Thursday Thoughts: Why You Should Choose A Martial Art Over ‘Combatives’ Training

A while back, I came across this article on the questions you should ask yourself prior to picking a combatives course. There are some great questions you should ask yourself there if you’re wanting to learn how to fight.

But, in my opinion, you should train with an actual martial art over a simple combatives program, and there’s a reason for that.

You see, with martial arts, you’re undertaking something that will help keep you alive in more than one way. Not only can it make you ready for a street fight, but it’s physical training that benefits your health as well.

Before I get too into things, let’s talk about what I mean by “combatives” an “martial arts.”

Martial Arts

Martial arts are generally defined as codified fighting systems complete with their own traditions. Some go back centuries while some only go back to the last century. Age, in and of itself, isn’t the defining characteristic of a martial art.

Most of what people think of as martial arts have their foundations in eastern martial arts and include practices like kung fu, karate, tae kwon do, jiu-jitsu, judo, and many others.

However, that’s not technically accurate. Wrestling, boxing, fencing, and HEMA (Historical European Martial Arts) all qualify, as do many other odd forms of combat.

In fact, most cultures have some form of martial art they can claim as “theirs.”


Combatives, on the other hand, are watered down combat systems meant to instruct otherwise untrained people in how to hurt things and break people in the shortest amount of time possible. (My own definition.)

Now, when I say “watered down,” I don’t mean it in a bad way. What they do is take a handful of movements that are among the most generally useful that the person constructing the system found could apply in the most instances.

The idea is to take a handful of movements, drill students on just those movements until the muscle memory kicks in, and to do it in a minimum amount of time.

A great example of this is the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program or MCMAP. The idea is to teach Marines how to fight as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Combatives leave out some of the more esoteric and spiritual aspects of the martial arts and instead focus on lethality.

Any Examples Of Something Being Both?

Sure. A great example is Krav Maga, which started as a combatives system for the Israeli military and is now considered a martial art in its own right.

I’m sure others can point out different examples that I’m not thinking of at the moment.

However, for our purposes here, anything that counts as both will fall into the martial arts camp. Again, that’s just for the purpose of our discussion.

Which is better?

Look, if I was writing a post like this for Tactical Tuesday, I’d probably tell you to take a combatives course.

Combatives get you up to speed quickly. They make you as dangerous as possible in the shortest time possible. A well-constructed combatives class will pull different moves from different martial arts in an effort to make students as effective as possible.

Further, it does it over a short time period. Yes, I’m saying that a lot, but it matters.

More traditional martial arts take years to become skilled enough to actually be effective in a fight. Contrary to what we see in the movies, Daniel-San won’t learn karate after washing some cars, sanding a floor, and painting a fence. He won’t be able to best black belts who have studied for years and years simply because his will is pure.

No, it takes years to get to that level, and you may or may not have that kind of time.

But this isn’t Tuesday. I’m not looking at things purely from a tactical lens. I’m not looking at things just as they apply to real-world combat, because honestly? Most of us, as adults, will never be in a fight at any point in our future. We probably have years and years to master a fighting system.

And we also have other problems.

Almost two-thirds of all Americans are classified as overweight or obese. As one of those–though not nearly as close as I used to be, I might add–we’re more at risk of being killed by heart disease, diabetes, and cancer than we are from a gang of Cobra Kai.

There, combatives probably aren’t the ideal.

Which is why I’m leaning more toward traditional martial arts as my way to learn how to throw down if it’s needed. While combatives may teach it faster, I’m not worried about speed.

I’m worried about lifestyles.

The idea of attending a class twice a week, then adding in some training here at home another two or three times per week, means I’ll be adding in far more movement into my life. I’ll also get some of the other benefits of martial arts such as flexibility, discipline, conditioning (trust me, the warmups can be a workout in their own right), improved coordination (which I really need), among other things.

The Practicality of Martial Arts

Let’s be honest here. Some martial arts are completely impractical. Tai Chi, for example, is a waste of time for self-defense. Just watch this video to see how well a “master” did against an MMA fighter.

That was ugly.

So, here’s the thing. Not all martial arts are practical. They probably all started out that way, but over time, they evolved into something else. The almost dance-like nature of some forms of kung fu, for example, may not be as useful as the more brutal catch wrestling, but I suspect that back in the early days, it worked.

When you stop relying on a martial art for defense is when its evolution starts to change.

However, when you’re talking about the health aspects of martial arts, the practicality doesn’t really matter all that much. As such, I’ve evolved over the last couple of years.

For your health, study whatever you want.

Now, I will say that if you’re taking something like kendo, you may want to avail yourself of a combatives class or twelve so you can handle yourself in a self-defense situation, but still, take kendo.

Something I haven’t written about yet, but I will soon, is the idea of “warrior archetypes” and embracing these models of warrior-dom. If your model is the samurai and you study kendo and aikido, great. Neither are particularly practical in the real world, but as long as you understand that, have fun. Embrace the archetype as fully as you want.

The movement and training will help make you healthier and help you enjoy life even more fully, and that may well be of more benefit than beating someone down in the streets.

Not that you shouldn’t be ready to beat someone down in the streets, mind you, but that’s where combatives comes into play. And, honestly, I really think everyone should do a bit of both.



3 thoughts on “Thursday Thoughts: Why You Should Choose A Martial Art Over ‘Combatives’ Training”

  1. This is great. One of the disadvantages to living in a rural area is not having access to these courses. For a few months last year I took Ju Jitsu, loved it, and was doing well. But it was over 45 miles each way, and with three young kids at home, it was too tough to be consistent. I’d love nothing more, though, than to be consistent in a practical martial art.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I can certainly understand that, and that’s the real headache for folks in your position. FWIW, I can relate. While I live in town, we don’t have a broad selection.

      If you want to take Krav Maga, for example, your slap out of luck.

      Fortunately, MMA and BJJ are options, and those are my two interests.

      Liked by 1 person

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