Sunday, May 29, 2011

Stay in the Fight!

The Ultimate Fighting Championship began as a single tournament of various fighters in late 1993. It was inspired by video showing the Gracie family beating other martial artists using Brazilian Jujitsu (BJJ). BJJ differs from traditional (Japanese) Jujitsu in that its chief focus is on groundfighting. BJJ, and martial artists who had at least a strong BJJ or wrestling component, dominated UFC fighting.

A couple of years later, the Rangers began searching for a new system of hand-to-hand combat. Because of its success in the ring, BJJ was chosen as the basis. The new fighting system, now called Army Combatives, was introduced Army-wide in 2002, when the Field Manual (Combatives: FM 3-25.150) was published. I entered the Army in late 2001, and received the new training as I went through my Infantry Basic course.

When teamed with striking techniques, BJJ is a good fighting system, but only if two conditions are met:
opponents must be unarmed, and opponents must be alone. Going to the ground with a partner outside the ring is a good way to find yourself holding onto a man with a knife, and putting yourself deliberately in range of a sharp is a Very Bad Thing. I have unfortunately actually heard Army instructors advise deliberately going to the ground with an adversary, which is just silly. In real life, the way to win a fight without a working firearm, is to hit the adversary with something. You never go to the ground if you can help it- knocking your enemy down and then hitting him with objects or kicking him is fine.

I was dreading our several-week course of Army Combatives at BOLC. The first day, when the captain teaching the course showed up apparently still drunk, and gave us a heaping helping of his ego- also giving unsolicited advice about our training in general, even though our own training officer was present- didn't help. I can't say I loved getting up before 0430 every morning, either.

After the first day, things got a little better. The captain did (correctly) point out some very important things.
o if you can shoot the enemy, shoot him
o if you can't shoot the enemy, hit him with something
o Army Combatives was partially created so Soldiers could practice getting "close and personal" to an adversary with less risk of being injured than other types of martial arts
o if you are wrestling with an adversary on the ground, the one whose buddies show up first, wins!

Over the course of a couple of weeks, working with the variety of body sizes and types in the class reinforced some other truths.

1. Technique matters. Even when there was substantial size difference, the more skilled partner usually won.

2. Size matters. All other factors being equal, the larger partner won.

3. Strength matters. I am not much of a groundfighter, but when I took on class females, I moved almost effortlessly from position to position on them. One of these officers is a very tough, intelligent, extremely fit personal trainer. The strength gap is so great between most females and males, that a woman is going to have to put in a lot of extra training time to have enough technique to just hold her own against many men.

4. Fitness matters. Even some of the most skilled groundfighters present got worn down rapidly when "rolling" with multiple partners in relatively short order, to the point where they lost to less skilled partners.

5. Don't discount a wrestler on the ground. To the chagrin of many, not everyone in the class got to participate in our final rumble royale. Of those who did, both the heavy and light categories were won by people with wrestling backgrounds. BJJ and "mixed martial arts" are the faddish thing on the martial arts circuit now, but wrestling and boxing are still very effective methods of unarmed self-defense.


  1. Wrestlers are hellish things. . . but the caveat there is that wrestlers give BJJ fits and vice versa nowadays because it's been about 15-18 years since a lot of wrestlers realized that wrestlers had a huge gap in submissions and submission defense, and submission grapplers realized that they had a huge gap in takedowns and ground control.

    The biggest problem you have with wrestlers in America is that wrestling is our judo; the wrestlers have often been doing it since they were young children.

  2. I'm hearing you talk about cross-pollination. Of course, the human can only move in certain ways, and things that work well are unlikely to be "owned" by just one system.

    Good point, about the ability of those for whom a system is second nature...

  3. Shoot em, that way you don't have to deal with em... :-) Besides, I'm too old to get down and wrestle somebody...