An Introduction to Reality Based Training

By Joe Hubbard

During World War II , US Army Colonel Rex Applegate was ordered by his superior officers to collect as much information as he could on close-quarter combat. Because the British had more recent experience with “war secrets” and its' intrinsic application to the neutralisation of the enemy, Applegate enlisted the help of Fairbain & Sykes who were renowned Military Combatives trainers of the day. The information was collected and used to train commandos, intelligence officers and other allied troops in these unique fighting skills. Applegate went on to write the infamous “Kill or Get Killed” but five decades later, in his eighties the retired Colonel told his friend, retired undercover detective and self-defence expert, Jerry Van Cook, “I'm still not finished with my work.”


To many in the military/police community the Colonel was like the “Bruce lee” of military combatives, always looking outside the box for what works and what doesn't work while in the chaos of combat. This also became the quest of many “forward thinking” martial artists who were constantly trying to push the envelope for innovation vs. purity in traditional martial art systems seeking functionality on the street and the battlefield.


This melting pot of combative ideas has grown significantly over the years and has fallen into the category known to many insiders as Reality Based Self-Defence. RBSD differs to most self-defence programmes and/or martial arts systems in that it offers “survival enhancement options” that range from:

•  Attack>Escape

•  Attack>Control, Contain & Arrest

•  Attack> Neutralisation to Degree of the Threat


This model is then applied versus any opponent (single or multiple), against modern weapons (stick, knife & gun or any improvised adaptation), in any environment (urban, domestic & rural), in any position (standing, seated, kneeling and grounded) and then organised within various “scenario specific” rehearsals in order to codify the information to be applied under stress and with an uncooperative opponent. A Full Spectrum Warrior is someone that knows much more than a couple of strikes and kicks.


This is someone who has developed a command and mastery that parallels a University education in close quarter combat, which would include a four dimensional approach (physical, psychological, emotional and intuitive) towards a violent encounter and has an understanding of its' application towards the criminal, terrorist and/or enemy soldier.


Somebody with superior “street savvy” who is not limited to one set of ideas, but draws from various combat sources from all over the world that includes military combatives, police defensive tactics and the very best of the martial arts; someone who has attained an adequate level of fitness and strength and possesses a working knowledge of tactical “last ditch” medical procedures for hostile environments. All in all the Full Spectrum Warrior has got to be “switched on” to his environment and understand how to survive crime and violence before it happens, while it is happening and after it happens. Fortune favours the prepared! When violence shatters the comfort zone around you, there are no time outs or second chances to figure out what you are going to do next.



“Improvise, adapt and overcome!”

US Marine maxim




Why has violent crime increased so rapidly in the last ten years? Many experts argue that law enforcement has become too lenient on criminal punishment; the growing fatherless nation that has spawned a community of underage criminals as young as 9 years old carrying weapons for criminal intention; increasing poverty and immigration problems from Easter Europe; the illegal drug trade; globalisation that has increased a world-wide alert on terrorism; the media revolution that includes television, movies, advertisements and the growing misuse of the Internet. Regardless of reason, when faced with a vicious violent criminal attack, the last thing on your mind is trying to figure out all the sociological options involved and just where society went wrong and failed you personally.

When faced with danger your main objective is to be able to counter the criminal assault and then escape to safety as quickly as possible. It is all about your survival! Most martial arts systems and/or self-defence programmes do not address the recognition of the threat, counter to violence, survival and escape paradigm. Instead, most self-defence curriculum focuses on the physical command and mastery of different stances and body movements that relate to punching, kicking, blocking and evading a physical attack.


We have to go beyond this to include not only the physical response, but also the psychological, emotional and intuitive components of the violent encounter. Real violence happens so fast that your main chance for survival is an immediate response reaction, which employs explosive forward pressure; escape; control, contain and/or arrest and the neutralisation of the threat paralleled by the severity of the assault. Now, it has to be said that any violent assault usually starts as an assault to your mind via intimidation. That brings us to the three phases that we can direct our immediate response reaction to:


•  Early Phase : Intimidating Behaviour

•  Mid Phase : Passive to Active Threat

•  Late Phase : Assault to Aggravated Assault






It is important to train and replicate these phases by isolating each stage and then putting them together into an improvised flow. There could be a time where all three phases could occur within 2-3 seconds. Verbal de-escalation is a skill that needs to be explored in-depth with this entire training model. Killer Instinct also needs to be addressed to enable the student to present greater violence to his opponent, than his opponent is capable of bestowing upon him. This desensitises the student from his “empathy towards his fellow man” complex and develops an “on-off switch trigger” that enables an immediate response reaction in the first place when faced with danger.


It has to be said that nothing is completely absolute when it comes to being physically and/or mentally attacked. There will always be a “what if” scenario that will present a new set of problematic solutions for a survival and escape plan. Like with anything in life, having a plan worked out in advance is the key for success. “Mental Imaging” is a great way to prepare you for a variety of different violent situations that you may find yourself in.


Put away the martial arts magazines and pick up a newspaper. Go through all the violent stories and then create a “Synthetic Combat Experience” by visualising yourself in a movie and re-enact the stories in the news that you have read. This develops your intuition and many experts claim that we cannot tell the difference between a real or synthetic experience. This not only develops your ability to enhance your Criminal Assault Survival Tactics, but also helps you to develop a new awareness and avoidance strategy that allows you to thwart an assault in the earliest phases of possible danger.



On the surface, our training is rather paradoxical. On the one hand, we train our hand-to-hand skills to a high level avoiding any esoteric applications that hold little to no use in a real-world violent encounter. On the other hand we hard-wire our “response system” to react immediately to a physical attack by finding any improvised weapon that we can use against our attacker. However, just because you posses a weapon (impact weapon, knife and/or gun) does not mean that you can rely solely on that weapon for overall success. You must also have developed superior unarmed skills to use in conjunction with or before you have time to deploy and/or find a weapon to use. This may seem contradictory at first glance, but in reality your unarmed skills work interdependently with your weapons tactics.


Many think that the word “combatives” is restricted to a military application only. Of course everyone understands that there is no time for esoteric behaviour in the world of spies, elite Special Forces units and “in-the-trenches” military soldiers such as MI6, the Gurkhas, the Korean ROK Marines, the US Delta Force and/or the British SAS. Enemies of these groups fear their reputation for close quarter battle, shooting and explosives ability, performance under stress, deception, superior tactics and so forth. These positive aspects provide a filter for us to process everything through in order to foster a “streetwise or battlefield” approach to our training. However, many military hand-to-hand courses are dangerously too simple. This over simplification can hinder your ability to counter and trouble-shoot the tactics effectively while you are “under fire” so to speak. Remember, soldiers are primarily shooters and very little time is spent towards training their unarmed skills.

“Keep it simple, but not too simple.”

Albert Einstein


The next source we draw heavily from are Police Defensive Tactics. The Police know many things about how criminals victimise and assault their prey that other groups know little to nothing about. Control, containment, arresting procedures, anti-rape, crime-stopping, counter terrorist measures and use of force issues are all practical and realistic problem solving topics for modern street survival. For instance, if you are only trained with a “Rambo Commando” response to an assault, without assessing the threat properly, you may end up in jail quicker than you think. Again, if we look at the flip side of this issue and are institutionalised to respond with only a “politically correct” tactic, such as an arm bar- you may end up severely injured or even dead in many cases! Many martial arts systems are one-dimensional in their approach. Most are locked into a sport structure and focus primarily on the physical application of their given art. Fighting ranges are often limited from art to art and the essential philosophy of “cheating” or “dirty fighting” is often frowned upon or thought to be unacceptable because most martial arts systems make most of their money teaching children rather than adults. Be that as it may, there are many positive aspects of martial arts training that need to be applied to the military and police paradigm. There are volumes of drills and training applications that enable the student to develop and/or improve many combative attributes such as: sensitivity, body mechanics, strength, fitness, footwork, speed, reaction time, power, timing, coordination, balance, distancing, range manipulation, agility, stamina, conditioning, rhythm, accuracy, explosiveness and improvised flow. Ground fighting also plays a big part with your unarmed combatives training. Your training must focus on getting back to you feet, rather than becoming a “college wrestler.” Many training methodologies from traditional martial arts or sport can be drawn from here, but you must apply a more combative approach to your ground-fighting programme. Remember, if you get knocked to the ground in a fight, with no one around to help you, your main objective is to neutralise the threat, get back to your feet an escape to safety as quickly as possible! In the final analysis, we must be able to differentiate between “ritualistic sport fighting” and “offensive/defensive survival fighting.” This simple understanding clearly defines modern unarmed reality-based training providing you with the force necessary to counter any assault, against anybody, at any time, in any environment and in any position. To the enlightened this is a “hard-core” blend of military combatives, police defensive tactics and selected martial arts fighting methodologies and strategies. Our opponent is the criminal, the enemy soldier and/or the urban terrorist. With that in mind, sometimes we have to avoid; sometimes we have to talk our way out; sometimes we have to escape; sometimes we have to arrest & contain; sometimes we have to attack & injure to degree, which means that sometimes yes, we may have to even kill them.

“Fighting first, systems second!”

Scientific Fighting Congress maxim




Weapons training is of vital importance to reality-based education. Understand that most criminals, terrorists and/or enemy soldiers will be armed to some degree. Even if they are not armed, a more positive mind-set is to assume that they already are. When learning to fight with or defending against weapons there is a never-ending deluge of information about what will and will not work against a committed attacker on the street. Before we can proceed we need to take a look at three common myths that present themselves within many systems:


•  The Myth of the Duel:

There is an ongoing misunderstanding and overuse of long-range duelling in most fighting systems. The “tennis match” must be explored, but without specific end goals in mind- this training paradigm will mislead many students into believing that they are ready for street combat. In real life altercations, duelling occurs very rarely. Of course to the beginner it will develop many combative attributes to enhance even your unarmed skills, but as the practitioner evolves, he/she must partake in force on force scenario simulations that vary in their orchestration and intensity. It is only here that the student will begin to understand the tactical application of weapons on the street and the battlefield.


•  The Myth of the First Event:

Often various instructors will declare that certain weapon counter procedures will not work in a real-life attack. Many of these naysayers in fact have no real world experience and are limited to what they have been told or are simply relaying statistics from a classroom sparring perspective where the sufficient amount of pain and/or distraction cannot be applied without injury. For example if you try to grab the knife arm of a slashing attacker without first picking up a brick and throwing it at him or hurling a hot cup of coffee into his face; it probably won't work. It is the responsibility of the trainer to establish the correct dynamic in a progressive manner to implement this into your training regime. Try substituting the brick with a tennis ball or the hot cup of coffee with cold water. It still won't be the same, but you'll be surprised at your increasing success in countering and seizing the weapon arm to enable your follow up tactics.


•  The Myth That Everyone with a Weapon Is an Expert:

The hard cold truth with any weapons attack is that the criminal is using it as an insurance policy to get what he wants from you. He is hoping that it will intimidate you into submission and in the worst-case scenario it is that trepidation and fear that leads to possible fatality in many cases. Most people do not know how to use the weapon they are holding! You should still always assume that they do, but know in the back of your mind that they probably have very little skill associated with the use of the weapon that they are presenting to you. The last thing on a criminal's mind is thinking that you have any counter measures in place to launch at him when he clearly seems to have the upper hand. This of course goes hand in hand with the behaviour that you are displaying: set him up with convincible acting; close the gap; frame the weapon; gesticulate your movements realistically and out of that movement- attack, attack, attack! It needs to be said that any weapon is an inanimate object that cannot perform its' task without your help, skill and expertise. While many systems claim that it is “politically incorrect” or inappropriate to teach people how to use weapons, it nevertheless remains to be an essential skill to effectively counter any weapons attack!


•  Edged Weapons

Knife training is an essential part of any reality-based programme. The knife provides you with an edged blade for slashing and hacking; a tipped point for stabbing and an end pommel for ballistic striking. If the edged weapon is big enough, the flat of the blade can also be used as an impact weapon for a less-than-lethal application. You may ask, “I don't carry a knife, so why should I learn to use one?” Well, the answer is simple, if someone is trying to kill you, understanding how to lunge and reach to grab a knife from your kitchen drawer and use it against your attacker, may just end up saving your life or the life of a loved one.


•  Impact Weapons

Impact weapons, such as baseball bats, canes, walking sticks, retractable batons and/or metal pipes provide you with an extension to keep your opponent/opponents at bay. For instance, a walking stick or pool cue in the hands of a man who knows how to use it will very often be successful in defending against unarmed or knife wielding attackers. Again the unarmed defence application against someone with a bat is largely based on your skills with an impact weapon.


•  Firearms

In this day and age a true Full Spectrum Warrior must have a working knowledge with firearms. This is divided into two categories:

•  Hand Guns

•  Long Guns

Without the knowledge of using firearms, your unarmed defence against gun threats are highly minimised. We are now blessed with the advancement with semi-automatic gas air soft weapons in that we can replicate real gun fight scenarios while getting shot at without the risk of fatality. Real-world gun training goes way beyond standing statically on a gun range and shooting perfectly at a paper target!



With all that's said and done our application with: mental preparation (4 dimensional approach/understanding of crime/killer instinct, etc.); physical unarmed training and modern weapons training starts to become like a strategic implementation of the children's game “Rock, Scissors and Paper.” Military, police, martial artists and aware citizens all know things about combat street survival in relation to their own individual groups. The key is working together, blending, evolving and continuing to research what we all do, how we do it and evaluating its' outcome for street survival. In the end, it is the intelligence, the content and philosophy of any reality-based system that will determine your overall success in an all out street attack! Hopefully this altered awareness will lead you into new frontiers, paving the way for you to become a Full Spectrum Warrior.