Men's Health

"skills" BY RON GERACl

"I can kill you with my pinkie finger"

Our mild-mannered editor goes to self-defense camp.

MY BLOOD TASTES like teriyaki sauce. I had forgotten that. The hot pain in my' mouth suddenly pulled up strange memories; it had been 10 years since I'd last taken a good slug to the jaw. I went down on a knee and winced as juice rushed over my tongue and down my throat. A hefty Southern man swayed over me.

"Teeth all there?" I asked. I smiled like a mob victim.

"Yeah, all there. Sorry about that, cousin. Didn't mean to bust your lip. "

'That's all right. Let's fight."

We beat on each other for 20 more minutes, pretending to crush each other's spines with knee drops and stomp on each other's tracheas with stocking feet. When are blows became lazy, the black shirted instructors screamed in military baritone: Gentlemen, do not pull your punches. You will make your opponent react to you. If he does not strike your arm, he will be hit. Neither of us broke skin or bone again, but there'd be time for more accidents.

It was the morning of day one.

You must be choking Carl. I forgot that I called dibs on the last eclair.


I WAS ONE OF 33 men who had signed up for a 3-day SCARS® Institute of Combat Sciences camp. SCARS stands for Special Combat Aggressive Reactionary Systems. Since 1987, a very small group of instructors in Phoenix has taught SEALs teams, FBI agents, Green Berets, NATO special-forces agents, and private bodyguards how to kill (or very seriously injure) someone who wants to harm them. After selling a few million dollars' worth of instructional videotapes, the SCARS instructors cautiously decided to try civilian camps in late 1997. There's now a 3-month waiting list for the course, at up to 5 grand a head.

The SCARS fighting technique is based on a simple premise: If you hit someone forcefully in a specific place, such as the groin or gut, his body will react automatically and predictably. (SCARS calls this an "autokinematic™ reaction.") Knowing this, you can time a series of blows that will take advantage of those involuntary movements sort of like the Moo Howard eye poke/belly-punch combination. To learn these assault sequences, trainees fight all day, every day. You attack your opponent with mock blows, and he reacts to them by doubling over or falling to the ground.

The teachings are also based on another premise: If a man threatens you, make sure you throw the first punch.


Jerry Peterson, who founded SCARS in 1987, yelled with military urgency. He served in the 173rd Airborne Charlie Company in Vietnam - an outfit that saw some of the bloodiest combat of the war. This gave him the grisly opportunity to internalize every nuance of fighting, and the obsession to transform what he'd learned into a teachable science.

Jerry isn't a big man - about 170 pounds and 5'10". He's 50, and with the suburban-father face on this guy, I'd start a confrontation if he dinged my car door outside a Dairy Queen.

That would be a mistake. "Assistant Instructor" Assistant Instructor is a 6'1", 230-pound monster of a man with biceps wider than your thighs. At 34, he's a special-warfare-training specialist who learned a little bit about the Navy SEALs between 1985 and 1990.

Assistant Instructor stared at Jerry miserably.

"Left hook, the massive arm whipped forth and Jerry crushed it down. Strike! Wristlock, step back, break his wrist," Jerry called out as he executed the brutal moves.

The wristlock was firm enough to prove that it could be excruciating, the takedown hard enough to show that it could drive any man into the dirt. Assistant Instructor marked each dislocation and fracture with a guttural scream. When he was splayed on the mat, Jerry spun around him with a poised foot.

"The arm break may not finish him," he said, and planted his right heel in Assistant Instructor's throat. Assistant Instructor gave us a quick, violent death spasm.

A dozen of us cringed as if Jerry had just coldly killed a dog. We had all seen plenty of Schwarzenegger movies, but there was something particularly sickening about that heel stomp. Beyond all the "lethal weapon" talk, most of us aging wimps just wanted to humiliate the old school yard bully, not render him a gurgling corpse.

Jerry sensed that it was time for the green-cadet talk. "Gentlemen, if you think that is harsh, congratulations. It is." He reclaimed his coffee from an instructor and sipped it. "I have killed more men than you will ever imagine. It is not pretty. The smell of feces stays with you forever." He drew a long, bloodthirsty breath before continuing. "I was skinny', so it was my job to crawl into the Vietcong tunnels."

He spoke about hairpin booby traps, jammed guns, and subterranean bunkers filled with VC soldiers who fought like starving jungle cats. He crouched and flailed his hands to enliven his memories for us; to him, they were perfectly photographic, vivid, no more distant than our faces. Jerry did not speak like a damaged vet who was plagued by visions; he spoke like a man who could finally tap them for strength.

AFTER 8 HOURS of mock fighting on day one, we'd lightened a huge bottle of Advil by 100 pills. Sweat-soaked and stiff, we broke for dinner at 6 P.M. A lanky, gray-haired fellow with thick glasses sat next to me. "Journalist, huh?" "Yep. You?" "Tax attorney. I was mugged last year in Chicago. That will never happen again."

A big fellow - 275 pounds or more - exhaled loudly to enter the conversation. "I'm 56, dammit." He breathed hard again. "I can't do a lot of this crap." He was a research scientist, he said, not a Green Beret. I asked what brought him here. He looked at me sullenly through bifocals. "There's a contract on my life."

Well, that one-upped the mugged lawyer. I smiled cordially at the dark-haired man sitting across from us and asked him why he'd signed up for the camp. He slowly turned to look at me, then slowly resumed looking forward. "When the IRS comes knocking, I'll be ready."

Back for more, I took more slam's than a fat man's fridge.


ON DAY TWO, we were down to about 28 men. The others had picked a smart time to leave. "Make five rows! Each row gets one flak jacket!"

It was time to practice punching. One man would don a military flak jacket; the next guy in line would then punch him in the midriff until he'd knocked him back into the wall. Then the puncher would wear the jacket and get the business from the guy behind him. And so on. No problem. My army- ignorant brain reasoned that if a flak jacket could turn shrapnel, it should make weak work of a fist. While screaming hyah, I struck my man until he hit the gym wall. He handed me the jacket and clutched his gut in pain.

Problem. These flak jackets were thinner than fishing vests. I realized I had just punched a gentle-faced Asian man onto the transplant list. I sized up my puncher; he was a 44-year-old SWAT team leader, about 5'4". He looked like Ken Berry. He had nothing to prove by punishing me. I gave him a quick "We're all God's creatures, pal" grin and braced myself. Oooomph!!!!

When I finally reached the wall, I coughed into my hand and checked for broken ribs. I went to the wall with Ken five more times, each salvo more painful than the one before it. My gut muscles sizzled in pain, which was strangely satisfying. This wasn't sit-ups or crunches. For the first time, these muscles were doing their job.

About five more trainees quit after the flak-jacket follies.

ON THE FINAL MORNING, we dragged ourselves into the gym and fell on the mat, groaning, comparing wounds, pressing our purple hematomas to test how deeply the tissue was damaged. We looked like the wounded Confederates in Gone with the Wind.

Cad was writhing nearby. He was a Marine Corps officer, 32, married, with the squarest blond head I've ever seen. He was in impeccable shape. He drew his legs up to shift the pain off a bruise, and I noticed that he had large, gray spikes tattooed on each foot. He caught me staring.

"They're religious," he breathed, wincing. "Hey, Ron, you know what's funny about this?" he asked a moment later. "What?" "No offense, but if I saw you on the street, I'd figure - you know - this guy's nothing but a pencil pusher. I'd figure I'd be able to take you out easily. But if you knew just a little bit of this stuff, you'd be able to kill me."

That troubling comment reminded me of the one question I still wanted to ask the instructors: Is it really wise to teach civilians to maim and kill with the skill of a special-forces agent? Do regular guys really need to know hard-core self-defense?

Jerry Peterson provided his answer every moment that he instructed: Your survival depends on the decisions you make in that unthinkable, unexpected moment when someone tries to make you a crime statistic, that split second when you realize it's too late to run. True, but this answer didn't satisfy me. I hobbled over to an Instructor, who was practicing perfect one-knuckle strikes on the marked arteries, nerves, and organs of a practice dummy.

Wump!! "Glad you made it through the camp, Ron. You ought to be proud of yourself. To think of it, I'm glad we didn't have to cancel out on you." Wump!! Cancel?

"A client had an unexpected problem. He lost half his security team in one morning, and we just finished training the new guys last week." WUMP!! The regret on the Instructors face was evident. It was clear that these men, who were in a line of work similar to what Instructors had been doing for a living just a few years back, had not quit their jobs. They had been killed.

Wump! Wump!! Wump!! "Terrible stuff. And it wasn't necessary. They just got complacent and when something happened, they made stupid mistakes. Things happen too quickly for that."

Wump!! Wump! He suddenly turned to me, smiling. "You know what? My little son loves these dummies. It's the funniest thing you ever saw. When he's finished beating on one, he hugs it and says, 'Thank you for letting me hit you.'" The Instructor closed his arms on his chest to mimic his son. "He's really funny. You ought to see him do it. "Wump!! Wump!! "He's only two." Wump!! Wump!! Wump!!

Thinking of the Instructor's son, and of that crew of security guards who had forgotten how dangerous a seemingly safe world could suddenly become, I limped back to the pile of moaning, aching men. Question answered.  "I have seen the future and the future is SCARS."

Moves Every Man Should Know

These are some of the most useful self-defense moves I learned at the SCARS camp. Do not use these tactics when quibbling with your brother-in-law over the last pickled egg. This is serious stuff. If your intended victim isn't likely to harm anyone, don't pull out any of these tricks. If he is, don't hesitate.

1. Avoid trouble During an altercation, most guys make the classic mistake of posturing like a baseball manager bawling out an umpire - all face and chest, hands at their sides. Don't do that! You're defenseless. Keep your hands high and your flippers open in "Don't shoot, officer" fashion. (And smile.) This posture is disarming, and it puts you in the best position to defend yourself.


2. Escape a collaring This takes advantage of the bonehead move most bullies make: grabbing your shirt collar with both hands. It's very easy to break this hold. While your opponent is gripping your garment, powerfully windmill your dominant arm (meaning right for righties) up, over, and down - crunching his wrists under your upper arm.


3. Perform a wrist takedown. This move relies on surprise, and it's a good way to get a big, hostile man off his feet. First, focus on your opponent's hand. Make sure it's hanging at his side before you move. Then, in one quick motion [3a] walk up to him, grab his hand between your fingers and thumbs, and forcefully plant his palm on the ground 12 inches behind his leg. (Drop your knee down to use your body weight.) Keep an iron grip on his wrist. As soon as he falls, stand up straight, keeping his wrist cocked at a 90-degree angle [3b]. Make sure you keep a firm grip on his palm,applying pressure to his wrist joint. Step around him to twist his wrist 180 degrees. This will paralyze him in pain. He'll be a big, worthless pile of curses, and no more trouble to anyone.

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4. Escape from a mob This is the move to make when 50 lunatics have you pinned against a wall, ready to kick your proverbial ass - if you're a soccer referee in England, for instance. Ram the heel of your palm (or the tip of your hairline) into the nose of the guy closest to you, preferably right where it meets his upper lip. Plunge into him and keep pushing him through the crowd until you both reach an exit. I lightly tested this against the other trainees in the SCARS course, some of whom were twice my poundage, and they couldn't keep me pinned against a wall.


5. Escape from a bear hug This move allows night sentries (and small women) to survive sneak attacks. If a big man locks his arms around you from behind, you can use his weight against him. When he wraps his arms around you, you'll both stagger forward at least a step. Use that momentum; let your legs collapse under you and rotate to one side. Your body will fall directly on top of his elbow, causing him to release his hold.        


Article reproduced here with the permission of Men's Health and the author.

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