Let’s be realistic. Considering the increasing number of threats that we all face, it’s wise from time to time to do a quick overview of what our real capabilities are. What can you really do when things go bad? What skill sets do you have? What can you really pull off when your life or the lives of your loved ones are at stake? This isn’t the time for bravado, ego, or guessing. It’s not something you need to share with the world, but we must, each of us, be honest in our accurate assessment of what we can really do.
Then it’s time to work to improve those weaknesses within our skill sets — gradually advancing our whole preparedness level and increasing the safety of ourselves and those around us.
IT’S A HARD KNOCK LIFE
To help you start things off with your personal assessment, here’s a list of nine skill sets that every warrior should possess. There are many more to be sure, but this is a quick list that you can continually revisit, to make sure that you’re covering all the bases. As you continue to grow, you may add some or blend two together. That’s okay. Make the list yours but don’t shape the list to make things easier on you. A life-and-death altercation will not be easy, so the training for it shouldn’t be either. Don’t skip the hard stuff; you can rest assured that the dirtbag you’re fighting was spared none of the hard knocks in life. You must be just as hardened as he is and even more prepared.
Just as important as what you train is how you train it. Each skill set you develop has a “swim lane.” Imagine that the left side marker of the swim lane indicates you’re not training enough on that skill set and the right side marker means you’re spending too much time training on that skill set. Now it’s easy to see why not training a skill would be bad, but how could you spend too much time training something? Basically, training too much time in one skill set probably means you’re neglecting one of the others. For example, in the Medical Management lane, too far left might be letting your CPR certification expire. Too far to the right might mean carrying a huge medical kit everywhere you go, but not carrying a weapon.
Or it could be vice versa: carrying tons of weapons but not having basic life saving skills. So as you will find, each one of these areas must be nurtured, developed, maintained, and monitored to make sure you’re not too far outside your swim lane.
SKILL 1: TRANSITION FROM SKILL SET TO SKILL SET
As people train, they become specialists due to personal preference and given attributes. So guys who kick well, become kickers. They teach their martial arts students to become kickers, and then the whole art becomes focused on kicking. This happens all because that’s what the leader was good at. Guys who can grapple teach grappling, guys who can shoot become shooters, etc. The problem with specificity is that when the environment changes they are the first to be picked off, due to the inability to adapt. To be truly combat effective for the majority of time and circumstance, we can’t afford to specialize. We must be well-rounded and have the ability to transition from skill set to skill set as needed. This is what separates the pros from the amateurs.
To go from striking skills to standing grappling, to drawing a weapon to medical management after the altercation — that’s the goal. To do that we must first realize there is no such thing as a gunfight or a knife fight. There is only fighting. Sometimes, for example, a fight will contain grappling range, weapons, striking, running, and grappling again. So as you can see, you really need at least a basic understanding and survival level skill set in each of these areas.
To get these skill sets you should go to the specialist. Go to a striker for striking skills and a grappler for standing and ground grappling. Go to a shooting instructor for shooting and a blade specialist for knife work. Then you will have to work on learning when and how to transition. Each specialist may have advice on how to start on that path, but you will have to do a lot of work on your own due to the specifics of your ability and lifestyle.
SKILL 2: STRIKING/STRIKING DEFENSES
This is the most basic of type of all combatives. Simply put, you must be able to hit someone very hard without letting them hit you very hard. Don’t think about not getting hit or even hurt; that’s going to happen. Instead think about not getting knocked out or broken while striving to knock him out or break him. People think they can get into fights and not get hit. But in the realm of real violence, there are many things that can equalize talent or experience. So plan on being physically fit enough and mentally tough enough to endure some punches and kicks. When it comes to striking barehanded, go for open-hand strikes, such as slaps and palm strikes. If you’re going to hit with a fist, use a hammerfist motion.
“Violence is inflicting harm upon another human. It’s ugly and there is nothing fun about it, but sometimes it’s a necessary evil to protect yourself and those around you.”
Even more powerful, but limited in range, are forearm strikes and elbows. These are your most powerful upper body weapons. They are worth the effort to develop on a punching bag in your garage or basement. They can take someone out of the fight very quickly and even smaller, weaker people are dangerous with some good reps on this skill set.
Add some close-range knees to those upper body strikes and you’ve become someone who has a dangerous striking arsenal. Knees are powerful. They are driven into the thighs, groin, or ribs and they can end the fight quickly. Just remember that at this range, he’s dangerous as well. So instead of trying to block his elbows and knees, be the one DOING the elbows and knees!
SKILL 3: WEAPONS KNOWLEDGE AND SKILL —IMPACT, EDGED, AND FIREARMS
Simply put, weapons are the tools of the trade. To think that anyone can survive in today’s world without utilizing the best weapons of the day is naive and dangerous. There’s a reason weapons were invented and have been used in every serious altercation and war since Cain slew Abel. They work! They equalize the odds and turn the tide of battle. Just as we wouldn’t expect our soldiers or police officers to go out and do their job without the tools necessary to survive, we shouldn’t expect anything less for ourselves.
When it comes to weapons, most people who actually do train with them focus on the actual usage of the weapon. But to effectively use a weapon you must carry it daily. If you aren’t carrying it — well, let’s just say it’s not much help sitting in a drawer. All weapons’ use must include the practice-of-carry methods, concealment, deployment and then the actual weapon use. Don’t just grab a training knife or gun from your bag and practice how to use it. Realize that these other aspects are skill sets as well and must be practiced to successfully and regularly carry weapons.
There are many different types of weapons out there. To make it simpler, let’s break it down into three categories of the most common weapons systems in today’s world: impact, edged and firearms. There are other categories but they are less common, thus less likely to be useful and less likely to be encountered today.
This may be the most common weapon system. From stone knives to custom handmade blades, they can be found everywhere. In many countries, machetes are daily utility tools. Even here in the U.S., pocketknives, screwdrivers, and box cutters are everywhere. They are lightweight so you can carry more than one, easily concealable, legal in most areas, and require almost no power or physical athleticism. They could be THE ideal weapons platform.
Spend the time to gain some skill and understanding of this swim lane. This weapons platform is also very easily improvised, meaning you can carry something that is perfectly legal, allowed in your workplace, and still very effective. These items could be seen by anyone, dismissed as everyday items and double as practical self-defense tools.
SKILL 4: GRAPPLING/COUNTER GRAPPLING
The reality is that in fighting, if you fail to knock your opponent out in the striking range, which is difficult to do without weapons, there is a real possibility you will be fighting on the ground. Think back to fights you saw in grade school. Two kids would swing punches at each other and then eventually they would grab each other. Someone would trip the other or slip and fall. Then, one would get on top and beat the other until he gave up or the teacher broke up the fight. Without training, those same kids grow up and fight exactly the same way as adults. The only difference is that since they are larger, they now have the ability to knock each other out.
They learned how to do it better through experience, but the formula for the fight pretty much remains the same. So, how do we handle some big guy sitting on our chest pounding us in the face? There are many different grappling martial arts systems out there, Sambo, Jiu jitsu, Folkstyle, Greco-Roman wrestling, etc. Any one of them will help you out here. The key is that grappling is done against a resisting opponent, so he’s trying to hold you down while you’re trying to hold him down. You don’t have to become a professional fighter or a black belt. Just a few months of getting the basics and that will probably be enough to get you into a realistic swim lane.
SKILL 5: TEAM TACTICS
This is probably the most overlooked and misunderstood category on this list. It’s also one of the most difficult to develop because it involves buy-in from others in your life. Most people are a part of at least one social group. We have sons, daughters, teammates, coworkers, husbands, wives, fathers and mothers. These are the people that make up your “team.” There is a chance you will not be alone when an altercation happens. That is why it’s important to train your team as well. It is not always easy to convince a friend, spouse or child to delve into the world of realistic training for violent encounters.
Yet, when you ask most people why they train in the martial arts, most will reply that it’s to defend themselves and their families. But, why do so few actually train that way? Because it is incredibly rare for martial arts schools to offer training to a team or whole family as a fighting unit. Your kids may be in a child’s class, or your wife took a self-defense course, or you and your buddy take a class together, but that’s not anywhere near the reality we need to address. Every member of your team needs to have an understanding of all the skills discussed in this article, and what their role or job is on your team.
Even the children need to be trained on how to listen, when and where to move, etc. Then the whole team needs to train and fight together. Now everyone knows their parts, knows what to do, and they all have experience, which increases confidence and reduces fear in a real altercation. Everyone has a job.
The simplest and oldest type of weapon system. Rocks, bricks, bats, pipes and hammers are some examples. Anything that can be used to break bones or crush skulls when swung with force would be in this classification of weapon, which needs force to work. However, it doesn’t always need a lot of force. For instance, how hard do you need to hit someone in the head with a hammer to stop them? Now consider the force required to achieve the same results if swinging a pipe or a bat.
This is why it’s important to choose your weapon according to your physical capabilities. In general, impact weapons work best when used against targets made of bone, such as elbows, hands, collarbones, shins, and the skull. The goal is to break those targets causing debilitating pain and limited use of the limb. As with all weapons systems, the more of these targets you hit, the better. You should practice hitting a combination of those targets, not just hitting the same one repeatedly.
SKILL 6: COMMUNICATION
Communication is one of the most critical areas in a warrior’s training. Having pre-established verbal or physical cues for what to do if you or your spouse or teammate see the potential for violence developing is an important part of communication. You also want to have verbal cues to communicate what you plan to do, what you expect from them, etc. This will all help to keep your team safe and informed as a situation begins to take a bad turn.
Communication can also be much more than that. For instance, developing the ability to verbally de-escalate a situation before it becomes violent could be one of the most useful skills you can develop. Most people who have someone that is angry and screaming in their face allow themselves to also become emotional. Doing so during that highly charged state leads them to make poor decisions that jeopardize themselves and those around them. Instead, you should sit back and think about why this person is upset, determine what they need to return them to a normal state, and calmly begin to work towards that goal.
If you find yourself in a situation where you have to punch, stab, or shoot someone you should never do it emotionally. If you do have to inflict violence upon someone who earned it, then communication after the fact with local authorities or your attorney should be as clear and calm as possible. It should not be emotional babble that may or may not be accurate. Take the time to add this into your training. After a workout, when you’re out of breath and exhausted, try to tell your friend or training partner a story. Then include your family.
Give them instructions and see how clear you are. Drills like these are critical to clear communication when stressed about the potential for violence or in the aftermath of it.
There’s a lot of truth in the saying “God may have made all men, but Sam Colt made them equal.” Firearms are a massive force multiplier that allows you to address multiple attackers very quickly. You can maintain a safer distance than with impact or edged weapons and all you need is a weapon and training. There’s no need for great cardio or big biceps, just a tool and training.
That’s right, more training. Like all weapons, firearms require training to be concealed, carried and used safely. But with just a bit of training you can have the top weapons platform of modern times at your disposal. Many people feel uneasy about firearms due to the negative press they regularly receive. That, combined with a lack of experience often leads people to shy away from firearms training. Instead, you should seek out a qualified instructor that you like and feel comfortable with and take a beginner course.
A good instructor will walk you through how the weapon works, the legal aspects of ownership and use, the realities of shooting, and a basic familiarization course on a range where you actually shoot the weapon under the watchful eyes of the instructors. If at any point you feel uncomfortable, just tell the instructor and take time to watch him and the others. Once you feel more familiar with what is going on and expected of you, start again. There’s no reason for this type of training to be any more or less uncomfortable than any of the other sections on this list. Just go slow, take your time and find your swim lane.
SKILL 7: MEDICAL MANAGEMENT
Violence is inflicting harm upon another human. It’s ugly and there is nothing fun about it, but sometimes it’s a necessary evil to protect yourself and those around you. It’s unrealistic that you can inflict harm on someone else without the potential for you to be harmed or even worse, your teammate.
This leads us to the need for medical management. The truth of the matter is that you’re more likely to you use these skills to save someone than you are to use your grappling skills. A child choking, a family member having a heart attack, or someone injured in an auto accident would all benefit from your medical management skills. These all happen with far more frequency in most of our lives than an actual violent encounter. It doesn’t do you any good to be the world’s best Mixed Martial Arts champion if you’re in a car crash and your loved one dies in the car because you do not know how to stop the bleeding. If you truly consider it your job to protect those around you, you cannot overlook this skill set.
When it comes to violence something as simple as a broken nose or as complicated as a gunshot can occur during a fight, so how can we prepare? Go back to training! At the very least, you can attend some Red Cross courses on CPR and first aid. There are also more advanced courses that deal with tactical medicine or even wilderness medicine. Those types of courses expand your capabilities and help you to understand exactly what you can and cannot do. You will also learn what kind of equipment you should carry with you.
SKILL 8: IMPROVISATION
The height of skill is the ability to improvise what you need when you need it. This is the level you want to reach. A great saying is “the more you have in your head, the less you have in your kit.” It holds true to a certain extent. People in the early developmental stages of these skill sets will attempt to carry so many tools that they become limited on where they can go and how much they can carry. It’s unrealistic to carry a full arsenal and fully packed med kit with you at all times. So how do we cut back the items we carry? We learn to improvise. Nothing beats a purpose-built item. For instance, nothing improvised works as well as a real firearm. But there are some things we can learn to adapt.
Besides a tourniquet, you could use a belt. Instead of using a knife, you could use a screwdriver or broken piece of glass. Learning to recognize items for their specific attributes is the key. Does it cut? Is it strong and sharp enough to puncture into a chest cavity? Can I use it to pack a bleeding wound? Can I use this to communicate with my wife from across the room or parking lot?
Once you reach a certain level of skill with this you will start to carry fewer items. You will gain the understanding that, with a glance around the room, you could improvise something that will work in a pinch. This gives you a greater capability and sense of comfort knowing you can still do what is required even if you’re limited by what you can carry due to legal restrictions or lack of resources.
SKILL 9: AWARENESS
This article and magazine (and others like them) help to bring awareness to a wide variety of topics that we might otherwise overlook. There are many levels of awareness. It’s a huge topic, but we will touch on a few key points that are salient to this article. Just being aware that there IS a list is huge progress.
This gives us realization that we need to assess our own strengths and weaknesses, as well as those in our family and in our group/tribe/business. We also need awareness of what dangers we really face. Are your perspectives on violence based on reality or what you’ve seen in movies? Have you watched video footage of real crimes, real murders, real robberies, real shootouts? Have you seen real violence firsthand? Have you been a part of it? Do you know the set ups for a potential violent encounter?
You can’t really prepare correctly unless you know exactly what you’re preparing for. So broadening your scope of awareness to include the strengths and weaknesses of yourself and your group, what violence and crime really look like, as well as things like your home security, travel plans, and emergency disaster plans all help you and your team be that much more prepared.
There’s a lot of truth in the saying “God may have made all men, but Sam Colt made them equal.” Firearms are a massive force multiplier that allows you to address multiple attackers very quickly. You can maintain a safer distance than with impact or edged weapons and all you need is a weapon and training. There’s no need for great cardio or big biceps, just a tool and training. That’s right, more training. Like all weapons, firearms require training to be concealed, carried and used safely. But with just a bit of training you can have the top weapons platform of modern times at your disposal.
Many people feel uneasy about firearms due to the negative press they regularly receive. That, combined with a lack of experience often leads people to shy away from firearms training. Instead, you should seek out a qualified instructor that you like and feel comfortable with and take a beginner course. A good instructor will walk you through how the weapon works, the legal aspects of ownership and use, the realities of shooting, and a basic familiarization course on a range where you actually shoot the weapon under the watchful eyes of the instructors. If at any point you feel uncomfortable, just tell the instructor and take time to watch him and the others.
Once you feel more familiar with what is going on and expected of you, start again. There’s no reason for this type of training to be any more or less uncomfortable than any of the other sections on this list. Just go slow, take your time and find your swim lane.
THIS REFERENCE GUIDE
This list is a starting point. It is designed to increase your awareness and to be referenced again and again to make sure you are checking all the boxes needed to be a truly capable warrior. It is by no means a complete list. We could go on and on, adding more each time. Each section would become another swim lane, requiring time, energy, and money to develop and maintain. New items like navigation, primitive survival skills, escape and evasion skills, and so on could all be added to the list. But this list contains the core skills every warrior should possess. If you consider it your personal responsibility to protect yourself and those you love, you owe it to them to get to work building your own personal skills sets.
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the How-To special issue of American Survival Guide.