Saturday, July 25, 2009

Punch, Kick, Choke, Twist, Snap

From Mr. Rummel, over at Hell in a Handbasket, is a link from which you can download the Army Combatives Manuel, FM 3-25.150

Let me preface my comments with the statement that, hey, I'm a Judo/Jiu-Jitsu guy. I have the utmost respect for both (as I've stated previously--and heretically--they are the same Martial Art, just different sports). My problem isn't with the art(s) as much as it is with the Army's interpretation of how to adopt, train and maintain them.
The Army re-vamped its Combatives system (and the training emphasis on Combatives) in the early- to mid-90's with the rise of the UFC and the greater American public's exposure to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu--and that is its problem. The Army system can basically be described as "The Ranger Regiment meets the Gracie Brothers."

At the time, Brazilian (read Gracie) Jiu-Jitsu was being hailed, based on UFC results, as the dominant form of unarmed combat. However, the fix was in. The UFC, before the name brand passed to Dana White, was initially started by the Gracie family in order to promote BJJ and to develop a market within the US (mission accomplished). However, as the original promoters of the event, the Gracies were also intimately involved in the selection of the competitors. Note that in the first couple iterations of the UFC (and as an aside, I was a huge fan of the tournament-style competition back in those days, not so much of the "card" system used today) there were no other practitioners of grappling arts entered in the contest. You didn't see, say, a broken-nosed scuff-eared hardass from the NYC Judo Club participating. This was a great marketing tool for the Gracies, and did a great job raising awareness amongst US martial arts practitioners that if you had no grappling skills, you were chum in a freestyle fight.

In the Army, astute Army Rangers figured that, since going live on a hand-to-hand combat scenario was a real possibility in the execution of their duties, they had better get in on this whole Jiu-Jitsu thing. (Cutting out a lot of detail) The program was eventually moved to the Infantry Center at Fort Benning and became the Army Combatives program.

One of the problems in the development of the Army Combatives system was that developers had to take the Jiu-Jitsu of the Gracies and, applying combat experience, reverse engineer a sport into a combative system. The result is a manual that contains "combat techniques" that are not plausible in actual combat.
Below, for your edification, are pieces of either the manual, or the system itself, that I find odious in a fighting system designed for combat

-In at least two instances, the manual declares that: strikes are an inefficient method of ending a fight. Really? Really? It seems to me that if I spend as much time striking as I do rolling on the mat (ah, and there's the rub) and I can put my fist through my opponent's skull at the temple, reach to the back of the rack, retrieve his medulla oblongata and show it to him as his eyes (well, probably "eye," singular, in this case) glaze over, that's pretty darn efficient. What would be more efficient than that? A triangle choke?
-The triangle choke. Need I say more?
-The only true throw in the manual is the hip throw (O Goshi). It's not a bad throw, but the deep entry required is problematic in a dynamic fight. I'd rather see (meaning I could justify better) the inclusion of Tai Otoshi and/or Osoto Gari (the latter especially if we are going to break down and include strikes in our training regimen).
-The manual includes single- and double-leg takedowns. Eh. In a combat scenario I'm a little leery of moving ballistically in a manner that, if countered, leaves me in such an inferior position. Wearing the basic issue kneepads helps, but shooting in on an opponent while wearing body armor and helmet, with the added weight and loss of mobility that entails doesn't seem real practical.
-Most practitioners of BJJ (and therefor, by default, Army Combatives) will emphasize the fact that "90% of all fights go to the ground." Maybe. I think the point is debatable and depends on how one defines "going to the ground." Still, even if we posit that the statement is accurate, there's no need to sacrifice a sound and reliable stand up position to get there, so expunge the sacrifice throw (rear takedown in the manual).
-I'm not a big fan of the courses developed to train instructors in Army Combatives (note: I have not attended any of these courses). In courses ranging from one week(40 hours of training) to four weeks (160 hours of training), the Army purports to generate instructors that will teach what it takes most practitioners years to learn to execute correctly.

Years ago, I was told to quite bitching during an Army tactics course. The course was chock full of (mostly computerized) simulations, and I disliked all of them. The turn-based sims were too constraining, the simultaneous sims were too slow and we sat around a lot while our virtual units were "in transit." On and on. Finally, the instructor made me delineate the positives of each sim, and asked why I wasn't solely concentrating on those tactical skills each sim would actually enhance.
I've taken the same approach to MA training. Whatever system or style you use, your training is only a simulation. It will have advantages to improve your performance in combat, and disadvantages that do not forward your combat ability. Being aware of these advantages and disadvantages has been key to progessing. There are good points to the Army Combative program: it builds an outstanding kinesthetic awareness, it is great PT, it has the potential to give Soldiers tools they would not have had without the program. After all, you can train a lot more frequently, and to a higher level of realism and intensity (I'm talking sparring, here) with a grappling based martial art than a striking based martial art. Training full speed on striking will lump you up pretty good and impede training for quite some time.
I just think the Army could well have done better.

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