Combatives: Training Considerations

The firearm is absolutely the most effective tool of personal defense available to mankind that can be carried hidden on the body and any other such option is inferior.  It is that simple.  If you want to be able to protect yourself then carry a handgun.  If you are in a state that does not allow you to carry a handgun then start voting against communist politicians or move.  However, no matter how clear the Second Amendment is we all must deal with environments from time to time that deny us our rights.  In such times having some hand skills may be our only means of self-defense.  Also, there are many incidents in which even armed defenders must use, or desperately could use, hand skills.  Getting a gun out and into a fight at contact distance with an opponent is more difficult than most realize.  I think all concealed carriers should strive to have some basic and functional unarmed combative skills.

Unarmed skills have always taken a back seat to my shooting and gun handling training, but I have studied it off and on throughout my life.  I have little training in formal martial arts but have studied different combatives.  What is the difference, you may ask?  Well, most formal martial arts are an entire system and philosophy and many tend to be far more art than martial.  Combatives are the distilled elements of fighting skills.  Martial arts are great for those who are interested in making a lifestyle commitment to training, but without such a dedication most martial art systems do little to prepare the practitioner for conflict.  I am a believer in studying combative systems.  Take some training in these systems and practice your strikes and movements as part of your routine.  For example, I like to integrate my combatives training into my regular workouts several days a week, and train with partners when I can.

I am not in the position to give my opinions to those of you who have dedicated a lifetime to martial arts training and that is not what I aim to do here.  You serious martial artists often know what works and what does not and even if you are steeped in a traditional art you may be advanced enough to bring the useful skills to bear in a fight.  Also, I think training in certain arts like Brazilian Jujitsu or Boxing can build a great foundation in these skills.  However, for those of you that carry a gun but have little if any unarmed training, I wish to provide you with some advice as to how and what to look for.  If you have no martial arts background but want to develop skill you can take combatives training and practice your skillset for a short block of time several days a week and you will keep these skills ready.  There are quite a few good instructors and courses out there.  When looking into these various offerings consider the following:

A Smaller Tool Box is Better

One issue that plagues most martial arts systems is the bloated nature of the “tool box.”  For example, certain arts will teach four or five ways to counter any given common assault.  Why should learners be exposed to five different possible ways to do something if there is one particular technique that will consistently work every time?  This leads to a huge reactionary gap on the part of many practitioners when they need to exercise a technique for real.  A go-to response for any given attack, with perhaps a secondary “plan B” option, is the way to train.

Knowing five ways to accomplish the same thing will make you mediocre at five different techniques rather than being excellent at one.   Think about this: how many ways do you draw your gun?  There should be one. Maybe an alternate as well, for example, like acquiring the weapon with the off-hand if necessary, but consistency works.  Too many choices does not work under pressure.  This same principle applies to unarmed skills.

There are many gross-motor movements that actually work essentially the same way to counter different kinds of assaults.  A good combatives system should strive to use consistent principles within techniques to combat a variety of possibilities.  This ensures that the practitioner can dedicate to reflex the smallest toolset possible that is still effective.  Fights are most often affairs in which the good guy must react to the bad actor.  We want a system of immediate action defenses and counter-assaults that can be executed with great speed and effect: go-to counter assault moves that are not fancy or glamorous, just predictably workable.

Simple Works, Complicated Does Not

There is a concept that seems to elude traditional martial arts doctrine:  three and four step moves that work against an “opponent” on the mat that is standing still do not work against a real adversary that is putting all of his speed and strength into resisting your attempt.  It drives me crazy when I see this.  Traditional moves taught in the dojo work against static partners that stand still for the demonstration.  As soon as someone starts teaching you a multi-step move against a rapid and violent assault they are wasting your time.  The exception may be the techniques to escape certain chokes or restraints as there is the ability to do a move that requires several steps as all of the opponent’s resources are applied to holding you in the particular choke or restraining mechanism rather than raining blows on you.

You will consistently see techniques taught in traditional arts that focus on a single item but ignore the whole picture.  For example, many techniques taught to break free of certain grabs will focus all attention on doing something fancy to the opponent’s single grabbing hand, all the while ignoring the other hand which can immediately pummel your unguarded head.  Such techniques are demonstrated on a training adversary that does not resist or in any way react to the technique you are trying to apply.  Traditional arts that teach such things do not take into account the simple fact that an enemy combatant will rapidly adjust his plan of attack based on your resistance.  Convoluted moves do not work.

Technique without Context is a Poor Training Strategy

Guys who study BJJ will spend months rolling around without discussing how a fight actually starts and why you would end up on the ground in the first place.  Arts like Tao Kwan Do will spend months practicing kicks and strikes without addressing the dynamics of how fights unfold.  This is not all bad as valuable movements are learned, but techniques are better learned when placed into context from the beginning.  Watch the videos of actual street fights that are all over the internet.  How do things start?  A concentration on a non-confrontational stance (the body’s natural and best fighting position) and a set of gross motor skill movements to counter the most commonly seen attacks is where your training should start.  When training in ground fighting know why and how you can end up on the ground.  If training to defeat a headlock know why and how you can end up there, etc…  Know the context.

So, in closing, I truly urge all people serious about self-defense to get some training in unarmed combatives.  Your hands and feet are sometimes the only weapon available and with some effort you can acquire some fundamental skills that can greatly improve your abilities.  Even for those of you that are armed most of the time there are many possible circumstances in which deploying a weapon will not be possible without using unarmed skills first.  If you don’t have training get out and take some combatives seminars.  It is worth the commitment.

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