After living through the collapse of the Soviet Union and the fallout...
Last year, our good friend Patrick Vuong stepped down from his position as Editor of RECOIL OFFGRID. We were all sad to see him go, of course, but we also knew that Patrick isn't one to rest on his laurels — he had big things on the horizon. After much planning and preparation, this week Patrick officially announced the launch of his new combatives training company, Tiga Tactics.
Rather than focusing on regimented martial arts curriculum like a traditional dojo, Tiga Tactics aims to teach “customized urban combatives for the average person”. As preparedness-minded individuals, we care more about defending life and limb in real-world emergencies than learning how to karate chop through wood boards, so this certainly got our attention. After all, you wouldn't square up and ceremoniously bow to the mugger who's trying to take your wallet. You'd do everything in your power to end the threat.
We chatted with Patrick about his background, the creation of Tiga Tactics, and how his combatives ethos translates to the survivalist community.
RECOIL OFFGRID: What initially led you to take an interest in self-defense skills?
Patrick Vuong: You could say it’s in my blood. I grew up in a family of military veterans and martial artists. My father and uncles served in either the Army or the Navy of South Vietnam. I have several relatives who are black belt instructors in various arts, dating back to at least my grandmother’s brother. So you could say that the concept of self-preservation is written in my DNA.
As your interest grew, what forms of martial arts did you study? Who mentored you?
PV: I suppose my older cousins were my first mentors, teaching me how to avoid bullying and whatnot. Or maybe they just liked knocking me around [laughs]. But in 1995 I took up formal training in Northern Shaolin Kung Fu, which originated in China’s Shaolin Temple more than 1,500 years ago and involves a lot of high kicking and empty-hand striking.
In 1997 I started studying Kenpo Karate under the now late Master Margitte Hilbig, the first female karate black belt in Canada. In the ’60s, she was the only woman fighting against men in tournaments. When I joined her, Master Hilbig was in her late 50s and only about 5 foot 3 and 100 pounds, but she could toss me around like I was a rag doll. So I was quite proud to earn my first black belt from her in 1999.
Next I learned Lai Chung Chuan Fa, a hybrid form of Kung Fu, American Kickboxing, and a few other arts. Eventually, I earned a second-degree black belt.
Then I became a certified instructor of Pekiti-Tirsia Kali under Tuhon Jared Wihongi, a former SWAT officer and combatives instructor who teaches elite military and law enforcement units. Our form of Kali utilizes impact, edged, and empty-hand weapons combined with dynamic footwork.
But I’m a martial arts addict. I have a compulsion to be a white belt and continually learn. So I’m also a student of Pentjak Silat Serak, a close-quarters combat system from Indonesia. I’ve also had formal training in Tai Chi and dabbled in everything from Muay Thai and Krav Maga to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Bruce Lee’s Jeet Kune Do.
And of course I’ve had the privilege of being schooled by some of the most elite firearms tactical trainers in the world in my former position as senior editor of RECOIL and head editor of RECOIL OFFGRID. It was a humbling and enlightening experience to learn from such easy-going yet deadly teachers — gents who have served as Army Green Berets, Navy SEALs, Recon Marines, and Air Force Pararescue Jumpers.
How was Tiga Tactics founded, and where did the name come from?
PV: I’m all about helping people. When I was the head editor of RECOIL OFFGRID, my main focus was to help folks be better prepared for disasters by giving them in-depth tutorials and honest gear reviews. Now I’m helping people survive violent encounters by giving them life-saving knowledge and a way to train life-saving techniques in a fun, consistent, and realistic manner.
As for the name, it’s is my subtle way of honoring my traditional martial arts background, my modern combatives experience, and my firearms training.
“Tiga” (pronounced “tee-gah”) is the Indonesian word for three, which is a significant number in my life and in the universe in general. E.g. the Holy Trinity, etc. In Southeast Asian martial arts, there’s the triangle, which is important in things like locks and footwork. Plus, I teach the three pillars of self-protection: life-saving knowledge, effective techniques, and consistent and realistic training.
And “Tactics” refers to how I teach self-defense based on concepts, not set techniques. Take for example a straight knife stab to the gut. Some instructors will teach more than a dozen very specific steps in response to that stab, outlining what each arm, hand, and leg must do to get an elaborate counterattack. I teach them three effective concepts, which lets the student respond with a handful of high-percentage techniques that’s right for them in that instance.
Your web site says Tiga Tactics is “customized urban combatives for the average person.” What do you mean by this?
PV: The average person is concerned about his or her safety, but doesn’t necessarily want to sign up to learn a martial art in a dojo, a combat sport in a gym, or a fire-starting class at a wilderness survival school. Some are too busy, some are too intimidated.
So I took my more than 20 years of martial arts experience and distilled the thousands of hours of training and research down to just the most effective movements that you could apply realistically on the street — regardless if you’re a CrossFit athlete or a crochet expert. What I teach is all martial, no art.
This is not a new idea. There are many great (and plenty of not-so-great) reality-based self-defense instructors. Where I differ is I understand that a one-size-fits-all approach is not going to work. I’ve trained with good instructors whose one flaw is thinking their technique will work for everyone. Of course it works for them because they’re big and strong. But it’s certainly not going to work for my wife, who’s 5 foot and 100 pounds.
This is where the “customized” aspect comes into play. I’m not a technique-based instructor but rather a tactics or concepts-based instructor, otherwise I would have named my company Tiga Techniques. Techniques only work in specific circumstances at specific times in specific places. But real-life violence often happens at the wrong time in the wrong place. So instead, I teach my students concepts based on the most common attacks, which allows them to adapt and apply the technique that’s right for them in that place and time.
I can also customize programs for individual people or larger organizations. For example, the way I teach how to defend against an impact weapon for the average civilian can be tweaked for law enforcement or the military or different agencies. Understanding what someone needs is a big part of my teaching directive.
How does your teaching differ from a more traditional school or dojo?
PV: Well, I think it’s important to first distinguish the goals of a traditional dojo verus the goals of Tiga Tactics. The aim of a dojo is to teach a martial art, including the customs, culture, and history of where it came from. A traditional dojo will teach in a linear fashion based on a structured curriculum.
The goal of Tiga Tactics is to teach anyone — average folks, police, soldiers — how to protect themselves against the most common attacks in the least amount of time, and to do so in a fun and safe way. The students dictate what I teach. If they want to learn how to defend against an edged weapon, I’ll teach my Stab Proof 1.0 course. My programs are modular and can be learned à la carte.
How do strength and physical fitness come into play for self-defense training? Is it necessary to have a bodybuilder physique?
PV: No, absolutely not. I’ve seen people of all shapes sizes kick some serious butt. But you want to stack the deck in your favor, and that includes your physical fitness level. As the adage goes, you don’t rise to the occasion but fall to your level of training. And if your level of weekly training is lying on the couch, eating junkfood, and watching YouTube videos, there’s a good chance you’ll end up horizontal in a life-and-death encounter, too.
What's the most common challenge you see students encountering on the path to combatives proficiency?
PV: Lack of consistent, realistic training. Far too many people think that just because they have the life-saving knowledge and can do the techniques that they’re good. But they’re missing that third pillar of self-defense: consistent, realistic training.
If you’re a prepper, it’s not enough to understand the basic survival needs and buy all the cool gear and fancy supplies. You also have to practice humping that bug-out bag on your preplanned escape route and break some sweat trying to spark a flame with a fire bow. The same goes for gun owners. It’s one thing to own a gun and know how to use it, it’s another to have the physical skillset to draw and fire under extreme duress.
How do impact weapons and edged weapons factor in to your teaching?
PV: Tiga Tactics can teach you how to defend against blunt, bladed, bulleted, and bareknuckled threats. On the flip side, a student of self-defense should also be proficient with the use of those weapons. But statistically speaking, you’re far more likely to be attacked by an impact weapon or an edged weapon than a firearm, despite what the pundits might claim. Why? Because a sharp kitchen knife can be bought at any dollar store. Because anything from a hammer to a large rock has been used to bludgeon people death. Knives and blunt objects are far more common than firearms, so it would be irresponsible not to include concepts related to edged and impact weapons.
On that note, what items are in your pockets right now? How do these items vary throughout your weekly routine?
PV: I hate to sound paranoid, but I don’t like to be specific with what my EDC gear is. Why put myself at a disadvantage by publicly stating my defenses and where they are? That would be like crowdsourcing the schematics for the exhaust port of the Deathstar [laughs]. But what I can say is that I try to stack the deck in my favor where and when it’s legally appropriate. This might include a flashlight, a tactical pen, a folding or fixed blade, a compact firearm, and perhaps the most important of all, my wallet (your ID, cash, and credit cards can get you out of more survival situations than you might realize).
We've heard keyboard commandos say that martial arts aren't necessary if you have a gun. How would you respond to this?
PV: I might be inclined to agree actually. Martial arts aren’t necessary for gun-owners, but combatives are. Martial arts are something one should learn if you want to be a lifelong practitioner of both the fighting elements and the cultural aspects. Combatives is basically martial arts with the artistic and cultural elements stripped away.
And combatives is a must-have if you’re gonna carry a firearm. Why? Because combatives gives you more options to respond with. But if the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
For example, let’s say you’re in an elevator with a scrubby looking dude when he suddenly turns to you with a knife in hand. The keyboard commandos would say to draw your gun and shoot. Sure, you might shoot the psycho, but not before he guts you like sushi. I don’t know about you, but that’s a pretty crappy trade. Instead, why not protect yourself against the knife first then create an opportunity to draw your pistol?
Now, let’s flip that example on its head. Let’s say that the scrubby guy suddenly turns to you with something in his hand. You instinctively draw, shoot, and kill him. But as he hits the floor, you see that he had a box of mints in his hand and you realize you had some stank-ass breath. What now? The police and district attorney might not look too kindly on you.
If you could teach readers one physical technique to improve their self-defense skills, what would it be?
PV: It would be to pull your head out of your apps! [Laughs.] The smartphone has been the No. 1 killer of both self-awareness and situational awareness in recent years. Self-awareness because when you’re so distracted by your phone, you have no idea how you’re perceived by the people around you. And some of those people could be two-legged predators who see you as soft prey. It also kills situational awareness because your head is down and oblivious to potential threats. And I’m not even talking about muggers; I’ve seen people almost get run over by cars because they’re stupid enough to go through a crosswalk with their head up their apps!
So when you’re in public, put your phone away and walk confidently like you have a purpose. Scan not just left and right but also in the distance to anticipate possible obstacles and threats, as well as glancing over your shoulder or looking at your reflection as you stride past windows and mirrors to see who’s behind you. Keep your head on a swivel and absorb life around you!
Conversely, what's one mental technique you'd like to teach our readers?
PV: It’s having a prepper’s mindset and applying it not just to survivalism but also everyday life. My friends call me paranoid but I tell them I’m prepared. So now they call me “preparanoid” [laughs].
So how do you practice this technique? When you get up in the morning, glance at your calendar and map out where you’re going that day. Plan your EDC gear and back-up gear accordingly. Briefly think of all the things that might go wrong and have a proper response ready, whether that’s sliding an EDC flashlight in your pocket or replenishing the emergency water in your car’s kit. This might seem too time consuming for your busy schedule, but if you do this enough times, it’ll eventually became second nature and take just a minute out of your day.
Also, the next time you’re out at a restaurant with your friends, play this little game: count the number of times you spot someone with a folding knife clipped to their pocket in a 5-minute span. This will encourage you to have not only situational awareness but it will also prime your brain to come up with responses should a sudden attack happen.
We noticed Tiga Tactics offers both in-person seminars and online courses. How would one sign up for each of these programs?
PV: Our online courses are in the works and will hopefully go live around New Year’s. Stay tuned to TigaTactics.com for updates. As for in-person seminars, just visit our website to reach out to me and we can schedule a seminar in your area soon.
How does your teaching differ when you're consulting for a larger organization, such as a business or church?
PV: Conceptually, nothing changes. We still emphasize the three pillars of self-defense: life-saving knowledge, effective techniques, and consistent and realistic training. But I’ll adapt that triad to the specific safety needs of not only an organization’s people but also of the organization’s structural well-being as well.
For example, an effective technique for an individual might be a horizontal elbow to the nose. But for a business an effective technique could be instigating layers of defense, such as a fence, a surveillance system, better lighting, and armed security guards. Consistent realistic training for one person might be practicing one of our combatives program three times a week, while consistent and realistic training for a business might be running a different emergency drill once a month (one for a fire, one or a mass shooting, and so on).
Any closing thoughts you'd like to impress upon our readers?
PV: Any training is better than no training. The housewife who’s attending Krav Maga classes once a week is still far better prepared to deal with a violent attack than the dude lying on his couch critiquing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu tutorials online.
That’s why I founded Tiga Tactics. Our upcoming online courses at TigaTactics.com will give people a chance to study how to defend themselves against the most common attacks, no matter where they live in the world. And because I’ve distilled thousands of hours of training over two decades, you’re gonna get only the most effective and easy-to-learn concepts and techniques.
You can also watch our latest videos on a wide range of topics at our YouTube channel, get daily photos, self-defense tips, and funny memes on our Facebook page and Instagram account. And you can read our raving rants and self-defense soundbites on Twitter.
For a visual recap of what Tiga Tactics is all about, check out the introduction video below: