Rants and Raves

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

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Martial Arts research: Combatives, part 2

Review and History

In part 1 I mentioned that close combat training needs for military, police and civilians are different in focus.

Military personnel need training to quickly kill or incapacitate an enemy at close quarters when their primary weapons are unavailable, malfunctioning etc.

Police and corrections officers need to restrain and control subjects without causing them serious injury, which all things considered requires a much higher level of skill.

Civilians need enough skill to escape from assault and/or abduction. Civilians, sometimes have an option not available to military or police - submission.

If your wallet is all an armed aggressor wants, safest bet might be to just give it to him.

(And please don't give me grief about gender-specific language, armed thieves are almost always men. And I must stress, this is NOT an invariable rule. A fair number of the beatings mugging victims get are gratuitous, i.e. received after the money has changed hands. Some thieves evidently, take offense if you don't carry enough money for them to take.)

There is however, a considerable area of overlap.

Soldiers in anti-insurgency operations are increasingly having to function as cops (and social workers, judges, civil engineers, etc) or may have to use police-like restraint and control techniques to capture enemy personnel alive for interrogation.

A civilian in a hot situation may not have an avenue of escape, or may be with someone they cannot bear to abandon - even if it's the wisest thing to do. (You have to consider if survival odds for both are increased if one can escape and summon help. And, the perps may be less willing to murder the one(s) left behind if they know there is a someone out there who can identify them.)

Abduction attempts are perhaps the most nightmarish scenarios. Caught in such a situation, the unequivocally best course of action is total all-out resistance. NEVER let anyone take you to what criminologists call with grim understatement, the "secondary crime scene."

The horrible truth is, against an armed kidnapper, it is better to resist and be left wounded (or even, God help us, dead quickly) than to submit.

Home invasion creates a similar scenario, except in this case the secondary crime scene comes to you.

In such a case, potential victims may have to be as ruthless as the predator after them.

And oh by the way, if I haven't turned your stomach enough yet, the most likely abductees are precisely the people who appear least able to resist - and predators have a fine-tuned sense for this.

Now I have to break and stress something - close quarters combat training is not the answer to your security needs. It is part of a whole range of things you must consider, most of which are beyond the scope of this post. Again (and again and again) I urge you to look at Marc "Animal" MacYoung's website No Nonsense Self-Defence - and his books and videos. What he doesn't cover, he shows where to look for it.

It's here: http://www.nononsenseselfdefense.com/

OK, back to "combatives."

Modern combatives seems to start with a small group of men, of whom one stands out, William E. Fairbairn of the Royal Marine Light Infantry, Shanghai Municipal Police, and trainer of British commandos, US Army Rangers, and OSS operatives.

That last is important, for reasons we'll go into.

Fairbairn and his partner Eric A. Sykes (who some sources say was a bit miffed at Fairbairn getting all the publicity) developed a rough and tumble fighting method based on Japanese jujitsu and Chinese boxing for police operating in one of the roughest cities in the world at the time.

During the war they jointly designed the Fairbairn-Sykes commando knife, though it actually looks to me like an update of the medieval misericord dagger.

They had one of the worst situations to deal with: a criminal class desperate enough to be willing to resist arrest and die rather than submit, in an environment where a fair number of criminals had close quarter combat skills.

Fairbairn at one point in his life, spent some time at the Kododan in Japan, home of judo (which was at the time much closer to its roots in combat jujitsu.) His Chinese boxing (or "Kung Fu") may have been picked up in a sort of here-and-there use-what-works way.

Kennedy and Guo point out that more Chinese martial artists may have learned their fighting skills this way than the stereotyped image of joining a school with a respectable lineage and study for years and years.*

In any case, though too old for active service in WWII, he was one tough dude and the British and American militaries took advantage of his skills.

Fairbairn's teaching refined the skills of an American, Rex Applegate, already a pretty tough customer. Applegate, who died in 1998, was the last survivor of the WWII generation of combatives instructors**. He later developed his modification of the Fairbairn-Sykes knife, the Applegate-Fairbairn knife, more suited to "knife fighting" than commando-style silent sentry removal.

Applegate was in charge of a lot of the training of the OSS.

At the same time, the U.S. Coast Guard independently (as far as I know) created their own close quarters combat training program. They commissioned Jack Dempsey, "the Manassa Mauler," heavyweight boxing champion from 1919 to 1926 and told him "make 'em tough."

Dempsey was not just a boxer, but a brawler in work camps and saloons. His book written from his Coast Guard experience, "How to Fight Tough" actually has little of sport boxing in it but a strong influence of wrestling and jujitsu.

In closing, I'd like to point out a couple of things to ponder. One is that a naval force seems an unlikely institution to stress close combat. But the Coast Guard are an odd hybrid, during peacetime they're cops, during wartime they're an arm of the Navy.

As part of their duties policing the sea lanes, they do a lot of boarding, which the Navy hasn't seen much of since the days of sail and buccaneers.

Second, surprisingly the OSS (Office of Strategic Services, the WWII precursor of the CIA) may have had training needs closest to those of modern civilians.

The military takes men who are judged to be of adequate fitness, and makes them even tougher with rigorous training. However, the amount of time that can be devoted to hand-to-hand training is very limited, compared to all the other stuff they have to learn about weapons use and maintenance, battle formation, etc.

However, with the move to a professional military, command has found they can devote more time to it, and that the training pays off in a way having little to do with the likelihood of close quarters combat in battle, fighting spirit. There is probably no better way to develop fighting spirit than hand-to-hand combat training.***

However, the OSS had a different selection criteria. They had to have men (and women such as the late Julia Childs) who had language skills, and could pass as native speakers in occupied Europe.

This was the primary consdieration, all others were secondary. Thus they had to develop methods of training civilians, who were more likely to be academics than brawlers, how to fight effectively with fists, knives and pistols.

Next: Modern combatives and martial arts.

* See: Chinese Martial Arts Training Manuals: A Historical Survey

**Caveat: Charles Nelson was a WWII vet and learned some of his skills in that late unpleasantness, but he began his career as an instructor after the war ended.

***Research has turned up references to this in classical Chinese military manuals which say that training in Chuan Fa (boxing, Chinese root of the Japanese word "kempo") is seldom of use in battle, but useful for developing fighting spirit.


  • At 8:48 AM, Blogger Libertarian_Libertine said…

    Another great article

    Are you going to be doing additional posts on martial arts and the various contributers? I'd be interested to hear your take on figures like the Gracies and Bruce Lee.

  • At 10:37 AM, Blogger Steve Browne said…

    Sure will!


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