Day three of the Counterpoint Tactical System 2015 Iron Mountain camp always starts with a bit of sadness for me. Regardless of what material we’re covering, I know that the end is near. The only difference this year is that the curriculum for day three was the one that I was most looking forward to. Day one was black belt requirements for Cacoy Doce Pares (CDP); day two was panantukan level three from Counterpoint Tactical System (CTS). Based on the topic flyer that Master Zach Whitson had sent out, day three was the CTS equivalent of the biggest present at the birthday party. I expected the foundations of skills that would lead me to John Wick or Equilibrium level fight scenes. At least that was the joke that I told people. Little did I expect that it would reach beyond what those movies have shown. Day three was gun versus knife curriculum.
Okay, so maybe I exaggerated. We learned some very cool skills that will actually work, though. Writing up these seminar reports is a delicate balance between the critic in me, who wants to maintain an objective view, and the CTS fan boy, who can’t stop saying the word ‘awesome’ for two and a half straight days. I understand that my critiques tend to come off as sales pitches for Counterpoint Tactical System, and due to that, I try to simply report on the curriculum. I attempt to avoid value judgements, and whether I succeed at this is up to the reader to decide. But for day three of the 2015 Iron Mountain camp, I can’t be objective. This essay is the fan boy repeating awesome, awesome, awesome, awesome. We focused on a knife attacking us from a distance less than 21 feet. For all that we covered, the person with the gun was the defender. I have to take this time to say that my knowledge when it comes to guns, their handling, their use, and their nomenclature is at a very basic level. Any mistakes you see in this post are mine and mine alone. I didn’t have time to sit down with Master Whitson and ask detailed questions. So, again, any mistakes you see are mine. You’ve been warned.
Master Whitson started the day off by demonstrating his twelve attacks with the handgun. Those last five words are very important; so, let’s take a moment to dive deep into that phrase. Most Filipino martial arts (FMA) contain a set of twelve angles of attack. Some arts have more, some less, but twelve is pretty typical and common among the arts. Three and its multiples are quite common in FMA. Master Zach Whitson made his twelve attacks a conceptual framework when he created Counterpoint Tactical System. It’s the angles that matter and not the weapon. Sure, there are modifications based on weapon or grip, but the concepts apply across the various weapons. When learning a new twelve attacks, I go back to the first set to think about the concept for each angle. This makes learning the new set easier because I have a framework to start from. So, it follows that these concepts applied to the gun twelve attacks. For this, the pistol itself was treated as a blunt object. Whether out of ammunition or due to a jam or whatever, the assumption was that we were not firing the weapon but striking with it. So, Master Whitson showed us what parts of the gun itself should be used.
Learning these twelve attacks was easy. Because Master Whitson built the twelve attacks around concepts and not the weapon, the handgun twelve attacks closely resembled the single stick, sak-sak knife, walking stick, and staff twelve attacks. The same concepts from the espada y daga twelve attacks were present in a form modified for the handgun as a blunt weapon. Master Z showed us the footwork that goes with the twelve attacks, and as expected, it’s the same footwork that shows up very early in the system. Most of the work for these attacks resided in the angle twelve. In CTS, angle twelve is the reverse angle. So, we were working reverse grip with the pistol. This was great, but it required precise instructions. I think that I got the general parts, but I plan on discussing the finer point with Zach next time that I see him.
After warmup, Master Whitson discussed some important aspects of shooting. I remembered that he talked about shooting stance with a discussion about the Weaver stance. He talked about how the Filipino mindset is applied to shooting. I found this fascinating, and I think the Filipino mindset is better, but how this fits into US law is a question for smarter minds than mine. Part of self defense is not only knowing how to defend yourself but how to defend yourself LEGALLY. We don’t want students ending up in jail for murder when they thought they were defending themselves. Master Whitson also discussed the 21 foot rule. Essentially, this rule states that 21 feet between you and a knife attacker is needed to draw, offline, and fire the weapon safely without getting stabbed. The 21 foot rule is part of law enforcement training. This rule isn’t hard and fast, and there is some thought that it could be much longer than 21 feet.
After this discussion, we began the knife versus gun part of the curriculum. We only focused on one angle from the sak-sak (hammer grip) knife. The knife attacker attempted to stab us in the heart with a forehand thrust. While there are many more attacking angles than this one, this is the only one that we studied. Why? Because I think the curriculum is that large. I have seen bits and pieces of gun vs knife in the past couple of years, but nowhere near this attention to detail. I have many questions for Master Whitson and a long time before this is my curriculum. Over the course of our CTS study, we encounter two grips for the knife – sak-sak and pakal (ice pick grip). During day three, we only looked at one angle for sak-sak. Naturally, this piqued my interest as to what’s to come with the pakal grip.
During that time, we covered three scenarios. First, you had your gun drawn but the attacker was stabbing with the knife. Do you fire your weapon and hope the attacker misses? We defended against the knife first. Second, you had your weapon drawn but while stabbing the attacker got his hand on the weapon while covering the ejection port. Do you clear the grip or defend against the stab? We defended, again. Finally, your weapon was in the holster and the attacker was stabbing. Again, do you draw or defend against the stab? I’ll give you three guesses what CTS advocates.
If I broke it down, the common theme is to survive the attack, defend as well as able, make distance, use the weapon if required. Again, this is my first time seeing the concept demonstrated as a whole; so, it’s possible that I’m missing a portion of that process. This curriculum combined so many aspects of CTS together that it looks like the culmination of our training from white belt up through fourth degree black belt. I’ve noticed that each curriculum level builds upon the one that preceded it. From the small portion that I saw on day three, the gun versus knife curriculum combines all of the preceding curriculum. From knife to panantukan to the Cacoy Doce Pares sparring to the Tai Ji pushes to the espada y daga separate hand movement, gun versus knife mixed all together. It truly was greater than the sum of its parts.
I worked with Daniel Lacey out of Gem City Martial Arts on this particular curriculum block, and we had a lot of fun. We started slow learning the techniques, but quickly we increased the speed into a controlled drill sparring type of play. The gym floor hadn’t been swept that morning or our shoes weren’t great with the whole traction thing. So, we slipped and slid across the floor as we played. It added to the fun in so many ways. I learned a lot working with Daniel. Namely, I trust my knife tapping to come out without thinking about it. (Not that this means I’m done training knife tapping. I still have a lot to learn about it.) Mainly, Master Whitson reconfirmed that nothing in the system goes away. What you learn from the first day you start CTS will show up again on the fifth degree black belt curriculum. So, learn your basic skills now; you will need them.