Attack Combinations: A Critical Part of The Unarmed Combat Curriculum


WE have been advised by more than one correspondent now that the idea is being emphasized in some “combatives” training circles that a program or course of training should not teach specific combinations of blows (i.e. what we refer to and strongly advocate as “attack combinations”). Only the individual strikes, smashes, kicks, and so forth need be taught, so their instruction goes, and the student can work out those combinations that suit him best, and that he likes. This produces “spontaneity”. And while we agree 100%-plus that the ability to react with spontaneity is a crucial aspect of the trainee’s being able to render techniques effectively in a crisis, we vigorously disagree with the notion that drilling in practical combinations of techniques is either irrelevant to the attainment of this objective or that drilling in practical combinations somehow “inhibits” the trainee’s development in that area. Nonsense!  Please . . . if you want to get the benefits of realistic close combat and self-defense training do not accept this idea as guidance for your own development in training! However well-intentioned any instructor might be in asserting the irrelevance of carefully planned, practical combat combinations being very specifically taught to trainees, he is completely incorrect.

Now we will acknowledge two things:

1. It may be the case that someone with many years of serious training in karate and ju-jutsu, having mastered so many blows (and in the case of ju-jutsu —— we hope! —— the art of atemi-waza) may find it relatively easy to formulate combatively logical and effective combinations after being instructed in the repertoire of basic combat blows taught in a combatives system. This especially if he has had some real hand-to-hand combat experience in addition to his many years of training in one or more self-defense emergencies where he needed to put his training to use for real. You can see that this applies to a very small minority of individuals; and it might not even apply to all of them!

2. Once a student of a good system of close combat and self-defense has trained and mastered a good curriculum of attack combinations he should be encouraged to go on to develop and to build his own personal repertoire of combinations. These will not replace the formally taught attack combinations that he has acquired, and that suit him, but rather will utilize the experience and knowledge and skill that hard training in the formal curriculum has given him. (Note: Naturally, every student will find over time that some of the formally taught attack combinations fit him better than others, and a few might just not be right for him, after all. In such a case, after learning the mechanics of the combinations’ proper performance, the student should retain and continue to polish his favorite combinations, and discard those which a suitable amount of experience have proven to be unsuitable for himself.)

How many attack combinations should a student learn? This depends upon his training. Is he studying a short-term course (perhaps in the military) which necessarily will teach him far fewer techniques than he would otherwise be taught if he were to study for many months or possibly years? If so then a few representative examples of attack combinations —— perhaps three or four —— may be appropriate. If a student is a long-term student, possibly one who is going for black belt level ability, then he should continue to be taught a few new attack combinations with every promotion that he achieves. But learning combinations will speed and solidify his development.

Attack combinations constitute a most important part of the American Combato curriculum. We would like to explain why they are so important, and why it behooves every student to work hard to learn and develop them.

Most of the attack combinations that we teach have been carefully worked out by ourself. Some were adopted from what was taught by other masters of close combat (i.e. Fairbairn, Applegate, Carlin, Biddle, Grover, Nelson, etc.). These combinations work in real combat. This alone more than justifies their being taught and emphasized. But there’s more.

One of the greatest errors in the majority of classical karate systems is their positing of the idea that the “one punch stop” is the training objective, and that the karate expert’s goal is always to be able to drop an attacker with a single blow. Anyone familiar with real combat understands that this is a mistake. Human adversaries are very difficult to stop (if we assume, as we always should, that they are stronger, meaner, and larger than we are, and that they are determined to maim or to kill us). Dropping such a foe with one, single strike might occur; but the trainee should neither expect it to happen, or train with the idea that if he masters the art he is studying, he will be able to get such a result.

Drilling in attack combinations emphasizes that followup and follow through is crucial in combat. Just as practical counterattacks must stress continuing to attack the attacker and not naively assume that one quick, skillful action will do the job, so preempting attacks must be comprised of relentless followup. One stops when one has rendered one’s attacker(s) harmless and when one is safe; not after delivering one terrific hand, knee, foot, or elbow blow!

Attack combination practice trains the neophyte in the essential process of combatively logical combining of moves. The inexperienced and unskilled will tend to resort to flailing about, rather than to driving into their enemy with a formidable barrage of techniques. Practice of basic blows alone is of course also essential and must never be neglected. However, their individual mastery is no guarantee that under combat conditions the trainee will somehow “spontaneously” lace those blows together in tactically sound sequences. He must have training in how those sequences are constructed and applied.

Western boxers have always recognized the importance of hard, serious drill in combinations. Their shadow boxing (regarded by the late heavyweight world champion Jack Dempsey as being the most important and valuable part of the boxer’s training, aside from getting into the ring and boxing!) is the sporting equivalent of combat attack combinations. Boxers, of course, use clenched fist punching sequences only; the combat student must use everything relevant to dispatching a deadly enemy. And the combat student should learn to treat those combinations just as a boxer treats his shadow boxing combinations: with deadly seriousness. In the ring, the boxer’s mastered sequences enable him to explode against his opponent. In the street or wherever, the combative student’s combinations enable him to devastate a potential killer before that killer can bring his own intended onslaught into full play against the student.

Attack combinations also teach the student miscellaneous blows, and other hand-to-hand skills. While, for example, American Combato teaches 16 Basic Blows, the System contains a total of more than 50 blows. These minor actions, along with throws and neck breaks, etc. are laced into the attack combinations, just as many are laced into our counterattacks (i.e. “self-defense” techniques).

Drilling in attack combinations instills aggressiveness, and does so somewhat more effectively than mere drill in repetitious practice of basic blows. Our students are trained to visualize when practicing, and the attack combinations are a perfect vehicle for perfecting the supreme attack mindedness and aggressiveness that properly implemented visualization enables a student to achieve. Bruce Lee once wrote that a martial arts trainee should train with the idea that he is facing the most dangerous attacker on earth, in fact the trainee’s worst enemy. Attack combination drill is ideal for this type of focused combat training.

With proper visualization and accumulated training experience the practice of attack combinations enables the trainee to perfect very dangerous even lethal skills with compete safety. He may work for full power, speed, and utterly ruthless abandon of the slightest concern for his attacker’s welfare (which is exactly what he must do to be fully effective against the street savage, or other dangerous foe). Remember this FACT The human nervous system does not distinguish between a vividly imagined vs. an actually lived through experience. Thus training in the kind of attack combinations we teach, and training as we teach it, becomes —— as the trainee masters his drills —— the equivalent of actually using his techniques.

Note: For anyone who doubts what is said in the last two sentences above, just consider your dreams. If you have ever had a “good” or a “bad” dream you awoke to having the experience of feeling the physical manifestations of the experience you dreamed that you were having. Maybe you were scared. Maybe angry. Maybe laughing, crying, sweating, shaking, feeling good, etc. The point is that your nervous system “believed” it was experiencing that which you were imagining in your dream. Some people can relate what we are saying to daydreams. In any case this is true, it is a fact, and it is critical in understanding much about realistic training for combat, and developing not only proper mindset, but fully reliable physical skills. When attack combinations are correctly developed you can count on real world combat actions that can save your life being developed, as well.

Attack combinations are a valuable way to train (and we teach it because it is) with hand-held weapons, too. The stick, the knife, and the tomahawk are all best taught by training in effective, reliable combination actions.

We are aware that many of our visitors train in methods and systems other than our American Combato. If it’s right for you, then by all means stick with it! But we speak, write, and teach from more than 50 years of experience in learning, teaching, and researching. We do not hesitate to say that you would be wise to factor in that which we share in this and our other web sites.

If you are training in another combatives or close combat system we respectfully suggest that you reject any suggestion you may be given that definite attack combinations which you learn and drill in are not effective in training you. They are effective, and you should be devoting regular, serious, intensive practice time to them.

If you are a student of ours, you already know this. If not, we strongly suggest you take our message to heart.