Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Combatives is Something You Do TO Someone

Kelly McCann is one of the best instructors on the planet and I am extremely honored to have him as a friend. One of his most popular sayings is: "Martial arts is something you do WITH someone; combatives is something you do TO someone or ON someone." I've always liked that quote, but I never appreciated the brilliance of it until a recent seminar I taught up in Canada.

I was teaching a Counter-Blade Concepts (CBC--empty-hand vs. knife) seminar for a group that consisted exclusively of law enforcement officers, corrections officers, and security personnel. All of them were seasoned folks and many of them were defensive tactics instructors. A significant number of them were also experienced martial artists.

Everyone in the group was extremely motivated and trained very hard; however, I noticed that a number of them were having difficulty executing some of the techniques. In general, they commented that the techniques "weren't working" or that they couldn't get their partner into the right position to finish the technique. When I took a close look at what they were doing, I found that the vast majority of them were "working around" their partners. For example, if they were doing an armbar that would drive their partner into the prone position, they wer reaching up over the arm (leaving it in position) and trying to press down. Instead, they should have been pulling the arm down to a level where they were mechanically efficient and the "attacker" was off-balance. In simple terms, they were being too nice.

Once I realized what was happening, I explained the problem and took corrective action. First, I had everyone "walk through" the techniques, using a normal walking stride (our preferred footwork) to put full body weight and commitment into every technique. I also emphasized specific reference points for the completion of each technique or each phase of a technique. For example, an armbar is not an armbar until the attacker's wrist is anchored to your hip and your upper arm is vertical, applying pressure downward with your elbow.

Finally, I gave them specific "objectives" to achieve. Rather than taking someone to the ground with an armbar--a "generic" task--I told them to "touch the front of his shoulder to the mat." By picking specific points on the mat, I tuned their angles and soon they were dumping each other with ease--and great effect.

We are the good guys and will always be held to a higher standard. However, when someone has "defined the terms of our relationship" (one of my favorite quotes), you must play according to those terms--and play to win. Do what you need to do TO your attacker or ON your attacker and forget about the folks judging from behind a desk--and the ones who refuse to get off the couch.

Stay safe,



  1. Mike hosted an AMAZING seminar. Being one of those people who worked around his partner instead of through them, his advice applies to every course I teach. Soemtimes we're too nice to our students, and this leads to "training scars" that they will take with them to the street. I was told a long time ago that the level of force in any encounter is not set by the officer (or citizen) but by the attacker. As Mike said, we need to condition ourselves as instructors, and to condition our students to use the same level of ruthlessness that out opponents would use on us!

    Thanks, Mike!

  2. This is such a true statement Mike. During our MBC group meetings, I am often caught trying to force a technique to happen versus looking at the greater picture....to imobilize and gain advantage over an attacker. An example would be when trying to do the compression shoulder lock for example, if the attacker is standing upright, the technique is much harder to do. So the suggestion to correct it is to throw an elbow or palm strike to the face to loosen him up or stretch him out. Then other moves like the arm bar, shoulder lock, or other techniques are alot eaier to accomplish. Very good point to remember.

  3. Mike,

    Great blog post. Thank you so much for sharing. I appreciate your views on Combatives. Keep up the great work. Thanks,