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Winning concepts for hand-to-hand combat

Veteran trainer Chuck Humes says there’s a three-letter test for a successful tactic: SSS. Is it Simple, is it Sensible, is it Street-proven effective? If so, it just might SYA — Save Your A__!

Veteran trainer Chuck Humes recently offered the SSS (or 3 Ss) acronym, along with an alphabet soup of other favorites, during a premier session on “Critical Combative Concepts” at the latest ILEETA international training conference just outside Chicago. Punctuating his insights with eye-popping, handcrafted graphics, the 51-year-old patrol sergeant, independent trainer, and popular author from Ohio encapsulated, in effect, his legacy of survival lessons from nearly three decades on the streets.

Here are a few highlights you can measure against your own experience. As Humes advises, quoting the martial artist Bruce Lee: “Absorb what is useful, discard what is not, and add what is uniquely your own.”

The 3 Ss
This test of tactical soundness was originally articulated by Humes’s seminar partner Dave Spaulding, he says, and has proven foundational in his designing, teaching and employing control techniques. “It applies particularly to DT,” he explains, “but it’s relevant as well in evaluating firearms techniques, deployment tactics, just about any law enforcement skill.

“To be effective, a tactic or technique must first be Simple — easy to learn, easy to do, based on gross motor skills and feasible under stress when your cognition and fine physical capabilities tend to deteriorate. If something isn’t simple in training, it isn’t going to get easier on the street.”

Humes pops another initialism: SIG — Simple Is Good.

“Second, is it Sensible, is it believable based on your training and life experience? Or is it some sophisticated jump-spring pressure kick that you have to be phenomenally coordinated to pull off and that may work in the movies but not in the real world. Is it realistically a retainable skill, given the amount of time you have for training and practice? If you don’t have time to maintain proficiency in a technique, it shouldn’t be in your tactical toolbox.

“Finally, is it Street-proven, has it ever been used successfully in a real combat situation? If not, do you really want to be the guinea pig to find out whether it will work or not when your safety is on the line?”

No Unnecessary Movement
The acronym NUM means No Unnecessary Movement. “Movement adds time, and even a little more time may be time you don’t have in a crisis. In a gunfight, a millisecond can make a difference between life and death,” Humes explains.

He showed a hilarious film clip of a martial arts encounter. At the outset, one of the fighters displays a series of what Humes mocks as “tacti-cool” (versus goal-driven tacti-cal) maneuvers — spins, jumps, flips, high kicks, and other flashy posturing. His leaping around eventually lands him within arm’s reach of his opponent, who without ceremony directly punches him in the face and knocks him out.

“Look at anyone who’s highly skilled — in boxing, shooting, clearing malfunctions, whatever,” Humes says. “They don’t move a fraction of an inch unless they absolutely have to. If you want optimum speed and effectiveness, eliminate all unnecessary movement.”

He recommends videotaping and analyzing your own performance in DT and firearms drills periodically to assure that superfluous movements have not crept in.

Elbows & Knees
In Humes’s opinion, elbow and knee strikes epitomize the three Ss and NUM and should be the “core foundation” of any DT training program and personal repertoire. “I’m a big believer in the test of time” (TOT, another of his acronyms), he says. “These techniques are thousands of years old, and they haven’t been replaced because they work and nothing better has come along.”

He describes knees as “your emergency sledgehammers.” High-tech testing by National Geographic’s Fight Science has shown that the impact levels of a highly trained fighter’s knee strikes can “deliver force equivalent to a 35-mph car crash,” Humes says.

“There are only so many ways you can develop power in striking, and human kinesiology is such that elbows and knees can produce the most powerful, hardest-hitting strikes possible. You can use them standing, kneeling, proned out, on your back — they’re extremely versatile.

“Also, delivering these strikes presents the least risk of injury to an officer, unlike hitting someone with your closed fist. Cops break their fingers all the time by punching people, but I’ve never seen anyone break an arm or a leg striking with an elbow or knee.”

To develop the proper technique, Humes suggests first using “touch-power familiarization drills” (slow speed, low power) to “establish the right muscle coordination.” Then with a partner in protective gear, gradually increase your intensity while maintaining proper form. “You need to develop a dynamic weight shift, including a strong hip rotation, so that your entire body — not just your knee or elbow alone — goes into the blow.

“In most combat situations, you should drive your elbow primarily into your opponent’s chest, but if it’s a deadly force situation and you can’t immediately reach your gun, you can direct your strikes to the neck and head.

“With knee strikes, aim for the belt buckle area to knock the wind out of him. Even if he doesn’t feel pain, the blow can deplete his oxygen and affect his performance. Give verbal orders as you strike: ‘Down! Down!’ This will force you to breathe.”

There are no guarantees that even these powerful strikes will work against a suspect who’s larger than you. “Size does matter in a fight,” Humes cautions. “If you can’t slow an assailant down with your knees or elbows, chances are you need to immediately escalate to a higher level of force.”

Being willing to do what it takes to win is essential to prevailing in a life-threatening situation, Humes emphasizes. “No matter what skill is involved, if you are not willing to use it at the moment of truth, that skill is worthless. And willingness includes being willing to prepare to win with the training and practice that are necessary.

“Unfortunately, there are plenty of people in law enforcement who are not willing to make that dual commitment. They live in denial that bad things can happen to good people. Just because your intentions are golden doesn’t mean that the next guy you run across isn’t going to try to kill you. That will be his choice, not yours.

“Being willing to train, willing to keep yourself in shape, willing to stay well-rested, willing to remain alert, willing to act decisively and emphatically when you need to — they’re all a part of winning.”

Humes’s personal license plate, incidentally, is ‘WILLING.’

How do you nurture willingness, a “relentless commitment” to prevail? Try this, Humes suggests: “Specifically identify what you are going to be sacrificing if you give up. What do you love most of all in this world — and why? Is it your kids? Your spouse? Your buddies? A fishing cabin you escape to? Focus on something absolutely essential to your well-being. Feel the full emotion of losing that, and embed that feeling in your mind.

“Realize it’s not just you affected by your survival. It’s everyone — and everything — you care most intensely about. You’re fighting for them. Bring that emotion to your training and to the street, and that will give you the fighting spirit you need.”

Hardship & Endurance
Mastering survival skills, like getting the most out of life in general, is not always an easy road. “Everyone goes through certain times in life when they endure hardships or challenges that seem pointless or inexplicable at the time,” Humes says.

“Maybe in training or practice you do magazine changes until your fingers bleed and you wonder, ‘Why am I doing this?’ But if you’re under fire and try to change a magazine, something very simple can become very difficult if you haven’t practiced sufficiently. You may think mundane drills are unnecessary punishment, but in fact it is mundane drills that may someday keep you alive.”

He cites a Tibetan proverb that he believes can comfort and motivate officers through trying times: “The iron thinks itself senselessly tortured in the blast furnace. The tempered steel blade looks back and knows better.”

Once again, COT: Chuck’s On Target!

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