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Thread: What's the Big Deal with WWII combatives?

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    Default What's the Big Deal with WWII combatives?

    I just saw another ad for WWII combatives. This time in England. What is the difference between WWII combatives and modern day combatives? Aren't they all basically the same?

    Bruce Lee said, in effect, as long as we still have 2 arms and 2 legs we all fight the same.

    What makes WWII combatives different from modern combatives such as Krav Maga, Combat Sambo, Systema, etc....? (although I think the aforementioned have roots in the same era.)

    Stanley Neptune

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    Stanley,

    Not being particularly knowledgeable about WWII combatives I have come to this conclusion. These were the methods or fathers or grandfathers learned and used. And we look up to them and admire them for what they have done for us.
    On a side note, jujutsu the first martial art from the East to reach Europe was taught during WWI to the soldiers. The German did, the French did the English did.

    There are people who made a study of WWII combatives and are very knowledeable about them they will be in a position to give you a better answer. But this is what I think.
    It is certainly material for an interesting discussion.

    best,

    Johan Smits

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    The ww2 combatives stuff I've seen (in particular the fairbarnes type stuff) tends to be a lot more 'gritty' than modern combatives. WW2 close combat techniques often called for use of items that we just don't often have on our person these days. I.E. scraping a combat boot down someones shin (just doesn't work as well with runners), smashing respirator containers into an enemy soldiers back, bashing the bad guy's skull in with his (or your) helmet or rifle butt, even if he's on his stomach on the ground already, etc..

    Some of it is just as applicable now as it was then. But I think back then a lot of the material was even more simple than a lot of the stuff we have today.

    The other thing I noticed is that a lot of modern combat systems have some kind of control of how much damage you're going to do to the person, i.e. not every move results in your attacker dying. This is usually not the case in the ww2 stuff. The soldier you were supposedly attacking usually winds up dying or being severely and permanently maimed at the end of the technique.

    With the newer stuff you often get the option of how far you want to take the technique. It might hurt the guy very badly, but you can often stop it without killing them. With the ww2 combatives there's usually no middle ground. Your attack either fails or it kills the enemy soldier.

    Just my opinion.
    Cory Burke
    ゴゴゴ!

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    Default WW-2 Combatives

    There was a vast amount of combatives taught to the allied forces during WW-2, and a great deal of it was, frankly, rubbish.
    However, the core material presented by Fairbairn, Sykes, O'Neill was superb. When Fairbairn and Sykes were appointed as the staff for Britain’s wartime close-combat training it wasn’t because they had cups, trophies, or even because of the black-belt grades. It was because they had used their methods in countless violent confrontations, on the streets of Shanghai, the World’s most dangerous city. Experience was further gathered as trainees returned from wartime operations, so by 1945 the Shanghai foundation was laminated by even more direct application, making the methods taught by Fairbairn, Sykes and their associates highly tested under combat.
    Anyone looking for a system which can be taught/learned in a limited time, and will work under a variety of operational conditions will still find the F-S material an excellent place to start.
    Cheers,
    Dennis

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    Just some thoughts...

    1. The quality of the WWII combatives systems varied considerably. Some were very good and well designed while others were essentially patchworks of basic wrestling and boxing of varying quality. I think the allure of the good WWII combat methods is that they were created in a time of necessity by men who often had a great deal of firsthand experience prior to the war. For example, William Fairbairn, E.A. Sykes, and Pat O'Neill all had extensive experience with the Shanghai Municipal Police (and both Fairbairn and O'Neill had "black belt" ranks in Kodokan Judo). Rex Applegate built on the work of the Fairbairn/Sykes team.

    2. The methods they created were stripped down to gross motor skills that worked under stress, didn't much depend on wearing loose clothing or stretching out first, and were designed to incapacitate, maim or kill as rapidly as possible. They all relied on weapons, first and foremost. There was also some feedback during the war from returning personnel which allowed them to adapt as needed, thus weeding out the fluff and extraneous things that often find there way into sport-based martial arts.

    3. These days, many folks are looking for serious self-defense training that will help them survive a violent street attack without spending years or decades practicing spinning back kicks, complex joint-locks, etc.. They have full-time jobs and families and simply can't (or won't) invest years or decades in traditional martial arts. Furthermore, the practicality of traditional martial arts for modern self-defense varies widely depending on the school and teacher. One can earn a "black belt" in many karate and Taekwondo schools without ever even hitting a heavy bag. (One can even earn a "black belt" via the internet.) Even among those who are studying traditional MAs for the long term, there are those who want some quick, practical skills now. Skills that can be learned quickly and retained fairly easily in case of emergency. There are other folks who have invested years or decades in their chosen MAs yet retain serious doubts as to the applicability of their techniques and training methods to modern self-defense situations.

    4. Real self-defense isn't based on complex techniques. It is based on awareness, avoidance, and escape. With the right mindset (an important factor in all the good WWII methods as well as self-defense today), self-defense requires very little in the way of technique. It is rarely the most important factor.

    I think that these are some of the reasons, along with the emotional reaction to 9/11, that many are interested in the WWII methods. Again, like all methods, there are both good and not so good methods from that era. The characteristics of the good ones are an aggressive mindset during an encounter, emphasis on attacking your attacker (rather than "blocking"), and simplicity of techniques (gross motor skills based) that are targeted to the most vulnerable points of an opponent's anatomy. Representative techniques are generally high percentage (high likelihood of achieving a successful result) and relatively low risk (not catastrophic consequences for the user if the technique fails).

    Finally, be careful with some of the books on WWII combatives that are in print today. Some were written more for mass consumption by the public than for the folks in the field and some of those written early in the war do not reflect changes in the curriculum that took place later in the war.

    These are just a few thoughts on the subject. I hope they help. James.

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    Dennis: We posted at the same time (or nearly so) so I ended up repeating some of what you just said. Sorry. In any case, I agree with your post. James.

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    I am not hugely knowledgeable about WWII combatives but what I know tallies with what has already been said here. I did hear an interesting story about teaching combatives to US Army soldiers pre-Vietnam that cast an interesting light on what things were taught and why:

    A friend of mine (now a senior dan grade in a variety of arts) was in the US Army (101st Airborne) prior to Vietnam and he tells me his unit were taught a variety of H2H combat skills taken from the WWII era. He says that shortly after he had completed his training the Army changed what it was training it recruits because too many of the soldiers were getting into fights in bars with local civilians and causing considerable injuries. The Army's response to this was to teach the subsequent batch of soldiers less damaging forms of H2H so that the local civilian population wouldn't suffer so much!

    Seems like the daftest thing to me but I have no reason to disbelieve my friend and it is certainly true that many LEOs are taught (and are forced to use) techniques that are balanced in favour of not damaging a violent suspect than protecting the officer. A US prison officer friend of mine has stated that the attitude of his corrections department is that it is better to pay sickpay to an injured officer than it is to risk the liability of being sued for millions by a prisoner who is injured by an officer using effective techniques in the execution of his duties.

    Maybe this is partly why modern combatives are not viewed as highly as those from the WWII era. (Incidentally, my dan-grade friend still uses WWII combatives as the core of his fighting abilities despite going on the study budo at a high level.)
    Hugh Wallace

    A humble wiseman once said, "Those who learn by the inch and talk by the yard should be kicked by the foot."

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    What is the difference between WWII combatives and modern day combatives?
    Well, I know what WWII combatives are but what are modern day combatives? BJJ? JKD? UFC? The Rat Attack, Spear, Shredding?

    Let's make sure we are comparing apples to apples and not peanuts, ok?
    "Fear, not compassion, restrains the wicked."

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    Acouple of extremely rare films of W.E. Fairbairn, produced for training the OSS, are now available here http://www.gutterfightingfilms.com/.
    These are not the already well known film of WEF working with Applegate.
    A real treat for researchers of WW-2 Combatives.

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