25 June 2011

FWS Topics: Combat Martial Arts

Martial Arts have come a long way, today there are Dojos on seemly every corner, most people seem to dapple in various arts (like me), and MMA is being the hot sport of the 21st century. It is also very common today to see our soldiers taking and training in some form of Martial Art, most popular is the mesh-mash of arts, called MMA. The general public were introduced to Martial Arts, through Master Bruce Lee, James Bond and Chuck Norris. Today, what they began is now commonly seen in the use of MMA/Kali style with rapid fire hits and fancy camera work, like the latest 007 and the Kali-using Jason Bourne. Modern military organizations have fully embraced all manner of Martial Art styles and ideas into forging their own brand of tactics for hand-to-hand warfare, much like the USMC MCMAP and the gold standard of all military Martial Arts: Krav Maga.There is a real difference between a traditional Martial Art, sport art, like Sport Taekwondo, and a military Martial Art. Traditional arts have not been altered to fit modern times, they are classic...while sport arts focus more on speed and point sourcing via hit placement. Then there is the military hand-to-hand arts...

The Beginning of Military Hand-to-Hand Arts
Since the beginning of time, mankind as been murdering each other with hands and feet. The people that survived, breed, and passed on their DNA to the next generation and so. Early man hunted, and the most successful hunters most likely had their tactics copied, fathers would pass down their skills to sons and so on.
This would apply to early stone, wood, and leather weaponry. When we finally settled down to brew beer and form cities, the need arose for people to defend the cities from raiders. Thus, began military organizations and training in the arts of war.
One must remember that all arts of war up until the era of guns, were hand-to-hand combat. With the usage of swords, clubs, arrows, and spears, there is the need to get close, and that creates the need for extensive training in hand-to-hand combat skills. Today, wars use assault rifles like the AK-47 that require little skill to kill another soldier, while during ancient times, you had to slash, block, and hack another man to death with the use of your muscles, calories, and hard-learned skills.
The earliest recorded fighting art is from Egypt around 2000 BCE (see above), and depicts what appears to be a form of wrestling. When we examine wall painting, like those in Athens at around 2800 BCE, and written records, the word used to describe these early hand-to-hand combat systems is wrestling, or in Greek, Pankration. Pottery and sculpture demonstrating the techniques of these warriors, but nothing points to if these techniques were standardized or just based on hard-won experience. During the Bronze Age, Roman and Greek soldiers used shields to protect themselves, and hack and slash with short swords and spears in phalanx formations. But can this be considered a Martial Art? Not when we compared with the other major Ancient Greek military power: Sparta.
We know that the Spartan city-state devoted its society and the best of its male crop into hard, cold, warriors that were the envy of the classic world. Older warriors would teach the upcoming members their own hard earned knowledge via brutal long-term training. So, was there an Spartan Martial Art?! For those that seen Spike-TV program, Deadliest Warrior, the Spartan Warriors use the shield for offense and defense. But in strict terms of it being like the arts of the Samurai or the USMC...I would guess no. Elder warriors that trained the younger Spartans would have been concerned with them learning spear and sword tactics that have worked over time, and they would sparred, but nothing seems to point to a systemic military art. Whatever secrets the Spartans had...they are in the dirt of Greece...lost. Anyone got a TARDIS laying around? Where the fighting arts in the Classic World the same the founding Martial Art styles in India and China? We simply do not know.

The Asian Martial Arts that originated around the 5th or 6th centuries from Chinese monks or trade with India have the advantage of being built upon for thousands of years, and some are still in there "classic" forum. From China and India, the idea of a system of blocks, strikes, and mental discipline spread through the region, apexed in the lethal Korean Hwarang Warriors and the Japanese Samurai. To me, as a lover of Japanese culture and history, the true beginning of the modern path of systematic hand-to-hand military training is in the Samurai. Due to the conditions in feudal Japan, where combat between Hans and warlords existed, arose a need for trained loyal warriors,the Samurai warriors. Samurai were a social caste, and sons born into the samurai were expected to train for most of their early years to achieve single-minded devolution to Bushido and perfection with their weapon of choice via formal schooling. Samurai were expected to be able to deal with threats, if they came from an arrow, gun, sword, or kick. This meant, Samurai were trained in all manner of warfare. This began the arts we know today, like Judo In some ways, those classically Martial Arts are a living record of the days of the Shogunate.
While the Samurai were fighting in Japan, on European battlefields, we have the heavily armed Knights, and their systems of fencing. Knights, like Samurai had to spend years learning how to fight in armor and with various weapons, even creating schools of different styles. The earliest written records we have on the style of their hand-to-hand combat is from 1300. Citizens of the realm could see art of knight combat during jousts and tournaments, however, the glory days of Samurai and Knights were number...the gun was coming.

Hand-to-Hand Combat during the Age of the Gun
The gun. It changed the world and the how soldiers forever fought. It also levelled the playing field, gone were the days of the highly trained Samurai, Knights, and Spartans (well...until SPARTAN-II's anyways.). Now a small ball of metal propelled by an explosion could tear a man down before he could slash you to death with his sword. All of those years of training that a Samurai or Knight spend would be ended by a poorly trained foot soldier with good aim. The use of guns in the military caused the need for standardized training technique and safety while traditional hand-to-hand combat fell by the wayside.
But oddly, the gun helped restore hand-to-hand combat via the bayonet. In Jock Haswell book, The British Army, A Concise History, he sums up the era of the musket and hand-to-hand combat. 

"In the early days of musketeering, circa 1639 or early 17th century, gunpowder replaced the bowstring which inadvertently decreased the fire rate of 15 arrows per minute to one soft lead bullet every quarter hour (providing the soldier was well trained and nothing went wrong). The loading itself required 30 something drill moves to prime and load the weapon. Thus the musketeers were out of the battle at this point and were vulnerable to cavalry. Therefore, they had to be protected by pikemen (whose weapons were 18 foot long to counter the cavalry). Once again, showing the superiority of cavalry in battle as Lord Protector Cromwell dictated, 'the best military weapon is a man on a horse.' Now, the musketeer and pikeman were inseparable until the invention of the bayonet. Which gave the infantryman a dual-purpose that replaced the pike. In 1663, the 2nd Foot in Tangier (a British regiment) was issued the first bayonet. This is the one that plugged into the barrel. The 'socket' bayonet that has now became the traditional bayonet that overcame the first major disadvantage of the early model in 1697."
Due to firearms, up until the 19th century,needing to be reload after each shot, allowed for their enemies to close the distance. We have all seen the modern Civil War epics like Glory. Soldiers during these black powder wars still engaged in hand-to-hand combat, with the massive sword-like 18 inch bayonets (!). This required governments to train their soldiers in the use of bayonets, and the empty-handed defense of someone charging at you with a bayonet. The bayonet charge was romanticized, by commanders, and society, causing them to be ingrained in military tradition. This can also be credited to the unpredictable of smoothbore weaponry, often not hitting the enemy with mortal wounds,while the 18 inches of metal being driving into the soft flesh of your enemy was lethal, or as Russian General Alexander Suvorov said "The Bullet is foolish, the Bayonet wise". The last bayonet charge in US military history? That was in 1951 during the Korean War.
The war that started modern military organizations thinking on the limitations of their hand-to-hand training, was the Great War. It seems odd dichotomy, during a war when the use of so many modern tools of the trade were introduced that some of the oldest tools of the trade were used, like the mace, the knife, and tomahawk.It was in those dirty, muddy trenches, were men engaged in brutal and savage hand-to-hand combat, often resorting to the dirtiest of tactics. One as to remember, the trench knife was developed for a reason. During the Second World War, Americans confronted a military that harbored a great love for Martial Arts, the Japanese, and during those savage jungle encounters, one as to wonder if the Japanese training in various arts gave them any upper hand? I have read that soldier that came from large urban areas during the Depression, gave these American boys experiences in street fighting, which made German soldier view the Americans as gangsters and thugs. But that was far from the case.

Western powers were thinking of new hand-to-hand combat systems as the second world war raged, with men like Applegate, Fairbairn, and Sykes. Colonel Rex Applegate of the OSS developed and trained special forces in the art of close quarters combat with knives and open hand. He wrote one of the great book on hand-to-hand combat, which had one of the best titles of all time, Kill or be Killed. William E. Fairbairn experienced Chinese Martial Arts in Hong Kong and became one of the founding fathers of developing an western military fighting art. In Hong Kong, he trained the police in his own hybrid style, Defendu, and long with Sykes, developed the greatest combat knife, the Fairbairn-Sykes: However mass exposure to Asian fighting arts would come during US occupation of Japan, while we gave them animation, leading to Anime and Magna, they gave us martial arts. That exchange would led to an awakening in western militaries to incorporate Asian Martial Arts into their training...but it would take years before western military organizations would listen, while their soldiers would train independently in Dojos, inspirited by masters like Bruce Lee. This can be seen with the Marine Corps, when Gunnry Sgt. Bill Millar began developing a new H2H combat system based on Japanese/Chinese Martial Arts, in 1956!
Let's be clear here, most military organizations did train their soldiers in hand-to-hand warfare, with a few moves, special operations units, like the SAS and GSG-9, would train ore in dept, but a truly military combat martial art was still years away, unless you lived in Israel or in Asia, or even in Russia. The USSR developed SAMBO, which was unarmed combat system from Japanese Jodo. Oddly, one of the founders of SAMBO was accused of being a spy for Imperial Japan in the 1930's, and die in prison. Besides, Krav-Maga, SAMBO maybe one of the easiest MMA styled military H2H combat systems. The sea change came when the military began to see patterns, in their soldiers going off-base in places like Japan, and getting into fights, in addition to the changes in the types of battles that would be fought. With the rise in urbanization, soldiers are more likely to engage with civilian populations, and soldiers need tools other their firearms to deal with them. If we look at the military operations after WWII, especially now in A-Stan and Iraq, how the native population sees us (conqueror or liberator), depends on how smooth things will go. The USMC developed their H2H combat system to quell the incidents of barfights via the discpine that Martial Arts teaches. since the introduction of their so-called, "one mind, any weapon" MCMAP, barfights are down, and this system as been modified for use by the entire US military.

Martial Arts within the Regular Military
Modern military Martial Arts have come a long way from the days of the bayonet charges, simple shoulder throws, and ineffective blocking. Today, there seems to be a real commitment to training soldiers in the art of hand-to-hand warfare, but it seems a little late. If one looks at modern soldiers, they are wearing all manner of tac-gear, ballistic armor with plate inserts, and Kevlar helmets...where are you suppose to hit them? The Samurai warrior also faced a similar issue, when they engaged in hand-to-hand combat, due to the armor that the Japanese warriors donned. The solution can bee seen in the classic forms of Judo (founded in 1882) and Japanese old-style Jujutsu (rumored to have founded in either the 15th or 17th centuries.). Today, most military organizations make an effort to develop and field an "military martial art", and soldiers will also seek out additional training. This came about after World War II, when American soldiers, sailors, and Airmen were stationed in Japan. People like Chuck Norris would take Martial Arts lessons on their own time and off-base. 
USMC instills that it's warriors train in hand-to-hand to be ready, and to deal with nonviolent civilian populations. Its seems Marines use their downtime to practice, which cuts down on some of the factors mentioned above. The real use of hand-to-hand combat in military life is to instill a sense of mental toughness and ability to handle all combat situations, unarmed and armed. The US Marines tended to take gusto with the hand-to-hand training than the other "normal" services. USMC MCMAP as belts and takes years to gain the highest achievement, in addition training in MCMAP seems to be very encouraged, I watched vids of Marines on their float onboard an Aircraft Carrier showing the Navy how to fight like a Marine.
The most well know military Martial Art is Krav-Maga, and of the deadest arts in the world. This art was developed in Bratislava by Imi Lichtenfeld to defend Jewish families against racist gangs. In the 1940's, Lichtenfeld traveled to traveled to what was then Palestine, and passed on his art to the Jewish settlement volunteer soldiers. During the war of Independence in 1947-48, the Jewish soldiers used his hand-to-hand system, and it seemed only logically for it to be incorporated in the Israeli Defense Force. Krav-Maga, much like MMA, and Jeet Kune Do, is an system that is eclectic, taking pieces that work from other arts and forming into the overall art. What Krav-Maga is known for, is rapid powerful painful strikes against an attacker, that often overwhelms them and ends the fight in a few heartbeats.

Martial Arts within Special Operations Forces
The Deadly Flying Russian Attack
It is a common misconception that when someone joins the CIA SAD teams, DELTA Force, SAS, or DEVGRU, they get access to some mystical secret ancient lethal (and illegal) Martial Art. You know those bullshit rumors, that this art comes from a secret clan of ninjas or ancient astronauts..that shit makes me laugh. The truth is that SOF operators are trained in hand-to-hand combat that is more aggressive than the average civilian art, for example, the military-only verison of Krav Maga. I searched through my library look for mention of SOF H2H training programs, I found little. However, in the book, Kill Bin Laden by former DELTA Operator Dalton Fury mentioned one of his operator's had a black-belt in Judo, but he mentions nothing else on the training that these elite soldier receive in their black-ops training. That would seem to discount the theory I heard as a kid that all SOF personal are all black-belts!
Other books on the subject of Special Operators indicate that the idea of the hardened warrior spirit and mental discipline are key to the success of SOF, and those come through many training processes, including some form of Martial Arts training...these Martial Arts are is not the key lethal skill in a operator's skill set. Sure, a SEAL or DELTA operator can kill you with their hands and feet, it is more effective to end the threats quickly with their M4 or .45. The real lethal element in a SOF operator is their ability to snap in a instant and become deadly. Special Forces are sent in to hard-to-win missions, to get the job done with limited resources in-field. To accomplish these difficult missions, they use speed, surprise, and violence of action. That is applies to their hand-to-hand skills, when they met the enemy, they destroy the enemy by inflicting violence with speed, ending the threat quickly, so they can move on to complete the objective. The most realistic and true-to-life presentations of SOF hand-to-hand combat, to me, is in the 2005 Tom Cruise film Collateral and a very brief scene in the 2010 video game, Medal of Honor.
If one watches the scene were Tom takes out his target in the club Fever and where he takes down three dirtbags with an H&K USP .45 in less than 1.3 seconds, than you get an impression of the cold, deadly efficiency that operators utilize to end the dance and get home for a cold one. 

Another fine example is from 2010 (and my favorite military shooter) video game Medal of Honor. During the assault on Bagram airbase, one of the Tier One Operators, Voodoo, is confronted by a Taliban when he is clearing a room. The Taliban fighter slashes with a knife, Voodoo counters with a forearm block, takes control of the arm, snaps it, then a knee strike, brings down the fighter to the ground. The finishing strike is with a military tomahawk to the fucking back of the head! Brutal, effective, efficient, and deadly.
"I'm Jack Bauer, bitch."
In closing, here is the best quote about the different between a Black Belt in the Civilian World and an elite special operator:
"Elite troops are not taught to 'fight fair' they are taught to fight and win as quickly as possible. They are taught to gouge eyes, break fingers, crush toes, kick testicles, break arms and break necks. Most martial artists do not concentrate on such vicious, brutal attacks except maybe at higher levels. This may be because of the psychological trauma involved in such brutal attacks. Such a fight may insure the student is victorious but there is still a psychological price to pay for crippling and killing another human being in a face to face confrontation." -William S.Frisbee

The Best Martial Art is...?
To answer this, first, with a quote from Sifu Bruce Lee, who founded the art I use and trained the longest in, Jeet Kune Do:
"To me, ultimately, martial arts means honestly expressing yourself. " The only answer is that there is no "best martial art", the truth is that YOU must find the art that fits your way of moving, your ideas of fighting, and your ability to use it. Now, some elements within certain arts have been used too long, becoming stale. It is best to have an art that is updated to the modern world and incorporates effective elements from other arts.
Some people may say, that Martial Art X is better than Martial Art Y, what really matters is who are you fighting. If it is a fully trained black belt from a good school with a good teacher that is honest about belts being earned, than that person is a serious threat. Now, someone that watches too many youtube videos, never works out, but watched the entire DVD set on some Ninja death art could be taken by a group of 3rd graders.In my own experience, the most dangerous fighters are experienced ones, and I've seen older boxers take black belts, because of speed, experience, and pain. The boxer hit over and over, not allowing the martial artist time to mount an offensive...and his blocks were took slow to counter the jabs of the boxer. It was over real quick...So,the real secret to what the best art is, lays within you. Depending on your training, skill, strength, and hand-eye reaction can put you on top in a fight.

My Personal Views on Martial Arts
For most of my early years, I took Martial Arts, I never liked sports, and my parents' wanted me in something. So, I started off in traditional Karate, and quickly became bored with the endless and useless katas, along with scoring points for competition. That's not why I took Martial Arts, I need something to use for schoolyard fights. After I searched for years, taking various arts, which was limited by living in Oklahoma.
Then in high school, I discovered Aikido, and I had always liked throwing, for a few months I was thrown around on a mat. Fun. Aikido, while cool and beautiful, was hard to place into a sparring system, in addition, they blocking starting point was the attacker using an overhead chop strike. In all my years on this planet, I've never seen someone try to attack me with that tactic.
So, I searched again, until I came into a school teaching Jeet Kune Do/Gun-Fu/Chinese Boxing/Wing Chu, and there I discovered my Martial Arts home. Being an asshole and a critic, I always things negative to say, and here is some of negative aspects of Martial Arts in general.

The over importance of blocking:
most Martial Arts, including JKD, have the cool-looking and complex system of traps, blocks, and strikes to overcome an attacker's blows. The issue is with catching that blow the right way to setup the trapping system. Some people are fast, fast at blocking and fast at strikes, speed can overcome some one's ability to counter. I always hated blocking, a majority of the time, it didn't work. Now, if someone laid hands on me, kicked, or got me in a lock, I was good, I could use my training, but just blocking blows...I normally resorted to kicking knees, and hitting to cause pain to overwhelm their attacks, then attacking myself with rapid strikes.

Over the head kicks
Every watched the helicopter kick by Jean-Claude Van Damme? Or when someone who took Tae Kwon Do kicks? These types of kick broadcast easily, and take time to set up and delivery. Now, if they connect, like Van Damme's 360 kick, it would most likely knock me out, but they have to hit me first. In the meantime, they have opened themselves open for my attack...and you don't want that

Thinking the Attacker is Stupid 

A great deal of Martial Arts, especially classic forms, often think that an attacker would punch once and then not react to the Martial Artist's multi-stage attacks. JKD taught me to treat the attacker as not a static object but as someone who reacts to my actions....karate never taught me that.

Fights are NOT in straight lines
JKD and other arts have attacks being made from "off-the-line"of tradition face-to-face combat. When I took other arts, attackers were always directly in front or behind. Nothing is worst that throwing a punch, and having someone go off-line and hit you sideways, followed up with a knee to the ribs. That's a bad day....trust me.

You are NOT Duncan McLeod!
Most people, especially in Texas, carry knives, so it makes sense to train in their use and defense, or even clubs/baseball bats, but swords?! Are you Duncan McLeod of the clan McLeod? Are being hunted for your head? Or taking revenge on being murdered on your wedding day? Yeah...I thought not. Training to use a Tomahawk, knife, or bat is one thing, but not swords, throwing stars, and Nunchakus, (What are you, a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle?!) and certainly not a Scottish Claymore, well, unless the Red Coats are coming...Spending time and money to learning to use exotic weapons is time better spend playing paintball. Bottom line, as my JKD/Gung-Fu Sifu once said to us in 1996, "There are two things you should do dirty: fighting and fucking..."

What is the future of Military Martial Arts?
That depends on the progress of technology and cyborg implants. One can imagine, supersoldiers, like the SPARTAN-II/III's from HALO, being outfitted in armor, coupled with superior in hand-speed, strenght, reaction time, and technique. Or like the Matrix, soldiers are uploaded with a Martial Arts program(s). Another element, would be zero-gee during boarding operations, I can see futuristic marines learning to use a zero-gee hand-to-hand combat system. In the short term, barring soldiers becoming SPARTANs, there will be improvement in techniques that allow for enemies to be dealt with faster.


A Slient Film of US dough boys training for World War One:

Here is the link to the USA TODAY story about the USMC MCMAP

Now, a few closing words from SIFU LEE

We still miss you, Sifu Lee
"When in actual combat, you're not fighting a corpse. Your opponent is a living, moving object who is not in a fixed position, but fluid and alive. Deal with him realistically, not as though you're fighting a robot. Traditionally, classical form and efficiency are both equally important. I'm not saying form is not important - economy of form that is - but to me, efficiency is anything that scores. Don't indulge in any unnecessary, sophisticated moves. You'll get clobbered if you do, and in a street fight you'll have your shirt zipped off you."


  1. This was very informative thank you for taking the time to type it all out.

  2. A very nice overview informative and concise. the editorial at the end is also interesting

  3. The vast majority of the times "hand to hand combat" is used is when Soldiers are dealing with prisoners of war. Zip tying them, searching them, and moving them from once place to another involves being in very close proximity to the enemy. If they become combative in those situations being able to quickly and safely choke them out is a very useful skill. Of course, the fact that the average American Soldier is about 6 inches taller and 50 pounds heavier than the average Iraqi helps too.

  4. Thanks for the information! I've been wondering about the hand-to-hand combat situations in these modern wars...very little is talked about. I wonder what the Iraqi teaches to their soldiers....