Since February 23rd is “International Dog Biscuit
Appreciation Day
” it seemed like perfect timing for some “Dog Bone” Self-Defense.  Your average dog biscuit or chew toy is a perfect size and shape to be used as a kubotan, yawara, or “Palm stick” in a self-defense
situation (your average cat toy, or even the cat itself, is not worth much of anything).  
What made me think of this was a guy I knew that trained in his family style of karate (he was Okinawan).  His father used to carry a small wooden dowel (~ 5” x ½”) that he had let the dog play with/chew on.  He carried it in his back pocket as a palm stick and if he ever forgot about it or was asked what it was, he just said “Oh, that’s my dog’s chew toy”.  Friendly and non-threatening enough to be carried onto planes, into schools, or any other non-permissive environments.  
Palm sticks are used in a variety of cultures/martial systems.   Whether it’s called a yawara, kubotan, Koppo, Dulo Dulo, or Olisi Palid, they follow general principles in application.  They can be used as a “fist load” to increase the mass and/or decrease the compression of the fist which increases the amount of force that can be transferred onto/into the target. 
Depending on the length of the palm stick, either end can be used to strike sensitive targets.  The stick can also be used to grip or squeeze the opponent’s limbs and is often
useful for joint manipulations/compliance.   

A variety of objects can be used as a palm stick (see photos below).  Most can be made from objects already available around the house or in the garage.  Of course, there’s the true dog biscuit or chew toy.  Or a wooden dowel.   Or the Cold Steel Koga (although these look like weapons and in my opinion aren’t very discreet.  TSA is likely to get their boxers in a bunch if that’s found in your briefcase).   Or a “true” Kubotan.  Or an ASP canister of pepper spray.  

Tactical Pens (or any sturdy pen) work great.   Cold Steel’s Sharkie is a weapon hidden in plain sight, but why buy it from Cold Steel? Why not use a dried out (or fresh) Dry Erase marker?  The narrow tip on the cap makes a great focal point for strikes.  If you’re worried about the cap coming off, just crazy glue it on to make it permanent.   Or a Hi-Liter.  Or a flashlight (of any size, but as they get larger, for example C or D cell, they’re more of an impact weapon).

I think that with very little effort you can find ½ dozen items that can be used as true or improvised weapons.  Once you find some, take the time to hit some focus mitts with them in your hand.  Most empty hand techniques translate easily, but some quick familiarization and applied resistance would increase your comfort level.    And don’t forget to give Old Yeller a biscuit.  Woof!

This past Sunday marked the beginning of the Year of the Snake, one of the 12-year cycle of animals appearing in the Chinese zodiac.  According to HanBan.com, “People born in the Year of the Snake are reputed to be thoughtful and wise and to approach problems rationally and logically, seldom instinctively.”  

These are also characteristics found during the effective use of the “Snake” series of disarms (although we’d also like them to become instinctive).  There are some that refer to the live/empty hand application as “snake” disarms and when using the weapon a “vine” disarm.  For our purposes, we will refer to them both as a form of “Snake” disarm, since they follow a common principle – the weaving or intertwining/wrapping of your limb around your opponents limb/weapon in order to effect a disarm or immobilization.   These can be applied empty hand to empty hand (for example versus a wrist grab), empty hand
vs. weapon, or weapon vs. weapon. 

Scenario 1 - Hand vs. Hand
If the attacker grabs my R. wrist with his L. hand, I have 2 primary options.  I can start to circle my hand either Clockwise or Counterclockwise.   If I circle CW, usually I get a release or I end up in an outer wrist lock/throw position (kotegaeashi).  If I circle CCW, I either release or position myself for an inner wrist lock position.  Students ask –  Which way should I circle?  It really doesn’t matter.  If you get flustered or confused, just start circling.  At some point they won’t be able to maintain their grip and you should achieve a release.  What if they are significantly stronger, bigger, taller, etc.?  First, don’t let them grab your wrist and clamp down (Duh).  But, assuming they have grabbed you, then you might have to take their mind off of the grip by applying some form of“diminishment”.   Any strike to the face/nose/eyes, a kick to the knee or groin, either of which may accomplish the release without any further snaking. Lacking that release, it may give enough time or distraction to allow you to work on a snake release.  As a wise trainer once
said: “All jiu-jitsu/locks/holds/throws work after you break someone’s nose.”

Scenario 2 - Empty hand vs. Weapon
If an attacker strikes with his R. hand using a stick/club towards the L. side of my head (Angle 1 strike) and I am unarmed (and assuming I have to stay to defend and can’t pull a Sir Robin and “Run away!”), then I should jam or block his swinging arm with both of my palms.  I can then use my L. hand to perform a CCW snake around his wrist, then making a “hitchhiking” motion with my arm.  This should leave the stick either trapped under my arm or ejected.  
Scenario 3 - “Weapon” vs. Empty hand
Using the setup from #1, if someone is grabbing my R. wrist with their L. hand (or R. hand, it doesn’t matter) and I happen to be holding a Tactical pen in that hand (in this case a Timberline Lightfoot Tactical LCP, although I also really like the Schrade Tactical), I can use the same CW or CCW snaking motions and use the pen for added leverage or pain compliance.  If it’s especially pointy you get the added benefit of sticking it in their arm (Hey, they grabbed you, remember?).   This same approach can be used if you are holding a knife (as a weapon, although I suppose someone could attack you while you’re chopping onions for dinner) and they grab your wrist.  The length and the edge of the knife now give you added leverage and pain compliance tools at your disposal.  Circle the tip of the knife either direction while sawing and levering down on their wrist. Chances are they’ll let go.  
Scenario 4 – Weapon vs. Weapon
If we’re both armed with sticks and they attack with an Angle 2 (high backhand) towards the right side of my head, I can block it with my stick, tip pointing up.  As I start to snake the tip of the stick CW around their stick hand, I feed the end of their stick into my Left hand, trapping it.  As I continue the stick snake, I will reach a point where I can push on
the back of their hand with the stick, while pulling on their stick with my hand, accomplishing the disarm.  (It’s easier to do than describe).

Those are just 4 basic scenarios that demonstrate the versatility of the “Snake” disarms.   With a “rational and logical” approach to your practice of these techniques, you too will appear “wise” in the ways of the Snake.  
{Note – the Rattlesnake picture was taken during a hike last October near Bear Meadows Natural Area, Rothrock State Forest, CentralPennsylvania}

When I was in High School, our soccer or baseball warm-up
routines consisted of running some laps, toe touches, and some hurdler stretches or seated straddles.  As I got involved in the Martial Arts, the warm-up still consisted of some aerobics to elevate the heart rate, and largely static stretches designed to improve flexibility and reduce the risk of injury (or so it was thought).  In fact we had one of those fancy straddle machines that you could sit in and crank your legs out farther and farther (see pic).  I mean, it worked for Bill “Superfoot”Wallace and Chuck Norris, why not us?  Sensei did introduce some PNF stretching, although we didn’t know that’s what it was at the time.  
Did it work?  Well, that depends. In 30+ years of karate, I never “pulled” a muscle or had any problems with hamstrings, quads, calves, or Achilles despite high volume kicking at my head height (or higher).  However, I have had one knee scoped and the other one dislocated. Was that due to prolonged static stretching which caused instability around the joints?  Will never know.  There were also plenty of other participants following the same protocols that ended up popping a hamstring or suffering some kind of tear, sprain, or strain. It’s hard to ascribe cause & effect in these non-controlled cases.  From my perspective I think that this “historic” method that focused heavily on static stretching
helped maintain/improve my flexibility and worked for my needs at the time. 
More and more of the current research have focused on the use and types of stretching as a “warm-up” activity.  Some have shown that “there is no evidence that static stretching
immediately before activity will significantly reduce injury rates.”  In fact, some studies show that static stretching actually impairs immediate things like strength, power, and balance.  So what to do?

Most studies and trainers are now focusing on a “dynamic warm-up” as a pre-activity routine.  This typically includes some combination of dynamic (not ballistic) stretching,  agility, and “specific motor pattern movements.”   Basically an activity/movement is done to increase the core and muscle temperature and then you perform similar movements that occur during subsequent exercise.  
A recent article (“
A Dynamic warm-up model increases Quadriceps strength & Hamstring
”,Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 26(4): 1130-1141, 2012) found that a dynamic warm-up improved hamstring flexibility and quad strength.  They also found that short duration (< 40 sec per muscle group) did NOT significantly reduce quad and hamstring performance.  If you’d like a copy of their warm-up protocol and exercises for some ideas, give me a shout and I’ll drop you a copy.  

I also really like the warm-up protocol found in Martin Rooney’s “Warrior Cardio”. This is the one that I’ve been playing with for the past year and it’s been working for my current needs.  Am I as “flexible” as I was in the past?  No, but I’m also not focused on kicking
someone in the head anymore.  I’m more interested in quickly prepping my body for a workout that probably includes elements of strength, conditioning, and martial arts, often in the same workout.  Now it’s about efficiency.

So, if you’re still sitting in one of those stretching machines or spending hours in
a straddle stretch or front/side split before working out, I think you’d be happier checking out some dynamic warm-ups.