Martial Arts
Posted By Matthew

A Bronx Tale…Of Street Self Defense

This is another story from the IKKF 2010 Annual Training.

One of the guest instructors at our training was a gentleman named Miguel Ibarra. Ibarra Sensei studies and teaches aikijujutsu and has a dojo based out of Bronx, New York. Ibarra Sensei has been a probation officer in The Bronx for decades (now retired) and has what you might call ‘real world experience’. Let’s put it this way, if your interest is in street effective and tested methods, Ibarra Sensei is your guy.

That being the case, I asked him what he thought was more valuable during his time on the New York streets, striking or grappling. His answer was essentially as follows:

For a police or probation officer, grappling is a much much more valuable tool. You have to remember – when a cop strikes someone, the immediate reaction of everyone around (including the suspect) is to cry abuse and try to sue. That is not to downplay the seriousness and reality of police brutality, but perpetrators who are struck tend to believe they are innocent victims.

The recent video of a Seattle Police Officer was of particular interest in the conversation, which you can view here:


This officer was in a dangerous situation, being grabbed at by two irate women and surrounded by individuals who were looming in a threatening manner. it was within the cop’s legal right to strike the woman who accosted him. Yet, as we can see, this video has become an internet hot topic and has sparked controversy. If the officer had been able to handle the situation without striking, there would be no news at all from this arrest.

Ibarra Sensei’s aikijujutsu (known for grappling and joint-locking) is swift, direct, and punishing. It has to be for his purposes. He explained that since law enforcement officers need to avoid striking whenever possible in order to prevent lawsuits and scandal, they need to have an excellent ability to use the force of physics and joint manipulation to gain compliance. He also noted the unreliability of pain compliance when dealing with an adrenaline pumped, drunk, or high assailant who would like nothing better than to stomp your face.

Interestingly, when the conversation shifted to civilian self defense, Ibarra Sensei had a much more accepting view of striking. The continuum of force for civilian-to-civilian is much more even than that of cop-to-civilian. Therefore, for a citizen, a threat of being struck can be responded to with a strike.

To learn more about the various use-of-force continuums, please visit this page for police, and this page for civilian martial artists.

Unfortunately, if you defend yourself at all during violent situations, our litigious society might still come knocking at your door. That’s why it is good to actively de-escalate a situation and make sure bystanders see you trying (if you are lucky enough to get the chance).

Most experienced instructors I have encountered tend toward the mindset of “defend yourself first, worry about the legalities second”. If in the heat of the moment you can stay within the continuum, that’s optimal…but don’t get yourself killed trying to play nice.