If you rounded up a thousand martial arts teachers and asked them what was important when attempting to teach a military unit you would get a thousand different sets of techniques. Each of them would have very good and well thought out reasons why their set of techniques was more effective or a better answer to the tactical situation that the unit members might find themselves in. Every one of them would have missed the most crucial point of training a unit and would inevitably fail like so many before them who made the same mistake. This may sound controversial but in large part the techniques do not matter.
What does matter then if not the techniques? What is it that the martial arts experts universally miss? The short answer is culture.
To be successful a civilian martial arts gym owner creates a culture of people who enjoy training. He must have some sort of marketing scheme to bring people who may be interested through the door but more importantly he must create a culture within the gym that appeals to enough people to pay the bills. Having good martial arts is a part of this but a surprisingly small part. A very good Muay Thai program with a culture of intense and realistic training, for example, will probably appeal to a much smaller group of people than a cardio-kickboxing program. This is why there are far more McDojos teaching children how to be Ninja Turtles than serious fighting gyms and also why the training is far less intense for most people working out in a commercial gym than for the members of a high school wrestling team.
The social hierarchy in such gym will have the owners at the top and the students will gain higher status by longevity of training and fighting prowess. New members of the culture will be trying to imitate and learn from the older and the more successful students as well as the teachers.
When training a military unit or some similar organization, such as a police force, the challenge is much different. Instead of finding people who may be interested, a Combatives instructor starts out with a group of people, many of whom are not interested at all in the training and in fact may be hostile to the idea. The social hierarchy is most likely dictated in large part by the institution. Leaders in the group have probably been selected based upon factors unrelated to combative ability such as military rank. Many of the key leaders may be the among the uninterested or even hostile members of the group. How to overcome these obstacles is the real expertise that is needed.
The starting point must be something that fits within the existing culture of the organization. Combatives can be a powerful tool to build a warrior culture, and maybe the most powerful tool there is, but changing a culture doesn’t happen immediately. It takes time.
An example of a program that did not fit within a culture was the United States Army John F Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School’s adoption of the LINE system between 1998 and 2008. The LINE system had been created within the Marine Corps and specifically around the initial military training environment. Learning was by the numbers with an instructor in front of a unit, in extended rectangular formation, giving verbal commands and the students giving verbal feedback for each step while executing the techniques. Imagine an instructor on a podium yelling “ONE!” and the students responding with “ONE, GRAB, TWIST AND PULL!” as they execute the actions they are verbalizing.
This method may work well for a basic training platoon or company but when was the last time a special forces A-team was in extended rectangular formation? So, for a decade hundreds of Green Berets went to the LINE instructor course only to return to the units and never practice any of it again.
Fitting into the existing culture is why the program we developed for the Army is based around integration into both Physical Training (PT) and tactical training. Five days a week virtually every unit in the Army falls out for PT. They usually go for a run or a road march or some other cardio exercise and then do some form of strength training such as pushups or sit-ups or any number of similar exercises. It is quite easy to put one or more of the various combatives training methods such as competitive pummeling, neck wrestling or ground grappling in to this portion of the workout. When you do so you simultaneously accomplish several goals.
The first of these is fitness. Too many combatives training sessions consist of a crowd of people gathered around an instructor demonstrating new techniques and then subsequently drilling on these techniques with only a limited amount of sparing at the end. This is a necessary type of training but if a commander is asked to regularly give up time allotted for physical training to it, many will question whether it is the best use of time. If, however, unit members are occasionally asked to do these types of events as part of PT nothing at all is lost. They are good PT. Everyone will be exhausted when they are finished. The competitive nature of the training also means they will have even more incentive to do real PT and insure that they are fit enough to be competitive with the other members of the unit.
The second is technical. Members of a unit that periodically uses these training methods will want to learn more in order to perform better. This puts the entire unit on a quest for knowledge. It also means that subunit leaders, because they have a competitive spirit with their peers who are also leaders, will begin to train their subordinates.
The last is purely cultural. Units that occasionally use these methods as part of their PT program will know who are the better fighters among them. This is a critical goal because it is mandatory in building a unit culture that values fighting ability. As important they will also know who among them is not a good fighter. It is this combination of the possibility public humiliation and public acclaim that is necessary to make the members of the organization value any skill or attribute.
Imagine the proverbial “I would just shoot you” guy. He can run his mouth all he wants. If the members of the unit are occasionally asked to take part in these types of training events, he will either learn to be competent at them or be exposed as just a smack talking pansy. This is why informal competition, which is actually what we are talking about, is such an important part of the Army program. If this method is used you literally cannot be a respected member of the organization unless you are a competent fighter. The end state is a unit that is more physically fit, where fighting ability is valued and everyone is at least competent. In other words, the culture will have changed.
This change of culture will have other effects as well. In a unit that values fighting ability, the fact that they may be called upon to do the fighting is never far from their mind. It is a recurring problem in the Army that some subcultures within it lend themselves to thinking they will not be the ones called upon to fight. This was the problem, for example, in the 507th Maintenance Unit, famous for Jessica Lynch who was a unit member. When that unit found themselves in an ambush, every weapon failed to function properly. This was obviously because the unit had not been doing proper weapons maintenance but more important is why they weren’t. No one in the unit thought that they would be called upon to fight.
Integrating combatives into PT, however, isn’t enough. If that is all it is then it will be divorced from the mission of the unit. You may very well be training members of the unit to be able to fight but if the fight training isn’t preparing them to accomplish their missions you have missed half of the point. You also may not be able to get unit commanders interested in having their units training. This is why how to integrate combatives scenario training is one of the major focuses of the combatives instructor development program. Every soldier and unit, regardless of branch or occupational specialty, has a tactical niche where combatives may be necessary. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan gave us some wonderful examples such as helicopter crewmen fighting with detainees in the back of their aircraft while at 10,000 feet above the ground and supply units suddenly required to clear and hold buildings. There are many unit tasks that simply cannot be adequately trained without addressing hand-to-hand combat.
The method, of integrating competitive training methods into unit PT, works very well in an organization such as the Army where almost everyone routinely does PT with their units. However, not every organization has that as a characteristic. For example, it is rare among police departments to have organized PT beyond their academy. We will explore some of the tools available to train these other types of organization and the various characteristics that organizations may have in future instalments. The most important lessons here are that these are the tools and techniques that a professional combatives instructor must know and that whatever tools are used must fit within the existing culture. It isn’t about which way you teach to pass the guard.
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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...