Rants and Raves

Opinion, commentary, reviews of books, movies, cultural trends, and raising kids in this day and age.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Martial Arts research: Combatives, part 1

Some time ago I published a post on my study of Pekiti Tirsia Kali here:

A few weeks back I flew down to Dallas for training with Grand Tuhon Leo Tortal Gaje - an opportunity I try not to miss. However, with work and funds, it may be a while before I can connect with my brothers in the art again - that and Grand Tuhon may be running for governor of Negros in the Philippine in 2009 and not available for a while. I'm following that development with close interest.

So what am I doing these days, stuck up here where everybody's idea of martial arts is Tae Kwon Do for kids?

Nothing against TKD, and in fact I may be enrolling my son in it for the exercise and social activity. At age seven, I can't teach him what I do. But the fact is, it's very rarely taught as a serious martial, as in warlike, art these days.

TKD is interesting in that respect. Though it was founded within the memory of living men, its combat effectiveness has degraded unusually quickly in historical terms.

A generalization of course. There are still TKD teachers who take fighting seriously, if you know where to find them. But for Korean teachers who take real combat seriously, you might look up Tukong Moosul.

That's a problem all martial arts face when they get away from an emphasis on function and start to stress sport or purely spiritual development. They modify technique and training for safety purposes, or preserve ancient forms simply because they're ancient, with little understanding of the function behind the form. The oriental tradition of apprenticeship, where knowledge was given out in drips and drabs over a long period of time doesn't help either.

There's a saying about the students of Yip Man, the Wing Chun master who taught young Bruce Lee, among other martial arts luminaries.

They say the first generation of Yip Man's students were great fighters, the second generation were great technicians, and the third generation lived off the reputation of the first and second generations.

That's an uncomfortable thought for me. I'm a fourth generation student in the Yip Man line, or third in the Bruce Lee line, and I'm afraid it shows...

So, what am I doing to keep and improve my level of skill and readiness?

One thing I'm doing is creating an exercise program that incorporates martial moves into the fitness routine: sit-ups combined with punching with with hand loads or striking with Kali sticks, bag work, and striking the hanging tire with the sticks. (More later.)

Another thing I'm doing is research, particularly research on combatives.

There has never been a better time for research. Amazon.com has the used book option for purchasing a lot of classics on military combatives, and a fair number of cheap new or used DVDs are available and military manuals can be found online

Combatives is a term for what might be called a subset of martial arts training originally designed for the military, though there is now significant development in police and civilian combatives.

The idea of combatives is, to give a military or police recruit useful hand-to-hand and personal weapon skills in as short a period of time as possible.

Military training is overwhelmingly occupied with weapons training and lots of other stuff. The time they have to devote to close-combat skills amounts to hours in Basic, and not a lot more in advanced training.

This is of increasing concern to the military. It turns out that lo and behold, in the modern age close combat has become increasingly more likely, not less, with operations moving more and more to urban areas.

Police and corrections officers constantly face the necessity of closing with resisting suspects to restrain and control them - law and public opinion doesn't allow them to say, "Screw 'em, just shoot the bastard."

And civilians increasingly want courses that teach them quick and dirty, without a life-long commitment to training.

So they want effective stuff that's easy to learn in a short time by people who aren't martial artists or athletes.

Want some super powers while you're at it? If there were such a thing, the serious martial artists would be teaching it to their students too.

These needs require some thoughtful and tough-minded planning. For example, when I tell women concerned about self-defense, that the best and quickest option for them may be to learn to use a knife and carry one, a great many react with what can only be described as horror.

With apologies to liberated women everywhere, the physical limitations of women versus men mean that a woman will have to train a hell of a lot harder and longer than any man to have any chance at all of prevailing in a physical, unarmed encounter.

The good news is, that one need not necessarily prevail, in order to escape.

And here we come to the difference in emphasis between military, police and civilian needs in combatives.

A soldier needs to train to quickly kill, or completely disable, an opponent in the comparatively rare situation where firearms are not in play. Keeping in mind that almost always, a combatant has a knife as backup, or an empty or malfunctioning rifle as a club-like weapon.

Police or corrections officers face unarmed struggle when subduing suspects or prisoners on a regular basis, but are obligated to use sub-lethal force whenever possible, and may face a world of trouble if they kill or seriously damage the opponent.

This actually requires a higher level of skill than a soldier may need. The good news is, law enforcement officers may have the opportunity to train over the course of their careers, and often have the luxury of piling on to a suspect/prisoner in numbers. If they don't have the numbers, the restrictions on using firearms, tasers, etc are less.

For civilians, the good news is that what they need to do in a hot situation is escape, not kill or restrain. The bad news is, civilians are generally not in anything like the physical shape military personnel and police maintain.

Next: history and review.


  • At 6:26 PM, Blogger Paardestaart said…

    Totally off topic but I thought you might like to read this..


  • At 5:00 AM, Blogger Steve Browne said…

    Not so off-topic Ponytail. Psyops is a martial study as much as any discipline. And one of the driving forces in the evolution of civilian combatives was the environment in Israel.

  • At 11:01 AM, Blogger Paardestaart said…

    Yes - I gleefully watched two american boys being initiated in Krav Maga last night in a Dicovery-documentary. It took them three days to grasp the principle of kicking like a mule and biting like a crocodile, and fighting way past endurance, because it is only about gaining the upper hand in order to survive
    But did you follow the link Steve?
    What do you think?

  • At 5:54 PM, Blogger Steve Browne said…

    Oh Lord, this is really a can of worms.

    Thomas Sowell, who David Mamet called, "the wisest man in public life," commented in despair that perhaps our body politic has become so corrupt that the only thing that could save us would be a military coup.

    Note that he didn't say he advocated such a thing - only that these were his darkest fears for his country.

    I would like to deny it, in Europe or here in America. But what if is the only thing that could save a country?

    I call it the Cromwell temptation, (but you could just as well call it the Pilsudski - or Pinochet, temptation.)

    From the movie "Cromwell" with Richard Harris and Alec Guiness. The point where Cromwell marches with his soldiers into parliament and shouts, "I'll see this country run well if I have to do it myself!"

    Well, maybe that is the only way. Then what?

    My impression from history is, when you suspend the ordinary, legal process of sucession, even for a while, you don't pick up your democracy where you left off - you go back to square one with a new one.

    Then you have to start building a new tradition of an uninterupted turnover of power by legalistic means.

    This reminds me that I had this conversation with the intelligence officer of the US embassy in (Balkan country) some years back, over the Pinochet example.

    OK, bottom line - if he electorate is so cowardly and corrupt, can anything save them?

    Perhaps. When Rome lost their republic, the western empire lasted an equivalent length of time under the caesars.

    Is that what we've got to look forward to? Western civilization preserved, but shorn of most of the gains we've made in terms of popular sovereignty?

  • At 6:24 PM, Blogger Paardestaart said…

    Well, the founding fathers saw to it that the American people have an constutional right to bear arms because they knew, that power corrupts, and already expected that there would probably come a time when the people would have to rise up again and fight their own government to protect their hardwon freedom..

    I don't think that you have to start at square one once the tyrant is vanguished, unless the chaos lasts very long, which it might of course, because the turmoil will probably wash over the entire globe, and we may have lost a clear unifying guiding principle
    But maybe that's an oldfashioned idea; maybe after the destruction people will do away with government altogether, knowing that nobody can be trusted with power..

  • At 11:50 AM, Blogger eduardo said…

    I think your take on TKD is accurate. When I watch tournaments, especially in the Olympic style, I just see this endless barrage of bullshit that passes for a "martial" art.

    The laughable evolution of fighting with your hands down around your waist or flaring out to the sides not only isn't combat effective, but it builds danger and openings into the very bread and butter of these "fighters".

    I can't watch them with any more respect than I can offer you average Aerobic "kickboxer" at the local fitness center. I am not arrogant enough or young enough to think that I could beat them (all or any) but I am wise enough to know that whatever level of skill they have is half of what it could be otherwise.

    I was fortunate enough to study TKD under a set of instructors who took what they wanted from it and added a healthy dose of groundwork, grappling, and other unconvential crossovers.

  • At 5:51 PM, Blogger Steve Browne said…

    What do you think of Hee Il Cho?

    He's a TKD guy who got enthusiastic about western boxing.

    You're right on in your comments. I'll never forget the time I saw a point Karate tournament - I was shocked silly.

    Guys would bend over double at the waist and poke with their hands - or stick a fist out then twirl around presenting their back to the opponent and raise a hand in victory!

    Turns out back was illegal target.

    A few Olympiads ago I saw both Olympic TDK and Judo matches, and was immensely saddened.

    The TKD consisted of two opponents standing on one leg and flipping kicks out.

    The women's Judo was a shoving match between two competitors leaning against each other so their bodies formed an almost equilateral triangle with the floor.

    There was a similar devolution in sport fencing, which spawned a counter-reaction to "Classical Fencing: the martial art for incurable romantics" and a move towards using heavier, more realistic Hutton sabres and rapier foils.

  • At 5:30 PM, Blogger eduardo said…

    I think he wasn't and isn't afraid to accept what is new and better over what is traditional and worse. Which is not to say that everything traditional is bad, only that some of the bathwater needs changing from time to time.

    Men evolve and fighting systems should do the same. I read something he wrote that struck me as odd at the time and it made me think. Most people talk about the "old days" and how much better they were. As if the passage of time dilutes without reservation. But it doesn't, necessarily. It can also bring out advancements.

    His frank admission was that modern training methods were better, even if modern students were softer. I think the latter statement can go safely unchallenged, but I suprised to read him say that the old ways of teaching TKD left a lot to be desired.


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