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What are Combatives?

‘Combatives’ is a term that refers to western systems of self defence that are effective, fast and easy to learn. Combatives attempt to answer the singular question: If you only had a few weeks before your brother went to war, what would you teach him?

CombativesThe main beneficiaries of such systems in the past have been the police and military. Modern soldiers must dedicate the majority of their time to training with firearms, so they don’t want to spend all day on unarmed techniques. Police officers are similarly busy with other duties and for that matter are often less motivated to learn combat skills to a high level.

CombativesIt was only latterly that instructors realised that combatives were also very marketable to the general public. You must have all seen adverts for fighting systems that emphasise not just their effectiveness but also how quick and easy they are to learn. This is very attractive to young men in particular, who typically want to see results as soon as possible.

Some people have adopted combative philosophy to the exclusion of all else. They cite that once your heart beat rises beyond 175 bpm your ability to use fine movements is hugely diminished. They also reference the OODA loop which demonstrates how too much knowledge can actually slow you down.

CombativesThe flip side is that whilst good techniques may feed off intuitive reactions, effective responses often do require a high level of sophistication. A combatives instructor might not teach punching for example, because a heel-palm is a more flexible weapon that takes almost no time to learn. However, that’s not to say that a punch isn’t a more effective weapon in many scenarios.

Ironically, you will find that the most famous combatives instructors have a background in more ‘traditional’ arts. At Blackwater we try to teach basic combatives in the first instance and only gradually introduce more technical material. That way students can learn how to fight first and enhance their knowledge of the martial arts later if they so choose.

– Ian

You might also like to read our article Self Defence vs. Martial Arts.

Victim Selection

Attackers don’t always look the way we expect them to. There are wolves in sheep’s clothing.

Predators will typically select a victim within seven seconds. Assaults will most often be presaged by dialogue. Sometimes a criminal will want to suss you out. Next he will reassure you that he is harmless. Then he will try to distract you before initiating an assault. He may ask you the time or ask for directions. He may be charming at first but you can expect split second reversals and extreme threats.

Statistics show that pleading and acquiescence, to sexual assaults in particular, are highly ineffective. Understanding attack rituals however, may buy you the time you need to take pre-emptive action, and fighting back will often leave victims in a much better psychological state.

victim selection

A bodyguard would say that there are two things that you can do: harden the target or lower their profile. Read our article on States of Awareness and stay ‘switched on’. Putting a burglar alarm on your house doesn’t make your place harder to break into, but it will make it more hassle, and burglars routinely select the house that is the least trouble. It is the same with you; if you are switched on, most criminals, sensing this, will deselect you as a target.

Avoid becoming ‘task fixated’ so the attack won’t seem to have ‘come out of nowhere’. Be vigilant getting in and out of cars. Lock car doors and never approach an open car window to talk to someone. If followed by a car whilst walking, reverse direction suddenly. Tell your children to drop their school bag and run home, or back to school – whichever is closest. Do not take shortcuts, be wary of displaying expensive jewellery and use your phone to keep your friends aware of your whereabouts. Do not chase bag snatchers unless you are certain that you know what you are going to do, should you catch them.

Victim Selection

One of the greatest misnomers is ‘self-defence’, as rarely will you be by yourself. Even if you are, how will your family feel if you are beaten and brutalised? Never feel humiliated because you handed over your money to a mugger. If it was the smart move; then that’s that!

Do not try to understand your attacker. Career criminals will lie to you about anything and everything and they do not care at all about right and wrong. If you try to predict their behaviour based on how you would behave, you will fail. Other times, people simply lose it. In ‘displaced aggression’ events, your attacker may be furious over things which are completely outside of your control, yet you are on the firing line. With this kind of aggressive challenger, try to look confident and avoid eye contact.

Victim Selection

If you hand over your wallet to a mugger, whilst his focus is diverted, take any opportunity to leave. You don’t want to end up immobile in a corner. If shifty individuals approach you, get your hands up. Do not look aggressive, but keep your hands up! Never allow anyone to take you from one place to another. If they just want to rob you then there is no reason to move. Do not believe anything they say to the contrary. Never, ever, get into a vehicle. If these events are unavoidable then you should take action.

Incidentally, whilst perhaps one in two hundred people are psychopaths in European society, very few of these will ever be  violent. Also whilst there is a capacity in ordinary people for great malevolence as illustrated by the Nazis et al, the majority of serious crime in Ireland is committed by people suffering withdrawal from heroin, and they just want some cash. The truth about people is that empathy and altruism are more dominant traits than  selfishness, but that fact doesn’t get ratings on TV.

– Ian

For more information see our article on Geoff Thompson’s book Dead or Alive.

Training Methods

Some say that the only way to learn how to fight; is to fight. This is nonsense. Imagine that you had a virtual reality machine that you could use to get into fights without any nasty physical or legal consequences. You certainly could teach yourself how to fight that way; however, only after spending a long time getting your virtual ass kicked. In fact, if you wanted to improve quickly, you would soon find yourself programming a virtual gym with virtual training partners, drills and exercises.

Training MethodsIf you know what different exercises are designed to teach, you can learn faster still:


When you practise fundamentals in the air, it is an opportunity to think about the way that your body moves. For example you don’t want to throw a punch with just your arm; you want to throw it with your whole body. Focus pads allow you to hit something and practise dynamic energy, rhythmic patterns, speed and accuracy. Drills that centre on your partner don’t allow such power; however, working with real targets on real people is invaluable. Strike shields, by contrast, allow you to let off steam and hit as hard as you possibly can.

Similarly, whilst sparring develops speed and quick reactions; slow fighting allows you to practise combative techniques that otherwise have to be curtailed. So next time you are training, make the most of your experience.

– Ian

Phone Theft

The following practical measures can help in preventing and reducing mobile phone theft:

• Register your mobile phone with your service provider.

• Take careful note of your unique 15 digit mobile phone International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) number. By pressing *#06# on your phone keypad the IMEI will appear on the screen.

mobile phone theft

• Enable the PIN Security feature and keep your phone locked at all times.

• When out and about, keep your mobile phone out of public view, be streetwise and always be aware of your surroundings.

• Never leave your mobile phone behind in an unattended vehicle.

• If your mobile phone is lost or stolen, contact your mobile phone service provider immediately to suspend your service and prevent unauthorised calls being made and billed to you.Your provider will block your SIM card and IMEI number to prevent your phone from being used on the mobile network.

• Report the loss or theft to An Garda Síochána, providing identification numbers for your SIM card and IMEI number. This information may assist in the recovery of your mobile phone.


– Hugh

The Tactical Torch

The modern torch is the number one self-defence tool for Irish citizens. It is relatively inoffensive and surprisingly useful in everyday life, yet it comes into its own at night. The new breed of torches using CREE LED technology are so bright that they can light up an entire car-park and can easily blind an attacker with light at close range. They are generally held in a fist-grip with your thumb on the tail-cap and in extreme circumstances may be used as an impact weapon.

For this, you should purchase one that is the correct length. I need a torch that is five inches long. Any shorter and it does not project from my fist. Any longer and it would be too inconvenient to carry. Remember; no piece of gear is of any use at all, unless it is there, on you, when you need it.

EagleTac and Surefire
EagleTac and Surefire

Secondly you should consider how much power you need. Some people nowadays recommend lights that aren’t too bright, as they can blind the user also. However, broadly speaking, brighter is better, so look to buy something of at least 300 lumens. To achieve this most modern torches use lithium batteries such as the CR 123. They look like squat AA batteries and cost about €5 for two.

The next thing to consider is the user interface (UI). Simpler is better as most people will never need the options for strobe, SOS and beacon, but they can get in your way in an emergency.

Lastly, if possible avoid torches with very aggressively crenulated bezels designed for fighting. They are not necessary and as discussed below, may leave you vulnerable in a court of law.

Surefire is the only brand which I can recommend without reservation. All other brands can let you down. However Surefire is an extremely expensive brand, so you should definitely consider: EagleTac, Fenix, Foursevens, 5.11 and Olight et al. Expect to pay €60 – 120 for a good light.

If you are considering a torch as a self-defence tool be very clear about one thing; the Irish Offensive Weapons Act means that anything you carry with the intent of using as a weapon, is illegal. You will get your day in court but yes, a Garda can arrest you for carrying absolutely anything in your pocket if he/she believes that you intend to cause harm with it.

Of course, in practical terms, tactical pens and torches are on the low end of the spectrum; so much so that you can carry them on board airplanes (whilst having your pair of tweezers confiscated), nevertheless you should be careful that you have, and can articulate, a legitimate reason for possessing any item on your person.

– Ian



IFAK Essentials

An IFAK is an Individual First Aid Kit designed to be carried on the person whether adventuring or just day to day. As with all gear, if it is very capable and comprehensive then it will be awkward and heavy; which means that you will find yourself leaving it at home and that’s exactly where it will be when you need it.


To prevent a waste of time and money, only consider essentials for an IFAK. Here is a list of items from an AMP-3 brand, large, civilian IFAK suited to being carried in a small bag or pack. Delete or add items to suit your environment and needs, but most importantly; design something that you will carry.


  • 4X4 Gauze Pads
  • 3X4 Non-Stick Pad
  • Abdominal Pad
  • Moleskin Pads
  • Alcohol Pads
  • Betadine Pads
  • Tincture Benzoin Ampule
  • Fabric Bandages
  • Butterfly Closures
  • Adhesive Tape
  • Duct Tape
  • Instant Glue


  • Irrigation Syringe
  • Tweezers
  • Hand Wipes
  • Safety Pins
  • Nitrile Gloves
  • Folding Razor Knife
  • Scissors
  • Pencil
  • Personal Medical Information Card


  • Ibuprofen
  • Ranitidine
  • Antibiotic Ointment
  • 1% Hydrocortisone Cream
  • Acetaminophen
  • Diphenhydramine
  • Meclizine
  • Aspirin

See also our articles on the Israeli Bandage, the Tactical Torch, Best Multitools, and consider a 3M 9210 N95 Face Mask; just as useful for home DIY as for surviving the Zombie Apocalypse. – Ian

The Fairbairn Fighting Method

William E. Fairbairn was one of the most influential instructors of the last hundred years. He began by studying Japanese and Chinese martial arts whilst serving in the Shanghai police. His early attempts to develop a fighting style of his own, led to the publication of his book Defendu in 1926.

Later, with the outbreak of WWII, Fairbairn was encouraged to adapt his self-defence system for hand to hand combat training. Working with the British Commandos and U.S. Rangers, he developed his Close Quarters Combat (CQC) program.

Fairbairn Fighting Method
Commandos 1942

Fairbairn described himself as teaching ‘gutter-fighting’ where there were no rules but ‘kill or be killed’. Yet his books describe techniques in scientific detail. They collate data, map weapons and targets, and chart their effects. He even took rudimentary psychology into account in the development of his tactics.

You can see Fairbairn’s methodology still in use today in this USMC Close Combat Manual.

– Ian

The OODA Loop

Observing the performance of airmen during the Korean war, Col. John Boyd set out to discover what it was in a pilot’s combat training that separated success from failure. His conclusions led to the OODA Loop.

Observe – Orient – Decide – Act

He found that after a pilot observed a threat he would next have to orient his thoughts before reaching a decision and then taking physical action. Orientation here is the critical element which relies mostly on previous experience and training. Boyd believed that Soviet pilots were slower at taking action than US airmen but not because they had less training. In fact he learnt that too much information could itself lead to hesitation.

In modern martial arts, many people are of the opinion that creating perfect responses to specific scenarios simply slows you down. It is as though your hypothalamus has too much data to process. Boyd discovered that it is more effective to train a limited number of reactions; each of which work reasonably well against a broad range of threats. For example, bursting forward with a ninety degree block and a strike to the face.

OODA Loop - F-86 Sabre
An F-86 Sabre fights a Mig 17.

Boyd also found that the most common problem during the orientation phase is denial. When normal people are faced with extraordinary events they typically cannot believe their eyes. Reactive training can help. For example, being struck with a pad and hitting back as a response to the stimulus. However, if you ever do come across a really bad situation; believe it.

– Ian

The Force Continuum

New practitioners of self-defence based martial arts are often struck by the high level of violence being described. Of course, what they are being presented with are worst case scenarios.

A stabbing in London
A stabbing in London

As an analogy; most physicians spend their time dealing with small injuries, and are only rarely expected to cope with emergencies. However it would be strange if student doctors concentrated solely on bandaging sprained ankles, and were restrained from learning about heart attacks.

Moreover, if a doctor is presented with a sore foot, he/she is not expected to deal with it as though the patient’s heart had just stopped. Similarly, martial artists are required to use a force continuum, and there are a few straightforward ways to train for this.

A punch up on the sports field
A punch up on the sports field

For example; the most reliable way to short circuit an assailant is to strike to the head and shake the brain. Downsides to this include: that severe damage is likely caused to the teeth and facial bones, and that the opponent will probably fall over backwards striking the back of his head off the pavement. Moreover, whilst the mechanism for knocking someone unconscious is fairly reliable, the process for waking them back up, is far less so.

However, the more sophisticated practitioner has options. You may retain the basic movement that you are familiar with, but alter the target – striking the chest instead of the face will cause far less damage. Similarly you can alter the weapon – a strike with an open palm can feel like a full force blow, yet the energy will not penetrate as it would when delivered with knuckles and elbows. Moreover you can regulate your speed and force to further reduce risk to your opponent.

Combat in Kurdish Syria
Combat in Kurdish Syria

Be wary of timidity however. Sometimes it is better to hit someone once hard and then run away, rather than get into a protracted scuffle that may result in worse injuries for both parties. In this sense, the more skilled you are, the less violent you become.

– Ian

The Knife

Ireland has the highest incidence of knife crime in Europe (per capita). The only way to defend against a thing, is to understand the thing. Similarly it is ignorance that leads to misuse and tragedy.

Some guys will tell you that non-locking blades of a certain length are legal to carry in Ireland. This is total nonsense. If you have a job laying carpet and have a knife in your pocket during working hours; that’s no problem. If you have the same item in your pocket at any other time; you are liable to arrest and prosecution. It’s that simple. So if you feel under threat and are considering carrying a knife; just tell us first and we’ll talk about it. As far as ownership goes; Irish legislators have done their best to ban everything they can think of, however, broadly speaking, items such as the one pictured here, are legal to possess at home. However, best not consider such a thing for home defence; any Irish court will take a dim view of a purpose built fighting knife regardless of circumstance.

This knife was designed by Jim Wagner. A student of Dan Inosanto, he is one of the people responsible for popularising the modern concept of ‘reality based’ martial arts.

Wagner RBB
Wagner RBB & Trainer

It has a 10cm blade and weighs 175g. The blade shown is VG10 which is a high quality yet affordable steel proprietary to Japan. The design is loosely based on the Roman Gladius sword favouring thrusting manipulations, and is intended to be held in a hammer grip. The blade is chisel ground making it easier to sharpen in austere conditions. The angular geometric grind is influenced by the Japanese Tanto and the belly curves inward in the manner of an oriental Kriss. It uses a traditional lock-back mechanism and a thumb disk for one handed opening. The rough textured FRN handle is capped with a low-key pocket clip and a glass breaker.

Ultimately however, there is nothing a tactical knife can do, that an ordinary kitchen knife cannot. Consider this as you practise your techniques in class.