The rules of Combat

I was recently asked to give some advice to a young, new martial artist.  I thought awhile as to what I could give as training advice that would carry though out a person’s life time as a student of martial arts.  There is no definitive right and wrong in training”.   Ok, so what do I mean by that?  It seems to be a universal habit of martial art teachers to teach something and make the assumption that what they do is correct and what other styles and people do is wrong.  That, style X won’t work, that stuff is bull crap.  However if you ask style X they will say style Y won’t work and that it is crap.  If you have been around long enough you will see the trend that many teachers think that what they do is great and everyone else is subpar. So a self reflecting person would then ask, what is the truth?

Of course there is right and wrong. I am not naive enough to think that learning  self defense against an attacker wielding a banana is credible.  That being said, there is debate among credible arts as to what is “REAL” and what isn’t.  How can anyone debate what is real?  I mean real is real.  It should be self evident. Shouldn’t it?   Well no. At the inception of an art is a foundational philosophy.  This philosophy has a presupposition of a rule set.  The philosophy gives rise to a narrative of what combat looks like (its reality) and narrative conditions the methods of training.  If these abstract concepts align and are working in unison then the combat methodology works, its functional. Of course the opposite is true as well.  When something is missing, the art is unbalanced at best, to completely dysfunctional at worst.

I often hear “There are no rules in a street fight”.  That’s not true.  The biggest rules are the rules of physics.  You can’t jump 100 feet in the air or fight from the tree tops like a B- rate Chinese kung-fu movie.  So the first rule set is Newtonian physics that apply to all other rule sets.  The rest of the rule sets are applicable to the circumstance on the individual level. They are interconnected to the narrative in a somewhat circular fashion.  At a baseline level we all know there are rules for sports and every sport will have its own particular rules.  Rules are based on intent.   A judo match has a different intent then a boxing match.  Judo Aims to throw and Boxing aims to punch in an effort to outperform the other to achieve a win.  Then there is the bar room fight. What is the aim of it?  This is a manifestation of very old primate dominance behavior.  For the most part it is all about puffing up the chest, making loud noises and using physical violence to make the other primate submit to prove ones dominance.  The rules here are based in biology and are subconscious.  Its conspecific aggression and it is very different than predator behavior which has the aim of killing the other.  We see predator behavior during war.  Soldiers don’t waste time yelling insults at each other. The objective is to remove the other from the battle field. In doing so there are “rules of engagement”.  For police there are rules called department policies.  Civilian, law enforcement and military all have a different rule set that is part and parcel to a reality of that segment of society.  The society has bestowed upon the segment group of individuals an authoritative power which corresponds to the acceptable level of violence which is embedded in a rule set.  It’s important to understand that the rules where there first!  They are really old, perhaps millions of years old.  They are encoded in our DNA.  As a species our innate behaviors manifested these rules before we could articulate them.  Our societies grew out of these rules and later we codified them.

We can categorize these rule sets by the authoritative power. In its most simplistic form we can group them as civilian, law enforcement and military.  Each one inhabits its own reality.  What holds true in one reality does not hold true in another reality.  We can subdivide these 3 groups down to sub segments and again each one will have its own version of reality.  A functional combative art will grow out of the reality it is designed to be applied in and the individual will create a narrative in their mind to describe that reality.  Now there are also arts that were created outside of any reality. They were designed abstractly.  Unfortunately this is the bulk of the martial arts today and if they were not originally created in the abstract then due to the original “reality” going extinct the art was repurposed to fit another.  These types of arts hold a false narrative in comparison to the reality.  To tie this back to where I started, remember the training methods of an art are conditioned by the narrative.  What we often see today is a miss match of training and narrative and/ or an instructor trying to apply one narrative to a methodology of another reality.

Does technique X work, depends on whose reality  and rule set you’re applying it to.



Cognitive Dissonance and the Scotoma of Violence

It’s important for me to understand violence, what real attacks look like and how they occur.  In todays society everything is recorded and for us studying violence this is beneficial.  While watching video footage, something I find interesting are the people and bystanders who walk past a violent encounter as its occurring. They seem to not recognize what is happening.  I have seen gun and knife attacks and while the chaos is happening a few feet away the bystander will continue to stand in the bank teller line waiting for their turn.  This also happens with the victim who will visually see the man in the black hoodie enter the room with his face covered, draw a gun from his waist band and the victim will sit still and not respond.  The problem is that the brain is experiencing a cognitive dissonance.

For our usage; cognitive dissonance is the mental stress experienced by a person who simultaneously holds two or more contradictory beliefs or ideas; when confronted with new information that contradicts one of the beliefs. In order to relive the dissonance the brain will ignore one in favor of the more desirable ideas.

This means that the normal expected experience of reality (standing in line at the bank) is in opposition and contrast of being a victim of a robbery.  The robbery is not supposed to be happening, thus the person has two versions of reality being shared at that moment and it will take the brain some time to sort out the truth of the situation. Unfortunately these few moments of confusion are the most important in terms of self protection.  In our scenario the victim might have seen the assailant walk in the bank wearing a black hoodie but mentally there was a Scotoma, a visual blind spot.  The assailant was within the victim’s field of vision but the brain decided to filter that information out of consciousness. The brain receives an overwhelming amount of information, most of which is filtered out of one’s consciousness. Imagine remembering the numbers on every single automobile license plate while driving to work.  With that much data coming in it wouldn’t take long to reach a breaking point of insanity. In order to function, the mind has a filter to keep out unimportant information. While our victim visually sees the robber the brain filtered out the information because it did not match with the expected reality of the situation and the information was deemed unnecessary. There was a dissonance or conflicting information and the data was removed.  Often even as more confirmation is received the person simply doesn’t want to believe what is happening.   They say” ignorance is bliss” but in a violent encounter ignorance can cost you your life.  The sooner you can recognize a threat the more time you have to respond.  Within a violent event time line the closer to the initiation point your reaction is the more effective it is.  If someone was clairvoyant and knew the bank robbery was going to happen the most effective response would be to stay at home. However the next best response would be to see the assailant and make an exit out of the vicinity at that point of event initiation.  In most cases the longer you wait the more danger you are in. As self protectors and protectors of others like our family we need to train to recognize threats and react to them as quickly as possible.

The Emotional Component

(For this discussion, I would like to remind readers that as an overall principal, Combatives are not designed for or generally used for the typical bar room fight or “Establishing Dominance” type confrontation.    Civilian Combatives are more suited for “assault response” and life threatening situations.)

For every combative system there are underlying philosophies and principals.  The techniques and martial attributes are the physical expression of the systems underlying beliefs and concepts.  The single most important philosophy within the Kerberos system is the belief that any system does not exist in a vacuum on its own without the human component, it is executed by human beings and as humans we are susceptible to our own fears and frailties.

Ardant  DuPicq wrote

“Battle is the final objective of armies and man is the fundamental instrument in battle. Nothing can wisely be prescribed in an army—its personnel, organization, discipline and tactics, things which are connected like the fingers of a hand—without exact knowledge of the fundamental instrument, man, and his state of mind, his morale, at the instant of combat.

It often happens that those who discuss war, taking the weapon for the starting point, assume unhesitatingly that the man called to serve it will always use it as contemplated and ordered by the regulations. But such a being, throwing off his variable nature to become an impassive pawn, an abstract unit in the combinations of battle, is a creature born of the musings of the library, and not a real man. Man is flesh and blood; he is body and soul. And, strong as the soul often is, it cannot dominate the body to the point where there will not be a revolt of the flesh and mental perturbation in the face of destruction.”


It must be understood that under the stress of life and death combat, that man is a complex creature and that there are variables that need to be taken into account for an efficient combative system.  There is a common failure within many systems and styles of martial arts, it’s called PEACE.  Training often occurs in a safe space with soft mats, friends as opponents and the idea of having to engage in actual combat is a fleeting far off possibility. Within the training halls four walls of safety, over time the realities of violence are forgotten.

A persons actions are in direct relationship to his emotional state of being and his morale at the time of engagement. The Kerberos combative system recognizes this.  The system has three “Tactical engagement modes”.   These TEM’s are labeled ALPHA, BETA and GAMMA.  Each mode encompasses a combative behavior, a spatial sphere of time and distance and a corresponding emotional state.   Alpha is an aggressive, linear, forward moving type of behavior and would typically correspond with an aggressive emotion like anger.  Beta is more passive. It’s a dynamic evading type of behavior to keep distance while still being engaged. the emotional state would be that of fear and caution.  Gamma is typified by ground fighting and wrestling for a dominant position. It could be either aggressive or neutral depending on the situation.  What is important to note is that the individuals emotions will naturally dictate their response, therefore the system must be designed to accommodate for this.  A martial art that dictates that the person should move forward and attack will fail if the person’s heart is telling them to run or keep distance. There are also times when a person’s anger and willingness to engage will override a more passive art and that martial art will be forgotten and tossed aside in the heat of battle.

While the individual’s emotions are shown on the surface, there are biophysical responses that happen within the body when under the stress of combat.  Tunnel vision, auditory exclusion, loss of fine motor skills and coordination, these factors have a large impact on one’s ability to perform.  An efficient combative system incorporates good training habits and specifically designed components to manage these adrenal effects.  Scanning, drills are designed with an assailant or multiple assailants. The student is taught to scan the area before and after the engagement as well as being aware of backdrop. The use of drills that require the head and neck to scan the area is repeated until it becomes a habit. This habit will reduce the tunnel vision effect.  Training drills must always account for “friends, family and sympathizers”. Reality has shown us that if you focus on one assailant, an accomplice or someone else we were not aware of always tends to blind side us.

As the adrenal system forces our heart rate up we lose our fine motor skills.  It’s important to have a focus on gross motor actions rather than fine motor skills that will degrade under stress.  It’s easier for gross motor actions to become hardwired through repetition so that these actions become automated responses. They are more reliable and more effective.

Nothing in combat can ever be guaranteed but a well thought out system can improve the possibility of success.  An awareness of the effects of adrenaline being dumped into the body’s system can help prepare an individual so that when these effects take over they are not a surprise and nothing to be feared.

Combatives and Brain Function


Kerberos Combatives training starts with a belief that,

Philosophy gives rise to an inner narrative on what fighting is.  Narrative conditions the way you train and what that training involves.  Your training ultimately creates your reality.

Standard martial arts like karate, Judo or Taekwondo are skill based arts.  Meaning 90% of the student’s time will be focused on martial skills. The goal of a martial style is to make the student proficient in the curriculum of that particular style and not on preparing them for actual combat.  The  martial art student will work for years to perfect the particular skill set used in that particular style, like basic punching, kicking or things like wrist controls or grappling and often movements called a form or “kata”. A kata is a solo routine that mimics fighting moves in a dance like fashion.  The underlying concept of kata is that the skills used in mastery of the actions in the form will transfer over to actual fighting skill in real life.  However upon studying how the brain learns and works, we can understand that this does not work as well as once thought.   The brain works by creating small pathways that transfer electrical information. This neural net is like tiny highways that carry information. The more the pathway is used the thicker and stronger the path becomes, thus the information can travel quicker and the brain can more easily find the information it needs. The problem arises when the actions and pathways that are reinforced do not match or resemble actual combat. The brain will have difficulty finding the correct responses under the stress and confusion of combat.  The goal of Combatives it to make a student better equipped for a violent encounter from day one.  Aquainting the student with emotional stress by simulating scenarios that reflect actual self defense situations against a role playing partner or partners.  The student can practice martial skill and train the brain to recognize those situations and apply the correct responses while being familiar with the stress component of combat.

It has been known for a long time by violence professionals that the more choices the brain has to navigate through the longer the reaction time.  In standard martial arts there can be hundreds of hand and kicking strikes.  This slows reaction time.  Combatives will teach a small set of versatile strikes that makes up a “tool box” that the practitioner can rely upon under stress and in chaotic situations. During a violent encounter the body will dump adrenaline and other chemicals into the bodies system.  This has both positive and negative effects.  The most evident is that fine motor skills are hampered due to the shutting off of the energy supply for these muscle groups and sends that energy to the larger muscles for an increase in gross motor skills.  under this adrenal influence you will find it difficult if not impossible to thread a needle or put a key in a lock (should also be noted that you may find it difficult to navigate your cell phone to call 911) but the positive is the added strength in things like running as well as the vasoconstriction that will reduce blood loss if you are cut from a knife.  There are many effects on the body and mind from the adrenaline caused by stress and fear and these effects must be taken into consideration and applied to training.  Many standard martial arts simply do not address this issue. Any good martial art or Combatives program will acknowledge the physiological effects and aftermath of stress and violence.



What is combatives part 1.


Combatives started with the training of the United States military. sometimes called Close Quarter Combat (CQC ) , it was developed to train soldiers for hand to hand fighting. the goal was to have a reliable and easily taught system.  combatives were largely developed by Britain’s William E. Fairbairn and  Eric A. Sykes. Also known for their eponymous Fairbairn-Sykes Fighting Knife, Fairbairn and Sykes had worked in the British Armed Forces and helped teach the Shanghai Municipal Police (SMP) quick, effective, and simple techniques for fighting with or without weapons in melee situations. Fairbairn had been in hundreds of confrontations during his time in Shanghai.  He had spent some time learning Chinese martial art moves as well as boxing and wrestling. After adding some Savate, Yoshin Ryu jujustsu and Judo to his studies he created his own system of fighting.  His method was different from previous concepts in that Fairbairn emphasised the necessity of forgetting any idea of gentlemanly conduct or fighting fair: “Get tough, get down in the gutter, win at all costs… I teach what is called ‘Gutter Fighting.’ There’s no fair play, no rules except one: kill or be killed,”.

Traditional Asian Martial arts are culturally tied to concepts of Spirituality, Buddhism or Shintoism and cultivating peace and harmony. Asian martial arts are viewed as a method of self development as well as self defense.  Combatives separates the techniques from the cultural elements and focuses on the practicality and effectiveness of combative behavior.


In 2001, Matt Larsen, then a Sergeant First Class, established the United States Army Combatives School at Fort Benning.  Larsens martial arts backround started when he was stationed overseas in Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan with the Marine detachment at Naval Air Facility Atsugi. During this time Larsen began training in judo, Shotokan karate, and traditional boxing. He continued his training in martial arts when he was transferred to Okinawa with the 3rd Battalion 5th Marine Regiment. He trained in Shōbayashi Shōrin-ryū with Eizo Shimabukuro and continued his judo training. He also trained Sayoc Kali in the Philippines.  He utilized his martial arts training, having also attained black belts in several disciplines including Brazilian Jiu-jitsu under Romero “Jacare” Cavalcanti and Russian Sambo, and merged them into a single, effective fighting style which became the military MACP program. Students are taught techniques from the 2002 and 2009 versions of FM 3-25.150 (Combatives), written by Larsen. The aim of the regimen is to teach soldiers how to train rather than attempting to give them the perfect techniques for any given situation. The main idea is that all real ability is developed after the initial training and only if training becomes routine. The initial techniques are simply a learning metaphor useful for teaching more important concepts, such as dominating an opponent with superior body position during ground grappling or how to control someone during clinch fighting. They are taught as small, easily repeatable drills, in which practitioners could learn multiple related techniques rapidly. For example, Drill One teaches several techniques: escaping blows, maintaining the mount, escaping the mount, maintaining the guard, passing the guard, assuming side control, maintaining side control, preventing and assuming the mount. The drill can be completed in less than a minute and can be done repeatedly with varying levels of resistance to maximize training benefits.


Combatives and martial arts both continue to evolve.  Today, combatives programs are taught not only within the military but are also popular with civilians.  while the program content may be different for the general public than what is taught to branches of the service, the basics and the philosophy that underlies the training is the same.

The defining element is that civilian combatives are devoid of the more common Asian flavor or sport oriented backdrop.  It is a bare bones effective methodology of human combative behavior.  Asian martial arts were the initial inspiration and seeds sown to develop western combatives,  but today’s combative training are simple, effective and devastating.  Perhaps they are more in line with where the Asian martial arts themselves originated.