Training Notes

What is the best way to train Combatives?  We have been putting our thoughts together in preparation for a new class and re-vamping our current training methodology.  Our goal is to give people something they can use on the street as soon as they walk out into the world.  We have to create an immediate need for the training.  Unfortunately, many people have mental obstacles that prevent them from seeing the immediate need even though they express a desire to protect themselves.  This may be because they don’t really have a concept of what self-protection or real-world violence really entails.  You can hit students over the head with it, which is what some instructors try to do—you can scare them half to death with the brutal reality, but then you run the risk of losing students forever.  These are the very students that need help the most.  People have to be engaged as the individuals they are, because each of us has our own experiences, conditioning, etc.  We have to meet them where they are and bring them into the fold, so to speak, slowly.  People have all these wild ideas in their minds about fighting, based on what they see on television and in the movies, and the sports they watch.  But for real conflict that involves interpersonal human aggression, real mental preparation is required. 

We can tell people that fighting is not a goal, and we express this whenever we have an opportunity.  Certainly people need physical skills, also, for the times when all other measures fail.  Marcus Wynne talked about Combatives training, and expressed that people need to have the end in mind—what do they want to achieve?  Ah.  Imagery.  This keeps coming up in our research.  Students also need scenario training; we lead into this by again, creating the need in the beginning, and sharing real-life stories of survival and winning.  It is important to create a positive learning environment for our adult learners.  Even before running an individual through a scenario, the student needs to witness a trained response to a threat.  This way, they can model their own behavior after a successful response.  The scene should be set with descriptive imagery that appeals to all the senses, which helps to draw their minds into the situation.  Keep in mind that not all people can visualize.  We talked a lot about this in the Brian Willis’ Winning Mind seminar this past winter.  Some people struggle with mental pictures because they are simply not visually-oriented.  In fact, when they are told to close their eyes and visualize, they see NOTHING.  However, they can imagine with other sensory information.  If they are more kinesthetic, help them to imagine feeling.  If they are more auditory, help them to hear the sounds.  Assist them in imagining smells, and taste, if it is warranted.  Make an effort to paint the whole picture with more than just visual data.  

In his book, Sharpening the Warrior’s Edge, Bruce Siddle outlines design methodology and four goals for training.  I have paraphrased, here: 

  • Increase the student’s confidence in a skill at the subconscious level.  Quickly.
  • Increase the student’s situational confidence through stimulus-training-response exercises.
  • Utilize imagery [he calls for visualization, but go further!] to prepare the students for the threat stimulus, and a correct response to that stimulus.
  • Train students on breathing techniques to gain control of escalating heart rate. 

He also discusses the seven phases of dynamic scenario training.  Now, in the text, he is specifically referring to shooting scenarios and room-clearing techniques, but these principles can be applied to any combat scenario, in my opinion.  I have paraphrased here: 

  • Introduce fundamentals, letting students know what to expect, especially in terms of survival stress.  Give students techniques for diffusing the effects of survival stress.  Students must make a mental checklist of potential threats, the primary response and the secondary response options [what is a “failure drill”?].  Students may not remember stress management techniques initially, so remind them and explain how to apply them to combat performance.
  • Perform slow-motion walk-through of the steps and procedure.  This is the soft-wiring of the motor program they are creating in their nervous systems.
  • Perform segmented scenario, in sequence.
  • Slowly begin the process of engaging a static target while moving.  Speed picks up only after consistent practice in this phase.  If the scenario includes shooting, the students are introduced to target discrimination.
  • Role players wear protective gear and exhibit threatening actions—the threat is alive, now.  Students will become more nervous with this new variable and must be encouraged to practice stress management techniques.  Between three to five reps of the sequence improves accuracy.
  • Role players can now fight back.  Again, the stress level will increase for students.  The threat is only a single target at this phase, and should be simple and quick, which helps enhance visual reaction time.
  • Several scenarios should be designed to test students’ reactions to the fullest extent.  Role players must maintain control; students are still learning to react and are gaining situational confidence.  Survival stress management MUST be reinforced, and it takes several repetitions at this phase for students to become automatic and fluid.  If shooting is involved, scenarios should be varied so students experience both “shoot” and “don’t shoot” situations.

Notice how students are not just thrown directly into the meat grinder with this careful process.  It serves no practical purpose if we want the students to successfully reach the goal.  Variables are changed one at a time.  Role players must be properly coached. 

So, what if practitioners need to perform better?  Following a scenario, instructors can walk them through what went right, and what could be improved.  It is important to NOT focus on the negative.  The scenario can be broken down into segments, so as to work on each individual facet of a situation.  Instructors should minimize corrections, because realistic fights are never perfect or choreographed.  Students must feel successful following scenario training. 

We have talked in previous posts about the critical elements of close quarters battles, and they are: speed, surprise, and violence of action.  Kelly McCann says that martial arts is something you do with someone, and combatives is something you do to someone.  Just as Ignatius Piazza said in his blog the other day, “action is faster than reaction.”  Once the assailant has broken into your decision loop, you are playing catch-up, and it becomes more difficult to regain the upper hand.  If you sense an imminent threat, you cannot wait for confirmation because it may be too late.  Intuition, or sensing intention, must be your guide. 

In addition to becoming unconsciously competent through scenario-based training, students must learn how to articulate their actions for the legal investigation that invariably follows.  They become unconscious competent articulates.  Students must understand when to stop the onslaught when the target is no longer a threat.  If the situation has been diffused, people no longer have the right to physically engage the assailant, within the eyes of the law.  In our minds, it is important for people to win from a physical, mental, and legal standpoint. 



Siddle, Bruce K.  (1995).  Sharpening the Warrior’s Edge: The Pscychology & Science of Training.  Millstadt: PPCT Research Publications.


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