Combatives & The Martial Arts

(Gershon Ben Keren - Sun 30th Mar)

I've written about Combatives before however having just run a Krav Maga Yashir Combatives Instructor Program, I think it's worthwhile taking a moment to explain how this program fits into the Krav Maga Yashir system as a whole and explain the differences between martial arts, self-defense and combatives as I see them. 

In a real-life conflict you are not there to demonstrate the breadth and depth of your knowledge. You might know several solutions to a Clinch e.g. how to duck under and apply a standing triangle choke, how to turn and throw, how to strike effectively with the knees etc. These are all valid solutions, and at some stage in a martial artist's career should be known and understood, if they want to have a comprehensive understanding of what works best when however there is also a technically simpler approach to dealing with clinch that will work 80% - 90% of the time - possibly not against a trained/experienced technical fighter but against most people, most of the time, and that is to reach round, push on the assailant's nose and start striking them. This is basically the combatives approach: choose a simple, high success rate solution that will work most of the time, and is powered more by aggression than technical skills. 


The martial arts trains fighting skills e.g. true/maximum power generation, balance, co-ordination, range control, relative positioning etc. The true value of the martial arts for me, are not so much the techniques that they contain, though every art/system contains highly effective self-defense/fighting techniques, but the skills that come from their methods of training. There are few better people to talk about balance as a Judoka, or stability as a Karateka, or conditioning as a Muay Thai practitioner etc. However their arts take time to learn, skills take time to develop. Combatives offers a short-cut, it bypasses the need for such skills, and rather relies on aggression, determintaion and single-mindedness - along with fitness - to be successful (skills the martial arts also have to develop in a student if they are to be effective). 


But Combatives training is not a true short-cut; it gives people something immediate and that is good for now. If a person is to truly progress, and become a well-rounded fighter, with the necessary skills to meet combatants of all levels and abilities, they will need to start developing some of the fighting skills that their martial arts counterparts have. One of the things that some people on the instructor course were confused/surprised at, was that there was no sparring in our combatives program (which is not true of our regular Krav Maga Yashir program). The reason for this is that the mindset and situational factors for sparring are very different to those of real-life confrontations. For one sparring is consensual, both parties have agreed to the conflict, and secondly each participant presents opportunities for the other e.g. sometimes they don't attack but wait. In a real-life conflict it is usually non-consensual (one person doesn't really want to fight) and nobody really holds back from attacking. Combatives teaches the practitioner to simply assault the person attacking them, with full aggression, full force and repeatedly. 


Is there a value to martial arts style training? Absolutely. For a student to progress their fighting skills and to understand solutions that will solve the other situations that combatives techniques are not best suited for, they need to broaden their approach to self-defense training. It is not always the best solution when someone grabs your lapel, wrist or clothing to smash them into a million pieces; escaping the hold/grab, controlling the person etc. may be better solutions to the situation. Will repeatedly hitting and striking the person grabbing you work? Of course, and that is the point of combatives, not to provide the best solution to every situation, but a solution that is effective.   

Share on Facebook


(Gershon Ben Keren - Mon 24th Mar)

If there is one skill/attribute that is essential for surviving a real-life assault it is decisiveness. It is also the one key element that can make the difference when you are dealing with someone athletically superior to you. Many people wonder how out-of-shape, older cops and law enforcement operatives are able to overcome, faster, younger, stronger and more athletically gifted criminals. The answer is decisiveness; they don't wait to act - they act before the other person, or at the very first movement, behavior or action a person makes, that indicates that they want to cause them harm. There is the idiom, the quick and the dead. We often take this to refer to athleticism, whereas I believe it should be interpreted as decisiveness, separating those who survive from those who don't.  

As I have gotten older, my hand speed has slowed down somewhat, however I probably block strikes faster now, than I did in my twenties. This is due to the fact, that through training etc. I start my block much sooner than I used to. Having more experience of what someone throwing a punch looks like, means I can identify the setting up of the strike much sooner, and start my blocking movement earlier, thus moving away from the strike sooner, and getting my hand to the arm faster. Good threat recognition/identification along with an understanding of pre-violence indicators, allows you to start working that much sooner. If you can recognize when somebody synchronizes their movement to yours e.g. they start to approach you, follow you, intercept you etc. you can start responding to the threat/danger that much sooner. 


Denial and Uncertainty are the two biggest enemies of decisiveness. Denial comes in many forms. There can be the denial that prevents someone from identifying the real risks and threats that they may one day encounter. The past is a generally good predictor of the future, however it is not absolute i.e. just because you have never been threatened or assaulted before, doesn't mean it won't happen in the future. Bad things don't just happen to other people they can happen to us as well. In studies, it has been shown that when people are given the statistic that the average American lives to be 87,and then asked to estimate, guess how long they will live to, almost everybody gives an answer well in excess of 87 years. Even when people are given the facts, they'll still deny that those facts apply to them.  


Another lesser form of denial, that I see in training, is the type where a student practicing a gun disarm or other technique does so accepting the possibility that they may one day face such a situation but are unlikely to do so. This lessens the effectiveness of their training, as they never expect to have to put what they have learnt in to practice - they are training with the intent that what they are learning is useful knowledge and skills to have but they never expect to have to do it for real. Every time a student trains, they should do so with the intent and understanding that the moment they walk out of the dojo/studio they WILL be assaulted. This form of denial is one of the things that leads students into uncertainty of  action. 


Being able to recognize threats/dangers early and know that they must be dealt with quickly and at the earliest opportunity breeds decisiveness.  


Share on Facebook

Going To Ground

(Gershon Ben Keren - Wed 19th Mar)

There are a lot of martial arts myths and folklore that get taken as facts e.g. 95% of fights go to the ground, high kicks don’t work on the street etc. I’m not sure who comes up with these facts and statistics but they soon get treated as facts without questioning. Do 95% of fights go to the ground? I’m not actually in a statistical position to refute it, but neither are the persons/individuals who blithely make such statements. If you are a BJJ/Judoka who is skilled on the ground, it may be that you choose to take 95% of your fights to the ground, however that doesn’t mean it is true for everybody else or fights in general.

Whatever the number of fights that do go to the ground the majority certainly start from a standing position, and so there are a number of ways that you might find yourself on the ground: 1. You trip or fall (maybe whilst attempting a throw or takedown), 2. Your assailant trips/falls and drags you to the ground with them, 3. You deliberately go to ground with an assailant, and/or 4. Your assailant deliberately takes you to ground.

Environment plays a large part in you tripping/falling. If you are attacked whilst on a train, a moving platform where keeping balanced is difficult, the chances of you falling over are greater than if you are in a pub/club etc. If you’ve been drinking, then once again the chances of you falling over increase. The same can be said if you’re getting up from a chair, or out of a car etc. When you are in the process of getting a “base” you are vulnerable to being taken to ground. If you do fall, what are the chances that your attacker, will give up a standing position/advantage to follow you down to the ground? From my own experiences – and I accept that experience by nature is limited – pretty rare. If an assailant we were dealing with fell over and went to ground, would we follow them, or would we stay standing where we could kick, stomp and punch them, without them being able to return the compliment?

There are situations where you may clinch up and your aggressor falls pulling you down but in a real fight that may involves knives and third parties do you want to spend time searching for chokes and armbars or get back to your feet? The first lessons of groundwork, from a reality based self-defense perspective should involve how to go to ground safely, how to defend yourself against standing aggressor’s and how to separate yourself from someone when on the ground in order to get back to standing.

Are there times when you might willingly go to ground? Certainly. If you are losing a fight badly when standing, and you have no chance to disengage, and/or get an improvised – or get to your own – weapon then it might make good sense to take your assailant to ground, and finish the conflict there, however as a general strategy for survival you want to remain on your feet and if you do go to ground you want to try and get back to standing ASAP.        

Share on Facebook

Notes On Firearm Disarms

(Gershon Ben Keren - Sun 9th Mar)

When practicing gun disarming, students often back away from their aggressor, holding/aiming the gun at them as if the roles have been reversed - strangely this rarely happens with knife disarms i.e. there seems to be an assumption with firearm disarms that the defender is prepared to use this weapon, but not prepared to use a knife, and that the assailant will respect the gun but possibly not respect the knife. 

There are basically three ways a person can neutralize a weapon's threat: 1. act combatively, disregarding the weapon and attacking the assailant to neutralize them as the threat, 2. disarm them, so that they no longer have a weapon to use (they themselves may still remain a threat) and 3. control the weapon and use it against them whilst they are still holding it. We often hold to a magical belief that once we disarm somebody they no longer represent a threat to us, however we should remember that if do disarm a weapon from somebody, we've demonstrated that we weren't completely intimidated by the weapon, and we probably shouldn't assume that our assailant will be. Disengaging whilst training a weapon on somebody may look good in the dojo/studio but it might not be the correct solution in a real-life situation e.g. the person may not be intimidated by the weapon, they may panic etc. and we will be forced to use the weapon against them (whether it is knife or gun) - the mindset to do this is rarely discussed, or played out in training scenarios 


Ending a drill, with the disarmed person not making a next move is only one possible outcome to a situation involving a firearm (or other weapon) - there is nothing to say they aren't armed with another weapon, or know something about their weapon which makes it inoperable etc. They may also simply question the person's ability to use it, not believing that they will pull the trigger etc. If a person does disarm somebody of a weapon they should have the basic competency to use it, whether it is a knife, stick or gun. 


We should also be aware of the limitations of any weapon we are holding - whether w have armed ourselves before the conflict, or have disarmed somebody during it. We often hold to a magical belief that putting a bullet in someone will automatically drop and stop them. This may be the case if you are trying to mechanically disable them e.g. shooting at the hip so they are no longer able to use this joint and move (which requires great marksmanship, especially whilst under duress), however if you are simply trying to fill a body with lead, an adrenalized or drugged up assailant may keep coming. At close range they may be on top of you before blood loss etc. takes effect. If they're armed with another weapon, such as a knife, you may be involved in a knife fight, even though you've managed to get a shot off.       


The weapon itself may not even be loaded or functional. The only person aware of this is the weapon's owner. Relying fully on the weapon for your defense may be an unwise move. If you're not familiar with that particular model of firearm, then you may have difficulty using it when under high stress and emotion. The one thing you do know about a firearm is that it is a solid piece of metal that is capable of concussing a person; using it as a striking implement, especially at close range may be more effective than relying on it as a ballistic weapon. 


Trying to understand violence simply from our perspective, experiences and understanding is a dangerous way to go. If we were forced to pull a firearm on somebody and they disarmed us, would we be passive, or would we attempt to get the weapon back? Would we trust the person who disarmed us, not to pull the trigger? Probably not, but at the very least we would consider trying to retrieve our weapon - we should build into our training scenarios the possibility that an assailant would try and do the same. We should also put into our training the possibility that the weapon we carry, or the one that we disarm is/becomes inoperable. Violence rarely follows the Happy Path.     

Share on Facebook

Violence As A Last Resort

(Gershon Ben Keren - Sun 2nd Mar)

This week's blog is the product of a discussion that was had in a women's self-defense class I was teaching yesterday. This particular discussion, although it ends up happening most times in women's classes - maybe because they're not scared to start it - is really a non-gender specific one i.e. when do you become physical/violent in a situation that is progressing in its level and the intensity of its aggressiveness? 

The first thing I would caveat, is that all situations are different and there is not one solution that is the best for all; sometimes presenting alternatives to violence will work (one of the reasons individuals become violent is that they see no other alternative to violent actions), sometimes posturing and standing your ground will work, sometimes acting submissively will be effective, other times disengagement/backing away may be a good solution, as may pre-emptively assaulting the person who is threatening you. The first thing to note, is that I don't believe violence is a last resort, I see it as an option on the table at all times, and one that can always be considered. 


Violence/Physical action should never be seen as the last resort, especially when you are dealing with an individual/aggressor who clearly appears to be considering physical force as a way to accomplish whatever it is they're trying to accomplish - and this really was the crux of the debate. In a mugging or abduction scenario the outcome/goal the aggressor want to achieve is very clear and obvious: they want your wallet, or they want you. The situations that were being presented yesterday were ones where an individual decides they don't want to move out of a doorway, or your way to let you pass, not because they have any definable or obvious goal in mind but because they simply want to demonstrate dominance over you. 


The issue here is that individuals who set out on an aggressive path, without an obvious goal, force themselves to up the ante in order to preserve their position of dominance. It is one of the dangers that comes from trash-talking, and that demonstrates an inability to control the direction of a situation. If someone stands in your way and refuses to let you pass, they are severely limiting the options that both you and they have that could resolve the situation in a non physical manner. You have 5 ways in which you can respond to such an aggressor: you can reason with them, posture to them, act submissively towards them, run away from them or attack them. 


It is unlikely that you can reason with them, and the more you try the more you will convince them that they have the upper hand, and that you lack the ability to change the situation. You can try and posture to them - they may back down, they may not. You could act submissively however this is probably the response that they are trying to achieve, and may keep pushing it. You can disengage - which may well be a good option, or you can pre-emptively strike them. If you are looking for effective solutions, fight or flight are the only one which have predictable outcomes, and that can deal with that situation. Posturing may provoke a fight - and you have given your aggressor a warning that you may become violent, giving them time to prepare (why trash-talking demonstrates a real misunderstanding of how effective self-defense works), and reasoning with them or acting submissively will only encourage them. 


In these situations physical violence has to be on the table as an effective solution, with a known and predictable outcome. It may not be the best solution, it may transpire that the person does move after you act aggressively towards them (it's also possible that they become more aggressive towards you). You may get lucky reasoning with them, but it's not an assured outcome. I am not advocating that we go around assaulting everyone who gets in our way but that we should know how to behave and act when we are facing an individual who is upping the ante. If someone is intent on a path of verbal dominance and or trash talking and is painting themselves into a corner, by taking away non-violent options that may have been available to them, talking time is over. 


We all want to avoid having to become violent however when we are faced with an aggressor whose actions and behaviors tell us there is only one direction they are heading in, and violence is definitely not their last resort, neither should it be ours. It should also be noted that violence can be of the stun and run variety e.g. a quick strike to the groin, and a shoulder barge past can be enough to deal with the aggressor in the doorway who blocks your path.   

Share on Facebook