Saturday, May 28, 2011

What are Combatives?

In the previous post I discussed my first exposure to combatives. Some of you may not be familiar with the term, from wikipedia:
"Combatives is a United States Army term for hand-to-hand combat training and techniques."

There's quite a bit more in the entry, pretty much all centered around US military training. Not sure who made that entry, calling combatives army hand-to-hand combat is reasonably accurate but it's not a US-only system (actually was pioneered by the British) and I wouldn't consider MAC combatives. My definition of combatives would be something like:
Combatives - A system of self-defense based on gross motor skills. Training is focused integrating natural body movements and reactions into a fighting system rather than learning a large number of techniques. Combatives is based on the WWII-era close quarter combat training methods of William E. Fairbairn and Eric A. Sykes.

Combatives could be considered as a compromise system, the type of results-oriented training required when you have a very limited amount of time. "Techniques" used are easy to remember both in the future and under stress, and the focus is on results - techniques that are proven and demonstrable. If you had a day to train someone who might need to fight for his life, what would you teach?

As someone who has been in high stress situations, I discovered that I had a hard time applying my martial arts training in actual fights. The fear/adrenaline dump would overwhelm me and techniques that seemed to work quite well in sparring would absolutely fail when I needed them the most. Some of this can be blamed on sport-oriented training but much of it is unavoidable. When people are under stress, they tend to revert to more gross motor-type skills - it takes a great deal of training to handle the body's adrenaline dump and utilize more fine or complex motor skills, more training than most people will ever achieve. Open hand techniques are favored to reduce the risk of injury to the hands. Punching someone is a great way to break a hand - a soldier with a broken hand can no longer grab the enemy, handle his or her firearm effectively, etc. Combatives have become a lot more popular as people continue to search for more effective training methods, systems that will actually work in combat or in a self defense situation.


1. FINE MOTOR SKILLS -- skills which are performed by small muscle groups, such as the hands and fingers. These frequently involve hand/eye coordination. In the survival skill category, a fine motor skill would include any action that requires precision hand/eye coordination, such as shooting a gun accurately or striking a small target with an impact weapon. These skills peak between 100-110 BPM, and drop off rapidly at 115 BPM and above.

2. COMPLEX MOTOR SKILLS -- skills which involve a series of muscle groups in action, requiring coordination and timing. Complex motor survival skills include things like a shooting stance that has muscle groups working in different or asymmetrical directions (Weaver or modified Weaver stance, with the strong hand pushing and the support hand pulling against one another), or a takedown that has more than three independent movements from different muscle groups. These skills peak between 115-145 BPM, and drop off rapidly as the heart rate goes higher.

3. GROSS MOTOR SKILLS -- skills which involve the action of large muscle or major muscle groups. An example of a gross motor survival skill would be a simple action such as a straight punch or forward baton strike. These skills remain effective at 200 BPM and above.

To say that fine and complex motor skills can't be used under stress would be inaccurate - they can be used, they just become more difficult, less effective. The more you train and the more you simulate stress in your training, the more likely you can use the full range. For those with limited training time (probably almost everyone), especially those who aren't training extensively in hand-to-hand, the more you may want to consider more combatives-oriented training. I'll provide some training examples in a future post.

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