Monday, November 25, 2013

"Modern Army Combatives" Versus "Battlefield Combatives"

There are a lot of weaknesses in the Modern Army Combatives Program, and I think a lot of soldiers and leaders today recognize that.  I hear talk now and then of how the Army wants to scrap the whole program, which I think would be a mistake.  However, the MAC system certainly needs to be fixed and upgraded.

It has been a goal of mine for several years now to come up with a supplemental training and progression that implements things like wristlocks, armbars, and standing takedowns, as well as simple strikes and kicks that MACP does not include in the level one material.  Battlefield Combatives will also include techniques and strategies designed to kill the opponent outright, or disable the enemy long enough for the soldier to bring the primary weapon back into play.  These techniques should be easily taught, easily mastered, and able to be performed in full body armor, ballistic helmet, and with a rifle.

In my experience, having been level one certified, the level one material includes the ground positions of guard, inside the guard, side mount/side control, mount, and rear mount.  There is one sacrificial takedown, one defense against punches, and escaping the guard.  There are also a couple of chokes, and the straight arm bar from the mount.

I believe that there is too much emphasis on submissions in the level one material, and not enough emphasis on ending the fight as quickly as possible.  In Matt Larsen's own words, "The person who wins the hand to hand fight will be the person who's buddy shows up first with a gun."  Essentially what this is telling soldiers is "Hang on tight and wait for help to arrive."  As an infantry soldier myself, I disagree very much with this as a principle for any combatives system, let alone one that is supposedly intended to be used on the battlefield.

In addition, I have yet to see this material being taught with at least body armor on, let alone body armor and ballistic helmet, or body armor, ballistic helmet, and weapon.  While training solely in uniform is good for the introductory phase of training, once the soldiers know the material, the panoply of war must be introduced in order for the soldiers to understand the complexities of fighting with gear. 

Instead of taking the fight to the ground at every opportunity, a soldier should only go to the ground as a last resort.  Soldiers on the battlefield must be armed with techniques that allow them to demolish their opponent and remain standing victoriously over them, rather than wrestling them to the ground and being tied up in what becomes a wrestling match.

The emphasis on ground fighting robs a soldier of their mobility, which is a key aspect of combat.  If the enemy's partner shows up to the fight while the soldier is still attempting the submission as taught, the soldier at best may end up getting beaten badly before subduing both enemies, and at worst may be subdued himself and taken prisoner.

As well as sacrificing mobility, situational awareness also tends to vanish when an individual is engaged on the ground in a wrestling match.  In combat, this means that the soldier may not even realize when they are outnumbered and must beat a hasty retreat or break contact, another situation that can lead to a severe beating or being captured.  

Lastly, the modern United States soldier on the battlefield is bigger and stronger than his opponent, in addition to wearing body armor that protects vital targets from receiving devastating strikes.  This protection will be taken into account while I design the curriculum for Battlefield Combatives.  The soldier must still protect the face and keep the hands up while closing with the enemy, but the near invulnerability of body and head targets means that the soldier has a lot more margin for error when engaging an enemy and getting in a hand-to-hand fight.

I firmly believe that by including strikes, kicks, joint locks, as well as sweeps and throws, the current combatives program can be made more complete, and more effective for the battlefield.  All of this can be done within the current paradigm of combatives training, and soldiers can achieve great proficiency in one or two techniques with only two hours of practice, making them better prepared than they otherwise would have been under a system based solely on submission wrestling.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

On Teaching Children

Recently, during a trip to Alaska, I had an opportunity to spend some time teaching basic self-defense skills to a young child who was being bullied at school.  He is the son of a friend of mine who lives in Alaska, and after reading her post about bullying on Facebook, I offered to help.

This young boy is in 2nd grade, and initially I was a little intimidated.  After all, I've never taught someone that young before.  I remembered my experiences as a child with bullies, and how my parents tried to convince me that I could smash someone's nose if they needed it.  The idea was laughable.  I just couldn't conceive of myself punching and bloodying someone's nose, no matter how much they might deserve it.  My parents would tell you this is a far cry from the 2 year old who would bowl kids over without the slightest provocation...but I digress.

I did not want to repeat this mistake, or rather this oversight, so I looked for ways to make a connection with this young lad. When in doubt, turn to what you know.  And what do I know?  Heroic fantasy, and comic book characters.  Sadly, he was too young to know much about Conan, so that went right out the window.  Batman, however, was a different story.  Every 2nd grade boy knows who Batman is, even one who doesn't know much about comics.  The important part is finding a symbol to communicate intent.

What I mean by "communicate intent" is that I needed a way to tell this child how I wanted him to attack the kicking shield and standup dummy.  Kids know how Batman fights, he's ferocious, he hits hard, he hurts bad people before they hurt him, and he doesn't quit.

Every time I saw his intensity flag, I would remind him to kick and punch like Batman, and it was like shifting gears.  Kicks got harder, punches got faster, form improved overall.  During breaks, I would remind him that if he did get into a fight, he needed to fight like Batman, and not stop hitting until the fight was over.  I could also see that this boy did not want to really hurt people, which is commendable, but at the same time he did not want to be hurt.  As a friend of mind pointed out, Batman is allowed to hurt people.  By telling someone to fight like Batman, we help them unlock a part of themselves that is now allowed to hurt people, and that is huge.

This might sound like a terrible thing to say to a little kid, but I disagree, even if I am slightly uncomfortable with the idea of a child engaging in violence on such a level.  I would be doing a much greater disservice to him, and myself, if I had instructed him to punch them in the nose and let that end the fight.  That was the advice my parents gave me, and although well intentioned, it was not the best advice.  Fights rarely stop after one hit, and especially fights against multiple opponents. 

Therefore, I subscribe to what I call the Ender Strategy, from "Ender's Game", by Orson Scott Card.  In the book, Ender is a much smaller child and is confronted by at least three bullies, led by a larger ringleader.  He takes the only real option available to him, and attacks the leader, who is also the largest, with an all-out offense, not stopping until the other child is incapable of moving, let alone counterattacking.  I'm not subscribing to the idea that we teach children to kick their attacker while curled up in the fetal position...but at the same time there may be a time and a place for that, unfortunately, and it is important to remember that all self-defense situations are situational.

When I tell someone keep hitting until the fight is over, they will get it into their mind that the fight is over when they are no longer threatened, and not after they have landed their first punch.  This is also why I tell students after their initial attack, follow up with a minimum of three strikes, be they punches or kicks.  Even if the first attack puts the attacker on the ground, always follow up! 

Additionally, I had this child do punches and kicks while his sister assisted by holding him in a bear hug.  This is an important concept, especially when facing multiple opponents.  Again, just because someone has a hold of you from behind, does not mean the fight is over.

Batman doesn't stop until the fight is over, neither should you, anyone you train, or any children who are being bullied.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Beginning at the beginning

I was in the gym yesterday.  Contrary to popular belief, I'm not in the gym everyday, but I was yesterday.  I was doing some bench presses, and two of the guys were watching me.  I finished a set of 3, doing 275, and one of them remarked, "Congratulations, you can bench more than I can squat."  And it struck me, as it always does, as a peculiar observation.  I understand it was meant as humor, and possibly self-deprecating humor as well.  I have heard similar variations on that theme for a while, since I started lifting and learning about exercise and weightlifting.

I picked up my first barbell when I was 12.  And I promptly put it back down after doing three bench presses.  It was not an olympic bar, it was a "standard" sized bar, which might or might not weigh 20 pounds.  When I was 13 I started working out with the 10 pound dumbbells that were around the house.  At 14, I made the decision that I would go to the gym at school and work out.  Before I was allowed to go, however, I had to do some seriously heavy reading.  Dad made me before he would let me set foot in the gym.  How heavy?  Bodybuilding: A Scientific Approach, Powerlifting: A Scientific Approach, and Unleasing The Wild Physique.  It took me a couple weeks, but it was fascinating stuff, and set the stage for decent strength gains and muscle development that summer.

I was somewhere between 130 and 150.  I don't remember exactly.  I do know, that with regular training, I was struggling to stay at 185 my senior year.  Regular, not constant, because I was also a regular teenager and what did I know about consistency and effort?

Fast forward.  How long?  About 19 years, since I turn 33 in July.  Am I strong today?  Yes.  Stronger than average?  Yes.  I am pleased with, and take pride in, that strength.  I'm closing in on a 500 pound deadlift, I can squat over 400 pounds, and bench press over 300, right around 315 right now.

Can you guess how much I started with, when I was 14 and really got serious about it?

The same as Mark Bell, Donnie Thompson, Louie Simmons.  The same as Rob Orlando, Doctor Frederick Hatfield, Lou Ferrigno, and all the guys who have some serious longevity in sports and weightlifting.

The maximum amount that I could use, and still do reps with good form.  Which, for me, was the bar.  Olympic, this time, since my school was so blessed.

So, in essence, I started at the same place as you, and some of the greats in lifting.  The difference is not the starting point, but how much time has elapsed since then.  Work, mathematically, is a function of time.  19 years is a decent amount of time, and if I'd been lifting seriously for those 19 years, I could probably be a competitive powerlifter or strongman.  I don't want to, though, and that's okay.  19 years, though, represents the amount of work that I've done to be stronger, and bigger.  It's not a point in my favor, except that it helped me reach my goals.  In the same vein, it's not a point against people who aren't as strong as me.  Some people come to enjoy lifting weights later in life.  Just recognize that it doesn't serve you to compare your lifts to my lifts, even if you've been lifting the same length of time.  Just like it doesn't serve me to compare with Donnie Thompson or Rob Orlando. 

What does serve our best interests is to recognize the amount of work that we have put in, and the gains we have made, and celebrate those gains and those triumphs.  To compare the "you" of today with the "you" of last year and recognize positive changes is a beautiful thing.

Seriously though, I understand that the comment was made in jest, and should anyone say something like this to me in the future, no hard feelings.  I just want people to think about it for a second.  A physical display of strength is only the tip of the iceberg.  What goes unseen is the work it took to put on that display.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

My Thoughts on Active Shooter Scenarios

EDIT:  Changed the title, primarily because I didn't talk specifically about the Aurora scenario.

I don't want to get political with this post, and I don't intend to start a discussion about what people should have done.  The killings in Aurora, Colorado were senseless violence, perpetrated by someone who intended to kill as many people as he could. In the face of such a person, there is little that can be done except to kill the attacker as soon as possible in order to stop bystanders from being killed.

Unfortunately, this will not be the last time that someone assaults a crowded space with the intent of causing death and grievous bodily injury.  As long as there are weapons, and evil people who can get their hands on weapons, they will want to hurt as many people as they can.  However, the flip side of that, as Col. Jeff Cooper noted, as long as there are good people with weapons, they can thwart the evil ones.

What I intend to do is simply discuss different tactics, techniques, and procedures for thwarting someone, should an attack come to a theater, shopping mall, or college campus while you are there.  There is always something that can be done in an active shooter situation, rather than cowering on the ground, hoping the shooter won't see you and your family.  Sometimes the answer is to seek a covered and concealed route away from the shooter.  Other times, the answer is to find the quickest way to attack the shooter.  It is very much situational, as self-defense expert, military and police veteran Hock Hocheim says. 

I'm going to go in the order of most probable scenario, to most dangerous scenario, just as if I were briefing a group of soldiers.  I will leave it up to you, the reader, to flesh out the scenarios in the middle.  Most probable means simply that, what is the situation you are most likely to find yourself in.  Most dangerous is the scenario that is most likely to end with you and your buddies being wounded or killed.  I will go in order of pistol, knife, impact weapon, improvised weapons, and unarmed.

First the pistol.  Most probably scenario is that you are in a crowded place, and hear shots popping off.  Take cover, assess the situation.  You will see this again.  Most likely you will be able to tell if it is actually gunfire.  If so, find a covered and concealed route away from the gunman, if you do not have a visual on him.  The reason that I say to not draw the pistol first is that in the immediate aftermath of  the first few rounds going off, people are not going to be real clear on who the bad guys or good guys are.  Everyone with a firearm is automatically going to be put into the bad guy category.  Get everyone calm first, work out a plan to get away from the shooter, and then explain that you have a pistol and are going to do your best to get everyone to safety.  Where you position yourself in relation to the people you are trying to help depends on your preference, and the terrain.  Me being me, with my combat and firearms experience, if police haven't arrived yet, depending on the building,  I would probably go back into the building and see if I can get anyone else out, or locate the shooter.  I don't recommend that for everyone, as it's very easy to add to the confusion.  If it was a small building like a Burger King, I would probably continue to make sure everyone is safe and stay out of the way of first responders.

The most dangerous scenario is that you find yourself face-to-face with the shooter.  The instinctive response is to run, but recognize that his weapon will become more effective as you open up the range, and not less.  Once you get inside the range of a firearm, their effectiveness diminishes.  Thus, grab the gun, charge the bad guy, and be prepared to beat the snot out of them.  From medium range, between 5 and 30 feet, throw something at the bad guy's face, charge, and beat the snot out of them.  Beyond 30 feet, you will need to take cover and then draw your primary weapon in order to successfully defend yourself with your own firearm.  The best thing to do would be to draw while moving to cover, but this may not always be possible.  If there is no cover available, then the next best option is kneeling, in my opinion, in order to minimize your target profile. 

This post is long overdue, so I will simply say to be continued.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Train Like An Athlete

For people who get bored in the gym with the average routine from Muscle and Fiction, people who are looking to get better at their sport, and potential military members, there is a definite solution.  That solution is to train like an athlete.  Look at professional and college level athletes, and observe some of the drills they conduct.  Drills designed to increase ability, quickness, foot speed, coordination.  Running tires used to be a favorite of football players, but now they have better, more advanced techniques to use that will accomplish the same thing.  Soccer players dribble around cones.  Basketball players run lines and do shuffle drills.  All these things are designed to increase attributes that are considered to be the most valuable in a given sport.

If you're simply looking for a more dynamic warmup before starting your gym routine, try adding an agility ladder.  One can be made relatively cheaply, or bought for around forty dollars.  Foot speed, acceleration, side to side agility, an agility ladder can help with all of these things.  After ten minutes you'll have worked up a good sweat and gotten the heart rate pumping, at a relatively low intensity to boot.

If you might be involved in any endeavor that involves quick changes in direction, athletic drills that the professional and college athletes use are an excellent way to improve performance.  Soldiers have been doing agility drills, usually called "grass drills", for years.  These are similar to what football players do for conditioning.  Roll left, roll right, get up, get down, run in place, they help prepare soldiers for some of the rigors of being in a combat situation, and they help get the heart rate up and improve other elements of conditioning like endurance and strength.

You may be concerned with strengthening your "core", although most are confused as to what exactly constitutes the core.  This is another buzz word, just like functional fitness.  Sprint drills, ladder drills, dots, cone drills, hurdle drills.  Running up hill, running down hill, and shuffling side to side, these activities strengthen your core as well as provide cardiovascular conditioning.

In short, to become more athletic overall, train like the athletes do.  If you want to be more of a gym rat, train like a gym rat.  If there is a specific sport you want to train for, train how those athletes train.  And, as always, variety is the spice of life.  Add some things into your routine just for fun.

Monday, May 7, 2012

If you do what you've always done...

All practice and training should be about results.  Ideally, as martial artists, athletes, or just people who like to hit the gym, we should be focused on setting, meeting, and exceeding our goals.  I've talked about, and other people have talked about, goal setting, how to get there, and methodologies enough that I don't feel the need to beat that particular dead horse any more.
Results are what count in any athletic endeavor.  To that end, we should always be critiquing our practice and training.  I, personally, have become almost obsessive about tracking my workouts.  Less so when I'm doing a martial arts workout, but I do pay attention to the ease with which a new technique comes to me.  Look at what you are doing, and track the results.  Track the number of times you practice a difficult armbar, and pay attention to your mastery of it.  See if that armbar comes naturally to you over time, or if your practice isn't paying of.  If you get to the point that you can slip that armbar on someone as naturally as breathing, then you know that your practice is working.  If, however, you are honestly practicing dilligently but you can never seem to pull that particular technique off, then something may be wrong with your practice.  The same goes for getting to a lifting goal, or a running goal.  If you never seem to quite get there, despite all your hard work, something is off.

The solution is not always to work harder.  If you do what you've always done, you'll get what you've always gotten.  Another way to put it, in a quote that has been attributed to Albert Einstein, is that doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is the definition of insanity.  Honestly assess why you're not reaching your goals, and what could be done better.  The answer is not simply more of the some.

However, the opposite is also true, which is what I really want to talk about here.  If you're hitting your goals consistently, if that armbar works nine out of the ten times that you try it, then DON'T CHANGE A THING.  Stick with what you are doing until it stops working.  If you keep doing what you've always done, you'll get what you've always gotten.  So if it ain't broke, why fix it? 

When I was in high school, my basketball coach encouraged us to develop a routine for free throws.  The routine, he said, would help us to get a higher free throw percentage.  It worked, as much by centering the mind as by cementing muscle memory.  When I approach anything, whether it's shooting, martial arts practice, or squatting, I have a routine that I go through in my head.  That routine works, and it helps block out all the extraneous input that I don't need in order to do what I'm about to do.

Routine can be the enemy, as those of us who identify as CrossFitters like to say.  However, for learning, repetition, and general training, routine is also our friend.  Find a routine that works for you, or make one work for you, and don't deviate from that until it stops working. 

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Want to, or need to?

     Most people approach exercise, in all its various forms and types, the same way, with the same thinking.  This thinking invariably turns whatever their chosen form of exercise is into a chore.  Attempting to make time, trying to fit exercise into the busy schedule that is life.  Child raising, work, school, household chores, all of these cut into the 24 hours that we are allotted in a day to Get Things Done.  Add exercise to the list, and especially if we add it to the list of chores, and it becomes easy to see why it becomes a lower priority on the list.

     The approach I am talking about is the phrase "I need to get to the gym today."  This is an inherently self-defeating phrase, and I will explain why.  First, let's talk about needs.  There are four basic needs, outlined in Maslow's Hierarchy of Basic Needs.  These are necessary for survival at the most basic level.  They are, food, shelter, clothing, water, and other items we Can't Live Without.  After needs, the rest of what we desire become wants.  This understanding and paradigm is necessary to shift the way we think about exercise and health.

     The phrase or similar wording "I need to get to the gym today." denotes an activity that does not come from personal desire.  It inherently places less personal value to the person, as opposed to what the person wants to do.  The motivation to go to the gym for this individual is coming from an outside source, most likely friends, family, or media, rather than coming from within the individual themselves.  This is a negative look at exercise.  Why?  Because inevitably, the person who says "I need to get to the gym today" will instead turn to "I want to do X today instead of go to the gym."  This external motivation is not enough to keep the individual interested over the long term, and eventually, they will find something else they would rather do with their time.

     We are all guilty of this kind of thinking when it comes to the gym, and most of us do it without A) thinking about what we are saying, and B), considering the impact that our words are having on our subconscious.  By saying "I need to get to the gym today.", we are leaving out the "...but I'd rather go and do X activity instead."

     One of the ways I look at my exercise program, in order to continually make it a positive experience, is to realize that when I am exercising, I am a complete human being.  Humans were not meant to sit behind desks or stand in guard towers for hours on end.  We were designed with the idea of being able to run, jump, climb, roll, tumble, frolic, dance, and otherwise MOVE.  So for me, when I'm exercising, especially when I'm going hard, I am being a complete human being.  I am taking advantage of my genetic potential, and making the most out of what my body is designed for.

It is important not to simply say, "I feel complete."  This is illusory and only temporary in nature, as all feelings are.  Being, knowing, these last forever.  Look back on your hour of hard work, and see all of your human parts come together to do work, work that people were meant to be able to do.  Running isn't a chore, an activity to be conquered, as I sometimes view it.  It is simply another activity that is our birthright as bipedal beings.

     Another thing that makes my sessions enjoyable, and makes me want to get back to the gym, is setting goals.  This point has been hammered on time and again, but let's see if we can shine a different light on goal setting.  Imagine that you are a sedentary being who has not run further than the end of your driveway since you were a kid.  All of a sudden, one day, you decide that you want to be able to run a marathon.  "Today, I'm going to learn how to run a marathon." This is a goal, but not quite the one I'm talking about. You figure it will take you a year to develop the necessary conditioning to run a marathon without getting seriously injured.  So, you start training.  Slowly, of course, because you're not a dummy.  Then, three months into it you're running ten-minute miles, feeling pretty good. 9 months into your program, you realize you're still running ten minute miles.  You may be running thirteen ten-minute miles, but they're still ten-minute miles.  A month later, you're still not getting any faster, and the running itself doesn't seem to be getting any easier.  Finally, you figure that you're just not meant to run a marathon, otherwise you're running would be improving, and you give up in disgust.  Or, you want to get stronger, but you don't seem to be making any progress.

     A marathon or getting stronger are goals, but they are abstract goals, like losing 50 pounds this year.  Set  a short term goal, in order to meet your long term objective.  Make a plan, and stick to that plan with minor adjustments.  Our potential marathon runner, in order to keep his interest, needs to have monthly goals.  "This month, I'm going to get down to a 9:00 mile."  "This month I'm going to run a half marathon in preparation."  Goals need to be realistic, obviously.  Our future Boston Marathonner isn't going to run 13.1 miles his second month.  Five miles is well within reason, however.  Then, when it's time for you to test yourself on your goal, don't just aim to make your goal.  Aim to smash that target into little bits, so that it's a thing of the past and you'll never have to wonder about the progress you've made.

     When I try for a new PR in a lift, I'm rarely satisfied with simply lifting five pounds more than the previous week or month.  I want to hit my goal, and then some.  I want to see what I can do RIGHT NOW!  So set your goal at seven-minute miles, and then aim to smash that goal to oblivion.  When squat day comes around, tell yourself that you're going to hit 350 no matter what, and then go past what you thought you could do.  Success begets success, and the more you smash your goals and records to bits, and make them simply past limitations, the more you will continue to do so.  And as a result, you will begin to look forward to gym time, simply to see what it is you are capable of doing on that day.

     Remember to regularly review the progress you've made on your goals.  The best way to remind yourself of why you're doing all this is to see how far you've come.  Make a chart, take pictures, whatever.  Keep track of what you've done, and what you're about to do.  For me, what I've done is an especially important part of keeping me going, and it motivates me to see how much I can do.

    Don't avoid the exercises that are difficult for you.  This is another common behavior to all of us.  It's only natural to do what comes easy.  Instead, look at the things that are difficult, that give you trouble, and add them to the list of exercises that you want to improve on.  Then, do those exercises almost to the exclusion of all else.  Don't like to squat?  Start squatting on every lower body day you have.  Squat three or four days a week.  Find your current max, set a goal, and then smash that record.  Recognize the benefits that squatting has to your overall athletic ability.  This is not just for squatting, but for any exercise you find yourself avoiding on a regular basis.  Use this dislike as motivation to get better.  "I really, really don't want to do exercise X.  However, I want to get better as an athlete, so I'm going to commit to doing it three times a week."  For me, being a 250 guy, I don't want to run.  In the regular world, I don't think people would expect to see me knocking out two, three, or five miles at a time.  However, running is necessary to be a complete athlete, as well as a capable soldier.  So, I put the time in on the treadmill and the track, and I see improvements.  Now, all of a sudden, running isn't so bad.  I'm kicking ass, and running isn't the chore I used to see it as.

     Finally, prior to starting your session, visualize the person that you want to be.  Determine what the point of your exercise regimen is, and visualize that.  Keep that picture in your head constantly, every time you're resting.  When you think about skipping your gym time, remember who it is you are striving to become.  Remember what part of yourself you are trying to make better.  Don't flog yourself for not wanting to go, simply remember the thing that you are working towards.  Then, at the end of your session, when you're tired, beat up, and want to lay down on the floor after changing, look at yourself in the mirror.  Look at the sweat, at your red face and tired eyes.  Keep that picture of who you want to be firmly in your mind as you reflect on what you've just accomplished.  Congratulate yourself on taking another step in the right direction towards your physical fitness goals.

     The end result of all of this is to shift our thinking away from an external source of motivation to a completely internal source.  We want to be able to say on a daily basis, "I want to go to the gym today."  It will be better in the long run when the spark of motivation burns within us.  That way, we can nurture it on a daily basis until it becomes a flame of desire, burning to get us back into the gym and breaking down barriers and personal records.