“Limitless” Gives Worst Self-Defense Advice Ever

I enjoy the TV show, “Limitless.” Like the movie for which it is a spinoff, the show follows the adventures of a regular guy who, thanks to a mysterious drug called NZT, is able to unlock the full potential of his brain. On the TV show, these super-smarts earn the main character, Brian Finch, a job as a consultant with the FBI.

But, I have a serious bone to pick with Season 1, Episode 5.

After a series of adventures in which Brian repeatedly faces dangerous situations, his boss at the FBI decides he needs some training, and assigns him to a “SWAT self-defense course.”

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SWAT stands for “Special Weapons and Tactics,” so a viewer might logically expect this course to involve some firearms training and basic combative techniques like punches, kicks and elbow strikes.

But no. Apparently, at the New York FBI field office, SWAT self-defense consists of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

Brian’s instructor starts off with some good advice: “Don’t get into a fight.” So far, so good … If you can avoid a physical confrontation, that’s almost always the safest course of action. But then, he follows up with, “If you do get into a fight, take it to the ground, get on top of the guy, isolate one of his limbs, and make it bend the wrong way until he doesn’t want to fight anymore. Either that, or you can choke him out ’til he falls asleep.”

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He follows this up with, “What I just told you takes about ten years to learn how to do well. But if you know even a little, you’ll be able to take care of yourself, all right?”

No! Not all right! Even for TV, which nobody should expect to be a reliable source of information on personal safety, this is such staggeringly terrible self-defense advice that the next of kin of anyone who follows it should seriously consider suing CBS for proposing it.

Leaving aside any question of whether or not introductory FBI SWAT training consists of BJJ, the fact of the matter is that the LAST thing an untrained civilian faced with a violent predator should try to do is “take it to the ground.” Here are just a few reasons why it’s a terrible idea.

    1. You are not likely to be attacked by somebody smaller and weaker than you. Trying go in for a takedown on a bigger, stronger person who likely has experience with streetfighting is a great way to give a predator exactly what he wants: physical control of you. After punching or kneeing you in the face as you dive towards him, he will do whatever he wants to you, and probably stab or beat you until you are dead.
    2. “The ground” is probably a concrete sidewalk or, at best, a gravel parking lot. Even if you manage to take down your attacker, at least part of you is going to land, hard, on something that is going to hurt. If your attacker lands on top of you, the first thing he will do is smash your head until the sidewalk until you are dead.
    3. You are also unlikely to be attacked by just one person. This means that, even if you are able to take down your attacker, and are actually able to get on top of him, your back and the back of your head is wide open to be stabbed, kicked, or smashed with a brick by your attacker’s buddy.
    4. Your attacker doesn’t “want to fight.” He wants to rob you, rape you, or kill you. Maybe all three. So, even if you are able to do exactly what “Limitless” suggests, and go for a BJJ submission move, your attacker is not going to play by BJJ rules. He is going to pull a knife or a gun, and shoot or stab you until you are dead. In the unlikely event that he is completely unarmed, he will attack your groin, throat or eyes until you stop what you are doing, and then he will puts his hands around your neck and crush your windpipe until you are dead.
    5. You are not a police officer. Even if you manage to physically restrain your attacker, what are you going to do then? You can’t handcuff him, you can’t arrest him. Even if you choke him out (which requires knowing how to do that technique properly), he’s only going to be unconscious for a few seconds (unless you accidentally kill him, which is very possible when you’re cutting off the blood supply to somebody’s brain). Maybe that’s enough time for you to get off him, limp to your car and drive away, but it’s far from a safe bet.

In the “Art of War.” Sun Tzu advises always leaving your enemy a way to retreat. This is because somebody who can’t run will always fight more desperately and viciously than somebody who has the option to get away. When you take a fight to the ground, you are giving your attacker no choice but to hurt you very badly; it’s the only way he’ll be able to get away, and he knows it.

Now, with all that said, is it a good idea to have some idea of the basics of grappling? Sure … Because bad guys love to take people down! Having your victim pinned to the pavement makes it much easier to commit a rape and/or assault. Therefore, for a civilian (as opposed to a competitive BJJ athlete), the focus of ground work should NOT be on achieving a submission, the focus should be on GETTING UP OFF THE GROUND! Why would you want to roll around on concrete with somebody who wants to rape or kill you, while his buddies come at you from behind? It’s the worst idea ever. Get the hell out of there!

While ground fighting is a legitimate component to a well-rounded self-defense curriculum, the focus of any civilian should be on techniques that allow you to neutralize a threat as quickly and effectively as possible, while taking into consideration the likelihood of multiple attackers and the use of weapons. That means staying on your feet. “Limitless,” you’re a fun show, but at least in this area, you are far from super-smart.

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