Detailed Examination of the Pillars

Here I use the swimming technique to give a detailed illustration of the Pillars: use of the eyes, rhythm, distance, form, and control. These fundamentals here are common to all techniques.

For this demonstration, assistant instructor Steve Ratch makes a #5 stabbing attack to the belly with a knife. Dom Lopez uses the ‘swimming’ technique to defend. The defence involves a fade back, #5 block, passing the knife away and to the side with a near simultaneous throat chop with the palm down, checking the knife arm down with a near simultaneous throat chop with the palm up, a forehead and back throw, and a head smash on the ground.


When responding, the defender must do the following:

  • see the technique by looking at the elbow or chest (eyes)
  • move at just the right time with the right speed (rhythm)
  • move to just the right place (distance)
  • use correct bio-mechanics and technique (form)
  • from the outset dominate the attacker; don’t allow a second strike (control)




Here is the context at the start of this scenario. There are certainly many more situational considerations than outlined here, but they are not relevant to the points I wish to make in the article.

  • The attacker has the knife held in the normal grip in the right hand
  • The attacker is leading with his right leg
  • The defender is leading with the right leg
  • The stab is a #5 stab, to the belly
  • The defender concentrates his gaze on the attacker’s right elbow, and when he sees the attack, moves in synchrony with the attacker. (eyes, rhythm, distance)
  • The defender does the following, in a relaxed and fluid manner, with the correct rhythm and a very fast tempo

Beat 1

  1. see the attack (eyes)
  2. fade with a small step to the rear with the left, sliding, then planting the ball of the left foot – don’t commit the weight yet (form)
  3. move just enough (distance)
  4. move just fast enough (rhythm, tempo)
  5. start lifting the arms to block (form)
  6. start to slump (form)
  7. the hips will twist to the left naturally as the leg moves back (form)


Beat 2

  1. shift the weight back slightly, to almost a 50/50 distribution over the legs, but keep the torso upright (form)
  2. slump more – flatten the lumbar spine, put the tail bone in neutral, bend the ankles and knees, drop the shoulders and seat the shoulder blades, tuck the chin down slightly, but do not bend forwards (form)
  3. block with a classic #5 (one or two-handed) ‘shooting the pistol’ block – use the whole body and extend the right arm block out and downward, and extend the left arm block outwards, with a ‘catching the ball’ feel (form, control, rhythm)
  4. maintain a strong connection from hands to feet (form)
  5. twist the hips farther to the left and sit on the right hip (form, control)


Beat 3

  1. pass the knife to the right with the right blocking arm – keeping the radius constant and turning the hips to the right, along with maintaining a strong connection from feet to hand (form, control, rhythm)
  2. chop to the throat with the left, palm down, using the power from the hip twist to the right (eyes, form, control, rhythm)
  3. the chop should have the feel of throwing a ball, but connect at impact and compress your body (eyes, form, control, rhythm)
  4. you have turned your hips to the right and you are now sitting on the right hip (form)


Beat 4

  1. check the attacking arm at the elbow and pin it with your left (guarding hand), using a slump and gravity (eyes, form, control, rhythm)
  2. chop to the throat with the right, palm up (eyes, form, control, rhythm)
  3. the chop should have the feel of throwing a ball, but connect at impact and compress your body (eyes, form, control, rhythm)
  4. twist the hips to the left and sit on the right hip (eyes, form, control, rhythm)


Beat 5

  1. step ahead with the left and flank the attacker on the right (distance)








Beat 6

  1. hit the forehead with the right hand and pull and push in at the middle of the back with the left hand and continue to scissor the arms to break the attacker’s balance (eyes, form, control, rhythm)
  2. the scissoring hits should have the feel of clapping your hands, but connect at impact and compress your body (eyes, form, control, rhythm)
  3. the hips turn to the right with the step (form, control, rhythm)


Beat 7

  1. pull the attackers head backwards and down to throw, using a left turn of the hips and a bending over at the waist (form, control, rhythm)
  2. Turn the hips turn to the left with the throw ( form, control, rhythm)








Beat 8

  1. smash the head on the ground in front of your left foot, using your right palm, dropping to one knee as you do so (form, control, rhythm)


Note that in the picture, Dom is actually supporting Steve, rather than dropping him down to smash his head on the ground.






You can see how complex this sequence is, both in terms of the gross motions, but in terms of the finer grained bio-mechanics. The technique are mostly short and economical, and fast because of this. The rhythm is complex. You want to use a cadence that is appropriate to your attacker’s motions. The count shown is only a rough approximation, and ignores the sub-rhythms within each count. The beat is really quite irregular, but to make teaching easier, a simplified approximation to the rhythm has been give. Many of the motions overlap. At high speed, some of the motions may be abridged or elided.

Note that the hips turn five times, but again at high speed, the turn of the hips may be elided.

Some Guidelines

Here are some guidelines to use for tuning your performance.

  • You need to see the attack in order to move at the right time, to the right position (eyes)
  • Move in synchrony with your opponent’s attack (rhythm)
  • Move out of synchrony with your opponent when you are attacking, to disrupt his timing (rhythm)
  • Move at a faster tempo than your opponent (rhythm)
  • Have no unnecessary pauses in your rhythm, that is, remove unnecessary gaps between your motions (rhythm)
  • Abridge your motions when it is advantageous to do so (rhythm, form)
  • Overlap your techniques where this makes sense (rhythm, form)
  • If you are at closer distance, you can be at the target sooner. Conversely if you move away, it effectively buys you time, that is, if you are farther away it takes your opponent longer to reach you (rhythm, distance)
  • Make all motions fluid, but well connected (form, rhythm)
  • If you have correct form, your motions will be both faster and more powerful (form)
  • When all of the above is in place, you have increased your ability to control your attacker (control)

On counting beats and rhythm

I break the stages of each movement into units called beats. Regard each of these beats as time on some clock, a clock that can be set to run at different speeds at different times.

There are 8 beats in the movement. So, for instance, each beat could be 240 milliseconds, making the overall duration of the sequence 8 x .240 = 1.92 seconds.

We could make the clock run faster, at say 200 milliseconds per beat. Then the overall duration would be 8 x .200 = 1.6 seconds.

If we reduce the number of beats by 1, from 8 to 7, the overall duration would be shortened. This could be done by doing the second chop and the head smash on the full step – there is enough time. The resulting duration would be 7 x .240 = 1.68 seconds.

You can increase the tempo here as well. By speeding things up to 200 milliseconds per beat, the overall duration reduces to 7 x .200 = 1.4 seconds.


Here are a few definitions for terms I have used above.

  • Timing: The regulation of occurrence, pace, or coordination to achieve a desired effect, as in music or athletics.
  • Synchrony: The simultaneous occurrence of events
  • Rhythm: The pattern of movement in time.
  • Tempo: The characteristic rate or pace of activity
  • Cadence: Balanced, rhythmic flow
  • Beat: A repeated pattern of stress that produces the rhythm.
  • Elide: Cut short or abridge