Concealed Carry & Home Defense

Emerson Combat Series: Combatives Is Not An Art

Ernest Emerson Contributor
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By Ernest Emerson, The Guardian Shepard

Teaching Combative skills carries with it a certain set of prerequisite strategies and tactics.  Combative skills revolves around one word, combat.  If I am engaged in combat, I am trying to either incapacitate or kill the enemy.  Conversely, that is what he is trying to do to me.  That means that if I am teaching or training in Combative skills then these are skills that involve life or death combat.  This is where combative skills break from I would call traditional Martial Arts instruction.  Now, knowing that the word martial itself does mean War fighting skills, it is important to see that yes, in the days of it’s origins, most traditional Martial Arts were based on actual fighting skills.  However, over time, almost all of these traditional Arts have become removed from combat and have become highly ritualized, complex methodologies designed more to enhance discipline and physical perfection in practitioners than practical “Real World fighting skills.”  Now, that is fine if you practice your Martial Art for those reasons.  You may say that you study your Martial Arts for arts sake.  Fighting is not an art.

The other aspect of martial arts is the sporterized version.  This study of martial arts can also be for philosophical and physical perfection.  It is expressed through competitions against other practitioners and outcomes can be decided by points given by judges or submissions decided by the fighters.  However, there are rules, time limits and referees to stop the contests if injury is likely to either fighter.  This is martial sport.  Combatives is not a sport.

If you were to go into a traditional karate school you would see karate students fighting against karate attacks.  If I were to go into a judo school I would see Judoka defending against Judo attacks.  In other words, karate guys train and learn to fight karate guys and judo players learn to fight other judo players.

Not once in my life have I ever had anyone throw a reverse punch at me in a real fight.  In martial arts, or martial sports, you get the chance to lose, in real world combatives you can not lose.  You lose – you die.  Even as “real” as for example, the UFC is, you do not see a knockout and then the winner execute a rotational neck torque on the unconscious victim to break the neck.  This is what would happen if this were a real ultimate fight – to the death.  This is the realm of Real World Combative skills.

Combative fighting skills are not passive, they are not philosophical and they are not searching for perfection of technique.  You don’t need to bow to anybody, you don’t need to respect your opponent, there is no sportsmanship and there is nothing that is considered a dirty trick.

In real combat my goal, my only goal, is to impose my will, my physical dominance over the opponent.  If I need to hurt, maim, injure or kill him to accomplish that end, I will do so.

Unfortunately most Hand-to-Hand combat training that is available today is an extension of traditional martial arts instruction.  There is a logical reason for this.  Most instructors in Hand-to-Hand combat got there basic training in traditional martial arts schools.  So it only follows that they teach what they were taught.

One of the main differences is that most martial arts are taught from a reactive, or defensive platform.  That, in conjunction with the passive philosophy inherent in most traditional (oriental) martial arts is not the strategic basis necessary for use in a life and death environment.  Although combative training utilities  many of the same skills and techniques taught in traditional martial arts systems, there is a major difference, both in teaching philosophy and training, regarding combative skills.

True combative training is hard-core, aggressive and brutal both in philosophy, training and application.  One of the main differences is that combatives instruction must include, attack or first strike training.  This is where the first main break occurs with traditional style systems that are almost solely based on the opponent striking first; i.e., if he punches like this – you counter like that.  Since, in reality, most fights are won by the person who strikes first (the surprise attack) then your training must include aggressive, pre-emptive, first strike instruction and practice.  This of course, is not taught to the exclusion of reactive, defensive or counter-attacking skills, it is importantly, a necessary addition.  The other fundamental break from traditional teaching is the inclusion of finishing and killing techniques.  Now I understand why master Kwon doesn’t teach these skills at the neighborhood Tae Kwan Do School, but then again he’s not teaching combatives, is he?

Combat skills as generally taught here (in the U.S.) also suffer from the terrible political correctness that is so pervasive in our modern culture.  In addition to fear of litigation (I can’t teach Johnny how to break someone’s neck), most instructors stay way clear of teaching overly aggressive or potentially deadly forms of instruction.  However in contrast, combatives as taught to foreign militaries in some cases, is quite different.  Soviet Spetsnaz training included trips to morgues and working with dead bodies to practice joint and neck breaking.

I also have it on strong intel that in the past, certain units practiced their skills (sometimes lethal) on prisoners to test their abilities and effectiveness.  Remember, the Japanese used to test their swords on live human beings.  I’m not saying that these are good practices morally or otherwise.  I’m just saying that most of what is taught today, is so watered down that it barely reflects legitimate combat skills.  On top of that, it’s being taught to individuals that may indeed find themselves engaged in a fight to the death struggle at some point, given our current conflict environment, against our current enemies, (house-to-house, room-to-room fighting).

The main difference between martial arts instruction and combative skills training boils down to this.  It is the difference between – I’m not going to let this S.O.B. kill me and I’m going to kill this S.O.B.

Real world combatives are not complex, impressive or pretty.  They are simple, brutal and effective.  They rely more on brute strength and naked aggression than perfection of technique and humility.

I had an SAS partner tell me once, “I would have killed him with a sharp stick if I didn’t have a rock.”

In conclusion, if your combatives program does not include at least some of the ideas that I have just discussed, then perhaps you are just training to learn an art.


Ernest R. Emerson is a knife-maker and personal combat instructor.

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