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Citizen Warrior

citizen warrior

Photos by Rick Hustead

Post-9/11, “combatives” has become the buzzword of the martial arts industry. However, many students don’t have a clear understanding of what it means. A good working definition is a set of combat skills particular to a group of people.

It’s important to note that the components of any set of skills vary according to the goals and technology available to the group. For example, the combatives used by the ninja of ancient Japan differ from the combatives used by modern-day Army Rangers. Some of the disciplines that exist under the title of combatives are used by a variety of groups. An obvious example is unarmed fighting, which would have been as important for an ancient ninja as it is for a 21st-century police officer.

However, other disciplines favored by one group may be inappropriate or unnecessary for other groups. An example is the skills required to aim and fire antiaircraft weapons and artillery; they’re important for members of the military but not for civilians or even police SWAT teams.

Obviously, if you’re a civilian designing a set of combatives for personal use, you must look at all the disciplines that are available, then weed out the ones that don’t pertain to your needs. Since your primary goal is to survive a deadly encounter, you won’t require extensive training in arrest and handcuffing techniques. You should also avoid including martial sports such as judo and defensive pistol competition; even though they can teach skills that are useful in combat, they condition you to function under a set of rules that can hinder your actions on the street.

citizen warrior

So what exactly should you include in your curriculum? Listed below are seven disciplines you need to cover. To be a well-rounded citizen warrior, you must acquire knowledge and training in all of them. People who specialize in one or two areas will always be able to rise to a higher level of proficiency than a person who practices them all, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into having more options in a dynamic and uncontrollable situation.

Just as a military unit may choose to stress certain combat skills over others because of its goals, you may choose to focus on certain disciplines more than others. For instance, you may not be willing to train with or carry a firearm. That’s fine—as long as you recognize that you’re creating a gap in your armor and make an effort to fill it with alternative methods. So if you decide to forego guns, you can substitute less-than-lethal options such as pepper spray. With that in mind, presented below is a minimum set of skills for a comprehensive introduction to civilian combatives:

Physical Conditioning

Being in shape is essential for anyone who’s preparing for combat. As advised by fitness professionals, your training should consist of the following:

• Cardiovascular Conditioning When faced with a fight, it’s important to be able to maintain your endurance. Running is one of the most effective and least expensive ways to improve your cardio capability, and it offers the fringe benefit of ingraining a potentially life saving skill: running for your life.

• Musculoskeletal Conditioning Four components demand consideration here: strength, muscle endurance, flexibility and power. Strength training forces your muscles to move increasingly heavy weights. Muscle endurance enables your muscles to perform repetitive movements in an efficient manner. Flexibility is important for maintaining the strength of tendons and ligaments. Power is derived from a combination of strength and speed.

• Nutrition Management Food fuels your body while it exerts itself in training. Eat better foods, and your efficiency will improve. Also crucial is consuming the recommended amounts of vitamins and minerals to help repair tissues that become damaged during high-intensity workouts.

• Lifestyle Management Sleep and rest allow your body to recover from training. Abstinence—or, at the very least, moderation—with respect to alcohol, tobacco and drug use is essential.

citizen warrior

Mental Conditioning 

This category includes situational awareness, observation and memory skills, mental toughness (survival mindset) and focus. For all that in a nutshell, consider enrolling in a seminar dedicated to street survival. Or read some books written by people who have been there and done that.


Gun training for civilians should concentrate on safe and proper use of the handgun. It’s the most versatile weapon for the citizen warrior because it can be easily concealed and is effective at close quarters. Rifles and shotguns have applications in home-defense settings and rural areas, but they’re very limited in most other places.

citizen warrior


To supplement firearms training—or to replace it if you don’t feel comfortable with guns—you should consider OC or pepper spray. In addition to stopping an unarmed assault, it can help you keep a knife- or bludgeon-wielding attacker at bay. For most people, that’s infinitely preferable to closing the gap and attempting a disarm because the dynamic nature of real combat will probably doom you to failure.

Unarmed Combat

Obviously, martial arts training is an indispensable subset of civilian combatives. Your workouts ideally will provide you with skills in all four ranges: kicking, punching, trapping and grappling. The key to efficiency and proficiency lies in learning a few proven techniques for each range and practicing them both through visualization and physical training.

Emergency Driving

Maneuvering a motor vehicle while under stress is an often-overlooked skill, but it can become pivotal to your survival should you need to escape from a kidnapper or carjacker. Finding quality instruction is challenging, but many good driving schools are out there, and some will accept civilians. No matter the source, you should learn the fundamentals of evasive driving, including the J-turn and threshold braking.

The most difficult part of maintaining your emergency-driving skills is locating a place to practice. Because you won’t be able to do the drills on the street, periodic refresher courses may be in order if your finances allow.

Emergency Medicine

As you learn combatives, you shouldn’t overlook the acquisition of medical knowledge. You won’t have to delve into the discipline as deeply as a paramedic or medical doctor has to, but you’ll definitely benefit from basic training in first aid—whether it’s to treat yourself, an innocent bystander or an incapacitated attacker.

You can seek training through the American Red Cross, which runs programs in most communities across the country. For a more detailed treatment, you may want to pursue certification as a first responder or emergency medical technician.

Multiple Sources

Unlike learning a traditional martial art, mastering combatives requires you to seek multiple sources of instruction. One-stop shopping just doesn’t work in this field. The wise student obtains training from recognized experts in the disciplines described above. Always remember that no one skill will save your skin in all situations. Every time you learn something new, you give yourself options you wouldn’t have had, and any one of them could be the key to your survival one day.

About the author: Bill Bishop has been a special agent in the U.S. Secret Service for 14 years. He served in the presidential protective division from 1996 to 2000, then oversaw antiterrorism and counterterrorism security for the 2002 Winter Olympics. He’s trained extensively in close-quarters-battle tactics, hapkido, judo and jujutsu.

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