Martial Arts as War (MAW) and Martial Arts as Sport (MAS)—these are the two paradigms that, by and large, define the contemporary universe of the martial arts. Or so I have argued in previous essays. Now, it’s true, of course, that—as my own Master-Instructor observed to me in one of our countless conversations over this […]
As I was at pains to show in a previous essay, far too many self-defense instructors within the world of the martial arts ignore the contextual considerations that inform every training modality.
There is, however, one system that recognizes that—to paraphrase Pindar, the lyric poet quoted by the ancient Greek historian Herodotus—context is king.
The system to which I refer—and it is a genuine system, as opposed to being of a piece with the ad hoc assemblage of techniques that passes for many a self-defense school—is Warrior Flow Combatives.
Founded by retired USMC Lieutenant-Colonel Al Ridenhour, Warrior Flow is as real a “reality-based” system of self-defense as any that exists. Below are the remarks I made in my previous essay and the respects in which Warrior Flow responds to them:
(1)Most fundamentally, the martial art instructor must be ever-mindful that “martial” means “of or pertaining to war.” Quite literally, in point of historical and etymological fact, the martial arts are nothing more or less than the warrior arts, the arts of war.
And martial artists are, literally, those who train for war.
“Warrior Flow” is called such for a reason. To be certain, the term “warrior” is wielded, not liberally, but profligately these days. All who survive a disease, advance a political cause, exercise hard, or pray regularly are regarded (either by themselves or others) as “warriors.” While such folks may very well be good and just human beings, their accomplishments do not make them warriors.
Yet Ridenhour, himself a veteran of four tours of duty and 100 combat operations, knows that a genuine martial art is indeed a warrior art, for the martial arts were fashioned for the purposes of achieving victory in war. Those who assume the study of a martial art, then, and whether they realize it consciously or not, have committed to train to become warriors. If this point is not clear to them initially, it is the responsibility of their prospective instructors to spare not a moment in making it so.
It is up to their prospective instructors, in other words, to clarify to them that, like soldiers training for victory in war over the enemy on the battlefield, so too must anyone who decides to train under them train always with an eye toward settling for nothing less than victory in war over the enemy that they may one day encounter on the streets, in their homes, or anywhere else.
Martial arts students, those who train for what is commonly known as “self-defense,” must train for war. They must train to become, literally, warriors.
(2)Since those who seek out self-defense instructors do so in order to become as proficient as they can in the art of decimating assailants who threaten them and their own, this entails that their instructors know the difference between so-called “combat” sports, on the one hand, and, on the other, the nature of war, or what is typically known as “reality-based self-defense.”
Incredibly, many a self-defense instructor do not appear to recognize that sport fighting and potentially mortal combat, or “self-defense,” are different languages. Much less do they recognize the mutual incommensurability of these two languages, for it is in fact true that the terms of the one can’t even be translated into those of the other: There is no common denominator or standard by which they can be evaluated.
Consider it like this:
What is commonly called a “self-defense” or “combatives system” presupposes a certain paradigm. This paradigm I have elsewhere referred to as “MAW”—Martial Arts as War.
In glaring contrast, classical martial arts systems (in their contemporary, commercialized form), boxing, MMA, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, etc. presuppose an altogether different paradigm: “MAS”—Martial Arts as Sport.
Thomas Kuhn, who himself had a Ph.D. in physics, became unquestionably one of the 20th century’s most prominent philosophers of science. His landmark book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, upended the traditional view of science as a progressively-accumulating, value-neutral body of knowledge that scientists dispassionately piece together by building upon the work of their predecessors. This is fiction, myth, Kuhn argued. The truth is that science always transpires within a paradigm, or a “disciplinary matrix:” a community or Gestalt of shared assumptions, concerns, interests, and values.
Paradigms are stable until and unless they are beset by “crises,” problems that the paradigm lacks sufficient resources to resolve. If and when the crisis becomes insurmountable, the paradigm implodes and eventually becomes replaced by a new one altogether.
Paradigms are incommensurable because there is no standard that they share in common.
MAW and MAS are paradigms or disciplinary matrixes. That a punch is but a punch and a kick but a kick, to paraphrase Bruce Lee, can seductively delude us into thinking that they are but different dialects of the same language. They are nothing of the kind. The assumptions, concerns, interests, and values of the one and those of the other are mutually antithetical.
Warrior Flow instructors are well aware of this. They are well aware that their system operates within the paradigm of MAW. Thus, its training modalities and methodologies are designed accordingly.
More precisely, the essential training modality of Warrior Flow is predicated upon the presupposition that the Enemy—anyone and everyone who would prey upon innocents—is invariably bigger, stronger, faster, more athletic, and more ruthless than the Warrior Flow student. While on its face this may at first glance appear self-defeating, there is a method to the madness:
On the basis of this postulate, the student trains tirelessly to move as efficiently as possible in his or her own body—a person’s unique body, with all of its idiosyncrasies, its age and history of vulnerabilities, of injuries—so as to be able to neutralize all of these physical advantages of the Enemy.
To summarily put it in perspective, a woman in her 60s or 70s may not fare too well in a cage fight against a MMA athlete in his 20s. However, as for her odds of being able to move her body just enough—just well enough—to stab the same kind of guy in his throat in the event that he aggresses against her on the street or in her home? Well, they are far greater in the absence of any training as long as she has the determination to survive the attack.
With Warrior Flow training, she has that much more of an advantage, for her training will equip her with the skill and the will, the “ruthless intention,” to not just survive, but to achieve victory over the Enemy.
(3)The average person who pursues self-defense is not a 20-something year old male athlete in prime physical condition. Aspiring self-defense students are typically middle aged (and older), and they include men and women who are only interested in learning to train in a way that will enable them to move in such a way that will compensate for whatever aches, pains, and injuries they’ve acquired over their lifetimes. No small number of those who enroll for self-defense training may have otherwise been living relatively sedentary lifestyles for decades before they enroll.
It’s not just that they aren’t especially athletic, and perhaps were never so. Neither are they bouncers, bodyguards, corrections officers, police officers, and military personnel.
Some may have never been in a fist fight. They may have never thrown a strike. Some may have never picked up a weight.
To judge from the training methodologies of many self-defense systems, one could be forgiven for thinking that the world of reality-based self-defense is ridden with a virtually systemic ignorance of the profile of the average self-defense student! There are some techniques that a reasonably fit guy in his 20s or early 30s who is manning the door of a nightclub, guarding prisoners, or making arrests on the streets could, because of both the context within which he is operating as well as the physical assets that he already possesses, very well make work. These same techniques, however, become infeasible, even unintelligible, when taught to civilians who don’t fit this profile.
For example, Geoff Thompson, a world-renowned combatives instructor, teaches what has become known as the “two-touch” rule. Lee Morrison, a comparably elite instructor, teaches his students the same. The idea here is that if an aggressor invades your space and touches you, you give him a pass on that one as you’re moving slightly back with your arm extended to create space between the two of you as you continue to ensure him that you don’t want any trouble. But if he comes in to touch you a second time, then you are to unload on him.
Thompson and Morrison both worked “the doors” of some of London’s notoriously seedy clubs. As bouncers, as young bouncers, something like this “two-touch” rule made a lot of sense.
For middle-aged or older citizens who are only interested in defending themselves and their families against violent attack by predators, the two-touch rule is unduly risky. It’s reckless.
In fact, it conveys, at best, a mixed message, for if civilian self-defense training is supposed to equip people with the skill and the will to use violence only for the purpose of genuine self-protection—if, in other words, students are taught to employ their new powers only when it is absolutely necessary to do so, when they believe that they’re lives are potentially threatened—then their training should encapsulate, as Warrior Flow training encapsulates, what we may call the “no touch” rule.
In principle, if a belligerent is close enough to touch you, he’s close enough to kill you. Thus, the moment the aggressor starts to move into your space—what Warrior Flow refers to as your “sphere of influence”—you are to besiege him with strikes designed to, at a minimum, send him on a trip to the intensive care unit. If, while defending yourself, you send him to the morgue instead, then so be it.
To repeat, a martial art is such in name only unless and until it endows students with the ability and the resolve to achieve victory in war. A self-defense system is one in name only until and unless it equips students with the skill and the will to annihilate those who jeopardize their lives and/or the lives of the innocents in their charge.
On this point, there can be no ambiguity.
An encounter that one has good reason to believe could be but seconds away from materializing into a violent attack is not a game or a ritual of some sort. It is war. Nor is war merely a metaphor for such an assault. The sort of violence for which reality-based self-defense instructors prepare their students, and the sort of violence for which self-defense students seek to prepare themselves, is what is typically called “asocial” violence, an attack on one’s person or one’s own by a perfect stranger. It can be every bit as deadly as any violent exchange on the battlefield.
Asocial violence is predatory in nature.
Asocial violence is contrasted with “social” or “anti-social” violence, i.e. proverbial “fights” that had escalated by way of a previous exchange of some sort and that, as such, can almost always be diffused beforehand.
For this reason, there can be no dicking around. Warrior Flow instruction cultivates in its students a triadic mindset. Its three components are: Perfect Clarity, Moral Certainty, and Ruthless Intention.
Perfect Clarity: Once a belligerent crosses the imaginary trip wire in their minds by invading their space, Warrior Flow practitioners know exactly the course of action—total warfare—that they must take. There is no ambiguity.
Moral Certainty: Warrior Flow practitioners know beyond any possibility of a doubt that they have the moral right and the duty to wage total warfare upon anyone who threatens their lives and those of other innocents within their orbit. They are convicted of the righteousness of their cause, for no one else has the right to harm them or theirs. They do not, as some instructors frame it, abandon all ethical considerations for the sake of survival. They affirm the ethical for the sake of victory over evil.
The cause for which they wage battle and the end of victory on which they set their sights are both preeminently ethical.
Self-defense, like training for self-defense, is an ethical enterprise. It is perhaps among the most ethical of enterprises, for nothing less than the lives of innocent human beings is at stake. And for this reason, training decent people how to protect themselves and their families is among the most ethical of missions.
Ruthless Intention: Warrior Flow students train so as to be able, at the proverbial flip of the switch, to attack assailants with unadulterated ruthlessness. This is the will to, not take one’s chances trying to disarm, restrain, or otherwise force an attacker into submission but, rather, incapacitate him by whichever means necessary, with ruthless efficiency.
(4) Knowing their students means knowing that the average person who pursues self-defense training does so because they harbor fears generally and, specifically, the fear that they lack what it takes to rise to the task of defending themselves and their loved ones if the need to do so ever arises.
Self-defense training is fear-management. Self-defense instructors have a duty, therefore, to help their students surmount this fear.
Students seek self-empowerment.
Students seek self-empowerment. Thus, the emphasis on “survival” that has become the modus operandi of the reality-based self-defense world is misplaced, for it is disempowering. Victims survive. Those seeking self-empowerment through self-defense training need to be encouraged to settle for nothing less than victory over whomever would make of themselves the enemy of God and humanity by preying upon them.
Far too many self-defense instructors disempower their students in at least two other ways:
(a)Students’ fears are enflamed by an excessive focus upon…the dangers posed by human predators….
(b)Far too many self-defense instructors also spook their students with tales of being arrested in the event that they defend themselves against an attack…
Warrior Flow instructors, as should now be abundantly clear, eschews the language of “survival” in favor of “victory.” Survival is bare existence. Victory, however, connotes a moral achievement. In doing so, it reinforces the Warrior Flow student’s conviction that self-defense is indeed an ethical imperative.
As for the scary stories with which self-defense instructors preoccupy their students, Warrior Flow instructors are having none of them. They know, and respect, their students—who, as I’ve noted in my last article, are the last people on the planet who need to be reminded that they shouldn’t go around looking to brawl with outlaw bikers, gangbangers, mobsters, and other varieties of criminal low lives. Self-defense students tend to be the last people who need to be incessantly reminded of the need to avoid potentially violent encounters with anyone.
Yet it isn’t just that Warrior Flow instructors don’t immortalize the bad guys. They emphatically underscore the bad guys’ mortality. No matter who they are or who they know, no matter how “tough” or rough they may be, the bad guys, whether they are alone or in a group—yes, Warrior Flow students train so as to eliminate multiple attackers, if need be—are vulnerable to being injured, maimed, and killed like anyone and everyone else.
Bad guys are scary, for sure. The objective that Warrior Flow sets for its students is that of making the bad guys scared, and scared of them. The bad guys learn to become aggressive and ruthless. Warrior Flow instructors believe that if the wicked can learn to acquire these traits, so too can the decent who train for self-defense. Only in the case of the decent, the aggressiveness and ruthlessness that they cultivate will be reserved only for the scumbags who prey upon innocents.
Regarding the warning about the possibility of self-defense students getting arrested in the event that they defend themselves, this too can, if issued frequently enough, impede students from defending themselves if and when they need to do so, for the fear of legal repercussions—a fear that many already had prior to enrolling in a self-defense system—could lodge in their psyches.
To repeat: The average self-defense student no more needs to be instructed to fear getting arrested than he or she needs to be instructed to fear mixing it up with evil doers. It’s precisely this fear that brought him or her to enroll in self-defense.
What self-defense instructors are obligated to offer their students is training that will help them surmount these fears by managing them.
And they can supply this service by teaching students how to put foot to ass if and when they must.
They can supply it by being, well, self-defense instructors.
Warrior Flow instructors aspire to do just this. They don’t go on about the need for their students to avoid bad guys because bad guys are bad and because, if students harm the bad guys, they may get arrested. Students know this.
(Warrior Flow instructors do, however, implore students to refrain from talking to the police until they have legal representation—even if they are absolutely certain that their use of violence was unequivocally an instance of legitimate self-defense. Under duress and in the heat of the moment, it’s possible for a person to speak inaccurately or otherwise in ways that could, potentially, be self-incriminatory.)
(5)Finally, many self-defense instructors issue advice to their students that they themselves never admit to having followed themselves. For example, many advise their students to run away, if possible.
Warrior Flow instructors train their students to avail themselves of a tactical retreat if and when this is a possibility. However, they consider it a disgrace that any self-styled self-defense instructor, upon receiving their students’ resources in time, energy, trust, and money, would tell their students to run if and when they are confronted by aggressors.
Chances are good that running, whether literally or mentally, is an activity with which self-defense students have had a lifetime to become acquainted. It’s because they want to be able to avail themselves of another option that they decided to take up the study of self-defense.
They didn’t pursue self-defense for their instructors to turn around and tell them to continue doing what they have already been doing.
Warrior Flow instructors take their vocation, and their students’ sense of self, seriously. They train students, to the best of their ability, to be able to crucify those who would aggress against them and theirs.
Warrior Flow instructors try to make their students not only every bit as good as themselves but, if possible, even better than themselves.