There's a great deal of confusion about the terms combatives and reality-based training nowadays. Most people assume they are one and the same; they are not, although there are many similarities; having evolved in a very similar manner. The confusion comes chiefly from the plethora of martial arts schools claiming to teach the latest and greatest fighting styles using terms that are currently in vogue. Some schools even claim they teach both combatives and reality-based training.
What is Combatives?
Combatives is a police-derived fighting style that originated in China in the 1920's and 1930's, with Fairbairn and Sykes, and was eventually utilized in WWII by specially selected troops from England, America and Canada. It is an aggressive style of combat (nowadays primarily striking) that exhibits a willingness to close with the attacker. Some combative styles offer ground, counter-knife and counter gun skills. Combatives deals mainly with the conflict phase of the attack, not the pre-conflict and post-conflict phases. Many practitioners are advocates of the original WWII version, even though more efficient contemporary interpretations are available. In my opinion, the style of combatives which represents the most up-to-date, efficient and effective concepts and techniques is taught by Kelly McCann's Crucible Security group.
What is Reality-Based-Training?
Reality-based training (RBT) is a collective of concepts, skills and techniques based on modern (contemporary) conflict situations that the practitioner is likely to encounter in his or her environment. It also deals with ground defense, counter-knife and gun, female self-defense, dealing with mentally ill and violent subjects, spontaneous conflict situations, and criminal and terrorist activity. RBT encompasses all phases of the attack with equal attention to pre-conflict, conflict and post conflict phases; RBT also employs extensive conflict rehearsals with realistic props which combatives does not. Although many people have participated in facets of RBT, it was Jim Wagner who first tied these disparate elements together into a comprehensive methodology in 1998.
The Origin and Development of Combatives
To most people involved in self-protection, combatives deals chiefly with close-quarter striking techniques. However, in the early days of its development, combatives was primarily conceived as a complete and comprehensive fighting system meant for the police; and later for the military. Originally it featured close-quarter combat, firearms and impact weapons training, arresting techniques, riot control, dignitary protection and more.
Probably all fighting styles have their origins with the military or guards/police. The same is true with combatives. There are several branches of combatives. German special units during WWII practiced a form of combatives derived mainly from Japanese martial systems. Japan during that period also had their own version of close-quarter combat. The styles of combatives I've been exposed to have included the British, Canadian and American lineage. Many but not all of these groups follow a strict WWII methodology of training, and some even train in military fatigues.
It's generally agreed upon that Combatives had its roots with William Fairbairn and Eric Sykes. They were both Englishmen and worked for the Shanghai Municipal Police (SMP) in the early part of the 20th century. The SMP was a multi-national police force comprised of British, Chinese, Indian and Japanese officers, and kept the law in the foreign settlement. During the 1920's and 1930's, Shanghai was considered one of the most dangerous cities in the world, and the foreign settlement, a self-governing entity, with its large foreign population attracted the most crime.
All SMP officers were armed with a handgun and baton, and they were also the first modern police force thoroughly trained in unarmed techniques. Fairbairn, the chief instructor for close quarter combat and firearms training introduced innovations far ahead of his time including: modern dignitary protection, riot squads, and anti-robbery/ kidnap units, to name a few.
Fairbairn's personal training included various Chinese and Japanese fighting styles and was also a black belt in judo; having studied at the Kodokan. Sykes, a member of the riot squad also had an extensive empty-hands background. Fairbairn and Sykes developed a system called "Defendu," which is considered to be the first scientifically researched self-defense system. It was created by examining thousands of violent arrest reports, and identifying what worked more efficiently and effectively.
In 1940, both men retired and returned home just as Germany was planning to invade England. Recruited as Captain Instructors by the War Office, both Fairbairn and Sykes taught a cadre of officers and special troop's; handgun and machine-gun shooting, knife and unarmed fighting. In 1942 Fairbairn traveled to the U.S. and Canada and trained the OSS as well as other elite units. Many armed forces groups in the United States and England were influenced by the training methods of Fairbairn and Sykes.
More and more people today are studying reality-based-training (RBT) for self-protection in lieu of traditional martial arts and fighting sports. This is principally because it offers a realistic and no-nonsense approach and can be learned in a relatively short period of time.
The Origin and Development of Reality-Based-Training
Reality-based-training is a recent development; the overall concept was created in 1998 by Jim Wagner, a former soldier, jailer, police officer, SWAT team member, diplomatic bodyguard, and counterterrorist for the United States government following the attacks on the United States on 9/11. RBT is actually a police term, though never widely used in the law enforcement community. It refers to Realistic Conflict Rehearsal Training. Jim Wagner took this little known term and introduced it to the civilian martial arts community through his popular Black Belt magazine column "HIGH RISK" to best describe his emerging system that was based on the techniques and training methods of modern law enforcement, corrections, and military units.
The concept of Reality-based-Training was conceived in 1995, when Jim Wagner contacted Black Belt Magazine and offered to write articles from the law enforcement and military perspective. He felt this entire segment of the martial arts population was being ignored by the publication. He was flatly told in a letter that his ideas "...did not meet their current editorial needs." Jim tried again two years later, but none of the major publishers were interested. Finally in 1998 the tide had turned with the new, and current, editor Robert Young. Black Belt Magazine and a few other publications, most notably Budo magazine in Europe, started to feature Jim's articles with great reader enthusiasm.
Today the term Reality-Based Training is used globally to represent a whole new direction in the martial arts. As such, many people over the past few years have liberally used Jim Wagner's term, some correctly while others incorrectly, to describe aspects of their own training or entire systems without fully understanding the meaning or concepts behind those words.
The term Reality-based-Training has caught on so well that everyone teaching any sort of self-defense now uses it, but don't be fooled. Although there are many systems out there that have elements within them that are "reality-based," a true reality-based system must include Pre-Conflict and Post-Conflict training (in addition to Conflict training). It must also contain Conflict Rehearsal (scenario training that makes use of scene design, stage lighting, scripting, costumes and props). It's been found that physical training that closely simulates a real event and involves many of the senses has a greater impact on the overall training process.
A true system must also present realistic training that enables the student to deal a wide range of criminal and terrorism situations. These fields also encompass the techniques and training methods employed by criminals and terrorists since they are the very enemies that practitioners of RBT study and fight against. Without understanding the enemy, RBT would be nothing more than learning how to fight against other martial artists (as is the case with traditional martial arts).
Paralleling the development of Fairbairn in the 1930's, Jim Wagner researched and collected data from crime statistics and his own first-hand experience, and synthesized this into what we know today as RBT. Having trained police and military units worldwide (including the Israeli Special Forces, German GSG9, Brazilian GATE, FBI SWAT, Argentinean GOE, U.S. Border Patrol, California Highway Patrol, U.S. Air Force Security Forces, DEA, U.S. Navy and Marines PMO, U.S. Marshals, and the list goes on). Jim Wagner began teaching these skills to civilians for the first time in 2003, and called his system Reality-Based Personal Protection.
Advantages of Combatives and Reality-Based-Training
#1) no elaborate traditions or rituals
#2) no uniforms, in general you practice in the clothes you normally wear
#3) the mindset is to attack aggressively, repeatedly and preemptively
#4) this is one of the only styles of fighting that chooses to be up close
#5) there are relatively few techniques, and they are simple to learn/perform
#6) realistic practice and expectations
#7) techniques are practical, efficient and effective
#8) willingness to take the life of your attacker if necessary
#9) firearms and edged weapons training is included sometimes
Disadvantages of Combatives (within purist WWII styles)
#1) some of the weapons defense (especially knife) are not up-to-date
#2) no regard for the ladder of force skills can put you behind bars
#3) many combatives enthusiasts have a reckless macho attitude with their
safety and the safety of their practice partners
#4) there are some fringe (cult) groups who wear military fatigues and
berets, even though they were never in the military
#5) not much taught about verbal de-escalation skills
#6) Little or no pre-conflict and post-conflict training
Disadvantages of Reality-Based-Training
#1) some participants develop a false sense of confidence based on some initial training. Like anything else, these techniques must be practiced consistently and persistently.
Generally, combatives today is exemplified by an aggressive mindset and relentless hard hitting attacks in the conflict phase. Reality-based defense focuses on a wide array of situations you may encounter in your daily life and presents this in three phases; pre-conflict, conflict and post-conflict.
In addition to practicing reality-based training and/or combatives, I believe it's still important to have a basic knowledge of grappling (BJJ & wrestling) as well as striking skills (boxing/muaythai). Professional fighters can take you out very quickly and thousands of people are training in these sports nowadays. You don't need to attain a great level of skill, but just know enough to deal with it.
If you have limited time and need to learn self-protection that's efficient and effective, both combatives and reality-based training offer useful training, however, reality-based training offers more breath and depth to the subject. If you just need to energize your conflict phase then combatives should suffice, but the down-side with combatives is that some groups cultivate a cult-like atmosphere and feature a heavy testosterone vibe. The best combatives group I've come across is Kelly McCann's group at Crucible; they aren't WWII purists and teach techniques that are efficient and effective in today's environment. www.cruciblesecurity.com (Note: their website is currently down, and will be up in the near future).
Reality-based training is gaining in popularity and could well be the dominant approach for self-protection in the 21st century. But be careful, too many schools claim they offer reality-based training but actually don't. If you're looking for a reality-based program in your area, contact us first; we are a certified Jim Wagner Training facility, and teach the Realfighting program as well.