Where Combatives and Combat Sports Collide

Where Combatives and Combat Sports Collide


In the martial arts world, there is a common debate that takes place between practitioners of “reality-based” or “combative” martial arts and practitioners of combat sports such as Muay Thai, MMA, Judo, or Brazilian Jujitsu. Combatives practitioners believe that combat sports have no relevance to learning how to fight to protect yourself on the street, whereas Combat Sport athletes believe that the only way to truly train your skills is to test it on the mat or in the ring in real time in an athletic environment. As the Chief Instructor of Bayani Warrior (www.bayaniwarrior.com), I have had the opportunity to train with and meet individuals from both sides of the spectrum. In this article, I intend on explaining why the worlds of Combatives and Combat Sports are closer than people think, and why I feel combat sports have plenty to offer the Filipino Kali or Combatives practitioner (and vice versa).

Originating from methods for the military, Combatives practitioners focus primarily on developing the skills, knowledge, and ability to better protect oneself in a real-world violent altercation where severe bodily harm and even death may be imminent. These systems include styles such as Filipino Kali (when taught in it’s true form), Israeli Krav Maga, and other styles that can find their roots in the military hand-to-hand combat methods of World War II. In such situations, rules, weight classes, and regulations are not present, and as such, Combatives practitioners often train with the idea that activities found in Combat Sports, such as sparring and rolling around on mats, are impractical and irrelevant when it comes to learning how to truly fight in the street.

Combat Sports such as Boxing, Judo, Muay Thai, Brazilian Jujitsu, and Wrestling are modern-day sport reincarnations of ancient battlefield fighting methods. The practitioners of these sports are not just martial artists, but they are also athletes who test their skills against one another day in and day out. As such, these individuals believe that the only way for one to be prepared for a fight is to test it in an athletic environment. For combat sport athletes, if it doesn’t work in real time on a mat, in the ring, or the in the cage, you cannot make it work on the street.

While Combatives and Combat Sports are separate entities, we must realize that they share one thing in common: they both originate from methods of battlefield combat. While Combatives practitioners may believe that they are closer to battlefield combat than their combat sport counterparts, they need to realize that combat sports are simply a different expression of battlefield fighting methods adapted to suit our current society in peacetime. This is not to say that Combatives and Combat Sports are the same. Rather, because of their common ancestry, it’s reasonable to believe that practitioners of both sides can learn and benefit by training with one another.

I personally believe that it’s beneficial for a person interested in Combatives training to also take up Combat Sports, especially in the beginning. Doing so provides the individual with a strong foundation in learning about the value of physical and mental toughness, as well as the experience of moving against a resisting opponent. In fact, many street fighters and military Combatives teachers have their roots in combat sports. The legendary Filipino street fighter and Escrima master, Angel Cabales, was a competitive Boxer and Wrestler in the Philippines in his teens before he began his Escrima training. One of the founders of World War II Combatives, William E. Fairbairn, was a practitioner of French Savate, Boxing, Wrestling, and also had a 2nd degree black belt in Judo.


(PHOTO ABOVE: Grandmaster Angel Cabales of Cabales Serrada Escrima was a street fighter, Escrimador, and was a Boxer and Wrestler in his youth.)

While Combatives is a term used often to describe the fighting methods of the military, it’s also important to point out that many of today’s Navy SEALs and other members of the Special Operations community have some type of training in a combat sport. A great example of this is AJ James, a Navy SEAL featured in the film “Act of Valor” and who also Wrestled in my hometown of Edison, New Jersey. In the following video, he explains how Wrestling helped him with his career as a warrior in the SEAL teams.

While it’s good for Combatives guys to understand and train in Combat Sports, it’s important to also note that combat sports by themselves are NOT preparation for real combat. There have been dozens of tales of black belts and combat sport athletes getting attacked on the street, only for them to be ambushed, attacked by weapon-wielding attackers, and being thrown out of their empty-hand fighting comfort zone as a result. While it’s good for a combat sport athlete to train hard and compete, they should also pick up weapons skills such as firearms, stick fighting, knife fighting, weapons retention, and other skills related to a real life and death fight to be truly well-rounded and prepared. The following video features MMA champion Urijah Faber and how he was almost killed during a street fight in Bali. 

A great example of a true combination of Combatant and Combat Sport athlete is Tim Kennedy, a retired Special Forces soldier who now competes in professional MMA. He has plenty of real-world combat experience as well as MMA experience, and understands how combatives and combat sports intertwine. In the following video, he discusses his service days and also shows his skills with a firearm. 

In the following video, Tim Kennedy demonstrates some real-world battlefield Combatives. It just goes to show you can still train in Combat Sports AND understand Combatives at the same time.

I personally believe a true warrior should adopt training methods from the combat sports world and adapt it to their combatives training whenever possible. Combat Sports training adds a sense of realism and resistance that can benefit one’s combative skills. In Bayani Warrior, we regularly work on our conditioning, spar hard, and hit bags and tire dummies. A lot of this training actually originates from my time living in Thailand training with Muay Thai fighters, as well as my brief time Boxing and Wrestling. While you won’t see us in the ring anytime soon, the lessons I’ve taken from such combat sports and adapted to our combative weapons training has helped me push my students and myself to the next level. 


(PHOTO ABOVE: My student and I sparring with Stick and Dagger. Combat Sport training methods can truly transfer to any art you do.)

In conclusion, while Combatives and Combat Sports are different, they can both help the aspiring warrior to be truly well-rounded and prepared. 

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