The Myth of Combatives Systems

For the longest time, you couldn’t open a martial arts magazine without seeing an ad for military hand-to-hand combat systems.

SEALS, SAS, Special Forces, you name it, somebody will teach you their secrets if you only pay $29.99 for their video…

That was a few decades ago. Today, you still see these ads, though the names and faces of the instructors have changed. What’s more, you see these kinds of products advertised all over the internet and especially on Youtube. I think it’s safe to say they have only become more popular over time and I’ve never given much thought to it but thanks to a bit of fate, I’ve started to take a closer look.

A few months back I was given an offer that I couldn’t refuse. No, it wasn’t from someone with a raspy voice and cotton swabs between his cheeks and gums, but from a master martial artist whom I have enormous amounts of respect for and who has a resume that is, well, quite frankly, amazing. Anyhow, I won’t get into the specifics of the offer but the jist of it was that we would train together for a year and then I would be evaluated but his instructor(s), awarded a rank based on my evaluation and then continue this process again and again over the course of how many years that we would and can be able to train. This is in addition to my “normal” training that I do with my long-time instructor.

In contrast, this past April myself and a bunch of my students attended a seminar by a very well respected instructor who has his own combatives system. Again, I will not mention names, not because I have something to hide but because I do not want to give an appearance of disrespect and also because I don’t want to give anyone the ability to say “You should have heard what Patsy said about so-and-so in his latest blog post”. So please don’t ask for specifics. Those specifics really do not have any significance to this post anyway. But if I were to be honest, I’ve pretty much hit a point in my training and skill set that you’re going to need to have something special to get me to attend your seminar and I’m going to have to be mighty impressed to encourage my students to come with me. So understand that this wasn’t some fly-by-night clown who we went to train with.

And sure enough, the seminar was most impressive. Good techniques rooted in sound principle. With a master instructor and underlings that were more than willing to share their knowledge. The seminar attendees represented a good cross-section of skills and prior training, both in his system and in other systems, with some attendees being very advanced in their own skills and some who are just beginning their own journey.

But a funny thing happened……

About half way through the seminar it occurred to me that not only myself but also my most senior students could learn this entire system in approximately 6 months. I know, I know, that sounds arrogant as all hell. And yes, I am aware of that. But allow me to explain.

I’ve learned, (and continue to learn) a nice variety of systems, both traditional martial arts and also military combative systems, but without question, I consider myself first and foremost a Hapkidoist. I love the art. Period. And I have achieved what I would consider a very respectable rank in a variation of Hapkido and I am well on my way to also achieving a very respectable rank in another variation of Hapkido. And with any luck I’ll be able to achieve rank in Aikido sometime during my journey as well.

But if I were to show you all of the techniques that I learned from the time that I put on my first white belt until the time that I achieved my (first) first Dan, and just ended there, and we got together 2-3 times per week in order for me to show you all of these techniques it would take about a year. Yep, one year. That’s it. Just one.

Huh????????

Wow, that has to be some bullshit “art” that you’re pushing.

No, I assure you, it’s not. In fact, it’s one of the most demanding variations of Hapkido that you’ll ever be exposed to. So why only a year? Well because take a look at my statement and read it literally. If I were to teach you all of the TECHNIQUES it would take about a year.

What I saw at that seminar was technique. Nothing else. Folks, allow me to let you in on a little secret. Techniques are simple. Anyone can learn them. Literally anyone. And it doesn’t matter the art. JKD, HKD, TKD, BJJ, any of them. Pick one, hell, pick them all, it doesn’t really matter. Techniques are simple and all of the arts pretty much teach the same ones. They just place different emphasis on different things. This is a fact and I can prove it. The human body hasn’t changed or evolved for thousands of years. Your wrist bends the same way as the way as the folks in the middle east did when Christ walked the earth. Their wrists bent the same way as they did when Moses led the Jews out of Egypt. Their wrists bent the same way as they did when the first settlements along the Tigres and Euphrates rivers were established. Their wrists bent the same way as they did when the cave men drew on the walls of their caves., and so on and so on. So if the human body hasn’t changed, why would the ways to attack it change? Yep. They wouldn’t.

But HOW we do it. Ah, that’s the secret. The theory behind the technique. That’s where the magic is. That is what takes so long to learn. How do I keep good balance? How do I move correctly? How do I drop my weight? Should I drop my weight? Do I move inside or outside? Should I do any of these things?

These are the things that take so long, so very long to learn. How do I control things in a physical altercation? That is the key to good martial arts. And things means everything.How do I control everything in a physical altercation? That can’t be learned in 6 months, or a year, or 10 years, or even a lifetime.

……….But I can’t sell that. I can however, sell 50 ways to perform a wrist lock for $29.99. (Another secret, there really aren’t 50 different ways to perform a wrist lock). I just have to figure out how to compensate for the obvious lack of skills that would be required to do these wrist locks properly. So, hmmm….what do I do?? How do I overcome this??

Let’s take a look at human behavior. How do we compensate for a deficiency? Oh hell, that’s simple, we just get aggressive. Really aggressive.

All of these “Combative” systems that I have seen. And as usual, I am being quite literal here, seem to rely on aggression to replace proper footwork, or positioning, or breathing. This is a big problem. Not only because it leaves the practitioner vulnerable, but because it enforces behavior that might not be in the practitioner’s best interest.

So why are these systems so popular? I think that it’s a combination of things. First of all, I think that we are in an age where we must experience instant gratification. The idea of learning from the journey is going away in a really big hurry. Second, there are fewer people (and parents) who feel that failure at something is a legitimate outcome. This disease of entitlement is consuming us. Third, the traditional requirements for respect, both in giving and receiving, are being ushered away and are being replaced with a really sad alternative. Therefore, traditional martial arts schools are becoming less relevant.

In truth, there are many more reasons that I could list but then this post would turn into a bitchfest and that’s not what I’m here to do.

Military combatives, and for that matter, combatives in general, are designed for a specific scenario and for specific people who are required to know a specific skill set. While Hapkido is well suited for most people, I wouldn’t use traditional methods if I was required to wear 100 pounds of gear and have to defend myself. I would have to modify it, simplify it, and generally dumb it down. Military personnel do not have the time required to learn how to hone these skills so therefore they don’t have the ability or opportunity to do so. The great equalizer to this is that if they were to have to deploy these skills they would most likely be going up against other individuals who are also receiving the same limited training.

For the rest of us however, that simply isn’t the case. If you are going to take the time to learn a system, then pick a system that you feel comfortable with. But don’t pick something that makes your ego feel good. That will only get you killed.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this post. Please feel free to comment.

 

Being a Black Belt in The Age of Entitlement

(A repost from Tuesday, January 10, 2017)

With three of my 1st Dan Black Belts testing for their 2nd Dans in a month, I started to reflect on what it means to me to be a Black Belt (BB), and how being a BB fits into today’s society, and here’s what I concluded. Honestly, it’s quite the contrast.

These are strange times. And sometimes I just sit here and shake my head.

How many of you remember being able to merge onto a freeway and having people move over into the other lane to give you room?

….Or remember driving up a steep grade behind a rig only to have the driver move over onto the berm in order to let you pass?

….Or remember when people greeted you?

….Or said “You’re welcome”? (Now if you get a response at all it’s normally “No problem”. We’ll get back to this one later).

….Or when the male version of our species would remove their hats when they would sit down to eat a meal.

….Or when the PA announcer didn’t have to remind those same males to remove their hats during the National Anthem?

….Or when people would wear real clothes and not PJ’s to go shopping?

….Or when people actually considered a telephone conversation to be something private?

If you can remember any of these examples, then welcome to The Age of Entitlement. It’s the idea that I am entitled to do not only the things that I want to do but also how I want to do them. Period, end of story. Everything else, including your needs, is secondary.

Now I’m not going to get into the hows or whys regarding how we got to this point. That stuff is better left to the Sociologists and therefore way out of my pay rate. Instead I’m going to look at what it means to be a BB and how we fit in today’s society.

So let’s start by establishing a baseline. What does it mean to be a BB??

Does it mean that as a BB I can kick anyone’s ass who isn’t a BB??.…No. I know lots of folks that can more than hold their own against anyone and never stepped foot in a DoJang.

Does it mean that I’ve learned so much that my art is now really easy??.…OMG, no, in fact that’s so wrong that I don’t even want to address it.

Does it mean that all those colored belts have to kiss my ass now??…Umm, no, not even close. In fact, you should be bending over backwards to help them along.

Does it mean that everyone who never practiced an art or isn’t a fellow BB should be afraid of me??…Again, no. No one should even consider acting in such a manner.

So what does being a BB mean??

To me, being a BB is more a matter of behavior than a matter of skill. Let’s be honest, by the time one earns their 1st Dan, we should have at least an advanced knowledge of not only the mechanics of their techniques but also the theory behind them. If not, then that is a reflection of the school and its head instructor, NOT a reflection of the student. After all, one can only aspire to achieve a standard that has already been set at the DoJang.

Now this doesn’t dismiss your ability to perform your curriculum. If you are the highest rank on the floor, or one of the highest ranks, then you should be able to perform better than everyone else, and if you can’t then that is an area where you really have to focus on and improve.

But when I discuss behavior I am not only talking about being inside the DoJang, I am also addressing OUTSIDE of the DoJang.

The first thing that you have to remember is that you are special. No, that’s not bragging, blowing smoke, or patting ourselves on the back. It’s a fact.

Of everyone on the planet, all 7 billion of them, only 3% will even step foot in a DoJang. That’s approx. 210 million people, of those folks, again, only 3% will earn their 1st Dan. That’s 0.9% of the entire human population of the world.

…Less than 1% of the population will achieve their 1st Dan and achieving 2nd Dan is even more rare.. Think about that for a minute. Again, to put things in perspective (worldwide):

10% of the population is gay

10% of the population is left handed

2% of the population is redheaded

20% of the population is black

31% of the population is Muslim

So when I say that a BB is special, well, it’s the truth. But this also means that a BB is different. We’re even more different than all of the examples above.

We fought through the pain

We sacrificed

We showed up every single day, even when we had to sit in our cars in the parking lot and told ourselves “Just walk through the front doors”

We drove in the snow and bad weather

We have been humbled and we’ve given all of ourselves to our arts

So now that you can see just how special a BB is. Let’s talk about what it means to actually BE a Black Belt.

You have the ability (and in my opinion, the responsibility) to positively affect people’s lives.

You also have the ability (and again, in my opinion, the responsibility) to enable others to achieve. You should be doing this in your DoJang anyway, so why wouldn’t you be doing this in all facets of your life?

You have the responsibility to put other’s needs ahead of your own. In other words, you help the old man walk across the street instead of ignoring him, or you help the person shorter than you get the item off of the shelf over their head because they can’t reach it.

And if they thank you for your actions you respond with a polite “You’re welcome” and with a smile. Now I told you that we were going to get back to this. It’s important, so pay attention as this is going to reflect the attitude that is REQUIRED if you plan on identifying yourself as a Black Belt.

When someone feels it necessary to acknowledge your actions (by thanking you), and you respond with “No problem” what you are basically doing is placing your value above someone else’s. You are passively stating that it would have been a problem for you to do something but you’re deciding that it wasn’t a big deal. You’re basically putting yourself high on a pedestal.

And if you think that I’m wrong, then hope that you never exhibit this type of behavior when addressing someone with a mental illness.

But by saying “You’re welcome” you are acknowledging an equality between you and the other person, an action that is essential for Black Belts.

Now this may seem like I am nit-picking, but I assure you that I am not. Syntax is amazingly important to verbal communication and to ignore that is dangerous, reckless, and irresponsible. And it reflects one’s attitude and outlook on life.

You are a BB. You are responsible to set an example for the people around you. Not only for the people that you know, but for the people that you don’t know. We affect everyone around us, and that effect is not lessened simply because we don’t know them.

You know that you shouldn’t eat with a hat on (if you’re a male), so take it off.

You know that it will make it easier for someone to merge onto the freeway if you move over, so move over.

You know that others not only don’t care about your phone conversation but also don’t really want to hear it, so don’t talk in the phone in the checkout line…( and if you do have to talk to someone in public, for God’s sake, don’t use the freaking speaker phone option).

Think of others. Think of those around you first. That is the duty and responsibility of being a Black Belt.

And that is something that as a Black Belt, you should aspire to do each and every day.