Review: Kali Combatives with Master Apolo Ladra

We recently took a Kali combatives seminar with master Apolo Ladra.

Check out the video below for an overview of the style of Apolo Ladra:

As you can see, Kali can use empty hands, blades and sticks. It is the national martial art of the Philippines. Apolo volunteered to us that he looks at the stick training as a way to introduce students to the blade. “We didn’t drive out the Spanish with sticks,” he said. “We used machetes.”

The course I took was open to anyone from 13-years and older. The class was a mix of teens and adults, mostly karate practitioners and beginning Kali students.

We have to include ourselves in this description. We have very little formal Kali training. Although the little training we’ve had allowed us to get a glimpse of what can be possible through some hands-on demonstrations and individualized attention from Apolo.

First of all, Apolo Ladra is a fantastic instructor. He is engaging, funny, and adept at teaching to the level of the individual student. He can take complicated concepts and techniques and make them easily understood.

Apolo Ladra teaching at recent Kali seminar.
Apolo Ladra teaching at recent Kali seminar.

What is also extremely attractive is his answer to the second and third question — the counter to the counter to the counter. You know, the questions that always come up, “Yeah, but what if he does this?” “What if he grabs your wrist?” “What if, what if?”

Apolo’s mastery of the subject matter is evident in that he effortlessly shows you the counter to the counter. And then shows you the additional counter to the counter while bringing you back to the original technique or concept he was first teaching. 

This is important as a student, because you get this ah-hah! moment where you see what we are trying to accomplish. Getting back to the original technique or using a technique we just learned is extremely important in building confidence that the technique or concept is sound.


  • Apolo Ladra’s teaching style and presence make for an very enjoyable seminar.
  • The concepts were very easy to pick and an apply in a short time.
  • Apolo’s demonstrations with his assistant instructor showing how the techniques flow into advanced self-defense techniques.
  • The drills allowed you to see how the techniques worked.
  • The seminar was useful for all ages and abilities.
  • The seminar was a “learning” seminar that gave ample time for drilling and practicing the techniques with a partner. It was not designed as a “smoker” session which tested your fitness levels. Nor was it a “competitive” session that pitted you against other students in sparring or grappling.
  • The length of the seminar was right for getting a good amount of information while keeping up your concentration.


  • It’s hard to find any — except for intermediate and advanced practitioners would not benefit from the basic level of instruction. But, keep in mind, this was billed as a seminar helping a school introduce Kali to area and their students.


  • $50 for four hours of instruction and training.

Self-Defense Lessons from Concealed Handgun Carry Course

This article originally appeared on the Defend University web site and detailed a number of items which apply to everyone carrying a concealed weapon for self-defense from an instructional module in a high level executive protection course.

This particular course had representatives from the military, law enforcement and the security industry. There was also a very skilled martial artist taking the course as a way to get into the executive protection business.  Many of the students have experience at the highest level of the special warfare and special forces business.

The lessons learned by the experiences that happened during this course are the same that instructors will see time and time again — and they have direct applications for any one carrying a handgun for self-defense or for the defense of others. What this class presented to these students was a good dose of stress (much of it probably self-inflicted since they wanted to pass the shooting module to graduate from the course), movement and drawing from concealment.

My observations:

  1. Shooting a handgun quickly and accurately involves perishable skills.  All of the mechanics that go into smooth, effective and accurate handgun shooting are fine motor skills — and that means they don’t hold up well over time without practice.  I witnessed operators with world-class experience right out of the hottest combat zones having a difficult time presenting and shooting their handguns well. I’m not saying they were terrible — they were adequate, but I could tell visually that there was a lot of rust in their technique and it was not what you would expect from this strata of operators. Their comments to me indicated they were not happy with their performance. The comments were not so much an excuse, but more of an explanation like “sheesh, I’ve not really shot my handgun in the last 18 months” or a lot of head shaking and muttering under their breath. It’s obvious there was room for improvement. (To be fair here, it’s a whole different story with other courses I’ve done with active military personnel that involve carbines. Obviously, the M4 is their sword and the one that they spend their time shooting and not handguns.) All of the students’ targets improved significantly as the course went on, some from getting back into the groove of their potential skill level and other because they were benefitting from the instruction and coaching.
  2. Shooting is not a natural behavior. It’s a skill that requires putting together multiple actions over a short period of time. There is a grip, presentation, sight alignment, sight picture, trigger press and follow through. Then there are other aspects like ammunition management and the re-holster. That’s a lot of thoughts and actions in what should be a simple sequence. It’s a bit like golf in that regard. To become a superior golfer, you need instruction. To become a superior gunfighter, you need instruction. Practice and then get more coaching. Practice what you’ve been coached on. The most proficient shooters where those who have been taught an efficient drawstroke and delivery of rounds on target. They have practiced and can smoothly repeat the action over and over again. The self-taught and uncoached students were inconsistent and seemed to be searching for an answer to their inconsistency during the course. This second group of students did benefit significantly from the instruction (my point in #1 above), but they were still outshown by those who had good technique to begin with.
  3. Practice with your concealment equipment. This is probably the number one problem I observed during this course. A good number of the students have not regularly shot from concealment. Police officers and military members are almost always overtly armed and carry a duty rig that is configured the same all the time. Security personnel and citizens almost always do their shooting on the range. But carrying covertly or concealed means you will have some sort of garment covering your holster. In fact, many people carry a different type or sized handgun for concealment than they do for duty or the range. Many people then use a different type of holster for concealed carry than they do for duty, range or competition. Let’s look at this — shoot all the time on the range with one handgun and one holster on a belt, but now carry a different handgun in a different holster under a garment for self-defense. See where I’m going with this? I saw some serious flubs on draws caused by unfamiliarity with the concealed carry. I saw draws that got tangled up in shirttails. I saw two students fumbling with the safeties and magazine release buttons on unfamiliar pistols. I saw a student literally draw his holster — his paddle-style holster was still attached to the pistol when he drew it. It had come right out of his waistband. I also talked with one operator who carried a compact .45 semi-concealed on his plate carrier in Afghanistan only to find out one day that it had become rusted sometime during his deployment. Practice with what you are going to carry. Shake down your set up. Does it work? Does it work under stress? You should probably rethink your handgun system. Instead of having different types of handguns for different activities, take a look at having the same handgun in different sizes, i.e. duty, compact and subcompact. For Glock people that could mean a Glock 17 full-sized handgun for duty or range; a Glock 19 compact model for concealed carry or a Glock 26 subcompact model for deep concealed carry. In this example all of the models use the same caliber (9mm) and are the same size with the exception of shorter barrels and grips for the compact and subcompact models. If you are a .40 caliber fan, then you could repeat this system with a Glock 22 full-sized handgun for duty, a Glock 23 compact for concealment and a Glock 27 subcompact. Staying with one handgun system means the same manual of arms, the same sight picture and the same “feel” for all of the handguns.

Your super-stressful self-defense incident should not be the time to be figuring out your equipment. It should not be the time to find out that you haven’t kept up your skills.

There will be no warm up.

You will not have time to get ready — you will have to be ready.

Train like your life depends on it.

Why We Need To Stop Arguing about Pistol Calibers

Nothing inspires quite so much controversy in the firearms community as handgun caliber choice. You can’t go to a shop, range, or internet forum without hearing something about caliber choice. Most of it is poking fun for some laughs, but there are a few that take it much too seriously.

The reasons why we need to stop arguing about handgun calibers are:

  • Most popular service pistol calibers all meet or exceed FBI standards,
  • There is more to defensive handgun choice than terminal ballistics
  • Pistols pale in comparison to long guns.

The FBI has established a standard for pistol terminal ballistics based on analysis of shooting incidents. The FBI determined that there are four different components in a wound channel; the permanent cavity, the temporary cavity, fragmentation, and the depth of penetration. Fragmentation is usually not seen in pistol wound channels because fragmentation doesn’t reliably occur below 2000 feet per second (fps). Since pistol rounds usually don’t exceed 1500fps, they generally don’t show traits of fragmentation. The most important factor in pistol wound characteristics as determined by the FBI is the depth of penetration. The depth of this penetration needs to be twelve inches at a minimum, with eighteen inches being favorable. When looking at wound channels of different pistol calibers, you’ll be hard pressed to visually determine the difference.

Comparison of Popular Handgun Cartridges
Comparison of Popular Handgun Cartridges

The second reason we need to stop arguing about pistol caliber choice is there is more to think about in a pistol than just what caliber it is. You need to think about things like size, capacity, recoil, weight, comfort, etc. The main reason we carry a pistol is because it is not convenient, or socially appropriate to carry a long gun with us. In the same regards, sometimes the largest, easiest to fire pistol gets left in the safe more than it’s carried, or a tiny pistol, that’s easy to carry, but too tiny to be proficient with. So, a balance needs to be determined for all areas that fit your needs.

The last reason we need to stop arguing about pistol calibers, aside from popular service calibers being mostly comparable, is pistols pale in comparison to the terminal ballistics of long guns.  They are also less accurate and require more skill to use than long guns. As the old adage goes, “Use your pistol to fight your way to your long gun”.

Long Gun Terminal Ballistics Comparison
Long Gun Terminal Ballistics Comparison



Training for all ranges of combat: Firefight in an Afghan house

In future posts you’ll hear references about different ranges of combat.

For hand-to-hand encounters, we are normally talking about striking distance, clinching distance and grappling distance. You need to experience all three of these ranges so you are not overwhelmed by the adversary who changes the distance on you and takes you out of your element. For example, we seen many examples of pure strikers who rendered helpless after being “bum rushed” by the trained grappler or the untrained drunk. Or conversely, we’ve seen the pure grappler frustrated by the striker who could maintain an effective distance.

This same concept should hold true for fighting with firearms as well. For firearms, you usually expect long distances for rifles and carbines, medium distances for shotguns and subguns and close distances for handguns.

Just like our hand-to-hand scenarios, what are you going to do if you’ve only trained in the “expected” range of combat with your firearm and the distance is changed on you by circumstances beyond your control?

Case in point, take a look at the video below. You’ll see a firefight in a small structure in Afghanistan. What you are going to witness is a three-man team consisting of two Afghan Army members and a U.S. Special Forces operator (the one wearing the helmet cam). They are looking for bad guys in this small house and make an entry. The first Afghan Army member makes an entry and verbally challenges a person at the end of the hallway. The SF operator quickly moves into a small room on the left to clear it. When he does, gunfire erupts in the hallway.

Take a look:

Wow, nothing like having a rifle fight in a phone booth. One thing to note is that the operator clears the rooms from the hallway (we are reminded that “your brass should fall in the hall”).

What I’m trying to illustrate is the use of what most people would consider normally a medium- to longer-range weapon (the carbine) in an environment which would favor a close-range weapon.

This video illustrates the effectiveness of this operator in a short-range situation with his carbine because he has extensive training in CQB scenarios. I’ve participated in qualification courses with some of these operators who are dramatically more skilled with their carbines than their handguns. In their case, the carbine is their sword and they are deadly competent with them.

That’s using the carbine in extreme close quarters.  Conversely, I had a training partner relate to me a story from the sandbox regarding another training partner who made a ridiculously long shot (way, way over 500+ yards) with a 5.56. With an EOTech sight. The range was confirmed with a laser range finder, but I’m not sure I can divulge the actual distance of the shot.

True, most of us will never be in a self-defense situation that resembles combat in Afghanistan. However, it’s conceivable you could be faced with multiple adversaries in your own home.  You might respond with your carbine or your shotgun. You might find yourself in a firefight across a parking lot or from the top row in a crowded movie theater armed with only your handgun.

Use your training and qualifications to flex and stretch your comfort levels.  Practice at the extremes and everything in between.  Practice with all of your firearms platforms. Find out what the capabilities of your weapons system now versus during an emergency.

This post has been revised from an original version posted on the old Defend University site.

Successful Self-Defense Strategies for Multiple Attackers?

It’s the nightmare self-defense scenario – facing multiple attackers.

Sure, it’s entertaining to see movies and television shows where the hero defeats multiple attackers, often with entertaining moves and running comedic dialog.

However, this is no joking matter when you are faced with multiple opponents. Studies show that assaults are more likely to escalate into homicides when there are multiple attackers, particularly when the attackers are juveniles.

Whether this is because the victim is absorbing multiple trauma or because the wolf pack mentality of the group causes the fight to go far beyond the limits that a single attacker would go, I cannot say.

But if you are faced with multiple attackers you are in deep, deep, trouble.

Multiple attackers mean angles, weapons and levels of attack increase exponentially, not just by the sum of the number of attackers. Four attackers don’t just mean you have to worry about four times the trouble, now you have 16 times as many weapons to contend with.

Yet, it is possible for a single person to defeat multiple attackers.

I have seen a video of Royler Gracie avoiding and evading two of the largest L.A. County Sheriff’s Deputies present in a seminar. These two officers could not control Gracie and it was obvious that they would not have been able to keep him in one place long enough to assault him.

Conversely, I have a video tape of a single suspect virtually destroying two Texas State Troopers. To make matters worse, the two officers are both hitting the suspect with expandable batons and the suspect ends up flooring both officers with punches.

Evidently, in these situations, the two combatants were not equal in the skill or strength of the single combatant.

So how do you train to become so skillful that you can reasonably expect to defeat multiple opponents? Is there a style that most advantageous to study? What are the best strategies and techniques?

“A mass attack can happen in a variety of situations and so quickly and unexpectedly that you have little or no time to think about it,” says Loren Christensen, a former police officer, defensive tactics instructor and now author on self-defense. “It’s important to think about it now and experiment with it in your training.”

He gives these tips:

1. You must think quickly and anticipate the attackers’ moves.
2. Think in terms of striking targets that either stun or are potentially lethal. Consider striking the temple, throat, mastoid, spine, solar plexus, kidneys, groin, and knees. These targets maximize the effectiveness of your blows, thus conserving your strength and energy.
3. You must control your breathing to keep your anxiety in check and your energy level high.
4. Move fluidly with grace and balance.
5. Power can be increased by adding leverage, speed of delivery, and mass.
6. If you are fighting with your hands, be careful not to injure them.

Christensen has a substantial background in karate with seven black belts. He also has two black belts in jujitsu and one in arnis.

Marc MacYoung, an ex-bouncer and a prolific self-defense writer, goes for the “single out the mouth” concept. He confronts the leader of the group and tells him, basically, that no matter what happens; Mr. Mouth is going to pay severely for the fight.

MacYoung advocates maneuvering opponents into a single line so they cannot all reach you at the same time. “Triangles are bad” he says. “Stay moving” and try to breech their line so you can get to a more advantageous position.

But however you do it; MacYoung says keep it simple and get it over with quickly.

“I always planned my violence for both the shortest time possible as well as the simplest, most bulletproof moves I could find, “he says. “When I streamlined it down to the bare basics, all I was doing was keeping it so simple that things were less likely to go wrong.”

To world-famous bouncer Geoff Thompson, it’s all about offense.

“I have probably been involved in more than 100 fights where the numbers were against me,” he says. “I won because I was first to initiate the physical attack.”

Thompson also fears getting flanked by opponents. “Part of the attacker’s ritual is the pincer movement. One attacker, usually the one facing and threatening you, will deploy your attention while the others attack from your blind side.”

Thompson’s training is traditional karate, boxing and judo. He usually advocates knock out blows.

“If you feel an attack is imminent, attack first. This is the most critical factor in such a scenario,” he says.

“My own preemptive strike would be a right cross/hook to the jaw preceded by some kind of mentally disarming verbal communication, hopefully neutralizing the first person,” says Thompson. “Then I would attack with headbutts, punches, or kicks to the remaining antagonists, depending upon my distance from them.”

Thompson’s tactics would be supported by the writings of the ancient Japanese swordmaster Miyomoto Musashi, who said, “When facing multiple opponents, you must attack first and keep attacking until the danger subsides.”

The keys for victory from these professionals and others who have successfully defeated multiple opponents could tend to be generalized as:

1. Constant and effective movement;
2. Aggressive attitude;
3. Superior striking skills;
4. Use of weapons.

Style or Fighter?

But is it the style you train in or you as the fighter that makes or breaks your self-defense ability?

I think the answer is it’s the fighter. Evidence to support this can found in mixed martial arts tournaments and reality fighting matches where fighters of every conceivable style of martial art have won and lost. There have been dominant fighters, but there are no longer dominant styles.

I know of, and have seen, people of vastly different martial arts backgrounds who have successfully defeated multiple opponents.

I witnessed a highly-proficient Tae Kwon Do stylist  knock down five opponents in a parking lot using classical TKD techniques. Three of the five opponents were dropped with head kicks! Many would say that these are impractical for self-defense, but they obviously worked well for this guy in this situation!

I also know of a Gracie Jiu-Jitsu student who successfully defended himself against two larger opponents in L.A. Gracie Jiu-Jitsu or Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is not usually held up as an example of a style made for fighting multiple opponents because practitioners usually take their opponents down to the ground to wear them out before punishing them with a submission hold.  In this case, the BJJ stylist broke one attacker’s arm then put the other in a rear naked neck choke. Our good guy finally stopped and let go of the neck restraint after his wife was screaming “YOU’RE KILLING HIM!”

Obviously, there are a huge number of variables that come into play here like your skill vs. their skill and your physical attributes vs. their physical attributes.

You will need to have superior:

• Movement and evasion skills;
• Striking or kicking skills;
• Knockout skill or ability to render opponents unable to continue in the fight.

You’ll also need superior verbal judo or “woofing” skills.

Woofing is what Payton Quinn calls the smack talking that precedes a fight as the opponents “interview” each other. Quinn says instilling fear and doubt into an opponent through verbal means has allowed him to avoid a number of messy fights, potentially saving him from numerous nights spent in jail.

Royce Gracie of the famous Gracie family advocates a strategy similar to MacYoung. He told me that you can make the group choose a leader to fight. Tell the guy, “You want to fight? You and me one-on-one. You don’t need anyone to help you right? as you point to the crowd. Now his honor is at stake. He can’t very well admit that he needs help.” Royce explained, “If a guy came in here and said he wanted to fight me, do you think my brother Rickson would step in front of me and say, ‘‘Oh, Royce, I will fight him.’ Of course, not! Same with this guy, his friends will urge him to fight you.”

If there isn’t a leader, Royce says you can punch the first guy, turn to the second and say, “you want some?”, punch him and advance on the third. So even the world-famous Royce Gracie doesn’t advocate taking someone into your guard when faced with multiple opponents.

For public safety personnel it is often effective to ask, “You want to go to jail?”

Otherwise, don’t threaten. This only serves to give away your element of surprise. Don’t put your MagLight on your shoulder and strike a pose; you’ve given the group time to think about what their response will be and to fuel their group rage.

Remember here, running away is a very, very good option for the civilian.  The LAPD has found that officers in foot pursuits were usually only successful in capturing the suspect in the first 200 yards of the chase. After 200 yards, the odds of catching the bad guy diminished rapidly. The same experience should also apply to you. If you can string the group out over a couple of hundred yards, then you can engage each opponent separately.

But for all this talk of verbal or physical responses to multiple opponents, the general rule for handling multiple opponents is to use a weapon.

Even a famous Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu stylist who is noteworthy for his many  victories concedes the tremendous disadvantages of facing multiple opponents. After a workout, we were in the locker room when I saw him putting a folding fighting knife in the waistband of his jeans, he said, “This is for two on ones.”

The disadvantages of facing multiple opponents are staggering. When we’ve run training drills with two, three and four opponents against one, it is literally a few seconds before the one defender is swamped by the group.

Sometimes you just have think pragmatically and heed the advice, “More than one, use a gun.”

This article has been revised from the original which appeared on the old Defend University self-defense blog.

Beware the Knife Within 21 Feet

“…Department of Justice studies have proven that an adversary armed with only a knife can advance and defeat an individual armed with a handgun from distances up to 20 feet. By the time the armed individual recognizes the threat, determines that lethal force is justified, and withdraws the handgun from the holster, the adversary can overtake and incapacitate him. Adding additional steps to employing the handgun (chambering a round or sweeping the safety), significantly delays the shooter’s ability to respond and place rounds on target. Additionally, during life threatening encounters, one proven physiological effect is that individuals lose fine finger movement, and other motor skills are significantly impacted. This inhibits the individual’s ability to operate small controls on the weapon, such as the safety lever, and can event create problems with his ability to perform such tasks as pulling the slide to the rear to chamber a round. All of these factors reduce the shooter’s capabilities to respond to the threat with rapid and accurate firepower and places him at a major disadvantage, especially against an adversary armed with a firearm. “

Lt. Col. Stephen Dade, USMC (Ret.), Marine Corps Gazette, Jan. 2012

Many of you have heard this before — the so-called 21-food rule.  If you haven’t heard of or seen demonstrations of this concept, there are a lot of videos like this one available: