Combatives for Athletes


We had an interesting evening on Wednesday.  We recently began teaching combative skills to young athletes.  Now, this is not for the purpose of teaching them how to be fighters.  We call it the fight without the fight.  It came to our attention some time back that the new crop of kids involved in school athletics have no mental toughness.  They often want to quit way too early.  Coaches want a way to instill a combative spirit so their kids have more push. . .but how? 


Enter Combat Hard.  We let those kids do what they cannot ever do in everyday life for fear of being punished.  Now, they don’t get to hurt each other–at least, not on purpose.  We provide plenty of protection.  Nothing relieves stress more than beating on Thai pads.  Most young adults have some pent up frustration with all that identity searching, and many boys especially have a little aggression that could be channeled.  Nothing is quite as physically taxing, either, as striking with some resistance.  Even the wrestling coach at our flagship school voiced that observation, as he was also a willing participant. 


Our training certainly toughened us up over the years.  We are looking for mental, emotional AND physical toughness.  We want to draw out the hearts of these young men and women.  I previously stated that we were not teaching them how to fight, and yet we are.  They are learning to fight through the mental and emotional barriers that will help them win the battle on the playing field.  Their new abilities will go far beyond the field, as well, and it will be interesting to see how they grow as this new program takes off.



Kim's Game


I’ve begun looking for awareness exercises for our readers to improve observational skills.  One that keeps coming up in other websites’ posts is Kim’s Game.  I decided to do a little research, and it appears that the main character in Rudyard Kipling’s book Kim, plays a similar game in preparation for becoming a spy.  I’ve found variations of it on boy and girl scout sites, and according to Wikipedia, the US Marine Corp uses Kim’s games in training (KIM = Keep In Memory), though it is “not well-documented.”  I’m never certain about the accuracy of Wikipedia entries, but it really does not matter.  You can try this game yourself, and even practice with children to improve their observation skills:


Gather various items and put them on a tray.  Cover the items with a cloth.  Lift the cloth, and give participants 1 minute to observe the items and commit them to memory.  Place the cloth over the items again, and instruct participants to write on a sheet of paper every item they can remember.  Whoever remembers the most items, wins.



You can certainly play variations of this game while you are in public spaces.  One suggestion I read somewhere was to try it with groups of people; observe them, look away, then try to remember as much detail about their appearances as possible.  You will probably learn a lot from this one, especially about yourself.  What do you notice?  What do you tend to filter out?  Does your awareness change in certain environments?  Think of yourself as the key eye-witness!

Your Animal Day

Here is an interesting article by Al Peasland, entitled “What’s Your Animal Day?”:  Al is listed in our blogroll under Complete Self Protection, and he is a member of the British Combat Association–a bad dude, indeed!  We talk about using the protective fence in Gutterfighting, so you should also check out his book and DVD on Fence Concepts:


Meet Dr. Ruthless!!


Yesterday we talked about ferocious resolve, and RAGE.  Here is an awesome example of gettin’ down and dirty!  Dr. Ruthless is a true Gutterfighter.

Finding the Rage


Recently we were talking with a woman about taking walks in the park.  My instructor was cautioning against walking in the really wooded and remote areas, maybe making an exception on Saturdays when more people are within earshot.  He was telling her about carrying her OC spray, her cell phone, and the concealed knife that she is able to use.  She does not own a firearm, and we discussed the speed of drawing a knife versus drawing a gun.  He reassured her that she had the skills and ability to protect herself, and he emphasized the importance of her displaying “ferocious resolve” (an idea he borrowed from Marcus Wynne) to fight for her life by utilizing verbal commands, intimidating eye contact and body language, etc.  This got me thinking about aggression, and the conversation turned. 


What does it take to flip the switch?  We all have the potential for violence, though it may be latent in many of us.  What can we do to help students turn it on and off at will, and control it?  I watch some of these practitioners online and in DVDs on Combatives, and I marvel at the intensity, like a feral animal, with which they train techniques.  They create an emotional state that renders them downright intimidating.  It’s interesting, because some of our students won’t even hit the BOBs or training pads with much passion. 


Many years back, when I was training Muay Thai three or more times a week, I got hit and bruised a lot.  It made me very aggressive in my practice—I can only assume my survival instinct kicked in.  We see the same aggression come out of young athletes when they practice the Contact Reflex drills with Thai pads.  (The feeder hits the technician with the Thai pad.  The tech he must cover and return with a combination.)   For four years I trained consistently at one school, with a lot of strong people severely lacking in control, then I moved house to another school.  I was criticized for being too aggressive, and instead of being taught how to control myself, I believe my instructor hoped to train it out of me.  This not an ideal strategy, and does not serve me on the street.  It’s martial arts, for crying out loud!  What does serve me is this: having the ability to flip the switch on and off, and the ability to quickly assess situations to determine exactly how far I need to take my aggression.  If my response makes my would-be assailant back off, then I don’t need to continue pounding him into the dirt.  Good judgment and control lets me know when to stop (easier said than done, I know).


Training has to evolve into being something dynamic, versus the static methods that many dojos employ, and one has to be able to put the mind in an intense emotional state, similar to that which he or she might experience in a true confrontation; we have all got to find the rage in ourselves, plain and simple.  In my research, I am discovering that learning techniques can be accelerated with better retention because of adherence to realism.  If in the unfortunate event that this woman does find herself standing in the woods, brandishing a knife and issuing warnings with her words, eyes and body language, it is very likely that most perps will back off, as long as they feel her intention (and suppressed rage).  It might be a better idea to tangle with a wildcat.  NOW, if he doesn’t retreat, she knows IT IS ON!!!  She must be prepared to take the situation wherever it needs to go on the way to swift resolution.  I want her to win, of course, but she needs to ask herself now: what is my life worth? 

Palm Strike


The palm strike can be applied much like a punch, and the idea is to generate significant power to really rock the brain (reboot the computer!), possibly causing a knockout.  There are some variations in application.  When I first began researching it, I was not entirely sure everyone was talking about the same technique, as different camps also call it different things: palm heel strike, tiger’s claw, face smash, jab or cross with a “claw hand”, etc.  This is not an exhaustive list, for sure.  We practiced several palm strikes in Wing Chun with yet other names.  Naming conventions are not really our concern.


I find I like the palm strike more and more.  Heck, even just sticking your open hand in someone’s face, with no power behind it whatsoever, can be very distracting.  But, I digress.  We’re looking for more than distraction here.  The palm strike, when applied to the head, is favored over the punch by many for several good reasons that you might wish to consider.  For women, it can be easier on the hand in delivery, though any big, burly type can fracture the knuckles while driving his fist into a bony skull.  A common injury, known as a boxer’s fracture, is sustained when there is a break between the knuckles of the middle finger and the pinkie.  I realize that saving your own life is worth breaking some metacarpals, but heck—I’m interested in more than survival.  I’m interested in winning!  J  In addition to tearing up the hand, there is the whole health-related issue of hitting teeth and lacerating the knuckles.  I doubt seriously that you wander around wearing handwraps or gloves.  The fact is that people have dirty mouths that even Orbit gum cannot clean up.  That petrie dish of an orifice in his face, coupled with your open wound, can introduce germs into your bloodstream.  Two days later you have a nasty infection.  Need I say this is not a good thing?  There’s nothing like having a fight souvenir that festers and rots off your digits.  Moving on. . .


In Krav Maga, practitioners take a fighting stance (left lead) and shoot the hand out like right cross—body mechanics are the same.  The wrist is flexed and the fingers are slightly curled to place the emphasis on striking with the heel of the hand.  They also rotate the hand inward for power, and to prevent damage to the wrist.  As with punching, I like to really drive my right foot into the ground in a counterclockwise corkscrew motion (like I’m killing a cockroach—ha ha ha).  Just remember not to over-rotate.


The Tiger’s Claw, or claw hand palm strike, is a classic technique that was favored and taught by W.E. Fairbairn and company.  Dennis Martin describes the strike as jolting one, meant to overwhelm an opponent in “all out onslaught”.  The fingers are retracted, like a cat’s paw, to reveal the heel of the palm, and the wrist remains flexed, as in the Krav technique, for protection of the joint.  The heel is the striking surface, and the tips of the fingers also make contact on the target surface.  Some describe the hand formation as palming a grapefruit.  The strike moves in a piston-like motion towards the facial region of the opponent (get what you can get—max impact is the real key).  Also like Krav, body mechanics that generate speed and utilize body mass (like that for a power shot, like the cross) are employed.


Kelly McCann has an interesting variation that he calls the Face Smash.  He likens the strike to throwing a baseball, and his hand formation reflects this.  He warns against cocking the arm to avoid telegraphing—instead, take a step forward (left lead) with the strong side arm moving back slightly, forearms and palms facing out.  To create momentum, he pushes off with the right foot and accelerates with his body weight behind the striking hand.  The hand moves in an arc.  He pushes the hand through the arc, imagining it coming to rest at his knee (the “plunge”).  McCann seeks both the impact of the hand of the face, and getting his fingers in the eyes of the opponent. 


Fairbairn considered eyes to be secondary targets, and his focus was more upon the impact.  The folks at Urban Combatives explain his reasoning for this, which is very simple.  The eye blink is rapid, and so is the flinch response when an object approaches the eyes.  Chances are good you won’t be able to scratch a cornea.  A sound argument, but if you do get lucky and poke your fingers in the eyes—fantastic!  If not, you still blasted his melon pretty good.  The eyes are gravy.


I might use a palm strike from the protective fence (the more aggressive one), and various other situations, perhaps in the place of a straight punch.  Like the Combatives sites recommend, I would also follow up with a rapid succession of strikes, as practitioners believe strongly in combinations in a veritable onslaught of pain and aggression to overwhelm the perpetrator.  This is the way to gaining and keeping the upper hand until you are able to get to safety.  And, it may be a pre-emptive strike, so keep that in mind.  As my instructor often says regarding an attacker, and I’m paraphrasing: “Hey, Man.  You brought us to this dance.  Now, we’re gonna dance.”  Just make sure you’re leading.





Dougherty, Martin, and Birdsall, David. (2003).  The Self Defence Manual.  West Sussex: Summersdale Publishers Ltd.



Grover, Jim.  (1999).  Jim Grover’s Combatives Series: Power Strikes & Kicks, Vol. 1.  [Videotape].  Paladin Press.



Levine, Darren, and Whitman, John.  (2007).  Complete Krav Maga: The Ultimate Guide to Over 230 Self-Defense and Combatives Techniques.  Berkeley: Ulysses  Press.



Martin, Dennis, et al.  The Classic Strikes.  Dennis Martin’s Combatives Community.  Retrieved February 2009, from



Morrison, Lee.  Tiger’s Claw Module For CQB Services.  Urban Combatives.  Retrieved February 2009, from



Morrison, Lee.  Face Smash.  Urban Combatives.  Retrieved February 2009, from



Thompson, Geoff.  (1997).  Dead or Alive.  Boulder: Paladin Press.



Soft versus Hard Target


Really and truly, you want to avoid situations that require self-defense skills.  In everyday life, fighting is the action of last resort when all else within the realm of self-protection has failed.  Those among us who have something to prove might disagree with me, and I say the fight on the street is a brutal testing ground.  Though I do train my physical skills every week, I am keenly interested in target hardening.  How do I make myself less desirable to the predators of society?


But let’s step back.  What is a soft target?  A soft target lives in a state of cluelessness, or in what we call Condition White.  He or she is highly accessible—personal boundaries are fluid, or not established at all.  Often, the soft target looks insecure, is oblivious to people in his or her vicinity and has poor situational awareness, in general.  Very little attention is paid to personal responsibility, and no control is exerted over personal space or environment.  The soft target is predictable.  You think of a sheep mentality, and you have your soft target, ripe for the picking by a hungry, opportunistic wolf.  Take a good long look at yourself.  Does this sound like an accurate description of you?  Be honest, and take a moment to step outside of yourself and see things from a third party’s perspective.


“We don’t see things as they are; we see them as we are.” Anaïs Nin


So, what is a hard target?  A hard target is armed with the capacity to perceive and accept the threat, whatever it may be.  He or she is equipped, both mentally and physically.  This requires pre-meditation, planning and practice.  It also requires a total shift in mindset.  Metaphorically speaking, there are wolves in the landscape of life that have made it their personal mission to prey upon others to fulfill their needs.  Believe it, just as you believe the sun will rise tomorrow.  You must become like the sheepdog: vigilant and ready for the threat in the event that it appears.  The sheepdog is in what we call Condition Yellow, as soon as he or she steps out the door each day.  This state of awareness involves 360 degree security at all times.  Contrary to what you may believe, it is not a state of paranoia, though it may seem like it to others, and even feel like it to you for a while.  When you make the firm decision to make awareness a part of your everyday life, it will be exhausting in the beginning.  I speak from personal experience on this.  You will feel jumpy, or hyper-vigilant, and you will think you have to look at everything all the time.  Accept this as part of your training, though.  It is a necessary stepping stone along the path.  Eventually, you will learn to be in tune with your intuition, and move into more relaxed awareness.


The hard target is also unpredictable in daily patterns, and is action-oriented.  Knowing and understanding pre-incident indicators and body language are important—awareness of them informs your intuition.  Being able to perceive and evaluate a situation properly and quickly, is critical for winning.  The hard target is concerned with minimizing risk, taking security precautions at home, in the car, on the street. . .wherever.  If this individual has done everything he or she can do, and despite all efforts, steps into a critical Condition Red situation, the hard target is prepared for flight, to stun and run, or fight until the fight is done.  Nevertheless, with the right mindset (and even some confrontation management skills), violent conflict can be avoided most of the time.


Like anything worth doing in life, expanding your awareness takes practice and persistence.  I plan on posting some awareness exercises, but in general, get in the habit of taking note what you see when you drive around in your car, walk around in public spaces, etc.  If anything looks like it is just not right, observe it in more detail, or leave immediately.  I was recently in a restaurant, sipping coffee and reading a book.  I watched a man briskly walk in a door on one side of the restaurant, look around, and walk out the door on the other side.  Many people had come and gone, but something about him made me stop reading and take note.  An inner voice nudged me to leave the premises.  Instead of trying to analyze this, I did leave, though my original intent was to finish reading my chapter.  As I walked to my car, another car arrived.  Two men exited the vehicle while one stayed inside.  The two men stared at me as they walked toward the restaurant.  I was not alarmed in any way, but something again nudged me to go.  So that is exactly what I did.  I do not believe there was any incident—it is a restaurant I frequent.  Maybe it was just time for me to go, and there was no harm in leaving.


One other thought.  Try to minimize your distractions that engage you so fully that you cannot be alert.  Walking out of a grocery store with a cell phone pinned between your ear and your shoulder, carrying an armload of bags and fumbling for your car keys is not a great idea.  Do not willfully hamstring yourself so that you are unable perceive the world—life does not stop for you.  Besides, have you seen the way people race through parking lots?  This slogan from Baader-Meinhof, a German Terrorist organization and self-proclaimed “communist urban guerrillas”, gives you some insight into the minds of those who victimize:


“When you are hungry, it is foolish to hunt a tiger when there are plenty of sheep to be had.”