Transitional Weapons and Integrated Fighting Skills

Letter-Stylized-Y-150x150ou look across the low valley and stream that lies between you, your comrades, and the enemy. Less than one hundred yards separates you from a wall of red uniformed soldiers. Their line bristles with the glint of grayed steel rifles with fixed bayonets. You can just make out the faces of the men, some old with graying beards, many more still too young to shave.

At the sound of a clear and distinctive call from a distant bugle, the enemy front lines drop to their knees, the bright gleam of drawn sabers, held high in the morning sun punctuate the lines of red.

The men in your column drop immediately to their knees and ready themselves to fire. Even though the ground is still covered with the cool dew of the morning, you smell the sweat of those around you.

The first volley is fired, followed by the second, the third. Men fall around you and you can hear, even amidst the explosions of gunfire, the damp thud of bullets impacting bodies.

A tumultuous unified scream goes up from both sides and both lines erupt in a mad dash toward each other. There is only sporadic gunfire now as the muzzle loading rifles have now been relegated to little more than a spear or club. In a matter of seconds the lines clash in a strange mixture of ringing steel, agonizing screams and the thud of body against body. You parry the first bayonet thrust at you and immediately thrust your own forward. Your rifle barrel is grabbed by a desperate hand and pulled aside. You reach for your belt, grabbing your father’s pistol. Dropping your rifle you shove your left hand forward into the face of the man in front of you. Your hand slides up his face and catches under his visor, forcing his head backwards you shoot a half inch diameter ball of lead through his neck. You kick out at his knees with your left foot, dropping him to the ground. He is immediately replaced by another who lunges at you with a knife. You club down on his arm with your pistol, breaking both the fore stock of the pistol and his arm. You grab for you own knife and plunge it forward, meeting soft resistance . . .

This battle took place 250 years ago.

As the strategies and technology of warfare change or evolve, so must the tactics and training methodologies of the soldier change to reflect the relevance of their need in combat.

On the actual field of battle little had changed for almost two thousand years up until the invention of the gun. Yes, there had been changes or inventions that had added new facets to the face of battle, such as the development of steel, the invention of the stirrup, heavy armor, and the long bow, to name only a few. In the end, the outcome of the battle still came down to combat between individual soldiers engaged in hand-to-hand combat. The invention of the gun, and by this I mean cannon, rifles and pistols, changed the strategies of warfare forever.

The use of gun powder allowed armies to attack each other from longer ranges (up to several hundred yards) and with greater accuracy. And although hand-to-hand combat never left the battlefield, it gradually became a byproduct of the dynamics of the order of battle and not the goal of the battle. This strategy continued up until around the advent of World War I where the gap between warring armies widened once again. This strategy continued through World War II and, driven by technology, reached its zenith with the deployment of ICBMs (Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles) that could strike from the other side of the world.

How did these changes in technology and strategy affect the way that battle is conducted by the individual soldier?

The shift from the emphasis on individual combat conducted by masses of soldiers was a gradual and slow process. It was only within the last 150 years that guns evolved from single shot weapons to multiple shot, semi-automatic and fully automatic weapons. Prior to this, in the time of muzzle loading weapons, several volleys would be fired by each side before the armies would clash and revert once again to swords, sabers, bayonets and rifle stocks. The individual soldier needed to be able to use a rifle, a pistol, a bayonet, a sword and their bare hands to survive, and their training reflected those needs.

Although the ability to kill your enemy from greater distances increased, the way in which wars were fought changed little. Armies were moved around like giant chess pieces, slugging it out over field and plains where it was easier to maneuver and keep track of the ebb and flow of battle. Most warfare was fought out in the open and epitomized by the monumental and tragic stand offs of World War I and the titanic armored battles between Germany and Russia during World War II. As a result, the great militaries of the world adapted their training to reflect larges masses of men and armor facing off against each other over the field of battle.

As a consequence of this view of modern warfare, hand-to-hand combat and close quarter battle skills were more or less relegated to the role of conditioning drills and confidence boosters.

Our wars were going to be fought and won by scientists and technicians using ultra sophisticated machines to fight the battles where ground troops would be employed only after the battle was largely won, to mop up, occupy or secure strategic areas.

But now the face of warfare has changed once again and not because of some technological advance by the enemy, but rather because the enemy has changed so drastically. The enemy that we now face has come in under our radar, both figuratively and literally.  We no longer face a mass uniformed army as the enemy on the other side of the chess board. Now we face an enemy who has no uniform, and no face for that matter, for they have moved right in amongst our own chess pieces on the board. This enemy has come in so far below our technological advantages that we have been forced to confront them at their level of strategies and tactics. They fight us from rooftops and doorways, they use primitive but effective booby traps (IED’s and VBIEDs) and they set up ambushes using guerilla tactics as effective today as they were hundreds of years ago, a perfect example of asymmetrical warfare.

What this has done is force our military and our allies to reevaluate the capabilities and tactics made necessary by this new (old), low tech approach to warfare.

The new strategies have now reverted back to the importance of the individual soldiers (Boots on the Ground) impact on any given strategic objective.

Our battles are now being fought in urban environments, street to street, house to house, and room to room. In some theaters they are being fought in caves. There are two main developments that are the direct products of this type of warfare. You cannot move large numbers of troops around in such environments. You are forced to use small units, teams of soldiers, whose effectiveness relies much more heavily on the skills and cunning of the individual soldier for the overall success and combat capabilities of the team. Secondly, the nature of this type of war fighting and the environments where it takes place put the soldier in much closer proximity to the enemy. Thus the probabilities for the likelihood of a hand-to-hand confrontation with an enemy combatant have risen dramatically.

These changes in the way the military views combat did not manifest overnight and they certainly do not exclude the need for large scale conventional strategies and tactics. After the fall of the Soviet Empire and breakup of Eastern European countries it became very evident that new confrontations would most likely be fought in urban environments against an enemy using guerilla warfare tactics. Military strategists clearly recognized this and it certainly has proven to be the case.

It has always been a part of the U.S. military strategy to have these small unit capabilities and the necessary training to carry out counter-guerilla actions in our arsenal. The soldiers of all of the U.S. Special Forces and SPECWAR Units have existed to fill this role. One of the many aspects of their training and an area these soldiers specialize in is called CQB (Close Quarters Battle). They have certainly proven they have no problems in working up close and personal against enemy forces.

This specialty area of fighting called CQB generally consists of room distance fighting, five to twenty-five feet or so. The main tools used are carbines, sub machine guns, pistols, shotguns, and various stunning devices, (flash bangs, etc.) as needed. In addition these soldiers have to be schooled in various aspects of hand-to-hand combat applications for their needs. In a very simple sense: parry, stun, takedown and finish. They are also schooled in various police type tactics including arrest and control, hand cuffing and the means necessary to deal with prisoners and detainees. This is training related only to the CQB aspect of these multi-faceted warriors and represents only a small fraction of their overall training programs.

Because of the nature of the fighting environments we are now engaged in, the majority of U.S. troops-not just the Special Forces / Special Warfare Branches that, in the past, worked those environments a majority of the time, will find themselves engaged in CQB.

Today, every combat capable soldier must be trained to work within these urban and CQB environments. Fortunately the U.S. military has recognized this necessity and is sending large numbers of troops to MOUT (Military Operations on Urban Terrain) school/training to prepare them for these possibilities.

This close quarter battle environment was once generally regarded as existing at distances of five to twenty-five feet while engaging the enemy.  Over the last five years or so this has tightened up to a distance of three to twenty-five feet.  However, as a result of direct Battle field requirements, this distance has been changed from zero to twenty-five feet, called zero-distance CQB.

Where does this change now bring us? It takes us directly back to the battles of 250 years ago. Those soldiers would fire a volley, close on the enemy, shoot their pistol, switch to bayonets or swords and ultimately resort to their bare hands.

These soldiers had to be able to transition from one weapon to the next quickly and smoothly as each lost its usefulness in the clash of battle.

Now here we are in 2014, having gone full circle to the point where once again, individual soldiers must not only know how to use a variety of weapons, but also know how to transition between these weapons cleanly and efficiently. When you are engaged in any form of CQB, time is greatly compressed and the danger level increases in magnitude due to your proximity to the enemy.

In the mastering of any martial skill it has long been taught that the mastery of weapons represents the highest and most difficult attainment of the art. In fact, most traditional martial systems required the student to master the empty hand skills before being introduced to weapons handling skills.

If weapons skills are recognized as the high art of martial skills, then the mastery of weapons transitions is the high art of weapons skills.

Integrated fighting skills and the mastery of weapons transition skills is governed and defined by one single principle that covers everything you train to do.


All fighting is fighting.

Primitive Skills for the Modern Warrior

What are Integrated Fighting Skills?

Integrated fighting skill, as defined by actual combat applications (not sport) is:

The ability to flow seamlessly through all ranges of combat, using whatever techniques that apply, using any weapon you may have. This is a simple definition which does not mean progressing from kicking to punching and to grappling.

What are weapons transition skills?

Skill at weapons transition is: The ability to flow seamlessly from one weapons system to another, through all ranges of combat, using whatever weapon that applies to any particular moment in combat.

The weapon here could be any of the following: carbine, shotgun, pistol, knife, stick (baton) and empty hand.

Although I have described them separately for the sake of introducing the two aspects of CQB, Integrated Fighting and Weapon Transitions are two halves of the same coin. In terms of CQB, one does not exist without the other. On paper this would seem fairly easy to accomplish and most people generally assume that they could do it. But as you will see, these are skills not easily attained and not easily maintained once acquired. They require hundreds of hours of practice and must be done on almost a daily basis to maintain the precision, timing and accuracy to keep them effective.

Mastering CQB skills is not just a matter of mastering hand-to-hand combat skills and then mastering various weapons skills. It is the practice of integrating hand-to-hand combat with weapons handling skills and then applying them simultaneously. Let’s separate the layers. For example, you might have to switch from kicking to stand up grappling then to a takedown, then transition back to an outside range. This sounds easy – any competent martial artist can do this. Too bad that’s not all you’re going to have to do.

Look again. This time you enter a room, you muzzle punch the bad guy in the chest with your carbine, stomp kick him in the abdomen, drop your carbine (it’s on a sling) close the distance, grab the guy by the hair, yank his head backwards as you draw your secondary weapon (your pistol) bring it up to a CQB firing position called the pectoral register, fire two shots through the bad guy’s neck and foot sweep him to the ground. Does this still sound easy?

Let’s look one more time. This time when you come through the door, shots are being fired at you – it’s automatic weapons fire – you recognize the distinctive sound of an AK. The wood above the doorway showers you with splinters. Suddenly someone jumps out in front of you – he’s screaming and flailing about. Shoot him. No, he’s not armed – he’s a hostage. You muzzle punch him in the chest and stomp kick him in the abdomen, and he drops to his knees. Directly behind him is another, who lunges forward grabbing the barrel of your carbine. He has an AK-47 under his right arm. You drop your carbine, (it’s on a sling) grab him by the hair and yank him backwards as you drop into a CQB firing position (the pectoral register) and put two rounds under his chin through his head as you foot sweep him to the ground. Shots are still being fired. This time they’re not aimed at you but at one of the other four teammates who came through the door behind you. Across the room is another hostage with a terrorist firing from behind him while using him as a shield. The hostage is terrified, yet frozen. There is screaming, you bring your pistol up and fire – an accelerated pair, putting one round through the terrorist’s throat and one round into his head. There are still more shots. Then after two seconds of silence, someone from your right yells “clear!” You take your second breath since entering the room.

The first battle took place over 200 years ago.  This second battle took place this morning.

Let’s review: Mastering CQB skills is the practice of integrating hand-to-hand combat with the weapons handling skills and then applying them simultaneously – While someone else is trying to kill you. I purposely left off the last part of this definition.

I don’t care how many Black Belts you may have or how fantastic, precise and acrobatic your Wushu may be. If you can’t use it while someone is trying to kill you, then it’s merely an exercise, and no good for combat.

I don’t care how fantastic your Chi, Dim Mak or pressure point fighting may be, if you can’t use it while someone is trying to kill you, then it’s no good for combat.

I don’t care if you are the best target shooter in the world. If you can’t shoot accurately when someone is shooting back at you, then all you are is a target shooter – nothing more — and it’s no good for combat.

So how do the tier-one operators of units like DELTA, DEV Group, CAG, the FBI – HRT, the British SAS and German GSG9, develop, test and maintain their CQB skills?

First and foremost they are the cream of the crop. Out of thousands, only a handful are ever chosen for any of these types of units. Not necessarily being big or strong or even possessing previous skills qualifies you. A cool head under fire would probably best describe the assets needed to be considered either a gunfighter or a tier-one operator.   Thinking while under stress is either in the individual or not – all the physical skills can be taught and learned.

Training is under as realistic conditions as possible. This can include training with non-compliant opposition; spontaneous drills where no one knows what is going to happen, simulation training where opponents are firing back with simulated bullets, and live fire exercises, where real guns and real rounds are being fired.

The British SAS were notorious for training using real subjects as hostages, bursting into a room while shooting live rounds from automatic weapons (MP5’s) into dummy targets, sometimes only inches away from the “live” hostages.

Hardcore CQB training always involves attempts to introduce as much stress (realism) as possible into the drill, along with spontaneous responses from the opposition role players. This ensures that the operators are able to react, make changes on the fly and still accomplish the goal (mission).

Physical fitness is a huge part of the training for operators at the tier-one level. Fatigue can not be allowed to become part of the equation as this will lead to sloppy mistakes and death.

Conventional training is also a necessary part of the training construct, for you have to practice the skills you expect to use.  Martial Combat skills, such as Jiu Jitsu, boxing arts, kick boxing, edged weapons as well as range time (shooting skills) are practiced just as you would assume.

The overview and generalization of this training is analogous to the training of a football team. You train for physical fitness. You learn how to block, tackle, and throw. You learn the plays and practice them with your team.  You study the strengths and weaknesses of your opponents. You scrimmage, using your plays against a team of your own players, and this is what gets you ready for the real game.

The training includes an exhaustive amount of academic study.  Some of the most vital information is gained from previous experience. Operators with previous experience from within the US and other countries will share their experiences and particular areas of expertise.

There is also meticulous study of after action reports and analysis of previous hijackings, hostage rescues and terrorist attacks. These aspects are studied in minute detail, from the reaction of the hostages, terrorists, and operators to all aspects of the environment, effects of the weapons used (by both sides) and the strategies, tactics and individual actions of every person involved in the incident. This allows the operators to learn from both the mistakes and the successes of these operations and to keep abreast of the latest tactics and weapons used by the terrorists.

This type of training and analysis fosters the process of continuous learning and continuous improvement, resulting in the evolution that is needed to quickly adapt to changes, just as has recently happened on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, in today’s war on terror.

And so it is, that although the technologies and weapons of warfare have changed, the skill at arms of the individual soldier have come around full circle and are as important to the ultimate outcome of victory today, as they were 250 years ago, or 2,500 years ago.


Copyright 2016 Ernest R. Emerson

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