Surviving the Knockout Game with Cecil Burch

I had the good fortune of attending the Rangemaster Tactical Conference this past weekend. It’s a pretty unusual event in the firearms training business where attendees have the opportunity to take instructional blocks with a number of instructors teaching on a wide range of topics. Rather than write one absurdly long opus on my experiences at the conference, I figured it would be more productive to focus on the classes I took and what I got out of them. First up was “Surviving the Knockout Game” with instructor Cecil Burch.

Cecil Burch presents his philosophy of always working to achieve the next level of control in a fight.
Cecil Burch presents his philosophy of always working to achieve the next level of control in a fight.

Cecil is a life-long martial artist with accomplishments in a number of different disciplines, but he is most accomplished in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu where he holds a black belt and has won medals in international competitions. His Immediate Action Jiu-Jitsu program is aimed at teaching effective defensive techniques for the weapons-based environment that human beings usually find themselves in. I’m by no means an expert in hand-to-hand combat in general or in BJJ specifically, but I can tell you that criminal assaults differ from consensual mutual combat scenarios in a number of important ways…not least of which is the presence of lethal weapons. Typically nobody brings a gun or a knife into a rolling session at the local dojo for obvious reasons. The guy on the street trying to rob/shoot/stab you, on the other hand…

The typical IAJJ class with Cecil is a multi-day affair that covers a fairly decent range of possible assault scenarios, but with only a three hour block of instructional time Cecil presented a tightly focused mini-course on staying conscious and on your feet during the initial moments of a blind-sided assault. These types of assaults made headlines fairly recently:


Criminal assaults almost always happen via ambush. The idea of the “knockout game” might be new to people in the press, but it’s a pretty well-established phenomenon with a long history. Some people will assault another human being simply for the sport of having done so, sometimes inflicting lethal damage in the process. This is not novel. It is an unfortunate feature of human nature.

I know what you’re thinking…situational awareness. Yes, if you pay attention and listen to some sensible instincts you can often avoid the attack but I’ll let you in on something I’ve noticed over the years: I have yet to meet a person with absolute situational awareness at all times. If you believe you can’t be caught off guard then I have to say you are either the most extraordinary specimen of humanity I have ever encountered, or you are kidding yourself.

The program Cecil presented at this year’s Tactical Conference was aimed at helping you stay conscious and on your feet in the crucial initial seconds of the fight that you couldn’t avoid. He began the discussion by outlining the target areas on the human body most vulnerable to a knockout blow and demonstrated a sort of “cage” technique you can assume very quickly. The “cage” offers protection of those areas and stabilization of the head and neck to prevent the sort of violent movement of the head that causes the brain to collide forcefully with the skull. (A primary knockout threat) The “cage” properly applied should allow you to stay conscious in the initial moments of the fight.

The lower half of your body, meanwhile, needs to participate as well if you are going to stay on your feet. Getting into a good athletic stance with your hips squared up to the incoming attack gives a solid platform you can use to drive into the threat allowing you to fight back effectively. After using some very clever ways of explaining these concepts Cecil taught some simple but effective ways to gain an advantage on your assailant with the goal of eventually breaking contact with him altogether.

The progression was logical…mitigate the impact of the incoming blow, drive into the threat to keep him from continuing to throw powerful ranged strikes, maneuver into a position of advantage on the assailant which renders him at least temporarily harmless, and then if possible get to his back where you can either break contact or take more forceful actions if the situation calls for it. No one will master that process in a 3 hour block of instruction but students learned the techniques and how to practice them so that hopefully they spend time training on the techniques to reproduce them under stress. Practice should be relatively easy to accomplish as all you need is one other person and just a little bit of empty space. You don’t even need pads or mats.

“Surviving the Knockout Game” was essentially an amuse-bouche presentation of effective empty-hand techniques for close range self defense against an ambush like the knockout game style assault. It didn’t make me an elite street fighter and Cecil never promised it would. It was designed as a relatively high-percentage technique that ordinary joes (meaning non-martial artists) could learn in a fairly brief time. Certainly not the greatest solution to every conceivable attack, but a pretty damn good solution to most of the attacks that actually happen on the street.

Cecil could certainly lecture for extended periods of time about the intricacies of various aspects of BJJ, but his Immediate Action program is tailored for the needs of the average citizen or police officer. The ability to distill a lifetime’s worth of knowledge and experience into a relatively simple yet effective program for people who do not have a comparable background is often very difficult to achieve, but Cecil pulled it off. Again, it won’t make you a medal-winning expert in MMA disciplines. It will, however, teach you techniques that will likely be enough to help you through a criminal assault should you find yourself the victim of one.

Enough isn’t everything, but it’s still a wonderful thing.

If you’re looking for quality instruction in solid techniques that are likely to be enough, look into Cecil’s schedule. I don’t believe you’ll be disappointed…and who knows? If you sign up for an IAJJ class I might just see you there!


1 Comment

  1. Thank You for sharing this.
    We all need to be more aware of our surroundings.
    most people walk around with their headphones on staring at their smartphones.
    easy prey/ targets. being more aware could be as simple as keeping your head up.

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