Concealed Carry & Home Defense

Emerson Combatives: Train To Survive

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Ernest Emerson Contributor
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You must train to survive and escape, not wade in and fight.

It really is true that 99% of all Martial Arts Training is useless, at least as it applies to law enforcement officers. Now before any of you with 3rd degree black belts and years of training try to take my head off, let me qualify why I would make such a statement.

First, I am a martial artist and I’ve spent over 40 years training in one art or another almost everyday of my life, so I can knowledgeably criticize martial arts from that side of the fence.

Second, those law enforcement officers who are black belts or who train regularly in martial arts are a very, very small minority. Yes, your skills and training may very well save your life in a hand-to-hand combat situation, but you are not the average cop.

Third, most cops don’t even find time to go to the range, let alone spend hours a week maintaining a set of skills that require complex coordination, split second timing and instantaneous reflexes just to be able to use correctly. For instance, I have seen police officers that have put thousands of rounds through their pistol training in a particular shooting presentation and stance. Yet, in actual shooting incidents you will see them standing flat footed, in no stance, shooting their pistol in one hand, straight out in front fully extended, firing away. What happened to the stance? What happened to the years of training and hours of practice? Why don’t those skills show up when the officer needs them the most? Because training is one thing and a fight for life or death is something very, very different.

The topic I really want to address is not martial arts, it is not arrest and control, not defensive tactics, it is survival. When you are faced with a life or death situation there is only one objective that counts; your survival. Forget about winning, forget about subduing the opponent, and forget about arresting the bad guy. If you don’t survive, you can’t do any of those other things.

Why would I be so bold to state that 99% of all martial arts training is useless? It really is very simple when you step back to look at it objectively. Martial Arts training is for Martial Artists. Combatives, defensive tactics, fighting skills, close quarter combat whatever you want to call it, is a horse of a different color. These are skill sets to be used against a deadly attacker.

Let me explain the difference. If you are a law enforcement officer who is also a martial artist, that is all well and good, and you are probably quite well prepared to handle yourself in a hand-to-hand combat situation. However, as I stated before, you are an exception to the norm and you are in a very small minority. The vast majority of LEOs are not martial artists and the only type of training they are exposed to is during their academy training or maybe an occasional 8-hour seminar here and there, spread out over a career.

Unfortunately, most training and certainly most of the seminar training available to LEOs consists of martial arts, taught by martial artists, in a martial arts format. What it comes down to is that you cannot teach Mozart to someone who sits down at a piano for the first time.

I guarantee that if any of you has ever attended a training seminar, you can relate to the next statements. “Where did he put his feet? Was he using his left or right hand? Wait a minute, I think he grabbed him like this. No, was it this way?”

You can’t even remember what the instructor said, let alone ever use some highly complex technique in the high stress of a life or death struggle.

In addition to all of this, there are instructors teaching “knife fighting” and other “fighting” techniques as part of their program. You might as well be learning how to play the piano. First, there is no such thing as knife fighting, and you shouldn’t waste one minute learning or training in something that is a fairy tale. As far as “fighting skills” are concerned, being in a fight is absolutely the last place you ever want to find yourself. If you are engaged in a “fight” so many variables immediately come into play that your chances of injury or death skyrocket.

The problem with a majority of current training methodologies as they relate to hand-to-hand combat (we do not differentiate between armed and unarmed) is that they teach a variety and often confusing mix of finite, complex motor skills and try to force them to be used in a situation where only gross motor skills and brute strength are the available options. The relationship between high stress (combat) environments and the physiological chemical reactions in the human body cannot be questioned. This has been clinically proven in thousands of tests and studies by NASA, the US Government, the Military, and in real life, by just about every veteran and police officer that has been in a live combat zone.

What it comes down to is this. The shooters have known about the reactions to high stress scenarios since the first studies done during the Civil War. There are certain things you can do and will do in combat and there are things you will not and can not do in combat. So let’s tailor our training to reflect the reality of the situation.

Unfortunately in the field of hand-to-hand combat these principles have not been applied, until very recently.

As an LEO, you are forced to place yourself, in every case, in the most dangerous position possible to another human being — within arms’ reach. Now on top of that, you are not just bumping into someone at the grocery store. You have chosen an individual who has broken the law, fits a description, is under the influence, is acting suspiciously or has for some reason attracted your attention. You have narrowed the field considerably for the probability of violent behavior to manifest during any interaction that might occur. I like to describe it like this. You see a snake and you must grab it, put it in a bag, and take it away. Let’s suppose you know absolutely nothing about snakes and you run across one in your path with no way around it.

Here are the possibilities. That snake could be poisonous, aggressive and deadly. It could be non-poisonous and docile. It could be non-poisonous yet aggressive, and capable of inflicting a severe bite. It could be poisonous yet non-aggressive but could be provoked. The list goes on. Now are you going to just walk over, within striking range and casually pick it up? I bet you won’t. Unfortunately, the way that many police officers approach a suspect is in a casual and unprepared manner just like someone who knows nothing about snakes. But just like the snake, every individual is a potential threat for a reactive behavior.

Just like with the snake, you’d better have a plan in mind before you ever get close to the striking range. What are my options?  Can I jump away? Where are his hands? Am I square to his sight? What is he looking at? Is there another snake? You should be asking the same questions of yourself every time you approach a suspect. You should view every suspect as having the potential to attack and harm you. When you start at this level of awareness you have already eliminated a lot of chances to be caught off guard. The bottom line is this: You should always approach every situation with at least a primary mental plan of action. Just by doing this alone you have shortened your reaction time should the dynamics of the situation suddenly change.

Always be prepared for the worst and thankful when it works out for the best.

Ernest Emerson is the owner of Emerson Knives, Inc. He is a tier one Combatives instructor, Master at Arms, noted author and lecturer, Black Belt Hall of Fame member and a connoisseur of fine whiskey.

Click here to visit Mr. Emerson offers a 10% discount on his knives to Daily Caller readers. Use the discount code – tdc (all lower case). Click here to visit the Emerson Training Center.