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.