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Massad Ayoob on Guns

Want to Comment on a blog post? Look for and click on the blue No Comments or # Comments at the end of each post.

Massad Ayoob


Thursday, February 2nd, 2012

H2H – hand to hand defensive skills – is an absolutely vital component to personal safety. Back in the days when I wrote regularly for Black Belt and some of the other martial arts magazines, I had the pleasure of writing the first cover story on Jim Arvanitis. It was not to be the last such story on him: Jim has long since become hugely famous in the martial arts world world.

An American of Greek descent, Jim was quite the street brawler in his younger days, and his quest for dominance there led him into the formal martial arts. He studied them both widely and deeply, and also rediscovered Pankration, the ancient Greek “all powers” fighting art that encompassed grappling, striking, and even biting. Some theorize that Karate developed in Asia from Pankration brought by the soldiers of Alexander the Great. Jim single-handedly revived Pankration in modern times, in my opinion, and now it’s much the rage among mixed martial arts practitioners. It is significant that Jim achieved that feat in the 1970s and ‘80s when most martial artists didn’t “mix.”

Arvanitis has recently completed some new projects, two books and two training DVDs.  From Black Belt Books ( comes the volume martial artists will want to read, “The First Mixed Martial Art: Pankration From Myths to Modern Times.” It’s a fascinating study of the history and the philosophy of the art.  The best “video accompaniment” to this Arvanitis book is probably Jim’s 350-minute, 2006 video from Paladin Press (, which graphically explains and demonstrates the vast repertoire of Pankration techniques. The video’s title is “Secrets of Pankration.”

But for the average person concerned with self-defense, as well as the dedicated martial artist, we have “Battlefield Pankration” in both book and video form, from Paladin. This book is subtitled “Lethal Personal Combat for the Street,” and the reader should take the title seriously. While there are some takedowns and other techniques that could restrain an attacker without physically harming him, Jim often goes on the assumption that you could be in a fight where you face fatal, crippling, or disfiguring injury if you don’t render the opponent wholly incapable of attack. The book shows you how to crack skulls, break necks, and empty eye sockets.

Jim’s hallmark since I’ve known him has been an extremely deep understanding of human kinesiology.  He excels in teaching how to generate power, whether it’s peeling off an attacker who has you down and is strangling you, or delivering your own punch or kick with bone-breaking, organ-crushing force.

Most self-defense books will say something like “gouge his eyes out” or “hit him here as hard as you can,” and will leave the advice at that. In “Battlefield Pankration,” Jim teaches everything from exactly how to perform that eye-gouging to precisely how to set your body to throw a punch or kick with your full weight behind it that will have a good chance of ending the fight.

In a world rife with phony self-defense instructors, I can say with some authority that Jim Arvanitis is One of the Real Ones…and, among those, one of the very best.  I definitely recommend all four of the above works to martial artists and legitimate self-defense instructors, and the “Battlefield Pankration” book and video both to those experts and to ordinary citizens who want to learn more about surviving when someone tries to take their life, and they have only bare hands with which to fight back.














  1. Long Island Mike Says:

    Ok Mas, now you jumped the shark. Eye socket emptying? I wonder who reads this stuff. The demographics must be males 15 to 25. All filled with piss and vinegar. Living in their mom’s basement. I don’t see Susan from the church ladies auxiliary picking up a copy for the next book club meeting. Nor her 65 year old hubby. ROFLMAO…..

  2. TGAH Says:

    Oh come on.

    Karate, like almost every far eastern martial art (TKD excluded), has its roots in Chinese “Kung Fu”, which existed 1500 years or so before Alexander the Great.

    No, I’m not going to plug Krav Maga or, worse yet, BJJ, but there are MUCH better systems of H2H combat out there than this one.

    I respect you Mr. Ayoob, but this is just an advertisement for your friend. I’ve come to expect more from you than this.

  3. Andy Says:

    Oh man, I know gouging eyes is supposed to be an extremely effective technique, but guuuuh- the thought of doing it (or, God forbid, having someone do it to me) always makes me shudder.

    I had a relatively modest amount of H2H training in my military (Air Force) background and I was comfortable doing everything but the gouging. Wish I knew why that is. =P

  4. Mike in VA Says:

    This guy is so tough no one dare comment on that hair style. I certainly would not have the jewels to mention it. LOL

  5. Tim from CO Says:

    Strangely enough, I just got my 2012 Paladin Press catalog. I try to keep a bucket of salt with me when I’m flipping the pages. I know there’s a lot of gems in the pages, but they’re almost always surrounded by tactical mall ninjas (now with more ninjutsu).

    Thanks for pointing out a gem Mas!

    I just checked and one of Jim’s books is available for the Kindle as well. Helpful for those of us with limited bookshelf space (like myself).

  6. Hanza Says:

    Probably a lot of readers of this blog do so for any self defense nuggets that may come up. The books mentioned here are in that category.

    If you should ever end up in a kill or be killed situation you want to have knowledge of any effective technique that won’t leave you as the one killed. Because of that you don’t want to rule anything out just because something makes you ‘squeamish’.

    BTW – I’m 69 y/o and don’t live in my mom’s basement.

  7. Dan Says:

    I’ve been involved in the Martial Arts for nearly 30 years. I’ve trained, taught and competed in just about everything out there including BJJ, Krav Maga, Muay Thai, Shotokan,Police Defensive tactics and various hybrid systems and I say Jim Arvanitis is the real deal.
    I’ve not trained with him directly, but have worked with students that have when I lived in Chicago and everything was very solid & real-world applicable material. I’ve followed Mr.Arvanitis’ career over the years and have read much information that I found helpful and these books and videos are most likely top notch.
    I’m going to for sure check out Battlefield Pankration. Many people are so wrapped up in the current UFC and MMA craze that they forget the limitations most of those methods have in real-life self-defense. Arvanitis often teaches techniques that would be suitable for MMA, but also teaches a lot of stuff better suited for the street. The list of rules of what is not allowed anymore in the UFC fills a whole page and that doesn’t exactly spell reality-based to me.

    Real fights are not school yard brawls or sports competitions and can be matters life and death. A guy might take a swing at you in a bar and you wrap him up and take him down in nice MMA fashion only for him to draw a blade while your mounted on him and gut you. Or perhaps he has a buddy who doesn’t like how the fights going and steps in while your not looking.Not to mention all the other potential concealed or improvised weapons a thug might have on him. Street techniques must be fast, brutal and effective & what I’ve seen from Arvanitis fits usually that criteria as you don’t want play around,spar or wrestle around with an unknown quantity in a real street fight. End it quick or get out/up and escape away is the best bet to stay safe.

  8. PeterR Says:

    I am quite familiar with Mr. Arvanitis having read about him in Black Belt and other magazines over the past 30 years. I also attended a few of his seminars. Let me say that he’s a phenominal athlete who teaches material suitable to MMA (since it is a hybrid art) but also implements hardcore survival stuff (yes like eye gouging, weapons defenses etc.). He also has a vast knowledge of body mechanics as Mr. Ayoob points out and fast twitch muscle reactions in addition to an impressive skill-set. I have also studied krav maga, Combatives, BJJ, and kick-boxing but believe me, his system is brutally effective and gets right to the core of what reality is all about.

    I have a friend who was a former military spec op who attended classes with his team before being sent to Iraq during the Operation Desert Storm campaign in the 90s. He told me how tough but realistic the program was. He said the mental and physical development was perfect for preparing them to survive over there.

    I agree with many here that a street brawl is not MMA but often escaping a life-or-death situation. Arvanitis undertsands this and makes sure his readers and students do as well. I will definitely be getting his books.

  9. Chem Says:

    As to the naysayer, there are few bad martial arts, mostly it is bad instructors. Even arts that have a reputation for being watered down (such as some American versions of TKD and Aikido) can be much improved with how the instructor teaches it.

    If this guy is a good instructor who knows what he is about, it is probably good stuff no matter what he calls it…or what his hair looks like.

  10. Randolph Ray Says:

    Mas, could you spell the author’s name as well as Pankration phonetically?

  11. Chem Says:

    One other thing, reference Paladin Press.

    They have some stuff that I am dubious about, especially after they picked up Loompanics catalog (I am NOT referring to Claire’s books, which I enjoy immensely). However, Paladin are often to ONLY people that publish works on unseemly things like self-defense. They have (had) some titles that are a bit out there (Phil Elmore’s “Street Sword” comes to mind). But they are also the publisher that brought us almost everything by/on Jeff Cooper and the Modern Technique of the Pistol, have rereleased the works of Rex Applegate and Fairbairn and Sykes. They also published Jim Cirillo’s excellent “Guns, Bullets and Gunfighting” and many others.

    So I am more than willing to give these works the same chance I give any book about physical skills.

  12. Mas Says:

    Randy, the pronunciations are “pan-KRAY-shun” and “ar-vuh-NEE-tiss.”


  13. Tom606 Says:

    Despite the well pointed out hairdo which seems to be a cross between John Rambo’s and Richard Simmons’, I will be checking out Mr. Arvanitis’ books and videos to further round out my martial arts knowledge.
    We need all the skills available to combat the vicious trolls lurking in our cities. I wonder if this fighting technique was what the Spartans used back in the olden days?

  14. RJ Says:

    Found this in answer to some of those commenting on here that are obviously clueless as to Mr. Arvanitis’ accomplishments:
    This is in reference to his being named Black Belt magazine’s Instructor of the Year in 2009. One year later he was enshrined in the Martial Arts History Museum. Obviously a skilled instructor with a definite impact on the evolution of the combat arts. In fact he was light years ahead of his time. The tribute, written by the executive editor there and who has seen all the best in martial arts and RBSD, pretty much sums it up.
    And to TGAH’s pathetic statement: Beyond the fact that Mr. Ayoob and Mr. Arvanitis are friends, one really needs not promote the other. They are at the top of their fields and respect each other for that. It seems, however, that the word respect was forgotten by this person.
    Thanks for the review Mr. Ayoob. I have both these books and they’re excellent!

  15. MrT Says:

    Just saw this post on Facebook. After reading some of these responses I thought I would chime in with my 2 cents. How petty it seems that many are so focused on hair rather than the magnitude of accomplishments and effectiveness of techniques against a serious attack. Jim has had this same “look” for years so get over it. In addition to his H2H skills the man holds world records for athleticism doing pushups on but his thumbs, even on one arm. Check out his F/B fan page. Perhaps his hair is the source of his extraordinary strength … like Samson.

  16. James Says:

    His hair seems to be its own weapon, does it not?

    One more tally down for an author I’ll start reading b/c of Mas’ recommendation (the most epic being Larry Correa, b/c then Larry’s works introduced me to John Ringo, and Ringo’s works introduced me to Kratman’s).

  17. Port Dodge Says:

    Massad, I have been honored to know Jim Arvanitis for 34 years and trained with him personally. He is truly a “Renaissance” man and mixed martial arts pioneer, and his teachings have had a profound impact on my training and my life. There is so much to be said about the great ones and they can be named by anyone that truly knows the history of the MMA movement. Arvanitis was stirring things up in the late sixties when his non-classical, eclectic “All Powers” combat system put holes in the traditional teachings of the era. By the time he made the cover of Black Belt in 1973, in an article that you wrote, the martial arts world sat up and took notice of this resurrection and modernization of the fighting style of the ancient Spartans. Since then, Jim has been recognized as the “Father of Modern Pankration” and been featured in every major magazine of any importance. Having worked with Jim, enduring his brutal training regimen, as well as having shared in the early and relentless stuggles for mixed martial arts recognition, I can honestly say that his accolades and status within the MMA community in general, makes me very proud to call him friend.
    Experts know Jim Arvanitis’ books and videos are technically superior. His earlier work combined historical reference to the fighting arts of his Greek ancestors, with no-nonsense training techniques. The more recent Black Belt book, “The First Mixed Martial Art” and follow-up video “The Secrets of Pankration” took the reader/viewer through effective and well designed step-by-step demonstrations. “Battlefield Pankration”, Jim’s most recent book/video series from Paladin is nothing short of brilliant, with proven, practical, and efficient street fighting/self defense techniques.
    It’s a no-brainer that real, life-threatening situations require drastic measures, and the reader or viewer of Jim’s works knows that too. The bloggers here that are critical of the videos and even more, the hair, just make me laugh- at least some recognize the value of the material. As for the critics, I can’t wait to see their next feature article, book, or video, because it is obvious that they are well-known and well-respected in the martial arts community???
    Massad, I have followed your work for so many years, and like so many of your peers, respect your expertise and opinion. People are entitled to their opinions, but the lack of respect for people of accomplishment like Jim and you is disappointing. Just remember the source and please
    keep up the great work!

  18. Gram Says:

    Great review Mas! I’m a former student of Jim Arvanitis and let me assure everyone on here that his skills are at another level, and his art is SECOND TO NONE!! I trained with him back in the 1970s and 80s but relocated to another state due to work. I studied a number of other H2H systems but none compared in effectiveness to what Jim brought to the table. So I continued to buy his books and videos and they have been immensely helpful. Like all of his material his latest are superbly written and demonstrated as you pointed out. His teachings were always technically-precise as these books and videos clearly show. As a reader I felt I was actually there in a physical sense with him explaining the moves to me.
    Jim’s main emphasis is on functional efficiency and training that closely simulates what to expect on the street, or in a “high-risk conflict” as he likes to call it. Way back he combined elements from different styles and modified them to make them better. This is where his true genius and know-how of kinesiology came in. Situational awareness, adaptability, and using practical but brutal techniques were things he ingrained in us. All of this is in his books.
    Mr. Arvanitis mentioned you often and how you both shared a common bond of realism in combat. In the fighting arts at that time the word “respect” was thrown around alot but ego seemed more prevalent. He made all of us aware of the value of your contributions. When we sparred we did so both unarmed and armed with aluminum knives. We wore protective gear and always used contact. The conditioning program was KILLER. None of us could keep up with Jim’s level of fitness. He would be way ahead of us when we ran before class and while we strained to do pushups with both arms he pumped them out on his thumbs.
    I continue to follow his enduring efforts and achievements. I think all of us back then, including those who you are familiar with like Doug Terry and Nick Hines, knew Jim was one of a kind and ahead of the pack.
    There are some abrasive responses to your review on here by typical faceless, no-name keyboard warriors with nothing of any worth to offer. But take it from one who knows, you and Jim A are among the very reasons that combat arts have progressed to where they are today. And I thank you both for it.

  19. Tommy Sewall Says:

    Two or maybe three points…
    1) Andy, the reflex to avoid damage to our own eyes is one of the most difficult to overcome. I expect the aversion to eye gouging is due to this.
    2) I’m always interested something new or to review from the past but I had problems locating the books without generating unwanted advertising spam from questionable sources. Maybe better luck this week end when I have more time.
    3) As to the hair comments, some of us only wish we could have such a magnificent do!

  20. Dan Snyder Says:

    Mr. Ayoob,

    This comment is not directly related to the post on Mr. Arvanitis but do you know of any reputable organizations that offer Pankration or similar training in perhaps periods of one week or one week sessions? We live in a somewhat remote location and don’t have access to the typical martial arts training studios but would be extremely interested traveling to a school to aquire unarmed self defense training.

    Kind Regards,

    Dan Snyder

  21. Roger in NC Says:

    It is interesting that most of us cringe at the thought of gouging someones eyes but would not hesitate to put a bullet between them, if called for.

  22. Mas Says:

    Dan Snyder, I touched bases with Jim Arvanitis tonight on your behalf. He tells me that his website is undergoing update/reconstruction. When it is ready to go, I’ll post its address here for you and others.


  23. Tom606 Says:

    For those looking for Mr. Arvanitis’ books, I just ordered Battlefield Pankration from which has several other of the titles available. Plus, free shipping on orders over $25.

  24. James Says:

    Roger, if you could feel what the bullets go through when you fire them, then you might have an aversion. Application of lethal force by a remote (meaning, you launch it and it does the damage in a manner which does not work by multiplying or leveraging your own physical strength) device is always less personal than the direct application of force by a person with his or her own bare hands.

    I’ll bet that you’d not have as much of an issue removing the organs of a fetal pig in biology class if you were using forceps as opposed to removing them with your own gloved hands.

    It’s a contact/tactile thing.

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