Combatives is Something You Do TO Someone

Kelly McCann is one of the best instructors on the planet and I am extremely honored to have him as a friend. One of his most popular sayings is: “Martial arts is something you do WITH someone; combatives is something you do TO someone or ON someone.” I’ve always liked that quote, but I never appreciated the brilliance of it until a recent seminar I taught up in Canada.

I was teaching a Counter-Blade Concepts (CBC–empty-hand vs. knife) seminar for a group that consisted exclusively of law enforcement officers, corrections officers, and security personnel. All of them were seasoned folks and many of them were defensive tactics instructors. A significant number of them were also experienced martial artists.

Everyone in the group was extremely motivated and trained very hard; however, I noticed that a number of them were having difficulty executing some of the techniques. In general, they commented that the techniques “weren’t working” or that they couldn’t get their partner into the right position to finish the technique. When I took a close look at what they were doing, I found that the vast majority of them were “working around” their partners. For example, if they were doing an armbar that would drive their partner into the prone position, they wer reaching up over the arm (leaving it in position) and trying to press down. Instead, they should have been pulling the arm down to a level where they were mechanically efficient and the “attacker” was off-balance. In simple terms, they were being too nice.

Once I realized what was happening, I explained the problem and took corrective action. First, I had everyone “walk through” the techniques, using a normal walking stride (our preferred footwork) to put full body weight and commitment into every technique. I also emphasized specific reference points for the completion of each technique or each phase of a technique. For example, an armbar is not an armbar until the attacker’s wrist is anchored to your hip and your upper arm is vertical, applying pressure downward with your elbow.

Finally, I gave them specific “objectives” to achieve. Rather than taking someone to the ground with an armbar–a “generic” task–I told them to “touch the front of his shoulder to the mat.” By picking specific points on the mat, I tuned their angles and soon they were dumping each other with ease–and great effect.

We are the good guys and will always be held to a higher standard. However, when someone has “defined the terms of our relationship” (one of my favorite quotes), you must play according to those terms–and play to win. Do what you need to do TO your attacker or ON your attacker and forget about the folks judging from behind a desk–and the ones who refuse to get off the couch.

Stay safe,


Big-Knife Training

I recently did some private training for a couple of students interested in big-knife tactics. During that process, I revisited the thought process that helped make MBC what it is today–a system that focuses on practical carry knives and their real capabilities. However, I was also reminded of the benefits of playing with large blades and the training advantages they offer.

Since you will fight with what you carry, I still firmly believe that your training blades MUST replicate your actual carry blades as much as possible. I’ve seen some practitioners train with special rigs containing multiple foot-long aluminum trainers. As a martial art, that’s fine if that’s your thing. As a means of developing usable self-defense skill that translates to your actual carry knives, it’s way off base.

By training with tools that replicate your carry knives, you can integrate all phases of your tactics into the training process–including initial empty-hand responses, draws, openings, and application of the blade with realistic tactics that are appropriate to the true capabilities of that knife (i.e. the “beheading” stroke with the Spyderco Delica won’t work, no matter how cool it may seem). In my opinion, that’s where the focus of your training should be.

However, that doesn’t mean that big-knife stuff is all bad. Working with large knives does offer some significant benefits.

First of all, larger weapons force you to refine your angles of movement. With a small knife, you can be sloppy or imprecise and it’s difficult to see. Big knives–especially barongs and machetes around 20-24 inches in length–really force you to focus on precise angles and the body mechanics necessary to support them. If the plane of motion of your arm and the plane of the blade do not coincide, you’ll know it. To do that, and to swing a large knife effectively, you’ll need to have good body mechanics and hip and shoulder rotation. Big blades bring that out and motivate you to tune those elements up, rather than just being lazy and swinging your arm.

Big blades also teach real edge awareness and wrist articulation. Anyone who really understands blade-to-blade contact (regardless of the flavor or origin) knows that you never want to hit edge to edge. Blocks should always be done with the flat or the back of the blade. To do that, you need to position your blade perfectly to make contact with the proper surface area. That skill takes the edge orientation you learn by cutting and refines it much further.

This skill set also transfers over to stick work. Many systems claim that their stick work “represents” edged-weapon work. They talk about the alignment of the knuckles and the fact that strikes with the stick represent cuts with a sword or similar weapon. That’s great, until you start doing things like abaniko (fanning) strikes, which would focus exclusively on the sides of an edged weapon–unless you adjust your grip. Understanding the potential of the flats and back of a big knife is a tremendous advantage of large blade training and a skill set that separates real blade players from hobbyists. Once you can incorporate the use of the other blade surfaces as purposeful blocks, beats, and strikes, your skills and understanding will take a quantum leap. If you can’t do that, you’re stick fighting with a blade and your tactics will not effectively translate to an edged weapon.

If you really want to tune up your stick work, do all the same motions with a barong or similar style of training blade. Really try to maintain edge orientation for all your strikes. You’ll find the wrist articulation and body mechanics necessary to do this will really tune up your stick work and make it much cleaner and more precise. This is another tremendous advantage of big-knife work in that it forces you to exercise extreme control in your motions–especially when working with a partner. Swinging an aluminum barong trainer around and making precise, light contact with a partner requires excellent skill and control. Without it, every touch is a ding or bruise (remember, your partner will eventually return the favor!). Go slowly, refine your skills and your control, and really feel what you’re doing.

Once you’ve spent some time playing big knife, bring it back to reality and work with your carry knife again. Invariably you’ll find that you’ll be faster, smoother, and have better body mechanics. Like a baseball player swinging a weighted bat to warm up, the extra weight of the big knife serves as a form of resistance. Even if you never plan to carry or fight with a big knife, use it as a training method to make your small-knife skills even better.

Stay safe,


Welcome to the MBC Training Blog

Welcome to the MBC training blog!

The purpose of this blog is to provide a resource through which I can share tips, insights, and suggestions regarding all training related to MBC, CBC, and the related disciplines I teach and practice. In particular, I will focus on sharing experiences that I have when training with my private students and seminar training partners with the goal of helping readers enhance their own training efforts.

I’m confident that you don’t care what kind of breakfast cereal I ate this morning or whether I mowed my lawn or not, so I’m not going to make this a personal blog. When I have something to share that is relevant to training, I’ll post it here. When I don’t, I won’t waste anyone’s time.

My goal is to offer new information and insights every week; however, my travel schedule and other commitments will undoubtedly affect that. Be patient, however. Good things come to those who wait…

Stay safe,

Michael Janich