Defensive DVD Review: Surviving The Knockout Game with Cecil Burch

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Surviving The Knockout Game DVD
Presented by Cecil Burch
Immediate Action Combatives

Cecil Burch has made a name for himself over the past several years for his sometimes unique approaches to defensive tactics: those things that you do when you’re engaged in a response to an attack. He’s trained with the best instructors in several types of martial arts and in the shooting world, and that wide background makes him a popular instructor with police, military special operations, and private sector students alike.

In this DVD Burch looks at what to do when you’re confronted by someone playing “The Knockout Game”: an attack whose sole or primary goal is to render the victim unconscious at the start of the incident, and may be a prelude to other crimes. This is a very specific kind of attack and Burch presents his specific techniques to prevent it from succeeding. The DVD is devoted to helping the viewer survive the initial stages of a violent, surprise attack — the close-quarters ambush.

I’ll state up front that my own martial arts knowledge is limited to Krav Maga, which I studied some years back. I believe I’m part of the target market for this DVD, which seems aimed at the person who has some martial arts background or knowledge but needs education in the specifics of the techniques presented. I did find some of his presentation to be different from what I’d would have expected given my background, but I’ll get to that a little later!


Burch talks with Rob Pincus about the ideas of counter-ambush training: what to do when you’re not prepared to face an attacker. As they point out, most people (whether in martial arts or the gun world) train for the attack they know is coming, the one that they can see and get ready to meet. The Knockout Game is the perfect example of an ambush: the attack that is purposefully hidden until it is unleashed. It’s also the hardest attack to survive because all of those pre-assault cues we all study and expect to use to identify an impending attack are concealed in some way; the idea is that the victim doesn’t see the punch coming until just before (or as) it connects.

As Burch points out, many defensive incidents are not shooting incidents or don’t start that way. There are three kinds of incidents where hand-to-hand skills are important:

  • When you don’t (or can’t) have a gun
  • When the incident doesn’t justify shooting
  • When you can’t yet get to or employ the firearm (because of the dynamics of the incident)

Burch is careful to point out that this DVD isn’t about trying to invent places to throw punches but rather identifying those cases where empty-hand skills are important and teaching relevant techniques.

After that introduction Burch explains his take on counter-ambush training principles. In traditional martial arts training the techniques are based on “best-case” scenarios: where the defender is never taken by surprise. What if, he asks, everything doesn’t go our way? What if your first conscious indicator of an impending attack is pain from a punch?

He prefers to start with this “behind the curve” case and concentrates his lessons on surviving the initial and devastating first strike. He’s focused on being able to get through that moment and be able to employ other defensive tools and skills.

The nature of the attack and the dynamics of the response

Burch states that if you’re attacked by surprise you’ll have at most a second or two of consciousness to be able to mount some sort of defense. During that time you need to both prevent further damage and to set yourself up to get back in the fight.

Despite being a long-time martial artist, and being an expert in several styles, he doesn’t advocate learning a large number of possible responses; instead, he prefers and recommends a limited number of “universal” responses that can be easily trained and regularly practiced. This DVD focuses on what he calls the “Default Cover”: a single non-diagnostic response to a debilitating head strike, which is the basis of The Knockout Game.

He starts by explaining the need to establish a solid base from which to mount a defense: the “lower half”. He goes into some detail explaining how to position your feet quickly to reinforce a solid, stable fighting stance. When you’re dealing with a physical resistance to force this kind of stance is vital; without it, you’re going to be knocked down where it’s much harder to defend yourself.

Burch then concentrates on the upper half of the torso, protecting those parts where a punch can result in nearly instantaneous unconsciousness. As he explains, you don’t just get hit in the head and black out; you have to be hit in specific places with a specific amount of force for that to happen. All that follows in the DVD is based on covering and protecting those areas with one comprehensive movement that’s easily learned and effective. What he’s come up with is a “wrapping” movement of both arms which allows cover of all the knockout points, but still allows for a proactive response.

This results in a squared-off stance that exposes only the most hardened parts of the head (the top of the skull) to the attacker. Everything else is covered and stabilized. Combined with the stable lower half, you can absorb very large amounts of attacking energy without serious injury.

After a thorough explanation of the Default Cover, Burch includes a segment on how to troubleshoot the position: what things can go wrong and what to look for to maximize its effectiveness. This is something I wish more video presenters would do because it’s a vital part of being able to learn without an instructor beside you. He spends some time explaining the common issues he’s seen with his students, the effect of their mistakes, and how to correct them. I actually learned as much from this segment as any other!

Drills to practice reacting to a threat

Having explained the Default Cover and how to do it properly, Burch then shows how to practice this with a partner. Starting slowly and with very little pressure (either physical or psychological) he explains how and why to practice the techniques. There is a lot of diagnostic information in these segments which allows you to make sure that you’re getting good training value from your practice. Again, this is the kind of approach that makes learning by video viable. He explains everything clearly and shows various iterations so that you can see it from various points of view.

One of the important points he makes during these segments is “don’t stop!” Just because you’ve been hit doesn’t mean you’re out of the fight; if you’re still conscious to realize what’s going on you can mount an effective defense. Keep moving and keep your defensive posture square to the incoming threat; that will set you up for the next move against your attacker.

With his training partner he also shows what the Default Cover response looks like when the attacker comes from various positions. Whether from the front, side or back Burch shows how to get into the Cover and how to respond “explosively”.

Going on the offensive

Once the Default has been fine tuned, once you can get into it properly and sustain it, Burch then shows how to go on the offensive from that position. It’s all about driving into the threat and impacting him enough to allow you to get into the better position, one from which you can exert some control. The idea is to cause your attacker pain and to drive him out of balance, and again he does this in a number of ways from a number of angles to show you just how the Default is applied.

This is the point where my Krav Maga training was different from what Burch espouses. Once in contact with the threat the traditional Krav Maga approach is to do damage: counter-attack and hurt the attacker to the point where he was either immobilized or disoriented enough for to get away. Burch’s approach is different: get into a position where you can control your attacker enough to get behind him and either employ a weapon or run away.

While the testosterone in me wanted to see a violent Krav-like counter-attack, my brain understands that it’s not always possible nor is the defender always capable enough to do that.  However, on reflection I realized that the Default Cover doesn’t preclude the Krav Maga counter-offensive at all; in fact, it could be used in conjunction with his control moves. Once I realized that the apparent conflict between what he teaches and what I’ve been taught disappeared.

Worst-case applications

Once all of that is done, Burch shows how to apply these principles if you’ve already been knocked to the ground. This, I think, is a particularly useful bit of information; despite your best “head on a swivel” you could still be knocked down, and preventing being rendered unconscious becomes a critical defensive goal. The principles are the same, and he shows how they’re used when in a position of severe disadvantage. The goal is to stay conscious and able to fight, which is particularly important if you’re armed to prevent your attacker from taking your gun after you’ve been knocked out.

Speaking of guns, Burch shows how to transition from the Default Cover to the use of a concealed firearm. He shows how going immediately to the gun without controlling the attacker is a recipe for failure and explains how to do so correctly. Being able to effectively use the tool without the bad guy gaining control of it is a vital and often missing part of the equation. (Along the way you can see why the old-fashioned techniques like the “speed rock” simply aren’t usable when you’re within arm’s reach of your attacker.)

What if the attacker pins you against a wall or a car? The principles of the Default Cover are the same! As Burch shows, while the lower half of the body is operating differently, the upper half can be the same and used to drive into your attacker and stay “in the fight” — as opposed to being knocked out.

As he points out again and again, while the Default Cover is universal (in that it can be applied to a wide range of circumstances) isn’t applicable to every single possible defensive situation. The key is to understand what it’s good for and practice it so that its use becomes automated — so that it can be applied quickly and without a lot of cognitive thought.

While focused on a single subject, there’s a lot of material in this DVD. It’s going on my recommended list for empty hands defense skills. Surviving the Knockout Game is available at the I.C.E. Store.

– Grant Cunningham

Disclosure: This DVD was supplied by the Personal Defense Network for review. I am affiliated with PDN as a contributor, but I receive no compensation should you purchase this DVD.


About the Author:

Grant Cunningham is a renowned author and teacher in the fields of self defense, defensive shooting education and personal safety. He’s written several popular books on handguns and defensive shooting, including "The Book of the Revolver", "Shooter’s Guide To Handguns", "Defensive Revolver Fundamentals", "Defensive Pistol Fundamentals", and "Practice Strategies for Defensive Shooting" (Fall 2015.) Grant has also written articles on shooting, self defense, training and teaching for many magazines and shooting websites, including Concealed Carry Magazine, Gun Digest Magazine, the Association of Defensive Shooting Instructors ADSI) and the popular Personal Defense Network training website. He’s produced a DVD in the National Rifle Association’s Personal Firearm Defense series titled "Defensive Revolver Fundamentals" and teaches defensive shooting and personal safety courses all over the United States.
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