Kenju Bogyo: Gun Defenses

by William Durbin, Soke of Kiyojute Ryu

Traditional martial arts did not have to worry about many aspects of modern life, most noticeably the concept of fire arms. Yet the martial arts masters of the Meiji Restoration began to deal with such deadly weapons as early as the late nineteenth century. As the Japanese began to travel around the world, collecting knowledge and information for the Meiji government, so that Japan could learn what it needed to know to join the technological progress of the world, they also became involved in situations where revolvers and side arms were used in crime.

          By the early nineteen thirties many Japanese Jujutsu masters were teaching various methods, specifically designed for dealing with gun wielding opponents. This prompted many Japanese and Occidental authors to begin to include in their books on self defense, sections dealing with gun defenses, or as it is called in Japanese, Kenju Bogyo.

Kenju Bogyo

          This then lead to the inclusion of gun defenses in the Kodokan institutes Kodokan Goshinjutsu, self defense art, Kata founded in 1956. Karate instructors were also dealing with this specific line of defense noting that certain aspects of combat are universal and can be applied to hand gun defense. Many soldiers were doing a great deal of research into hand gun defenses in the United States going back into the days prior to and during World War II. Most of the original defenses of the armed forces against guns were based on Jujutsu during the forties and fifties, but since that time there has been a lot of research into all aspects of martial arts training for the best possible methods for dealing with guns.

          Most police officers and other professionals in law enforcement still hold the opinion that the best response to assault with a gun is simply, do whatever the person says and don't resist. It is basically not worth it to risk injury, with a long hospital stay for even a minor wound, or possibly death, for what little money most people carry on them at any one time. However, some of the poorer members of society emphasize that what little money they do have is on them, and that they stand the potential to loose everything in a robbery of any type.

Psychopath and Sociopath

          While it is probably best to not resist a person with a gun under normal circumstances, meaning that the person plans to take your money and run, there are other circumstances that may dictate a different response. Some of these might be, rape, assault with intent to injure, or the attack of a psychopath. Currently, in our society there are those who are preying on others for the sheer pleasure of watching their prey suffer. Neither money nor cooperation will stop them from hurting you. For those few sociopaths who seeks to damage their societies and all the good people who live within them, there needs to be defenses that will allow a person to, in emergency situations, deal with a firearm.

          Be warned that any kind of defense involving guns of any types is extremely dangerous. It is possible to be hit by a bullet, a ricochet, or even damaged by the action of the firearm itself, including the flash of the weapon firing and the slid of the shell ejection mechanism. But it is better to be injured than killed, and to save someone's life is worth the injury you might receive.

Linear Path

          First of all, it is important that we understand which universal principles are needed by the martial artist in combating an opponent with a gun. The primary observation is simply this; a bullet travels a linear path when fired from a gun. So the first priority of a defender is to make sure that their body is not in the path of the barrel. In a self defense move, the best thing to do is move your body in one direction while deflecting the gun in the other. In this way, it is more hopeful that your body will not be in immediate danger.

Do Not Let Go

          Second, once you have extricated your body from the path of the gun, get control of the weapon and do not let go of it until the assailant is rendered helpless. Once you have control of the gun, through various techniques it is possible to turn the weapon back on the attacker, so that if they pull the trigger, they shoot themselves. It is possible to take the weapon away from the attacker with certain joint locking techniques, which make it impossible for the person to maintain their hold on the weapon, but in all these situations it must be realized that the weapon could discharge. At all times be prepared for the firing of the weapon, this includes the noise, the flash, and the smell of powder. All of these can distract a person in the midst of a defense, which could have fatal repercussions.

Valid Techniques and Vital Points

          Use all the valid techniques at your disposal in combating the gunperson. This means using blows to help you get the gun away from the assailant, as well as, techniques, which can immobilize and damage them. Attack vital points when feasible. Makes these the obvious points that are guaranteed to work, such as the eyes, groin, and throat. Theoretical vital points which look great in demonstrations where the person is standing still to be knocked unconscious, but which may not work on a moving, fighting psychopath should not be attempted. Anyone hit in the eyes is hurt, there is no guesswork.

Common Sense

          Use common sense when involved in this type of situation. If the opportunity presents itself to run and escape, do so. Remember though that a person can shoot you if you are moving along a straight line and out in the open. It is only safe to run when you can keep yourself concealed and work a zigzag path. With the high power hand guns available now, it is not always safe to be on the other side of a door or car in that 9 mm shells can easily penetrate many layers of material.

          There are those who will teach you that if you get a gun away from an attacker, turn it on them and shoot them. This is not the best course of action. First of all, if you are not familiar with the weapon you have taken you may make a mistake, like trying to fire it when the safety is on, allowing the attacker the chance to recover from whatever you have done to them and begin fighting for the gun again. Secondly, you might shoot the assailant and the bullet pass through their body and into an innocent person standing by, this would be especially tragic if it was the loved one you were trying to save. Finally, even if you succeed in just killing the original antagonist, there is always the chance that the law will decide that what you did was unnecessary. Unless you can prove that your life was still being threatened by the assailant, as in they had another weapon to draw upon, the law would say that their opportunity to harm you ended when you took their gun away, therefore, you did not defend yourself by shooting them, but rather committed murder. This is one way a court of law could see the situation, so never think about killing carelessly.


          From the original martial arts perspective, never make a move on an attacker unless you have perceived a Suki. Suki, literally means, gap or break, and is usually used in reference to the concentration and attention of the opponent. When a persons mind is completely absorbed by another matter, it will take a second for the mind to change from thought to pulling the trigger of a weapon. That split second is all a well trained person needs to be able to mount an effective defense. So if in a situation where it is obvious that the person holding the gun does in fact plan to shoot you, then wait of the best opportunity to move and then move with complete decisiveness, completely overwhelming the antagonist before they can do anything.

          Remember, it is better to not resist a gun unless there is no other option. When you know your life, or the life of another is on the line, then move with decision, watching for a Suki or the best opportunity that presents itself. Immediately move your body in one direction while deflecting the gun in the opposite way. Then take control of the weapon or weapon arm, and do not let go until the person is disarmed, immobilized, or hurt too much to resist your action. Follow up whatever initial move you have made with strikes to essential vital points, using common sense to know when you are in a position to escape.

          The object of gun defense is survival. Of all self defense situations this is the most serious. Do what needs to be done and get out of there. Gun situations are not the time for egotistical posturing that can only get you killed. Gun defenses, Kenju Bogyo, can be summed up simply, get out from under the gun and get away. This is what the martial arts masters realized when guns first entered their world, and it is what we need to realize today.


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