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Combatives Concepts

July 13, 2018


(I know a couple of my local guys are going to be reading this. Pay attention, because this is going to become a regular feature of our weekly range sessions.–John)

 

(I have finally gotten caught up on a number of projects. I am currently finishing the new book. I should be able to resume somewhat more regular posting in the not-too-distant future.)

“1-1. Combatives, the art of hand-to-hand combat, bridges the gap between physical training and tactics. The products of a good physical training plan—strength, endurance, and flexibility—must be directed toward the mission, and Soldiers must be prepared to use different levels of force in an environment where the intensity of a conflict changes quickly. Many military operations, such as peacekeeping missions or noncombatant evacuations, may restrict the use of lethal force. Combatives training prepares the Soldier to use the appropriate amount of force for any situation.

1-2. Combatives training includes arduous physical training that is mentally demanding and carries over to other military pursuits. This training produces Soldiers who–

  • Understand controlled aggression and remain focused while under duress.
  • Possess the skills requisite to the mission, at all levels in the spectrum of force.
  • Have the attributes that make up the Warrior Ethos—personal courage, self-confidence, self-discipline, and esprit de corps.

–US Army TC 3-22.150 Combatives, 31MAR2017

I’ve spent a lot of time on this blog, and in both of the Reluctant Partisan books, extolling the virtues of the combat sports, like boxing, muay Thai, Brazilian Jujutsu, Judo, and wrestling, as the basis for valid combatives training. I’ve ridiculed, to no small degree, the training methods of most Krav Maga and “traditional” martial arts schools available.

To be clear, those criticisms generally remain valid.

Nevertheless, as an older friend from the SOF community pointed out to me in a conversation a few weeks ago, there exists an awful lot of both verified citations and anecdotal evidence of successful hand-to-hand encounters by American fighting men over the years, by soldiers, sailors, and Marines, that predate the contemporary implementation of MMA-based combatives programs. How is that possible?

First of all, let’s get it out of the way: all other things being equal, untutored enthusiasm will always be bested by schooled expertise. Fortunately for many folks, all other things are seldom equal. Contrary to the ads in the back of 1980s adventure magazines like Gung-Ho, New Breed, and Soldier of Fortune, there really isn’t any martial art—outside of combat shooting—that will allow the 90lb woman to wreck her 225lb, ex-convict, powerlifting, Golden Gloves boxing rapist. It’s not gonna happen. It never has happened. It’s bullshit.

On the other hand, there are a whole lot of examples, including verified citation accounts, of 165-185lb cornfed Marines, beating 110# Japanese Imperial Army soldiers to death with rocks, steel pot helmets, entrenching tools, and Kabar knives. This, despite the fact that the IJA soldiers presumably had considerably more judo training (since it was part of primary school curricula) than the Marines had. Size and strength really do matter.

The same thing of course, can be said to apply to examples of big, athletic American soldiers in the GWOT, when they beat the shit out of an Iraqi insurgent and kill or capture him in unarmed combat. The current Modern Army Combatives Program’s emphasis on jujutsu sure doesn’t hurt, but it’s hard to specifically quantify how critical the MACP training was, when the GI outweighs his opponent by 40-50 pounds—before you add the weight of body armor and LBE.

One of the things that gets pointed out in these discussions of course, is that the “old-timers” were simply harder than modern Americans. To a degree this is probably true. The dude in the trenches of World War One, crushing Hun heads with his improvised mace probably wasn’t spending a lot of time in high school discussing his feelings in some sociology class. The Confederate soldiers screaming his rebel yell as he closed with his cousin in Union blue at Gettysburg, Chickamauga, or Shiloh, had probably split enough wood that he had a pretty solid grasp of how to turn that old Springfield into a pretty goddamned effective club. He was too busy doing hard physical labor to be posting selfies on Instagram.

How does any of this relate to our specific context though? Well, let’s start by acknowledging that none of us are 1850s farm kids. Most modern Americans do not experience the type of lifestyle that provides them the intrinsic understanding of biomechanics that a life of incessant physical labor provides (some modern trades may come close, but even then, it’s not exactly the same. I’ll touch on this again below). We NEED at least some solid grounding in how to move our bodies in combatives, to elicit the best effect.

The above quote from TC 3-22.150 does illustrate some of the contextual tie-in though. In the current context, unarmed combatives, and the related disciplines of what I will refer to as “contact weapons” is generally going to be at least as important as our gunfighting ability. That statement may come as a shock to some folks, coming from a “gun guy,” but it’s simply the truth. The reality is that right now, and for the foreseeable future, unless you are running covert/clandestine commando raids targeted at assassinating your political rivals in your community (and we’re really not at that point yet, as far as I can tell, although I increasingly doubt it is far off), there are far more situations that you are going to resolve efficiently without your gun than you will with your gun.

So, I stand by the idea that some form of combatives training is essential. Boxing, Jitz, Judo, wrestling, and the other combat sports are, inarguably, the standard by which other systems and disciplines will be measured.

Why?

Simplest answer: for the same reason that we do Force-on-Force training with Sims guns: it allows us to authenticate the value of what we’ve learned. Nothing will build more confidence in your ability to choke a motherfucker out…like choking a motherfucker out. Nothing will build more confidence in your ability to knock a dude out, like knocking a dude out. You may be “confident” that your “tiger claw” to the face will “blind and disorient” your opponent, but you don’t KNOW it, and you can’t KNOW it, because you can’t DO it, if you value your training partners. Lots of women KNOW that kicking a man in the balls will drop him to the pavement like a sack of potatoes. Unfortunately for them, most men have been hit in the balls, and while it does, indeed hurt like a bitch, most of the time it’s not going to ACTUALLY drop us. See the correlation?

The other value of the combat sports is that in the process of actually DOING these techniques, we get to experience the variables of executing specific techniques against an actual resisting opponent. Since no two opponents’ resistance will ever be exactly the same, (nor, in fact, will the same opponent ever resist a technique in the exact same way twice) this resistance then makes our training “alive,” to use the buzzword of the 1990s martial arts world. We get to learn how to modify the techniques, in real time…kind of like when we’re using our combat shooting techniques in the shoothouse or in a scenario, during FoF, versus on the square range.

For guys who received Army basic training hand-to-hand combat training in the 1980s and 1990s at least, think back to learning the shoulder throw, over-the-shoulder throw, and the hip throw, as examples. Or think of how you learned the block against a punch, followed by a reverse punch type thing. It resembled a typical dojo martial arts class of the era, except we were in a sawdust-filled ring of sandbags, and our “gi” was woodland pattern camouflage BDUs. The closest we got to “alive” training was when they’d toss two soldiers in the pit and tell them to “wrestle!” It usually ended up being more “wrasslin’” than wrestling, unless one of the soldiers had wrestled in high school or college, and then the other poor schmuck just got a tutorial on how to get his ass tied into a pretzel (I did judo, and had zero exposure to wrestling in high school. I got tied into a pretzel by the wrestlers about 75% of the time, unless I could get a grip on their blouse.)

Here’s the thing though: those techniques are all basically the same techniques that you use in judo and MMA. What’s the difference? The aliveness aspect.

I’ve got a lot of old martial arts/combatives books on my shelves. I’ve got the old World War Two combatives manuals by Fairbairn (“Get Tough!”) and Applegate (“Kill or Get Killed!”). I’ve got the old editions of FM21-150 from 1943 (“Unarmed Defense for the American Soldier”), the 1950s (“Hand-to-Hand Combat” reprinted by several publishers, including the now-defunct Paladin Press as “Deal the First Deadly Blow!”), and the 1992 edition (“Combatives”), as well as the 2003 and later editions of the MACP manuals. While the demonstrating illustrations have changed from comical line drawings (that may have been more useful than the contemporary photos, actually) to very stiff, dojo-like photos in the ‘50s, back through the line drawings (albeit less comical) in the ‘92 edition, to the contemporary photo illustrations, the basic, underlying techniques are basically the same.

What’s the difference? The aliveness aspect. Anatomically modern humans (“Cro-Magnons”) have been engaged in hand-to-hand combat as long as there have been anatomically modern humans. There are no “new” techniques. There’s really not even any “new” applications of them. The “trick” to learning them is learning them in a way that allows you to actually practice them, and then use them, under pressure, against a resisting opponent.

One of the leading lights of 1970s military combatives was the late Michael Echanis. While his history and life story are the subject of a lot of controversy, that I am in no position to comment on, his books were famous (hell, probably still are in some martial arts circles, honestly). He had articles by him and about him in military and paramilitary magazines, and in the martial arts magazines of the day. If you can overlook the fashion choices (the 1970s hair I can get. I can even understand the black BDUs and jump boots. That’s not that different than dudes today rocking multicams to attend a shooting course, when they couldn’t tell you the difference between a M203 and a DD214. At least Echanis had SOME verifiable combat record…Those fucking muttonchops though…..).

In his “green book,” in the “Special Forces/Ramger-UDT/SEAL Hand-to-Hand Combat/Special Weapons/Special Tactics Series” entitled “Knife Self-Defense For Combat,” (to be clear, the green book was about unarmed defense against the knife. The infamous “black book” was the one on actually using a knife, and was completely unavailable for decades), he has a page where he lists “4 Basic Rules in Unarmed Self-Defense Against a Weapons Attack.”

These movements and actions must be executed in this exact chronological order:

  1. Clear your body of the weapon’s line of fire and angle of attack.
  2. Stabilize and control the weapon, breaking the base of the enemy’s balance, utilizing low kicking and sweeping, joint locking and breaking, spinning and jerking the enemy off-balance.
  3. Disarm the weapon. Utilizing joint-breaking, throwing and tearing, the unarmed soldier focuses his counterattack and mental concentration upon the weapon, never losing control or ‘feel’ for the weapon, his primary concern being this one factor, giving lethality to his assailant’s attack.
  4. Neutralize the enemy. Once the assailant has been disarmed, the enemy must be neutralized and physical control must be maintained.

No matter how proficient the unarmed expert becomes at disarming and armed assailant, he will remain vulnerable to even the smallest weapons expert.”

Contrast that with the principles expressed in a program like the Red Zone Knife Defense program. The fundamental principles are the same. Get out of the way of the knife, and get control of the weapon-bearing limb, then disrupt his base, before either taking the weapon away or running like a raped ape.

Of course, the techniques illustrated in Echanis’ book are the same ridiculous, over-the-top complex locks and throws and disarms you’d expect from a martial arts book from the 1970s, ‘80s, or ‘90s, but you know what? If you take away the stationary, compliant uke, and start from the two-on-one of the Red Zone program? Most of the locks and counters can actually work, even against a resisting opponent. They just have to be practiced against a resisting opponent, and you actually have to follow Echanis’ outline above. Let’s put it into “Mosby speak.”

1. Move the fuck out of the way of the pointy part of the knife and check the arm with both hands, a la Red Zone, establishing the two-on-one, and crash to close with the dude, gaining positive control on his arm.

2. Start beating the shit out of anything you can hit on the dude, without losing control of his knife arm: stomp on his feet and ankles, knee him in the dick, kidneys, floating ribs, head butt him, bite his fucking ear off, try and rip his carotid out with your teeth, etc. Whatever. Keep him off-balance in the meantime by jerking on his arm, lifting his arm and shoulder, etc.

3. When he weakens, or gets discombobulated, or you feel him off-balance, or loose in the knife arm, slap your lock on, toss him with a throw, arm drag to take his back, etc. Put him on the ground, and/or take the weapon away.

4. When he hits the ground, tap dance on his dental work, use his head to score a field goal, or, well, execute some sort of restraint hold/joint lock if that’s what floats your boat, or is contextually the most appropriate.

The thing is, what is specifically going to work is going to vary based on a whole host of factors. I’ve done the Red Zone Defense enough in training (I’ve only had people try to stab or cut me twice. In one case, he did cut me, on the arm, so I backed up and threw a chair at him. The other time, I threw a half-empty whiskey bottle at the guy, and was lucky enough to hit him square in the chest, before he got close enough to actually cut me.), that I’ve done really basic stuff, where I just “softened” the dude up enough to shove him away and make space to run away, I’ve gotten enough positive control to access my own weapon and shoot from retention, and I’ve managed to pull off some pretty fancy joint-lock disarms. I didn’t specifically look for any of them. I’d just trained enough different things that when something popped up, I was able to take what was offered.
The biggest problem with older combatives teaching methods, and most dojo teaching methods isn’t that the basic technical knowledge is lacking. There’s a finite number of ways to move a human body, with four limbs, a head and a torso, through space, in order to make forceful contact with a similarly constructed human body. It’s all been done before, and it’s pretty universally understood knowledge. The problem arises with the lack of understanding about spatial dynamics in real fights. Real fights end up as wrasslin’ matches, to one degree or another, because of the inherent violence and aggression of two people colliding at “I’m going to fuck you up” velocities. Throws and takedowns and joint locks don’t work at non-contact distances. They work AFTER the collision has occurred.

So, how do we learn, or teach, the ability to actually execute these skills, in the wrasslin’ match? How do we practice the “alive” portion? Well, the most common answer—and it’s not incorrect—is sparring/rolling/randori/freeplay. Whatever you call it, it is about allowing the students to actually practice against random attacks from a fully resisting opponent/attacker.

Just as important however—and more important from the perspective of actually learning to execute different techniques is “context drilling,” or “situational sparring.” This is the foundation of how I teach combatives. We set up a situation that commonly occurs in the conversation of the fight: a clinch, being stuck in a given position following a takedown, etc. Then, we practice two or three basic techniques that can be applied from that position. Then we practice applying those techniques, against incrementally increasing pressure, before finally starting in the given situation, and allowing the opponent to do whatever they can to stop the student from succeeding, and the student is allowed to use whatever of the techniques practiced that they can make work, and can use what they need to to set up the technique.

Anybody who’s ever taken a decent jitz class understands how this works: let’s look at a basic reversal from guard. We might start by learning and practicing a sweep from guard, and an armlock from guard, and a choke from guard. Then, we’ll drill each of those, against increasing resistance. Finally, I’ll turn the students loose, with the dude who has guard trying to achieve any of the three, while his partner has to prevent any of the three from occurring.

Well, the same teaching/learning method can be utilized in the standing clinch, even against weapons. Maybe we start with the two-on-one, and practice an arm drag to take the back, an arm bar takedown or a bent arm lock disarm, a la Echanis, or some variation of a foot sweep takedown off the two-on-one. We drill each of those, with increasing resistance. Finally, we see which the student can pull off against a resisting opponent who is allowed to move and resist. It’s a pretty common occurrence, when I’ve taught using this method, that, if the student gets a half-dozen attempts, he’ll end up successfully pulling off all three, at least once, even if he has a professed favorite that he tries to go back to.

For those readers that subscribe to the monthly training drill, consider the drill we did some time back that worked on fighting to the gun…it is the same basic drill we are describing here (and don’t worry, we have some more fun ones like that coming up on the schedule).

Conclusion

The reality is, there are a lot of situations, even in the context of a collapsing civilization, that are better solved with restraint and unarmed combatives than with a firearm. Having a solid basis in how to fight—which is, contrary to the egos of many men, not particularly common these days—is a critical survival skill in this context. While legitimate instruction in boxing, jitz, judo, or other combat sports is increasingly available, there’s no harm in sticking to more “traditional” martial arts either, despite the very vocal protests of many of us with combat sports backgrounds. The key is understanding the shortcomings inherent in the traditional training protocols, and overcoming it, through effective training methods. Ironically of course, when you do, what you will see, pretty quickly, is that your karate, taekwondo, kungfu, Krav maga, whatever…starts looking an awful lot like boxing, jitz, and MMA. That’s because when you are using solid training methods, the basics are all the same, and against resistance, there’s a finite number of things that actually work. It’s kind of the same thing as the dude who goes to a rifle class, expecting to learn some really high-speed, cool-guy shit, and then realizes that the trainer is teaching the same basic skills, he’s just having you do them faster, and more efficiently. There are no “super secret, advanced martial arts techniques” that actually work. There are just the basics, applied at an advanced level (sounds familiar, doesn’t it?).

(In the second part of this article, we’ll talk about the application of contact weapons in this context.)

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3 Comments
  1. Diz permalink

    Damn, tearing the lid off it again. Very thought provoking.

    BTW can’t wait to see the new books.

  2. Big Mike permalink

    I can really identify with your comment, “The Confederate soldiers screaming his rebel yell as he closed with his cousin in Union blue at Gettysburg, Chickamauga, or Shiloh, had probably split enough wood that he had a pretty solid grasp of how to turn that old Springfield into a pretty effective club.” I started spitting wood with an axe and sledge hammer/wedges at the age of 12. I was always larger than my peers as far as size goes. I spent all my time after school spitting wood for me and two grandparents, hauling hay, and tending farm dairy calves, etc. When a person who weighs 120 pounds can control and wrestle down a 150 pound calf with 4 legs and a sledge hammer for a head, people are easier. The strength and hand/eye coordination from these repeated actions is very useful for contact events. I’ve spent decades developing these skills from swinging a sledge hammer, axe, and machete. My reflexes are developed to the point where I can slap a donkey before he can bite me. The same with slapping a cow in the nose before she can but me. There was a young man in our group who was playing baseball and his coach told him his strength with a bat was pitiful. Long story short, I invited him out to my place to split wood with an axe and sledge hammer after school. After splitting 3 cords of wood over 4 weeks (and eating a home cooked meal ever time he came out), the coach was impressed with his speed and strength. He was also able to put down, with one swing, a bully on an opposing team during a ball game. This guy was always pushing and shoving people around. When this happened, the bully’s momma stood up in the bleachers and told her crying son to stand up and shut up because I told you that would happen.
    My father was a Marine during WW2 and I’m stilled amazed at his strength and endurance. He grew up plowing with a mule to help raise the family’s food. Great post. Look forward to the next.

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