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.