I have had the opportunity to train in JKD, MCMAP, MAC, PFS, and KMW Krav Maga. I also had the privilege to have been exposed to SCARS/SAFTA/CQD, SBS Combatives (Jap-Slapping), and Systema. I enjoyed every minute of the training and learning experiences and would gladly participate in more opportunities to work with any one of the instructors or groups again. With that said, the question arises; are Combatives/Reality Based Martial Arts (RBMA) better than learning Traditional Martial Arts (TMA)? Like most of life’s questions, it depends on personal experience and goals. Let’s take a 10-cent history tour of the martial arts in general. Structured hand-to-hand combat pre-dates the Old Egyptian Empire with the primary emphasis being to kill or disable an enemy if a weapon was lost in battle. Adult sports came about as a means to test military related prowess and skill. Cultural and geographic differences took H2H in many different directions but the one common thread besides making their skills as effective as possible was the requirement of self-discipline, which included mental toughness. Those that had the aforementioned requisites that fought and won, got to pass their knowledge and experience on. For hundreds of years, these skills were pretty much isolated to the military class. As time passed, former military types would teach to their families, relatives, and friends. Most know the story of Bodhidharma, an Indian monk who taught Buddhism at the Shaolin Temple in China. The monks were lacking the physical and mental strength required for the hours of meditation, so they were taught an Indian martial art based exercise to toughen them up. This combined with the indigenous martial arts eventually became the base for many Chinese and Japanese systems. Europe had it’s own roots in Egyptian wrestling and Greek Pankration. While not as structured or formal as the Asian arts, they were still very effective in their own right. As the need for personal fighting skills faded, the styles and methods became the property of those few that had the desire, attitude, and discipline to learn, improve, and test them. They pretty much remained family, ethnic, or professional military taught skills up until the late 1800’s when the need for carrying personal weapons diminished and the public, especially law enforcement, began to see the need for an edge. William E. Fairbairn is generally recognized as the Father of Modern Combatives. He studied and tested various Chinese and Japanese martial arts while working as a Shanghai cop in the early 1900’s eventually developing his own system called Defendu. Not much in the way of fluff or formality, but for its time, it did what it was designed to do which was to give the masses a quick and dirty way to break things on another human being. At that time, the masses were military and law enforcement types who again, had the requisite discipline and attitude to jump into the fray because it was fun.
Cut to today where almost everybody knows of, or trains in the martial arts. The Asians had turned many of their arts into personal development vehicles and with national sponsorship, sent martial emissaries through out the world. Most westerners live in relative security so the need for a personal self-defense system is minimal at best. In other words, we have become soft. With the commercialism of the martial arts in the 70’s and 80’s, the modern karateka is more apt to be some eight year-old Black Belt swinging a pair of glowing nunchuku while doing aerial kicks. The softening of the martial arts in general has been going on since instructors realized they could make a living teaching “karohtee”. These days it’s self-improvement, fitness, sports, and in fewer cases, self-defense. So where does that leave those of us who truly desire to learn real self-defense and fighting skills. For many today, it’s Combatives, military or street oriented systems that rely heavily on contact and attitude vice uniforms and bowing. Simplistic, gross-motor skill based striking taught in high energy, high stress environments. With the right mindset, they work very well. Watching two SEAL’s or SBS Operators work CQ material is like watching a single purpose driven machine accomplish its design. These types of professionals are trained to go into dark places of the mind reaching levels of controlled violence that most people will never comprehend, let alone experience. Even at the induction levels of their training, they are broken down and rebuilt as mission driven warriors whose use of violence is just another tool in their kit. They use what works and don’t give a crap about being pretty or formal. Take that same material and give it to a civilian who hasn’t developed the “kill or be killed, damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead” mindset, and the efficacy changes. This is where the divide comes into play. In a past Blog, you read the Sheep, Sheepdog, Wolf concept. I believe there is a large group of people out there who will never be able to effectively deal with violence. Whether it be social conditioning or “I was born this way”, some people just go to crap when faced with somebody trying to hurt them or worse. They will probably never accept violence as an answer unless they experience some life-changing event. Others want to take charge of their own security but don’t have the physical skill set to do so. They just have lousy motor-skills and all the training in the world won’t improve them. Another smaller group has the desire and the skill set but not the mind-set and this is where either good martial arts or combatives training can come into play. For years, martial art training was very militaristic and brutal. Lots of pain, fatigue, blood, and broken bones where the norm in any dojo, kwoon, or studio. Like the military, old school training required intense discipline and obedience to your instructor. Failure to obey or not put forth the required effort resulted in punishment. It was in this environment that the “warrior” mindset was created. Those that survived, reached higher levels of skill and those that couldn’t hack it, went back to being sheep. Combatives try to recreate that military regimen with lots of yelling, movement, full power striking, mini-scenario drills, and functional fitness training. Combatives also lean heavily on massive amounts of firepower or repetitive striking using gross motor skills. While simplistic and functional, it’s not always the best way to get the job done. Some schools of thought look at Combatives akin to having a sledgehammer as the only tool in your toolbox.
Since they both work, why choose one over the other? Well, the answer can be summed up with one simple question; what is your end-goal? If your end-goal is basic self-defense in a short period of time, go with Combatives. On the other had, if you truly want to dig deep into a system as well as find out what you are made of, look into the more combative systems of the martial arts. These will vary with system and instructor but some of the more recognized “violent” martial arts are the Aki-Jiu-Jitsu or Samurai Systems, the Hawaiian Systems (Kenpo/Kempo, KajukenBo Family), Archipelago Systems (Kuntao, Silat, Kali), and one of the new kids on the block, Kyokushin. These Systems will teach mindset; complete anatomical weapons development, body conditioning in order to take punishment, and hardcore fighting skills. Again, some people will not have pre-requisite complex motor skills for higher biophysical usage as required by many martial arts. That’s okay, look for a system that complements your abilities as well as your end-goal.
Over the years I have come to the belief that the style or system you choose to learn isn’t quite as important as how it is taught and what are your expected results. I train Mills Kenpo because I like the speed, power, and violence of it as well as the logic and science that makes up its driving force. I train in Combatives because I enjoy the randomness of the interaction. Any training where the real risk of injury or danger is present will develop mindset. To paraphrase Frank Mir when asked to compare TMA with Combatives (specifically Krav Maga), his statement was along the lines of “when going to a gunfight, do you bring along the guy that shoots two nights a week in his free time or do you bring along the guy who has made a lifetime journey out of combat shooting”. I know who I want covering my six.