A Brief Discussion on the Nature of Real Violence and Combatives
One of the many topics of conversation that has arisen in the campfire time, at the end of training days during recent classes has been the nature of aggressive violence and its application across the spectrum of interpersonal conflict, from unarmed defense to gunfighting.
Before the conversation can begin however, a brief look at my personal history in the relevant areas is necessary, to help frame the discussion. I’m not an ex-convict, and have never spent a day in prison (although I once spent a week in jail before the charges were dropped….fortunately, there was no violence or jailhouse rape involved), so I can’t discuss prison fighting techniques that only ex-cons are privy to, other than based on discussions with ex-cons, jailers/corrections officers, and videos on YouTube. So, don’t expect some lengthy dissertation on “prison shanking methods” and “jailhouse jiu-jitsu.”
Around the time I turned 7 or 8, at the insistence of my former OSS agent grandfather, I started training in Judo. He’d picked up the sport during his original training, on the suggestion of certain famous trainers, and stayed serious about it well into his fifties. At 10 or 11, he decided I needed to know how to deliver, and more importantly, take a punch. While I was apparently, a preternaturally gifted judoka, boxing required a much greater effort on my part. Not because it was physically or mentally more challenging (it wasn’t), but because I had apparently already learned how to take a punch pretty well. Even at a young age, I would gladly eat punches just to try and land one or two of my own. Unfortunately, that doesn’t work particularly well, over the length of an amateur boxing bout, against a kid with faster, heavier hands. I got knocked on my ass….a lot…and lost a lot of fights on points. The judo background also got me in trouble a lot, because when I’d start getting hurt, like any boxer, I’d clinch. Unlike most modern boxers though, I’d instantly revert to judo, and start using foot sweeps and hip tosses. That shit hasn’t been legal in boxing since like 1900….
My last two years in high school, I had the opportunity to get serious about Dan Inosanto’s style of Jeet Kune Do, with a heavy emphasis on the Filipino martial arts of arnis and escrima. My instructor in that was also a long-time student of Bob Orlando and Willem De Thours, of Indonesian silat and kuntao fame. The heavy emphasis in that school on edged-weapons work seemed, to my adolescent mind, of particular value to my rapidly impending Ranger career (because, you know, Rangers get in lots of knife duels….yeah, anyway….).
When I was at Ft. Benning, in infantry OSUT, we did the early 1990s standard hand-to-hand training: the basic blows of lead jab, rear straight, edge-of-hand blow, palm heel smash, elbow smash, and knee strike, plus the front toe kick. We also got instruction (particularly bad instruction actually) in some basic throws and takedowns, such as the hip toss, shoulder throw (seoi nage was my go-to move in judo against taller opponents in randori), cross-hock takedowns (o-soto-gari in judo), and a version of tomoe nage, strangely referred to as the “overhead throw,” that was taught in a notably bad manner (I’ve also been a long-time fan of tomoe nage. I used it in some force-on-force training a couple years ago, and just about put a buddy into a curb face-first. He’s a reader, so maybe he’ll comment on the experience). We also did the requisite rifle-bayonet training, including pugil stick training. In reality though, the single best piece of combatives advice the drill sergeants gave, back then, was “You now know enough combatives to get your ass kicked by the rednecks across the river in Phenix City.”
At RIP, our sole combatives training (at least for my class, I’ve heard other classes did more, and some did none) consisted of being woken up by the RIs at 0200 several times, and ordered into the hallways, where we did bayonet fighting drills in our skivvies for an hour or two. When I actually got to the Regiment, there was little time or interest for combatives training from the chain-of-command. Understandably so, considering the amount of training required just to meet our mission-essential task training demands. Nevertheless, there were always lots of guys around, with a variety of training and competition backgrounds, to train with, on your own time. In my first platoon alone, we had two other judoka (besides myself), a dozen or so high school and collegiate wrestlers, a bare-knuckle karate competitor, two muay Thai fighters (one who had actually fought in Thailand), and remarkably, a Sambo fighter. Our platoon sergeant at the time was also a collegiate boxer once upon a time, who’d gone to the Olympic trials. Additionally, between bar fights (officially, a reason for instant release for standards from the Regiment. Unofficially……), barracks fights, and NCOs regularly instructing to junior enlisted guys to “go!” there was a lot of opportunity to develop and/or refine, a personal combatives system.
Then, in 1995, then-LTC Stan McChrystal (Yes, THAT McChrystal), as commander of the 2d Ranger Battalion, put the wheels in motion for a battalion-wide combatives training program, under the leadership of then-SSG Matt Larsen. The program that resulted, based solidly in Gracie family style Brazilian jiu-jitsu, with a lot of other stuff blended in over the years, was quickly adopted throughout the Ranger Regiment, and then Army-wide. Despite the very vocal protests of a lot of people both within the military (typically, “This is taking away from more valuable training tasks!” with some merit), and from outside (typically, “This is sport fighting that has no use for war-fighting” from people whose war-fighting experience consisted of watching John Wayne movies, with far less merit), the system that would evolve into the Modern Army Combatives Program/MACP (and the Special Operations Combatives Program/SOCP, with more emphasis on getting your weapons back into the fight), has continued, for one very good reason. It works, remarkably well. It is, inarguably, the most successful combatives training program the United States Army has ever undertaken. As part of the establishment of the Army Combatives School at Ft. Benning, now SFC Larsen (retired), was tasked with reviewing and recording the experiences of soldiers engaged in hand-to-hand combat with enemy personnel under the program. These AARs have demonstrated both the importance of combatives training in the modern battlespace, as well as the effectiveness of the MACP.
I spent a large portion of my military career training in “Ranger Ju-Jitsu” (as it was originally referred to), and have continued to train in “Jitz” as time and location allowed, both under coaches, and on my own, ever since. However, while I have been involved in numerous use-of-force scenarios since leaving the military, I have not been involved in a fight, outside of the line of duty, in almost 15 years.
Alright, personal history aside, here’s some common lessons I’ve tried to impart in those discussions, that typically end up being very physical…
1) If you’re in a fight, shoot the bad guy(s). It’s not a karate movie, and you’re not Bruce Lee. Man is a tool user. We don’t have thick hide to protect us, our skeletal structures are relatively fragile, and we possess neither fangs, nor claws (Shaolin monks apparently excepted…). God, or nature, depending on your personal belief system, designed us to use tools to protect ourselves from danger.
Nevertheless, the root word of “gunfight” is not “gun.” It is “fight.” If you can’t fight without a gun, you may never get the chance to get the gun into the fight. Those fat slob, gun-store commandos who wink knowingly, as they pat the tricked-out, custom 1911A1 on their hip, in the $400 custom leather Yaqui slide holster, and claim “I don’t need to fight. I’ll just shoot him!” are fucking stupid. He will end up getting fed that weapon by someone in a real fight. You need to know how to fight, at least well enough to stay alive long enough to get your gun out.
2) If you can’t shoot the bad guy, for whatever reason (no time, no space, good guys on the other side of the bad guy, your Kalashnikov malfunctions, whatever….), hit him in the face with your gun. Preferably the muzzle end, fixed with a very sharp muzzle device (I am a big fan of the YHM Phantom for that reason…and it’s really good for busting car windows out when needed). If you’re British, like Max Velocity, stick him with your bayonet (sorry, brother, had to go there….). If you can’t hit him with your weapon, stab him. If you can’t stab him, hit him, hard, preferably with a heavy, solid object (like a brick…not an Algebra book….although speaking from experience, those work really well too, if you lay the bound edge alongside the dude’s temple….). Hit him first, hit him hard, and hit him repeatedly, until he is no longer threat, whatever that means, given the circumstances (METT-TC).
3) If you do carry an edged-tool as an anti-personnel device, I’m going to do you the favor of letting you know the super-secret, classified top secret, ninja-approved method of using a knife in a fight. Like any “especially effective, patented, known only to a selected few” fighting technique, this one goes back to antiquity. In this case to the Legions of Ancient Rome. Are you ready for this super-secret, deadly effective method? Are you sure? Completely ready for this life-changing revelation?
Put the pointy end in the soft spot.
As the centurions taught their legionnaires, “point beats edge, every time.” It doesn’t matter if you use a Kabar or a Sykes-Fairbairn dagger, a Roman Gladius or a Benchmade folder, a $500 handmade, custom fighting knife, or a shiv you ground out of a toothbrush handle. It doesn’t matter if you use the overhand grip, reverse grip, ice-pick grip, fencer’s grip, or super kung-fu patented octopus grip. Crash into the dude and start pumping holes into him., repeatedly (in my ever present interest in intellectual honesty…while I’ve been cut by knives a couple of times in fights–always by guys using a cut-and-slash method, and never effectively–before buddies blind-sided the knifers with chairs, and while I’ve seen more than a few guys that were seriously fucked up by knives in fights, I’ve actually never used a knife in a fight…so, take it for what it’s worth).
4) Real fights, in my not inconsiderable experience as both a participant and a spectator, occur in one of three ways:
a) In the first case, neither participant is particularly interested in being in the fight, and has no real emotional investment in being there. In these cases, they tend to stand as far apart as possible, and kind of lob ineffectual, half-assed “punches” at each other. Think of the “kangaroo boxing” you saw in high school fights. In this type of fight, it really doesn’t matter if you know how to fight or not. The guy who gets lucky and actually manages to land a relatively solid hit will be acclaimed as the winner, but it will be more a result of luck than any sort of skill. If you are concerned about being in this kind of fight, quit reading my blog, immediately, go grab your school books, and finish your geometry homework before your parents catch you on the internet.
b) In the second case, while one party IS dedicated to fucking up the other guy, but the other guy doesn’t really know if he wants to be there or not (probably not). Like the first, it really doesn’t matter if either guy really knows how to fight or not, because the guy who has already decided to fuck up the other guy WILL win, by going right over the top of the “Nancy” who is still trying to make up his mind, regardless of skill or technical ability. This is the real reason the prodigal “streetfighter” is able to clean the floor with the 100th degree black belt in “who-flung-poo” kung-fu. It’s not because the “deadly streetfighter” knows some secret “gutterfighting” technique that the Chinatown special doesn’t. It’s just that the streetfighter has already decided he’s going to cripple, maim, or kill the sissy in the silk pajamas.
c) The third type of fight is really the only one worth training to fight. This occurs when both parties are fully vested in being there, and both have every intention of killing or at an absolute minimum, permanently crippling, the other guy. In this type of fight, only two things really matter: physical strength (are you strong enough to throw the other guy through the wall?) and technical ability (do you know how to throw a solid punch? Do you know HOW to throw the other guy through the wall?). This type of fight resembles one thing: two freight trains in a head-on collision. It’s not going to be pretty, and there won’t be any back-and-forth sparring shit going on. It’s going to be loud, fast, and brutal, and the stronger guy, who can hit harder, and faster, and do the most damage (hint: a guy hitting the brick wall, face-first, does a lot more damage than any punch or kick you can even dream of throwing) first, will win.
5) So, all of those in mind, here’s a breakdown of the John Mosby system of combatives:
a) Shoot the motherfucker in the face. If you’re in a hand-to-hand fight, you either seriously fucked up, or your tactics suck (same, same, really….). If you can’t shoot him, shove your muzzle through the back of his mouth, stab him (in the soft spots) repeatedly, or just wreak havoc and discontent on him–left, right, left, right, left, right. If you crash into a dude, going 90mph, striking fast, and legitimately trying to take his head off, one of three things will happen:
b) You’ll either knock him flat the fuck out, or at least ass-over-teakettle. In either case, you’ve either won, or you’ve now created the necessary time and space to get a gun into the fight and shoot him in the face, as in sub-section a) above.
c) He’ll get his hands up, to protect his head. In that case, you drop levels, as you continue to move in, and start punching him the solar plexus, guts, ribs, and nuts, until he goes down. I’ve yet to see ANYONE take a solid right cross to the dick and stay on his feet.
c) He’ll grab hold of you, like a boxer hitting the clinch, to try and stop you from hurting him anymore. In that case, you either shift to hitting him with hooks and uppercuts, elbows, knees, and headbutts, or you toss, or trip him, and send him to the pavement, headfirst. If you’re really good, he’ll go down by himself, and you can either get a gun and shoot him in the face, as in a) above, or you can dance a waltz on his forehead. If you’re like me, it’s a 50/50 proposition that you’ll go down with him. As long as you manage to land on top, that’s okay, because you’ve still got the opportunity to beat on him, or to get a gun in the fight and shoot him in the face, as in a) above (seeing a pattern here, yet?). If you end up on the bottom though, you’d damned sure better know at least the rudiments of some groundfighting escapes and reversals, or he’s going to beat the shit out of you.
That’s it really. Sure, there’s some specific takedowns I teach, practice, and use (double leg, high single, shoulder throw from the clinch, hip throw from the clinch, o-soto-gari, and others. Always used from the clinch. Not off a feeder punch that’s held out there, like they teach in too many karate classes and in old-school Army combatives training). There are some specific escapes and reversals I teach, practice, and use (generally, two or three from the “bottom” of each of the “dominant body positions” is more than adequate in my experience, unless you’re fighting a professional MMA fighter, in which case, you REALLY, REALLY, REALLY, should have shot the motherfucker in the face before he got that close!). There’s a really effective, specific counter-edged weapons method I use (Google “Red Zone Knife Defense”) that is by far, the most effective method I’ve seen demonstrated or been taught, ever, by anyone. It really helps to know how to use physics, biomechanics, and technique to get your ass behind your punches to hit really hard (I highly recommend you look into Rodney King’s “Crazy Monkey Boxing” if you’re not an experienced pugilist). All of that however, is details. While God IS found in the details, I’m not Him, and those are all beyond the scope of a short blog article. So, now, to finish, a short FAQ section, to put the silly shit to rest, before it starts.
Q: “But, SSG Mosby! My karate/kung-fu/wushu/Jeet Kune Do instructor told me that punching someone in the head will break your hands, and then you’ll get beat, because you won’t be able to hit him anymore! What about palm heel strikes, shuto strikes (edge-of-hand blows for the English speakers amongst us), and stuff like that?”
A: I’ve heard that shit since I started Judo as a kid, and I have, in fact, seen a couple of guys end up with broken hands after punching some dude in the grape in a fight. I however, have managed to never break a hand punching anyone, so I don’t know how much of a concern it actually is. Further, of the broken hands I’ve seen, none lost their fights, and in fact, didn’t even realize they’d fucked up their hand until well after the fight was over.
However, if you are worried about the fragility of your delicate mitts, by all means, use a palm heel strike instead of a fist. Or use an edge-of-hand blow (I did crack a dude’s collarbone that way once. Contrary to what the old 1950s era Combatives field manual claimed however, it did not prevent him from returning the favor by punching me in the head, repeatedly). I don’t give a shit. Just make sure you hit him hard, hit him fast, and continue hitting him until he is no longer a threat, whatever that means under the circumstances (I read once that a writer uses repetition as a literary device was trying to emphasize a point….get it?).
Q: “What about the super-deadly Fairbairn/Applegate/Sykes/Biddle/Nelson World War Two Combatives stuff? That shit was for real! It was so deadly, they taught it to OSS agents who were going to get dropped behind Nazi lines!”
A: Number one, my grandfather was an OSS agent, and got all that training. He also knew Major Fairbairn and Colonel Applegate, socially. Yes, he taught me all the stuff he was taught (I assume. He might have left some shit out, I wouldn’t know for sure). Yet, he was also the one who insisted that I needed to take up judo and boxing. Why was that?
All those self-proclaimed experts on WW2 combatives, who deride the value of “sport fighting” probably need to go back and re-read “Get Tough” (by Fairbairn) and “Kill or Get Killed” (by Applegate). Both authors took great pains to explain, explicitly, that the reason they taught their “gutterfighting” techniques was not because they were superior to the parent martial arts, but because they had a limited amount of time to teach guys, on their way to war, a minimal amount of stuff that might keep them alive, and they didn’t have time to teach the entire arts.
Q: “Yeah, well, my guru/master/teacher/instructor, is a 999th-degree black belt in “what-the-fuck-ever” and explained that the techniques in our art are far too dangerous to practice full-force, so they won’t let us use it in competitions, but it’s much more dangerous than all that UFC sport stuff, because we use all the stuff that is “illegal” in the UFC rules.”
A: Alright, Tinkerbell……I accept that you are a precious butterfly, and privy to secrets that the rest of us mere mortals don’t have access to. But, let me ask you this: What makes you think that a guy who is willing, and able, to take repeated punches to the head from a dude who bench-presses 300+ pounds, and can literally, fold a 100-lb heavy bag in half, is going to be reduced to a sobbing puddle of blubbering nothing by your “lethal” “gutterfighting” tricks? Oh, you’re going to bite him? I bit a guy in a fight once, because he was getting ready to stomp on my skull, and the only thing I could reach was his calf, with my teeth. It worked….for about two seconds. Then he went ahead and knocked me flat the fuck out by stomping on my skull. Oh, but you’re going to bite his ear/eye/lip/finger/whatever? Alright….ear: I can get the fucker stitched back on, after I beat you to death for biting my ear. Eye? That’s just weird…..How the fuck do you bite a dude’s eye (seriously, I once had a guy try and convince me that he’d bite my eye….). Lip: GAY. Finger: I actually had my finger bitten in a fight once. So I punched the guy in the eye until he let go, then I punched him in the mouth a couple of times with the bitten hand.
Oh, you’re going to gouge eyes, or grab nuts (not quite as gay. I did it once, and it worked really well to make enough space for me to get a better shot in)? Any junior high wrestler, with six months on the mats, has been eye-gouged, fish-hooked, and hit in the nuts enough to know it’s not the end of the world, or the fight.
Seriously. All that shit is cool. It’s like a flash-bang grenade. It’ll work for about a second, just long enough for you to slip in a more substantial method of causing serious hurt. Using it as your “fail-safe, go-to techniques” however, is going to get you seriously fucked up. I don’t care if you want to box, do muay Thai, wrestle, do judo, or jiu-jitsu. I don’t care if you want to do Krav Maga, or kung-fu, or karate, or fucking Tae Bo. Seriously. All I will say is this: If you’ve never hit a dude, using the methods and techniques you are training to use, full-force, and witnessed that it actually does what it’s supposed to do….you’re playing patty-cake. Now, if you’re only going to get in fights with guys who don’t really want to be there, and are not invested in the fight? Shit, Billy Blanks is the guru! Against a juiced-up, Type-A alpha male dude, wearing full kit and packing an M4 or MP5? You’d better KNOW your shit will do what it’s supposed to do.
Q: “But John, if you advocate ‘left, right, left, right, left, right, where does the grappling stuff come in?”
A: I got asked this in a recent class, by a very earnest young man. It was a valid question. I proceeded to demonstrate why it was important to know takedowns and grappling, without hurting him (actually, his response, after being on the receiving end of a takedown, knee-drop, and a rain of simulated blows to his brain pan was simply, “That was fucking cool!” Good kid–and I know his dad is reading this, so I hope he’ll tell the young man again how impressed I was with his attitude during the entire class).
Here’s another reason why I (and the Army actually) emphasizes the importance of grappling methods in combatives….All of my training, from combatives, to gunfighting, to TC3, to evasion-survival fieldcraft, to SUT, is predicated on real-world experience, and worst-case scenarios. If I train to defeat the top 1% of bad guys out there, the other 99% is fucking easy (not an original thought of mine, as I know several readers will quickly realize). Have you ever tried to throw a punch/chin-jab/or other punch-type strike against a dude kitted up in MICH helmet and rifle-plate body armor on, possibly with a protective mask/gas mask on? You’ll wish you’d learned to grapple pretty quickly the first time your money-maker punch bounces off some dude’s plate carrier, as he caves your skull in with his muzzle…
Q: “Yeah, but that grappling shit won’t work against multiple assailants!”
A: I love the stupidity of this argument. Number one, the best defense against multiple assailants is a bunch of buddies with M4s. If that’s not an option, at least having an M4 is a good start. If that fails, and you have to go unarmed against multiple assailants? Yeah, you’re probably pretty much fucked, unless you’re Morehei Ueshiba, and they’re all your aikido students who are doing a choreographed series of simple attacks. However, if I was in that situation now(I’ve been in that situation once…I thought I had a table full of Ranger buddies behind me when I started shit-talking a table of guys in a bar….My buddies had gone to dance with some girls….I proceeded to get the ever-loving shit kicked out of me until they came crashing through the crowd to rescue my dumbass….), I’d rather grab one guy and control him, to try and keep him between me and his buddies, while I proceeded to kick the shit out of him, then use him to make enough space to escape….Actually, I’d probably rather just run like a scared bitch, but my NEXT choice would damned sure be grappling-centric.
Anyway….some thoughts that were percolating on a very popular, very….sacred to some folks….subject.
Somewhere in the mountains