Mentally Preparing to Confront Violence and Aggression:
Interview with Grandmaster Richard Hackworth
As I have mentioned in previous articles, I entered the martial arts in 1970 after having had the unpleasant experience of being mugged at a high school dance (or “sock hop” for the over 50 crowd). Fortunately, in those days the level of violence was less than it is today, and I was left only with the air punched out of me and a devastatingly bruised ego. Over the years since that attack my resolve never again to be a victim has led me to study Judo, Tae Kwon do, Aikido, Tae chi, and Hapkido. I hold 2nd degree Dan rank in the two Korean Arts and a 1st degree brown belt in Judo.
After 38 years in and out of the martial arts I feel somewhat confident of my basic physical defense skills, but one question has never quite been answered to my satisfaction. How does one train to confront sudden or unexpected anger and the aggressive behavior that often leads to a violent confrontation.
I realize that while training soldiers to face the violence of war the army simulates combat conditions such as exploding bombs nearby or having soldiers crawl under tracer bullets. Drill instructors assume aggressive attitudes and boot camp is mentally and physically punishing.
The question remains, for those of us who study the martial arts but who haven’t enlisted, how do we learn to confront violence? The one answer that is most often given is that with enough practice the response to attack will become reflexive, and students are advised to merely train longer and not to worry about such things. The problem with this approach (other than the fact that I don’t believe it) is that one’s fears and confusions can and often do alter physical response times.
Other schools try to simulate attacks, using padded protectors, three or five step drills, and even blindfolding students who are then attacked. Unfortunately, the truth is that few if any students who train in martial arts schools today are ever really startled, scared or worse yet terrified. Deep down inside they realize that no serious harm will truly come to them from fellow classmates or instructors. Furthermore, real world attacks never occur in a three-step manner and do not happen in a controlled and orderly environment.
While the police have added sound effects (sirens and flashing lights) and video footage to their firearm drills, most martial arts schools still practice the century old katas and artificial sparring drills that are so steeped in tradition they now bear little if any relation to modern fighting scenarios. A classic example recently pointed out to me was that a high spinning kick, while effective, is rather impossible if the practitioner is wearing tight stiff blue jeans instead of oriental garb. One good question might be how often will someone nowadays be fighting barefoot?
Twice in recent years I have been confronted with or have been witness to truly violent behavior. They did not escalate to physical attack, but I can assure you that while my physical skills might have been up to the task, my mental awareness, warrior attitude and response times were sorely lacking. To learn more about mental preparedness I interviewed Grandmaster Richard Hackworth, 8th Dan and founder of HaeMuKwan Hapkido. Grand Master Hackworth has a fascinating resume of having trained for over forty years in the martial arts, having been a military interrogator, and is an internationally acclaimed lecturer on self defense. His seminars have taken him to almost all corners of the globe and he has taught self defense to everyone from air marshals to military prison guards. Who better help answer my decades old questions.
Stone: My first question would have to concern your recommendation for my posture or attitude when confronting a possible attacker. For example, Do I make eye contact? How about body position, etc.?
GM Hackworth: Always assume the worst, assume that the situation will escalate into physical violence and be prepared to counter it. Certainly, verbal avoidance techniques are a good idea. Speak softly, smile, and control the conversation with a hostile individual by constantly agreeing with him, repeating his words and by asking lots of questions to keep him talking. However, you need to prepare yourself mentally for an aggressive and neutralizing response.
Tilting your head down while still looking forward (much like a chin-in boxer stance) will trigger your inner adrenaline response. This chin-in position psychologically preconditions the mind to be more aggressive. Trust me, while no one wants to initiate a fight in the real world your defensive response must be rapid and decisive.
Stone: How about one’s stance?
Hackworth: Unlike sparring, self defense is not about light, fast, in and out techniques, but rather entails inflicting a devastating and incapacitating response that will conclusively end the threat. This means putting your power side forward. If you are right-handed, you should stand chin in, head tilted slightly downward with your right foot and shoulder placed forward.
Stone: Interesting. It does seem however that most of the arts assume the right foot back stance, either in a T stance or a long and low front stance. Even the TKD fighting stance, which is more erect than say Shotokan, places the right foot to the rear.
Hackworth: They do but consider this. To assume that stance the rear right leg steps backward.
Stone: Yes, it does. Back into a solid well-balanced stance.
Hackworth: The problem is that stepping backwards sets you up psychologically into a defensive or fearful mode. Putting your power side (right in 90% of the population) forward brings you closer to your opponent, causing him to experience doubt, anxiety, and fear while you psychologically react just the opposite. It is another adrenaline trigger.
Stone: With the chin in, head down and arms up.
Hackworth: Exactly. If you ever watch young children fight, they instinctively put their right arm up with their right foot forward. They also glare at the one they are going to fight. It is an instinctive crouch that is internally conditioned to create an aggressive attitude and to frighten the opponent. It isn’t until some adult comes along to teach them the “right way” to fight that they are later taught to switch feet.
Stone: Like a father teaching his kid to box.
Hackworth: It’s sad to admit it but fathers aren’t always right. You see, the closer you are to your opponent the easier it is to deflect his attack. The power forward stance also neutralizes his ability to use a rush or a windup as part of an attack.
Stone: So aside from “standing up for one’s self”, to coin a phrase, how else can we control that instinctive fear or anxiety that arises when we face danger?
Hackworth: That’s where the kihap comes in.
Stone: The kihap is a loud guttural shout. Sort of an Asian rebel yell. Its intent is to instill fear in the enemy right?
Hackworth: Not exactly. Remember, the rebels yelled all through Pickett’s charge, yet the Union line at Gettysburg held and eventually won the day. The purpose of the kihap is not to scare anyone, although admittedly we wouldn’t complain if our enemy suddenly feinted.
Stone: So, what’s the point?
Hackworth: The purpose of the kihap is to cause another psychological adrenaline rush thus enhancing your own aggressive response. In other words, it’s another internal trigger.
Stone: Okay so now I’m chin in, power side forward and internally pumping up my adrenaline. I look up and there is a 6’5” mass of steroid induced ex-convict rage facing me. He towers over me and is either flexing, yelling, grimacing, or closing on me. My doubts don’t have to set in regarding our comparative strengths. Deep down I know that he wins that argument hands down. What now?
Hackworth: Attackers all try to use size and/or body language to intimidate or overwhelm you. Just think back to the Rocky movies. Remember when Mr. T. tries to stare down Rocky Balboa. Rocky stares back and doesn’t flinch, and you can see the surprise and doubt written all over Mr. T’s face.
Stone: I just stare at him, and he’ll go away?
Hackworth: No, probably not, but by placing your power side forward and closing on him he will subconsciously reevaluate. Perhaps he’ll lose some or all his confidence. Your opponent may even feel apprehensive or fearful of the unknown (your reaction). You see, you are not reacting as he previously expected, and that will surely undermine at least some of his self-esteem. Your new body language will be interpreted by his subconscious as a threat not to be taken lightly. You’re psychologically inflating while he is mentally deflating.
Stone: And if that’s not enough?
Hackworth: Then remember that almost all real-world fights start out close up and in your face. Without a weapon no one is ever harmed when there is too much distance between adversaries, and no one really waits in the corner of a ring for a street fight to start with a referee in between. Without weapons opponents will have to be close op and personal, and that means that almost all fights start with either a grab, a grab and punch, a sucker punch, a push, or less frequently a sudden rushing takedown attempt.
So once an aggressive physical action is taken against you…
Stone: Like a grab or a swing…
Hackworth: Right. Once your opponent moves don’t take time to over-think or over-evaluate. The time for discussion is now over. You must react quickly with a stun technique to cause the aggressor to back up or react to pain. This will physically set up another fear response that will alter his ability to attack.
Stone: Any technique you like.
Hackworth: A snap kick to the shin, knee or inside the thigh is particularly effective. Whatever you do, however, should be fast and furious. Just think of the spitting cobra. React instantly to physical contact and you will neutralize his psychological advantage and increase your own aggressive response time.
Stone: How about the old kick to the family jewels. It worked for Butch Cassidy in the movie.
Hackworth: And it was good for a laugh. However, all males learn from birth to instinctively protect the groin. It is astonishing how quickly even the untrained will cover up, thus making that area a poor target choice.
Stone: So, what about our Goliath with that nasty attitude?
Hackworth: No matter how much weights he can lift or press, certain areas will remain accessible to attack, and will be painful and weak.
Stone: Such as?
Hackworth: These are the knees, the elbows. the front of the shin, the instep of the foot, the throat, the ears, and of course the eyes. I don’t care how many pounds Joe the Convict learned to press, believe me, a thumb in his eyeball will quickly distract his attention from maintaining his grip. Then of course there is the appropriately applied pinch….
Stone: Appropriately applied? You mean pinching isn’t just snatching a hunk of skin and squeezing?
Hackworth: Not exactly. The correct technique consists of
first tightening the fingers on the skin by rolling them shut, much the same way you do when you make a fist. This traps the skin inside the fingers and rolls it tight. Then you twist your wrist like you do when you open a doorknob. Roll tight and twist hard.
Stone: Sounds painful.
Hackworth: Trust me, when applied correctly to an ear, to the area under the armpit or better yet, to the soft skin on the side of the chest along the rib cage, even the strongest will squeal like a stuck pig and start dancing on their toes.
Stone: That is unless they start crying and wet themselves.
Stone: I must confess that my daughter Andrea recently had occasion to use this technique, one that you taught her and that she now calls “sticky hands.” There was a boy in her high school who wouldn’t let go of her arm. Knowing that she was involved in the martial arts he tried to impress her with his own ability outside of class. After repeated pleas to get him to release her from a joint lock she finally got frustrated with his stupidity. She realized he was just showing off and didn’t want to mar him for life, so she opted to pinch him.
Hackworth: How’d that work for her?
Stone: To hear her describe it he immediately released his grip; his voice rose suddenly well above soprano, and he danced around better than the Rockettes.
Hackworth: Our readers should be aware that Andrea Stone is a First Dan in Tae Kwon do, First in Tang Soo Do and is also the First Women to ever be awarded a black belt in HaeMuKwan Hapkido in the United States as recognized by the Korean Martial Arts Instructors Association. Yet with all that instruction and with all those techniques she had learned, when she needed one, she chose to close with her opponent to the inside, kept her head, and went for a very simple yet vital technique. Like they say, keep it simple.
Stone: Knowing my daughter, after giving him three chances to let go, I’m sure she applied sufficient force too.
Hackworth: Never get involved in any altercation unless you intend to finish quickly and victorious. Half measures don’t win fights. To sum up. Try not to be involved in the first place, but if you have no choice, put yourself in a power forward position, protect yourself, close with your opponent and if he uses physical force, reply by using a quick stun technique, redirect his attack and then follow with a decisive and explosively powerful attack to a vital point.
Oh, and keep attacking until the threat is over.
Stone: Thank you Grand Master Hackworth. It has been an honor. Do you have any last thoughts on the subject you wish to share?
Hackworth: There are two sayings that come to mind. The first is that you have nothing to fear but fear itself. The second comment was the reply to a man who once asked another how to get to Carnegie Hall. His response? Practice, Practice, Practice.
About the author: R.W. Stone is currently a practicing veterinarian in Central Florida. He is an avid horseman, a master ranked martial artist, a best-selling western author, and a firearms enthusiast. After joining a martial arts school in 1970 Stone started studying Yudo with a Korean grandmaster. He eventually became a member of the Judo team of the University of Illinois. It was at the University that a Korean classmate and friend introduced him to Tae Kwon do. After graduating veterinary college, he found the martial arts becoming too sports oriented and eventually after moving from Miami to Central Florida he sought out a Hapkido grandmaster. Currently Stone is ranked 8th dan in Haemukwan Hapkido, 4th dan in Daehan Yudo and a second dan in Kukki Taekwondo. He is the Hapkido instructor at the American Dragon Martial Arts Academies.
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