Let’s cut to the chase, most martial arts teachers, no matter their skill level or teaching ability, are ill suited to serve as combatives instructors, and fail when employed by organizations as such. This is so because they lack the real expertise needed to be successful. The expertise they lack, specifically, is how to build a successful combatives program.
In the early days of the Army Combatives Program I thought it would be a clever idea to get high level Jiu-Jitsu and Mixed Martial Arts instructors to help raise the level. For example, many years before I fully understood the problem, I helped one of the Army’s infantry divisions hire a civilian instructor to honcho their program. The person I chose had every credential you could ask for. He was a high-level black belt from a very reputable Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu lineage. He had a master’s degree in physical education and had played division one sports. He had experience in Mixed Martial Arts and had run several large grappling tournaments. He had run a successful martial arts business for several years and had a fairly substantial number of very good fighters that he had coached. On top of this he was a very engaging teacher. All of this led me to believe that he would be very successful at the job. But I was wrong. He actually had no idea how to succeed or what succeeding even meant.
The division gave us a gym to use for the program and the prospective instructor came out to Fort Benning for a month to learn the curriculum of the Army Combatives program. There was very little as far as fighting technique that he didn’t already know and what there was he had an easy time picking up because his level of skill was very high. He then when back to the division and got to work teaching.
Six months later I came out to inspect his progress. What I saw at first seemed impressive. He had a group of more than fifty students who came to a morning workout he was hosting. They had a very good level considering the short amount of time he had to work with. I told him this looks promising so let’s go inspect the division. He looked at me like I had a third eye in the middle of my forehead. Clearly, he had no idea what I was talking about.
We spent the next several days going around the division and selecting random soldiers to test for knowledge of the program or fighting ability. We probably pulled aside more than a hundred and never found a single one that had any knowledge or ability at all. It was as if, outside of the very few who had found their way to his gym, there was no combatives program in the division. I had to explain to him that the mission of the division combatives instructor was to train the division. There are close to twenty thousand soldiers in an infantry division and the fifty that he had training represented less than a quarter of a percent of the task. In other words, he was a 99.75% failure at his mission.
This and many other similar experiences over the years have taught me what a combatives instructor must really know to be successful and just as importantly, what most martial arts teachers lack and why they fail at the task.
The most significant difference between the task of a civilian martial arts teacher and that of a unit combatives teacher is the motivation of the students. Put simply, every person who steps on the mat of a civilian martial arts school is there because they are self-motivated to be there. They want to learn. This is decidedly not the case when training any military unit or any similar organization. This is the case with even the best units in the world. They may be super motivated to be a member of the unit. Because they are most likely very high-level achievers they will train hard on anything that is required. This does not, however, translate into every member of the unit being motivated to become expert in combatives or being willing to make a choice to train when not required.
There are several reasons for this but the most important is fear. This is not fear of injury either. If that were the truth, and their decisions were rational, they would be more afraid to play basketball or go for a run. Those are statistically the most injury causing physical activities for soldiers. Their fear is public humiliation. Every person who has gotten as far as blue belt in Jiu-Jitsu knows that you have to swallow your pride on the path to expertise. Every student goes through the long white belt period when they are dominated during most of their training sessions by the more experienced students.
This is true for the person who is weak and timid but it is even more true for someone who is in every other way a stud performer. Imagine someone who is a total physical stud. They can run and ruck faster than most everyone in their unit. They can lift more or carry heavier things faster and farther. You can get a long way in the military with those abilities. You may even make your way to the most elite units in the world.
When these people, and they are the majority, find themselves in these units they do well at the training required to get into the unit. The qualification course or operator course for all of them includes a basic level of some form of combatives. But upon graduation, when they become actual members of the unit, they have only the very basics. Suddenly every combatives training session, if it requires any kind of live training, is a chance to be publicly humiliated. This is even more true if they are in a leadership position.
The situation is only made worse by the approach to training that almost all of these units take and that is to hire a local martial arts teacher to teach and provide instructors for unit members who wish to train. The result of this approach is that a few self-motivated unit members, mostly those who had some training before they came to the unit, have good instruction available and can get to a very high level. Although this sounds good what it means is that the threat of public humiliation for the person who only had the little bit of training in the qualification course is even higher. The result is that most unit members train very little unless one of the leaders happens to be among the few who were self-motivated to train. The result is a unit where most members avoid combatives training with a few members who have a very high level.
If this is the case in the very best units, and I have been involved at some level in training almost all of them, it is much worse for regular units or organizations. You can see a good example of this in the small percentage of law enforcement officers who continue any sort of regular Defensive Tactics training beyond the very small amount required by their departments. The same is true for both the Army and the Marine Corps. That the few who do train do so under a civilian martial arts teacher doesn’t help much either.
How to overcome this problem is the knowledge needed in a professional combatives instructor. They must understand the tools available to help change the culture of the organization, how to integrate combatives training so that it becomes a normal part of every unit members training regimen. Only by making combatives not only normal but unavoidable, like doing good physical training, marksmanship or trauma medicine, can a unit have a successful combatives program.
In future instalments, we will explore the methods a professional combatives instructor uses to accomplish this task and the tools they have at their disposal. There is a lot to learn about how to integrate a program into an organization’s culture and how, over time, to transform that culture into one that requires every member to be a warrior. For now, however, it is important to simply point out that this expertise is different from what it takes to simply teach martial arts.
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Kratophobe – A person who claims to be a warrior and yet has an irrational fear of realistic hand-to-hand combat training.
Etymology, from the Greek...