you mess with a cheap stainless steel wall-hanger:

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Avoid stainless steel like the plague. Be very suspicious of movie related products or cheap “Ninja” katanas. A sword, even a bad one, is very dangerous. The difference about a bad one is that is is as dangerous to you or people around you as it would be to an intruder. It only has to touch you to cause gruesome injuries. Sword makers offer non-sharpened models called iaitos, used in the discipline of Iaido, which is the art of drawing. They are a good investment and insurance policy for your early training..

As far as Japanese sword arts, you might want to look into Iaido, Kenjutsu, Kendo or Shinkendo. My opinion is that your best bet is an art that actually teaches to cut targets (Tameshigiri). I would personally look into Shinkendo or Toyama-Ryu, which are modern swordsmanship systems. You don’t have to become an expert, but learning a few basic techniques, cuts and safety are a minimum.

Are you willing to spend $200 or $300 for a decent blade made of carbon steel, forged and mounted properly? These figures are actually cheap compared to real Japanese swords starting at around $6,000. CAS Hanwei and Cheness Inc. are the major manufacturers of decent quality reproductions. Hanwei also offers medieval swords worth a look, if you prefer the Highlander type of hardware! Cold Steel also has a good collection of practical swords (I like their Chinese War Sword). See below how Cheness forges a blade:

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Though not made in Japan (Nihonto or modern Shinken), the Chinese reproductions are real swords made by hand using somewhat similar techniques. For most people, they are the only accessible models, with a price range of about $150 to $3,000. For home defense, a $300 spring steel model would do just fine. I like the cheness Ko-Katanas, which are a shortened version for tight spaces, like a house. You’ll never (hopefully) carry your sword outside your house, so you don’t need a long one. A wakisashi would do fine as well (one-handed). Watch below as Paul Southren from Swords Buyers Guide tests a Cheness katana. Very impressive.

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Carbon steel rusts.. You will have to clean and oil your sword at least every other month. It isn’t a high price to pay to keep your weapon ready and in good shape. Aside from that, a good sword will never let you down. If you practice swordsmanship, you also have an excuse for owning one and grabbing “the closest thing that could be used as a weapon” when it comes to explain to a judge why you cut a robber in half instead of calling 911 and waiting for the cops while getting beaten-up or killed.. And yes, the above mentioned swords will cut someone in half if you practice long enough to get a perfect cut. More often than not however, just showing the sword tends to convince intruders to turn around and start running.

I may have a preference for Japanese swords just because of their light weight, but any good quality medieval or antiquity reproductions would do fine, from European blades to sabers, scimitars, Chinese swords, there is something out there for everyone. With anti-gun laws looming on our horizon, a sword might be a good choice. It sure beats a jammed gun any day. You never have to buy ammo, so practicing might involve just a bit of your time and sweat, maybe a membership fee and a few tatami mats.. If you do decide to get one, be responsible, get professional advise, and learn about self-defense laws. Be safe 🙂

Most people here in Florida know how to swim. Actually, these days, most people know how to swim, period. Our parents may have loved the water, or imagined us kids falling in a pool and drowning. So, we took swimming lessons, and for most of us, it was great fun. Aside from the undeniable fun factor, let’s look at safety.. You actually have to fall in a body of water to drown. Yet, the thought of drowning is unpleasant enough for people to learn how to swim and teach their kids. Never go near deep water and you’ll be fine. It might not be easy, but you can avoid the risk altogether. Individuals with aqua-phobia are extremely unlikely to ever drown. The same can not be said of violence. It can happen anywhere, at any time. You can die of a knife wound or kick to the head faster than having your lungs filled with water. Why is it then that almost nobody, and especially the most vulnerable people never train to handle violence? The idea is as unpleasant as drowning. We wear our seat-belts, avoid bad foods, take vitamins, exercise.. Why not train in martial arts? Why not teach children simple moves to get away from someone trying to grab them?

Swimming is a lot like martial arts. You do it mainly for fun, especially with your family and friends. Not only is it good exercise, but you gain a skill that can save your life. Just like martial arts, you can’t learn it from a book, videos, or listening to other people. That can help, but ultimately, you have to jump in and do it. The only thing you need to practice either is a somewhat healthy body and some water, though only for drinking in martial arts.

Unlike martial arts though, if you have a bad swimming teacher, you’ll know fairly soon.. Imagine a discipline called “traditional swimming” where you learn to swim on the ground, or laying on your stomach on a chair. Your teacher is a “master traditional swimmer.” He has never been in the water, but that doesn’t matter, right? After years of traditional swimming, you should be able to cross a good size river, if you were to fall in.. Unfortunately, a lot of martial arts schools are like traditional swimming schools.. Just keep that in mind. You can read a lot about that on nononsenseselfdefense.com.

A pond, swimming pool, the ocean can be very unforgiving of mistakes and lack of proper knowledge. Yet, they do not actively try to kill you. Some criminals are as cold as an Icelandic lake, and they will murder you without batting an eye. I don’t worry much about drowning or being murdered, mind you. I do however read the news. I could self-deceive myself until the cows came home, but there is no denying that there are people out there preying on others for a living, or wanting to satisfy some sadistic urge. You might say “I’ll just buy a gun,” or “I’ll just kick him in the balls.” That’s pure fantasy. For a gun or knife to be effective, it needs to be right there when you need it, and you must pull it out fast enough, and be efficient with it under stress, that means training. In many places, carrying a weapon is illegal. You need to turn yourself into one. I wish every time someone told me “I would just (insert kick-ass move here)…” I could have jumped them, taken them down and mimic crushing their head before their could move a finger. Then I would ask: “Why didn’t you just (insert kick-ass move here)?” Of course, that kind of argument, though efficient, is rather frowned upon.

If you already exercise, ask yourself, “What other benefits am I getting from this?” I mean, other than an improved health and looking better naked? If you swim, that’s easy, you can save yourself or someone else from drowning.. Otherwise, consider learning to defend yourself. You kill two birds with one stone, better health and acquiring a potentially life saving skill. Sure, you might get bruises and a few aches and pains. So what? If that bothers you, maybe knitting is more for you then, but watch for those needles, they can hurt..

I have been interested in martial arts since probably around age twelve. There wasn’t many classes available in my home town of Comines (France), only traditional Judo and Karate. I tried a few Judo classes, but it wasn’t what I had in mind when thinking about martial arts. Judo would actually have given me a good base, but I chose karate, because let’s face it, it was flashier, more like what I saw on television! Progress however was slow. Not only did we have to repeat precise movements over and over, but we also had to remember their names, in Japanese. I didn’t question their methods. There was an older (I just say that to make myself feel better) girl in class who had a brown belt and could kick my ass. I thought that eventually, I would get there.. Four years later, I wasn’t much better, but I didn’t know it. My training, or so I thought, would have been sufficient to prevail in most violent encounters. I am rolling my eyes here thinking about how naive I was and how little I knew. Fortunately, I didn’t find out after waking up on a hospital bed, like so many “martial artists” who encounter real violence. No, I got punched by my little brother! The worst part is, I told him to do it. But I told him to hit me with a right to show him a cool move. He used the left… Wham! I said “no, you can’t hit me like that.” That’s when reality set in.. What I learned worked, only in the dojo…

I wasn’t about to give up. I later found a Kung-Fu class in Villeneuve d’Ascq, 45 minutes away on my 50cc motorcycle (a glorified moped actually). Most of the time, that meant 45 minutes in the cold, or rain, or both. What we trained in was a sort of stylish Karate. The teaching methods were about the same. I did last six months in that class, just because the techniques were more refined, more clever. In the end, it wasn’t any more effective. Unfortunately, I regained that false confidence that comes so easily when among peers, unchallenged. When a Tae-Kwon-Do class opened right across the border, on the Belgian side of the town, I gave it a try. This time, it was sort of an aerobatic karate. Fortunately we also did full contact, and that was somewhat better. Ground fighting back then was not popular like it is now. That experience didn’t last long. One of the students ended-up sleeping with the teacher’s wife (now, that’s what I call having some balls). The class closed shortly after that. So, I had trained for years in different styles and was pretty confident of my abilities. But confidence isn’t a bad thing, right? Well, only if it isn’t misplaced…

Not far from my house was a “maison de la jeuness” of sort, a youth house, with a bar, ping-pong tables and whatnot. I don’t think the bar was supposed to serve alcohol, but it wasn’t like anyone would card you in France if you looked old enough to ride a bicycle. I was wearing a black leather jacket, which I set on the back of a chair to play ping-pong. After a while I heard a ruckus behind me, some drunk guy jumping on tables, wearing a jacket too big for him… Mine! I decided to finish the game before leaving. He would get tired of it and leave it somewhere around, I figured. I just kept a eye on him to make sure he didn’t leave. Ten minutes later, it was time for me to go home, and I asked him to give me my jacket back. “Come a get it!” he screamed.. That moron was going to waste my time. I ran after him. He couldn’t run straight, so it wasn’t long before I caught him. He tried to swing at me, but I was holding him by his collar, actually, my collar. Now, I have long arms, and he was smaller than me. He tried to swing at my face repeatedly, but wasn’t making contact. I thought that was pretty funny and laughed. His face turned red, he violently shook himself free and pulled a knife out of his pocket. By that time, we were outside, with about two dozen witnesses around. I heard someone yell “cut him!” (went to see the guy afterwards. He apologized profusely). This is when false confidence can get you killed. I stood my ground, in a classic karate stance. Today, I would simply leave, I don’t care. At eighteen years old, you don’t think conservatively. In a way I am glad I didn’t turn around. I don’t know if that would have been better or not. He may have decided to attack if I hesitated. I made one step forward. He hesitated for a couple seconds, then suddenly put the knife back in his pocket, and threw my jacket on the ground. The incident was over. Lucky or not, I can’t help but think about the consequences, had he attacked. We had a photo in our Systema class of someone’s back after been sliced. You can see it here, with other gruesome photos (NOT FOR KIDS!) That always turned “knife fighting” from “cool” to “get me out of here” in two seconds flat, for most people, me included. The others never stayed more than for a few lessons.

I gave up martial arts as soon as I could buy a gun. I trained regularly for ten years. I would go to Arras, when the only IPSC (International Practical Shooting Confederation) club was. I became pretty proficient with pistols and sub-machine-gun (Owned a Mini-Uzi for three years). I kept on shooting until I moved to Florida in 1993. Five years ago, riding a Honda 600 on a dark rainy night in Sarasota, a driver cut me off in front of Marina Jack. I hit the car head-on at 40mph. I saw the car below me, then the sky, then the pavement, crashed on my face on the wet asphalt. I remained conscious the whole time, got a helicopter ride to Tampa where they put my shoulder back in it’s socket and inserted a titanium rod inside my broken femur. I had no insurance, so they let me out after only eight days, without reeducation or anything else for that matter. I can’t blame them, I didn’t have the money. I knew however that I needed to do my own reeducation if I wanted to walk properly again.

When I was well enough to run around with a cane, I started to go out again. One night I met my friend Milos at Jacks (now Esca). I knew he was into some Russian martial art, and started asking him a few questions. Was it some sort of Russian Judo? I had heard of Sambo before. He assured me it was quite different, and invited me to the class. I made my way to Orange Avenue on my new GSXR1100 (I know, I never say I was quite sane). I could barely climb the stairs to the class. They had a couch there. The room was small, without mats, just a thin office carpet over concrete. The students were wearing normal clothes, some camo pants, jeans, sweat pants, whatever. Some wore shoes, some didn’t. They had no rank belts.

The class started with warm-up exercises, hard ones. Then a ten-minute static push-up, which not everyone finished. The instructor, Sonny, ex Spetsnaz soldier, looked like a though guy who knew what he was doing. The real work started. That’s how we call it, “work.” I guess because Systema used to be only for “professionals.” Sonny had one of his best students Blake attack him any way he wanted. I have seen many martial arts demonstration when I was younger, and I always had the same reaction: “Waoh!” Not this time. This time, it was: “Oh shit…” I knew what I saw was real, and it was the first time I saw it.

Systema doesn’t teach much techniques, it teaches principles. You don’t have to remember any names of moves in Russian, any more than you have to remember the moves themselves. How is that possible you may ask? Without going into every principle, the four main ones being: Breathing, movement, form and relaxation, I will try to explain. There is an infinite number of ways an opponent can attack you, with or without weapons. Preparing to defend against every possible attack, even against every possible kind of attack is a fantasy.

One of the first thing you learn is to move aside. It sounds simple, but it isn’t so easy. Many arts teach blocking. That’s may be fine in some cases, but what if the blow this time comes from a baseball bat? Want to block it? I think not. However, if you have been practicing blocks for years, you may just do that. If you have never trained in martial arts, you probably will. Some people just freeze, an old evolutionary reflex, and get hit in the head without moving an inch. So, you learn to relax and step aside. Not too much, because you want to be close enough to inflict damage to your attacker. You move just enough to let the fist (or whatever else) graze you. That’s where we do our “work,” intimately close, where it will be most uncomfortable and devastating to your attacker. By stepping aside, you can exploit your opponent’s momentum. By not learning techniques, your mind is free to invent it’s next move on the fly, because your brain has learned body mechanics through training, not moves set in stone.

Learning was fast. After three months, I could ask any friend to attack me any way they wanted. Something would come out.. At least, I was avoiding the strikes or kicks, or anything weird my most creative friends would come up with. I learned something I now repeat often to new students: “Move your feet first.” It’s not quite as simple, but it helps them like it helped me.

Next comes the relaxation. Relax in a fight? You can take much harder blows without damage when you’re relaxed. Drunk drivers seldom get killed in the accidents they cause, because they are loose. I don’t even get that many bruises anymore, because I am pretty relaxed when sparring. I am still learning to relax, and more specifically, relax different parts of my body. Good Systema practitioners can use selective tension and relaxation to confuse or hurt an opponent. I am only beginning to explore that realm after more than four years of training.

Good movement is a prerequisite of survival. We learn to move constantly. Our strikes and movements are more circular than linear. This way, you don’t stop moving and become a sitting duck. With good movement, you need good form. Simply stated, keep your back straight. If you need to go down, bend your knees, not your back. Simple in theory, difficult in practice. When a fist flies at your face, your natural reflex is to bend backwards while raising your hands, leaving your feet right where they were. The problem is, you’re still in the line of attack, and now a slight push will make you topple over. Not to mention that you could trip on something behind you. Again, those are principles, not techniques. Once you can reasonably move in a relaxed manner, a flurry of opportunities “magically” appear for you to take advantage of. Actually, your brain, free of unreasonable fear, has learned to recognize those opportunities and make your body move as to steal your opponent’s movement and make it yours, to his demise.

Breathing might sound simple enough. Everyone breathes, we have been since we were born. I remember learning to play the guitar. I would be so tense and concentrated that I would forget to breathe! The same happens in a fight. I still forget sometimes, fighting on the ground. Our strength comes from both the food we ingest and oxygen. There isn’t any time to eat a power bar when someone puts a knife to your throat, so oxygen is your next best choice. Forget to breathe for a few seconds, and you will be in a world of trouble fifteen or twenty seconds later, even after resuming it. I used to find 2-minute full contact rounds exhausting. Now I can last easily ten minutes or more, just by breathing properly and relax. I was sixteen then, I am forty two now. Breathing is also essential to absorb blows, and avoid panic in some situations.

The teaching methods of Systema were developed for the Russian elite special forces. Training elite soldiers is expensive. The faster they learn the better. Systema is fast to learn, even though prospective students find the training awfully slow at first. The reason is that you can’t learn something well by starting to do it fast. No music teacher will try to tech you to play guitar by having you try to play like buckethead (Google him!). Your start slow, your brain learns. As time goes, you slowly learn to replace the flinch response by more appropriate movements.

Strikes are an art in itself within Systema. All parts of the body are used to strike. Blows are loose and heavy, like hitting with a sledge hammer on a string. I often strike with my shoulders, elbows, forearm.. unlike most martial arts, strike are multi-directional, and used to affect an opponent’s form and balance. We learn to take punches too, and getting hit in the body by an experienced instructor can be a sobering experience. A good instructor will find out what your comfort level is, and hit you slightly above it. After a few months, you really just don’t care much anymore.. There are not set techniques here either, and the same general principles apply. Emphasis is on avoiding injury. The only goal of Systema is survival.

Systema is not the only combat system teaching principles versus techniques. I mentioned it here because that’s what I know. Other such systems are mostly military in nature and reserved for special forces. Nobody else, aside from some law enforcement agencies need that level of efficiency in hand-to-hand combat. I say combat here, not fighting. Fighting is a sport, or an agreed upon duel. Combat is when someone tries to kill you, without warning. Most “general public” martial art practitioners fortunately will never have to use their skills. Those who will probably will face unexperienced attackers, and the techniques they know might be enough, with a bit of luck. Our instructor used to tell us about a fictitious character named Todd, or whatever his name was at the time:

Todd is an angry man. He just finished his second tour in Iraq and saw things that really desensitized him to violence and death. He himself killed a few people at close range. He started to go a little crazy, so the Army had to let him go. Back home, Todd didn’t fare too well, started using meth, couldn’t keep a job. He blamed it on everyone else but himself. Todd spent all his time at the gym, getting stronger. He is 6’2”, 250Lbs of muscles. Todd trains five times a week in various martial arts, practices knife fighting. On week-ends, he goes to the range and shoots a thousand rounds, pistol and assault rifle in realistic situations, moving targets while on the move. His wife has had enough of his physical and verbal abuse, and just left him. He is furious! He needs to take it on someone, and goes out, fuming, looking for a victim. That night, that someone turns out to be you…

That is when techniques won’t be enough to save you. Only a good physical condition, with good sound principles of combat will give you a chance. Whatever your art or discipline is, you can always incorporate those principle in your system. Free yourself of limitations imposed by tradition and dogma, and let your mind show you what it can do. If you never trained in martial arts or self defense, then make sure the style you get into isn’t too strict and limited in it’s teachings. Most styles labeled as “traditional” are outdated. You should probably visit quite a few schools before signing-up.. If there is a Systema group near you, give them a chance, go to a few sessions. Training should be fun. Keep an open mind, that is the best way to learn.

I wanted a rust-proof finish on my khukuri. The cheapest and easiest solution I came up with is parkerizing.

Wikipedia: “Parkerizing (also called phosphating and phosphatizing) is a method of protecting a steel surface from corrosion and increasing its resistance to wear through the application of an electrochemical phosphate conversion coating.”

This process is used mainly on military type guns. The result is a dull gray finish which protects from rust and keeps oil on the steel. Abrasion will be an issue on a knife, but I already had the solution, and the amount of work required is minimal.

I ordered a manganese parkerizing kit from Shooters Solution, which can also be bought from Brownell. Our process will thus be mechanical only, since no electricity is used.

Step one is to clean the knife thoroughly with dishwasher liquid to remove any trace of oil. This is an important step, not to be skipped. The kit contains a special cleaning solution, which would be used after sandblasting, to clean and warm up the piece. I was out of this product, and used hot water instead.

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Sand-blasting comes next, to remove any remaining oil and abrade the surface to make the manganese acid solution work better on the bare steel. The blasting cabinet we used had a very fine abrasive powder in it, which didn’t quite work, but a hand-held gun with coarse sand did the job quickly. At this time, it is very important that you do not touch the steel with your fingers! This would immediately start rusting and result in an uneven finish appearance. Flash rust will appear within ten to twenty minutes, so you must have your parkerizing solution and accessories ready nearby. I did see some on the blade, and it did create some differences in color. I didn’t care too much on a work knife, but the same result on a collectible gun would mean re-doing the whole process. Blast until you get a uniform light gray finish free of contaminants.
[warning]Be smarter than me and wear a mask and eye protection for sandblasting. My throat was itching after only a few minutes outside, blasting. That was a stupid idea![/warning]
The manganese solution comes concentrated in a bottle. You mix it with distilled water. A second cleaning after sandblasting is necessary, and it is a good idea to warm up the piece, so that the acid bath temperature doesn’t drop too low when you plunge it in. The ideal temperature is about 190F. If you don’t have a thermometer, you could wait for it to start boiling (212F) and immediately turn the heat off. Parkerizing only works on mild steel, and this is why you must use a stainless steel container. Otherwise, your solution would be wasted quickly, as any steel container would be also parkerized.

Make sure you do not touch the piece, and put it entirely in the solution. I wouldn’t do this because the knife was too long, and it resulted in a visible line near the handle, which again isn’t a big deal on a work knife. You will get much better results however if the part is entirely submerged. By the way, don’t breathe the fumes! Leave the part in for about ten minutes, moving it a bit once in a while. After removing it, clean it with hot water, and let it air dry. You can then apply the finishing oil. Et voilĂ ! That’s all there is to it.