Combatives is Something You Do TO Someone

Kelly McCann is one of the best instructors on the planet and I am extremely honored to have him as a friend. One of his most popular sayings is: “Martial arts is something you do WITH someone; combatives is something you do TO someone or ON someone.” I’ve always liked that quote, but I never appreciated the brilliance of it until a recent seminar I taught up in Canada.

I was teaching a Counter-Blade Concepts (CBC–empty-hand vs. knife) seminar for a group that consisted exclusively of law enforcement officers, corrections officers, and security personnel. All of them were seasoned folks and many of them were defensive tactics instructors. A significant number of them were also experienced martial artists.

Everyone in the group was extremely motivated and trained very hard; however, I noticed that a number of them were having difficulty executing some of the techniques. In general, they commented that the techniques “weren’t working” or that they couldn’t get their partner into the right position to finish the technique. When I took a close look at what they were doing, I found that the vast majority of them were “working around” their partners. For example, if they were doing an armbar that would drive their partner into the prone position, they wer reaching up over the arm (leaving it in position) and trying to press down. Instead, they should have been pulling the arm down to a level where they were mechanically efficient and the “attacker” was off-balance. In simple terms, they were being too nice.

Once I realized what was happening, I explained the problem and took corrective action. First, I had everyone “walk through” the techniques, using a normal walking stride (our preferred footwork) to put full body weight and commitment into every technique. I also emphasized specific reference points for the completion of each technique or each phase of a technique. For example, an armbar is not an armbar until the attacker’s wrist is anchored to your hip and your upper arm is vertical, applying pressure downward with your elbow.

Finally, I gave them specific “objectives” to achieve. Rather than taking someone to the ground with an armbar–a “generic” task–I told them to “touch the front of his shoulder to the mat.” By picking specific points on the mat, I tuned their angles and soon they were dumping each other with ease–and great effect.

We are the good guys and will always be held to a higher standard. However, when someone has “defined the terms of our relationship” (one of my favorite quotes), you must play according to those terms–and play to win. Do what you need to do TO your attacker or ON your attacker and forget about the folks judging from behind a desk–and the ones who refuse to get off the couch.

Stay safe,


Michael Janich