Cutting Edge Training

America’s Combatives and Liability Trainer Training With Real-World Impact

It’s About Saving Lives, Not Running Down Martial Arts

by George on December 4, 2013 14:52

“The sad truth is that it often takes a wilderness experience (if you survive) to cement the truth that games can get you killed.”  Thomas V. Benge

 

When we talk with other police trainers about the need for a less-complex, principal-based training program for combative skills (defensive tactics, firearms, impact weapons, tactics, etc.), and especially defensive tactics instructors, we are often accused of not liking a particular “style” of martial arts.  For the last several years, with the Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ) form made popular by the Gracie family and the UFC, we have been vocal about avoiding the use of BJJ, western wrestling, boxing, or any other martial art for police training.  We believe that sports have no place in police training, whether they are so-called fighting sports in defensive tactics or shooting sports in firearms training.  This is because the manner in which they are taught encompasses numerous “techniques.”  Techniques, unless mastery is gained, require intense cognitive effort, making it nearly impossible to apply against a combative foe.  Suspects just don’t cooperate and wait for the multi-part techniques to unfold.  We believe that a principle-based concept of combatives is fundamentally more functional and applicable for everyone, especially for the police where extensive training is rarely afforded to officers.

Full disclosure

We have been martial artists for most of our lives.

  • Our Director holds a 5th dan (black belt), Master Instructor in Tang Soo Do Moo Duk Kwan with additional training, in some cases extensive, in Kuk Sool Hapki, Aikido, judo, Western wrestling, jiu-jitsu, and Arnis, as well as various martial weaponry (including knives and bladed weapons).
  • Our International Master Trainer is a 2nd degree black belt in Kune Tao, with additional training, in some cases extensive, in Jeet Kune Do, Kali, Brazilian jui jitsu and Boxing as well as various martial weaponry (including knives and bladed weapons).
  • Each of our staff or adjunct DT instructors have had some form of extensive formal training in martial arts, wrestling, boxing, etc. prior to training and employing principle-based problem-solving in their professional and training lives.

Our most knowledgeable and competent staff trainers, like most, were initially taught through the vehicle of myriad techniques in how to fight.  Through extensive training, we eventually gained a deeper understanding of the limits of technical, or prescriptive training, and began recognizing fundamental principles underlying the techniques.  It was a long and, at times, extremely frustrating process of realizing the futility of applying techniques and then beginning to question the very foundation of techniques and technical training.  We understood that our prior training only touched the surface of combatives and was incredibly limiting.  Once one digs below techniques to discover the universal lessons they were meant to teach, it becomes impossible to look back to the mundane, complicated, and impractical world of teaching and learning techniques as a means of fighting or defensive tactics. 

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu:  A World-Class Martial Sport

We’ve been accused of being “anti-Gracie.”  We believe any form of Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ) to be superior for the limited context of a fighting sport on the ground, and the Gracies have certainly had well-deserved success and very good press.  We purposely never refer or imply criticism of any particular sport style of BJJ.  We have nothing but respect for the Gracies as jiu-jitsu players.

On a mat in a controlled environment with strict rules, BJJ (or wrestling or boxing or any martial art) teaches many valuable lessons.  Dedicated jiu-jitsu players certainly gain some combative skills from their many, many hours on the mat rolling with other dedicated individuals.  It is important to remember, however, combatives skills do not necessarily translate to “fighting skills.”  Fighting skills have contextual application to combat.

No form of BJJ is a "combatives system."  It's a sport employing strict rules and restrictions that are not applicable to the street.  Even one of the Gracies said that in an interview with a reporter.  In a fight, all targets are open (groin, eyes, biting, striking, etc.) and many techniques that work on the mat change in combat (PLEASE put me in your "guard" on the street).  Open up the UFC to "combat" and the whole thing changes—and few fights would last more than a few minutes and the results so brutal it would be quickly outlawed.  Now add police tools and anything else you can pick up and use to harm another person, and you have what officers face, except for one thing: cops have strict rules that only occasionally permits them to fight without restriction (deadly force) whereas criminals always fight with no rules and often with concealed deadly weapons. That's the police world of fighting and one we must prepare our officers for as instructors.  And we don't believe BJJ or any martial art should be the basis of police training.

We are not anti-BJJ or anti-martial arts. Far from it. But recognizing that playing "Nerf gun wars" with my herd of grandkids is not the same as being in a gunfight or a real war.  So, too, martials arts is a sterile environment that so many within martial arts—including many in BJJ—fail to recognize is not fighting or suitable for fighting because of the rigid habit of following the rules—rules having nothing to do with actual combatives.  BJJ (or any martial art) is combatives-like, but it is not fighting or combat.

The Essence of Techniques

"Techniques" are a complete series of independent and sequential movements, each dependent upon the last being completed before the next can begin, and each must be performed exactly as prescribed before the next move can be attempted. Once the complete sequence of techniques is properly executed, the technique is complete.  Whether BJJ or Aikido—or any other martial art—techniques and counter-techniques and counters to counters to counters is technique intensive.  Each technique is an exclusive answer to a highly specific and exact problem.  Any technique is one of dozens or hundreds that must be remembered and selected while the suspect is fighting against that technique’s completion.

Techniques are suspect dependent.  That is, the suspect must wait for the sequence of moves to be completed before the technique can be successful—any interruption in the technique’s exact series of sequential steps causes the technique to fail.  So techniques require the time it takes to decide which technique to use and then to employ each step successfully in order to be successful.  Suspects must cooperate or the technique fails.  The series of movements must be remembered and then applied in time before the situation changes.  This requires not only mastery of the technique to create the neural pathways that permit the technique to be executed, but also a deeper mastery of the concepts of why the series of sequential movements work during application against a combative opponent.

What’s Beneath the Technique?

The question for us is not which technique to use, but what are the techniques fundamentally—and foundationally—teaching us about a greater and perhaps more universal combatives method of preparing and employing force against a combative person?  After all, those of us who have "mastered techniques" can employ them in a fight even though we have the same limitations (time to select and employ a correct sequence, etc.) as the academy-trained officer.  For our purposes, there are a couple of reasons for this.

First, pattern matching. Our brains work by filtering all perception a mental map, or model of our external world (called a "schema").  How we actually "see" the world is the result of our perceptions first being sieved through the schema prior to any conscious thought.  This filter is constantly amended by our experiences, fears, and expectations.  The more we see a pattern of movement(s), a pattern for anatomical angle(s), or a pattern of proxemics (where bodies or objects are in space relative to the other), the more quickly we can recognize a pattern of movement/body position/situation and match it to a probable solution, or action script (based on an experienced pattern, the action script tells us how to solve the problem).  Patterns give us a sense of our situation (Gary Klein, 2003).

The process of matching the solution to the recognized pattern is through the concept of “satisficing” (Gary Klein popularized this term, meaning the selection of a probable solution to a problem that is both sufficient and satisfactory).  Through sufficient training and experience that permits us to immediately recognize when certain behavioral, emotional, and physical cues (specific constellations of cues triggering a decision based on an intuitive recognition of the situation) are present:  we react.  When under pressure in a time-sensitive situation (coupled with the perception of personal danger), humans select the first available solution that will probably work sufficiently to obtain a satisfactory solution—if they have experience and are able to recognize a pattern.  This is achieved through experience.  The trial and error of gaining experience (learning what works and what does not) in fighting can be lethal until sufficient capability in recognizing patterns quickly enough to be utilized in a time-compressed event is gained.

What begins to emerge through sufficient repetition and problem-solving is a heuristic (i.e., a rule of thumb) that can be applied to a recognized pattern quickly.  When an officer must later problem-solve in the middle of a danger-filled fight, that officer relies upon a heuristic that is easily recalled (formally, an “availability heuristic—Daniel Kahneman, 2011) that has worked successfully in the past.  An availability heuristic does not depend upon a time consuming memory search.  Rather, a particular rule of thumb that satisfices is instantly selected based on the pattern-recognition and matching a probable solution to the recognized problem.  Generally in combative situations, this “good enough” approach is good enough to win the fight.  Universal principles of combatives work best and are more easily recalled when under threat, especially because those principles mirror natural and instinctive reactions to threatening situations.

Second, and more importantly, techniques are actually intended to teach the underlying combatives principles.  Every “technique” functions through universal principles that have worked since Cain smote Abel.  These highlight manners of efficiently moving the body in relation to the opponent to create success.  Those of us who are successful as fighters actually understand the underlying principles (at least, our schema does) and then apply them as availability heuristics within our pattern-matching.  We are able to use and even modify "techniques" to counter the suspect's efforts to counter ours.  This is only possible after years of intensive and dedicated technical training which is why we see the top-tier UFC fighters able to instantly react to their opponents.  Problematically, few officers are provided the time by their agencies or are willing to work on their own time for years to the point of transitioning beyond techniques.

This is why technique-based training fails the police and we routinely see schoolyard solutions that instructors and plaintiffs' attorneys (and their expert witnesses) complain so bitterly about.  100% of officers are taught to a level of cognitive familiarity with the techniques, yet only a small percentage eventually train to mastery sufficient to pattern-match and apply the technique.  This means that cops have to somehow remember how to do a technique under extreme time constraints in a threatening environment while afraid and experiencing the mental and physical responses to fear.

A buddy attended an 80-hour "police instructor" course in police BJJ.  For two weeks, he rolled and learned.  He was injured at hour 79, and was told to sit out the last hour. This included a free-style between the training pairs.  The instruction: "use what you've learned this week to submit your partner.  Tap out early."  So this experienced and skilled martial artist sat and watched 38 police instructors rolling for 30 minutes, each trying hard to use what they'd learned.  At the conclusion, he said he didn't see a single trained technique.  Not one.  He decided he would not include any of this training in his agency's yearly DT updates.

If 80-hours of intensive training does not yield a change in behavior in DT instructors, it is safe to say there’s a problem with how we're teaching officers when it comes to technical training of the police.

If we teach fighting through the vehicle of the underlying principles of combatives that are encoded within the myriad techniques, then officers, regardless of their training and experience, learn to fight more efficiently and more effectively.  The training makes sense to them.  And it translates to success on the street.

What We Need When Under Threat

When people are under physical or emotional threat, especially in time-compressed events that are personally threatening, their ability to achieve complex tasks requiring a high level of memory recall, contemplation, and physical dexterity and coordination.  The well-known deleterious effects on the human body when within the adrenalized state is widely known.  For that reason, humans need methods of combatives resolution that are:

  • Simple.  Simple does not mean “ineffective.”  Instead, it is synonymous with “non-complex.”  Complexity is the enemy.  Anyone can design something complicated, and complicated mechanisms, systems, and techniques fail with predictable frequency.  Simplicity of design and function is requisite for efficient and effective response.
  • Dumb.  A solution should not require intensive efforts at higher analysis.  Complex thinking is generally not possible during high-threat time-compressed events.  Instead, once the pattern of threat is recognized, the solution should be instantly apparent. 
  • Easy.  Easy is not “without effort.”  Easy, instead, requires a lack of complexity as well as an absence of the need for highly evolved and intensively honed skills requiring exact angles or timing for success.  The greater degree of difficulty in executing a defense skill or movement, the more likely it will fail when the suspect is working against the officer.
  • Natural.  There are options within human response to threat that must be worked with.  This means we must limit what we’d like to in training officers to training them in what they can do given the time we are provided.  Those options are naturally occurring and can be useful in responding with force.
  • Instinctual.  Humans have hard-wired responses to perceived threat.  The Universal Principles of Combatives© are based on these.  We also adopt methods of delivering force based on these natural and instinctual reactions.  The startle reaction, for example, causes us to face the suddenly perceived threat, body lean forward, shoulders square with shoulders raised (to protect the neck and jaw) and hands up between the threat and our face.  The legs are bent athletically, enabling us to move (after freezing, flight or fight).  This is one of the main reasons we teach using an Isosceles upper body when firing a handgun or shoulder weapon—because this is how we react to sudden danger. 

We know there are many opportunities in the police defensive tactics world to train with champions in their respective sports.  These top athletes, with attributes of athleticism that only a handful of humans possess and tens of thousands of hours of training bolstered by hundreds of hours of experience in the ring/mat/octagon, are more than willing to share their methods with those who are lesser mortals.  These professionals are able to dominate other professionals through complex methods and layered strategies only they can actually employ against a resisting opponent.  How does that apply to your own—and more importantly—your officers’ training background and attributes?

Complexity is the enemy of success.  In combat, it is often the simple solution that carries the day with the fewest injuries.

A Few Universal Principles of Combatives©

Principle-based problem-solving provides the simple, dumb, easy, natural, and instinctual method of applying something that works.  Anyone who has ever attempted a complicated technique or multi-faceted plan with split-second timings against a resisting suspect can understand that a simple solution is generally much more effective than some grandly evolving plan with many moving parts.  Simple, dumb, easy, natural, and instinctual solutions through the universal principles permit the officer to pattern-match much more quickly through availability heuristics than by attempting to sort through and then apply one of dozens or more specific techniques. 

Let’s take a look at the application of just two Universal Principles of Combatives©.  Two 3-year olds, Roy and Bill, both want the same toy and both grab it.  Both pull back and forth until Roy pulls the toy, pressing it against his chest.  Roy then rips it out of the other's hands by spinning away while saying, "Mine!"  Billy lost the toy and begins crying.  What happened to make this three-year old function efficiently in this particular, limited instance?

Two principles of combatives, hard-wired into human neurology and physiology, are working here:

  • Body parts to body mass, or, closer-stronger.  I am stronger if I press something I am holding hard against me (or the ground, or push against the suspect's body).  The corollary to this is the farther away from my body I attempt to control something, the stronger and more skilled I need to be.  Distance from my body creates weakness in my joints, whereas the closer the object is to my body, the stronger my joints become.  Against another human, he now must work not only against my maximized strength, but my joints are better protected by increased strength and he must now contend with my entire body weight affecting his ability to take the object away from me. 
  • Move in angles and circles.  Moving in circles (Small-circle, big-circle theory; Point within a circle theory) can overwhelm the suspect. Moving in angles creates tracking problems.  This also relates to the anatomical placement of limbs and the spine (especially the head in relation to the spine affecting the body's balance—another Principle of Combatives©: Control the Head).  As an example, let’s examine a well-known submission:  the Kimura from the guard.  Once the elbow, shoulder, and hips are locked into correct angles, the suspect complies or his humerus spiral fractures.  However, and one of the fundamental drawbacks to the effectiveness of “techniques,” is the requirement of complete and total perfection, e.g., if the suspect’s hips are not locked during the application of the Kimura, he can roll out of the hold and the hold is ineffective.  Locking the hips is mandatory to stop the suspect from seeking vacuum (or an escape route) or the Kimura submission fails.  This is another Principle of Combatives©: Seek Vacuum:  move or flow to the point least resistance.

By locking the toy into the chest, Roy is able to use not only his upper body strength, but his entire body weight to control the disputed toy.  The toy is pressed against his body, essentially welding it to himself, making him much stronger at this particular time relative to the strength of only his arms if wrestling for the toy a foot away from his body.  Billy is still employing only his upper body strength to retain the toy.  His success now depends only upon his ability to deliver superior brute force to overwhelm Roy’s strength.  Success now is possible only if the Billy is far stronger than Roy.

When we take a hold of a suspect’s head, his arm, his firearm, whatever, we pull it to our body (or our body to his) and press it hard against our body.  If reasonable, we may look for targets and strike, poke, shoot, stab, drive over or through, push, or pull an open target (two additional Universal Principles of Combatives©:  Target Seek;  Put Weapons to Targets).  If we are grabbing something, it is anchored against our body rather than wrestling over it in a contest of strength away from our body.  Devon Larratt, the number one right-handed arm-wrestler in the world, described why he is so successful against much bigger and potentially stronger opponents, “I bring things into my center where they become part of me.  It’s much easier to move me than anything outside of me.”  This, in effect, requires Billy to contend with the other boy’s body weight as well as his strength.

To keep the toy and remove Billy’s hands, Roy spins hard in a clockwise direction (either direction is possible and dictated only by the terrain and situation).  He also steps hard to the rear with his foot in the direction he wants to go.

  • Small-Circle, Big-Circle Theory.  This puts Billy into a “small-circle, big-circle” situation.  When Roy moves his body, spinning quickly in one direction and stepping in that direction, the toy in both boys’ hands travels in a small circle with Roy’s chest.  Billy’s body must now move to keep up with Roy’s spinning movement.  Problematically for the Billy, his body must travel around the other boy’s body to keep up with the toy in both of their hands.  However, Billy must travel farther and faster than Roy because Billy has a larger circle he must traverse to get to the same point.  Think of the orbit of the planets around the sun.  If two planets, one closer to the sun and the other farther away begin and end in the same position in their orbit after one rotation, it will require the farther planet to travel in its orbit at a much greater speed to keep up with the planet in the inner orbit.  Small-circle, big-circle.  When Roy spins while pressing the toy they both are holding against his chest, he will spin faster than the other boy can keep up.  Because Billy must move around Roy’s body to keep up, his grip will become untenable.
  • Point Within a Circle Theory.  It also demonstrates the “point within a circle theory.”  Like the game of Crack the Whip, three children hold hands and Child A stays in one place and pivots, anchoring the line.  The other two pivot around Child A.  As Child A spins faster and faster, it becomes impossible for Child C at the end of the “whip” to maintain her footing because she cannot possibly cover the same arc of movement at the speeds necessary to keep up with Child A’s arc of movement.  Child C is flung away or falls.  In the same manner, Billy cannot possibly maintain the same speed as Roy and maintaining his grip will quickly become impossible.

Because Billy cannot keep up with Roy’s speed while spinning, Billy’s wrists are stressed to the point where they must release the toy or suffer injury.  Regardless of how strong the Billy is, his wrists are just not strong enough to maintain the grip against the weight of the boy in red’s body. 

Once we understand these principles, formal techniques are no longer needed.  We begin to fight the way we are hardwired to fight:  if I grab something (a head, arm, weapon, etc.), I bring it to my body and press it hard against my chest;  if I move, I move in angles and circles.  This is, in a nutshell, how principle-based, no-technique training works successfully with both well-trained and lesser trained officers.

Outcome Versus Process

Getting away from cognitive teaching (techniques) and into experiential problem-solving through the principles of combatives, we find that officers begin to solve their own DT problems with their solutions AND QUICKLY REPROGRAM THEIR SCHEMAS.  This is the essence of adult learning.  Problematically, learning to fight through the rote memorization of techniques and their sequential, mandatory steps is exactly opposite to how adults learn.  Prescriptive learning, or learning by a prescribed method where the solution is provided to a specific problem, reliably works only when there is time to contemplate and remember the sequential steps of the particular technique.  Problematically, one technique is the solution to one problem.  If the problem looks different, then a different solution, or technique, is necessary.  The greater number of problems, the greater the number and variety of unique solutions.

Could we teach 20—or 40 or more—techniques to take something from someone else’s hands?  Absolutely.  There is, unfortunately, no shortage of techniques.  However, this results from a misunderstanding about the path necessary for success.

  • Techniques:  Outcome-based.  A successful technique is outcome-based.  Each step of the technique must be positively attained in order for the technique to work and the failure at any stage of the technique results in the failure of the fight.  This generally leaves the officer goal directed (continuing to attempt to force the failed technique to work) and target-focused (focused exclusively on the stage of the failed technique to the exclusion of other external cues and threats).  Outcome dependency is fragile, and failure is always just a moment away.
  • Problem-Solving Through Principles:  Process-based.  Problem-solving is a process of accepting that everything one attempts cannot possibly work.  It requires continually finding or creating a way around an obstacle or defense.  It is not dependent upon anything but perseverance of effort.  By employing the Principles of Combatives©, problem-solving is facilitated.  This is a robust methodology that is less subject to suspect disruption.  When the suspect defends or an effort is unsuccessful for any reason, the fighter transitions to the next method of applying the Principles of Combatives© to satisfice the situation.  This training mirrors our actual process of fighting and trains the individual in solution-oriented combatives.

We're NOT Anti-Anything--We're FOR Contextually Correct Training Concepts and Methods

No one at Cutting Edge Training is anti-BJJ or anti-martial arts.  Rolling is a blast and we’ve spent much of our adult lives training in sport combatives.  We are FOR training that is contextually correct.  That is, we believe that training must be relevant to the task.  Cops need to fight and win like police officers, not like UFC fighters.  They need to train for police  solutions rather than "mat solutions."  We mean it that our training is from the street in, not the mat out.  Context is the key to success and surviving.   

We are pro-officers lawfully winning and remaining healthy, alive, and employed.  We’ve each been through a few wilderness experiences and understand that we were let down by the technical, sport-based training we’d been given—and to which we had been dedicated.  That’s why we train officers in relevant universal principle training they can actually apply.  Because unlike BJJ’ers and martial artists on the mat and in the training halls, cops walk the wilderness each day.  They need a training concept facilitating their weathering the various storms.  They need to come home in one piece, and their combatives training affords them a better chance of doing just that.  Games just don’t cut it when lives are on the line.