27 JULY 2003
BATTLE FOCUSED TRAINING
USING A MILITARY APPROACH TO PUT REALISM INTO YOUR TRAINING.
by Randy McElwee
The recent impressive victories by US military forces in the war on terrorism and the liberation of Iraq
have surprised some people. I'm amazed that so many people have underestimated the value of
training, modernization, and preparation. America's military is unquestionably #1 because of consistent
realistic training and those same principles of realism in your training can take you to a whole new
TRAINING PROGRESSION - The approach
to training is at least as important as the training
itself if not more. It's important to use an
appropriate training progression. The Army
emphasizes a crawl, walk, run approach to
achieve progression and maximize skill. That’s
to say that the training is first executed at a very
slow pace to get the details and the sequence
correct – a crawl. The next phase, the walk
involves picking up the tempo and executing the
same techniques at a faster pace and with more intensity. Finally with proficiency obtained during the
first two levels it’s time to – run. The run phase is designed for full throttle; all out training executed as
close to actual combat conditions as possible within acceptable risk. All quality martial arts instructors
use this same principle by training students within their individual ability levels. It’s crucial that a new
student doesn’t start sparring during his first day of class. First the average beginner doesn’t have
many skills to employ and in the words of -General Douglas MacArthur "In no other profession are
the penalties for employing untrained personnel so appalling or so irrevocable”. While MacArthur
was referring to military combat the same principle applies to all types of fighting.
Secondly recruiting will go way down, as word spreads of your approach to training, your force (class)
will rapidly decrease. Finally you’ve wasted your resources by sending out a soldier (student) that
doesn’t have the tools to succeed.
Good instructors start their students at
an entry level focusing on all the
basics of their art. For instance a
traditional karate instructor will first
teach the elements of stance,
movement, blocks, strikes, and kicks.
Once the student has a grasp of the
basics then the instructor will teach
lessons requiring the student to link
basics together usually as a form or
kata, keeping in line with our earlier example. Finally the instructor will expose the student to a
glimpse of reality with an introduction to sparring. It’s important to gage the student’s level of maturity
and ability before placing him in a situation to be evaluated. To achieve success you don’t hand a
parachute to an untrained soldier and push him out of a plane to conduct an airborne assault.
RISK ASSESSMENT– It’s critical to analyze your training plan to determine the amount, type, and
level of risk. The risk involved in training must be of an adequately proportionate level to the gains of
the training. That is to say the risk of participating
in the training must be within reasonable limits
for the experiences that could be obtained. The
risk of injuring yourself permanently by
participating in a no holds barred (NHB) brawl
after only a few months of training is not likely
proportionate to the lifetime of training and skill
that you’ll miss out on. Realism and risk are like
the formula for nitroglycerin; too much of the
wrong ingredient and the substance will become
unstable. The right blend of key elements produces
a chemical reaction that can be explosively applied
when the time is right.
TRAINING PRIORITIES – Because there are so many things to be proficient at and limited time to
train, it is critical to prioritize your training. The military approach involves the development of a
Mission Essential Tasks List or METL. This METL is simply a detailed list of all the things you must
be capable of or trained in to maximize successful accomplishment of your mission. In order to
accurately develop your list you have to first establish your mission statement. A florescent bulb
illuminates a room using very little energy
with it’s diffused scattering of light while a
laser focuses an intense beam of energy to
cut through obstacles. You must decide are
you going to be a florescent bulb and
impress lots of people with your wide
variety of flashy skills or will you be a
laser requiring the people surrounding you
to protect their eyes from intensely focused
abilities. To establish your own mission for
METL development simply decide what is
the end goal of your training.
What do you want to accomplish? Are you interested in the art and beauty of the perfection of skill?
Are you attracted to the concept of testing yourself in competition? Are you deadly serious about the
ability to protect yourself and your family and friends in a self-defense situation? Once this question is
answered you can build your mission statement with relative ease. The answer to this question should
direct your training from the start. If you’ve determined that your goal is self-defense then training in
an art that stresses beauty and perfection of technique is slowing you down.
Actual self-defense has very little art to it. The word art implies that it projects beauty and is pleasant
to behold. Truly defending yourself in a life and death situation has no beauty to be seen. It is an ugly
and hideous sight to witness. The only beauty lies in the opportunity to see another sunrise and sunset
by doing whatever is required to survive. If your goal is multi-faceted like fitness, meeting people, and
obtaining some personal protective skills then that’s ok too. The world needs florescent bulbs to light
the corners instead of too many lasers cutting through everything in sight. Just don’t get frustrated if
you’re trying to cut through steel with a florescent bulb.
METL DEVELOPMENT - Once you have determined your mission or main purpose for training
then that same concept of METL training can be applied to your personal program in order to help you
prioritize your workouts for maximum success. In the Army the METL becomes the driving force
behind the unit's training plan and will be the device that focuses your energy into a cutting beam of
intensity. The availability of resources has no impact on the development of your METL. The list you
develop must be complete with regard to what you desire to accomplish not what’s available to you.
Once you’ve established a task as essential you’ll be amazed at how you’ll find a way to make it
happen. So don’t limit yourself right up front. Don’t alter your mission of self-defense proficiency
because the closest school to you is a Tae Kwon Do Dojang (Training Hall) that focuses on
competition. Sit down and draw up a broad list of essential tasks like:
MISSION: Be proficient at Self-defense.
1) Develop striking skills.
2) Develop grappling skills.
3) Develop supplemental weapons skills
with sticks and knives.
The METL itself will be a short list of broad topics. Each primary task of the METL will in
turn have a list of subtasks that further defines the skills to focus on for training. METL task #1
Develop striking skills, would have a list of subtasks that might include things like
A) Train on footwork.
B) Develop an effective lead hand jab.
C) Develop a powerful rear hand punch.
D) Establish effective punching combinations.
E) Develop fast and powerful low line kicks.
F) Integrate multilevel attacks using punches and kicks in combination.
G) Employ strikes and kicks during full contact sparring.
A list of subtasks would then be developed for each primary METL task. Military commanders
determine their METL based on war plans and external directives. Your training can apply the same
concept. Establishing your own war plan occurs at your level by developing a concept of how you will
deal with the most likely self-defense scenarios or building a strategy of how you intend to win in
competition. Your external directives will come from your instructor or coach as he lends the benefit
of his experience to direct your training. It’s important that you become your own primary trainer and
establish your own goals and focus for your training. Relying on your instructor or coach as a primary
guide and advisor to achieve the desired end result while continually accepting the responsibility of
progress and effort will take you down a time honored path of success. Few people are able to hone
real skill during class time alone; homework separates C students from Rhode Scholars.
TRAINING MANAGEMENT- Soldiers frequently conduct training meetings to plan, resource, and
discuss training. It may become necessary to sit down with yourself and conduct a training meeting to
make sure you’ve considered all aspects of your training plan. These training meetings ensure each
phase of training is planned in detail and the impact on other events is considered. A rough plan of the
resources and equipment to support each training event is compiled initially and perfected as the event
gets closer to execution. Plan your training in 3 phases; long range, short range, and near term. This
plan generally takes the form
of a training calendar. The
long-range portion of your
training plan will look ahead
12 – 18 months focusing on
the accomplishment of your
mission training goals for
that period. It may difficult
to look this far ahead but
begin by plugging in the key
upcoming events, ongoing
scheduled classes, seminars,
competitions, and don’t
forget to include personal activities and time off (recovery) to maintain balance in your program. Once
you’ve penned in the major events and commitments the open space on your calendar is your portion
to plan and resource. The short-range calendar section of your training plan will project the events of
the next 3 months. This part of your plan will begin to show detail and indicate areas where you will
need to coordinate specifics and lock down resources to support your plan. Your near-term plan will
detail the next 4-6 weeks and should avoid major change or cancellation unless absolutely
unavoidable. As an event enters into the near-term time frame it should be completely thought out and
resourced. You may need to reconfirm elements of the plan that are outside your immediate control.
When planning your training determine what resources are readily available and log these as your
organic resources. Ensure that your training plan maximizes use of your organic resources before you
go else where for training assets. At some point in your training you’ll reach a level where it will
become unavoidable for you to go beyond your organic resources in order to continue to progress.
Depending on how resourceful and dimensional your primary instructor is will dictate the amount of
external assets you’ll need to continue to train on your METL. This may mean traveling to seminars,
conferences, or specialized courses periodically to gain skills from training that isn’t readily available
to you. Some ways to enhance your organic assets include buying instructional videos, books, and
DVDs as well as obtaining personal instruction from your teacher or finding a training partner with
common goals to workout with in addition to your scheduled classes.
PERIODIC TRAINING ASSESSMENT- Training plan development starts with training assessment
and is the basis for establishing the long-range calendar. It’s vital to know where you are before you
set out to get where you want go. Determining where you are now, visualizing where you want to go
by establishing a mission statement then setting checkpoints along the way with a list of your essential
tasks drafts your roadmap to fighting success. During military training meetings information from
training evaluations is used to determine the effectiveness of the training toward the mission goals set
prior to the development of the plan. These evaluations help direct adjustments in the training plan to
reinforce weak or neglected areas. You must establish ways to evaluate your progress and
effectiveness. Using forms of both
internal and external evaluations
will best accomplish accurate
assessment of your training.
Internal evaluations will be
those critical self-assessments you
perform of your own progress.
External evaluations will
consist of things like belt tests
and competitions as well as any
actual self- defense situations
encountered. There’s no
evaluation of combat skill like combat itself. The Army uses a system of assessment that rates each
METL task as “T” (Trained), “P” (Practice needed), or “U” (Untrained). When a task is rated “T” for
trained it means that the unit can successfully perform the task to a set standard. Skills rated as “P”
(Practice needed) reflect some shortcomings in the performance of the task that warrant additional
training or enhancement. “U” (Untrained) skills have either not been trained at all or are performed at
such a level that comprehensive retraining is required. It’s critical to continually analyze your training
program to ensure you stay focused on your mission goals. Immediately after each key training event
the military conducts an After Action Review (AAR) of the execution of the event. This AAR is a
scrutinizing recap of each detail that took place during the training exercise or actual operation
outlining what was supposed to happen, what really happened, what went right and what could have
been done better. Because you may not have the benefit of a complete military staff or operational unit
to analyze and evaluate your training you will need to find ways to get critical input of your
performance. Sources for this type of information will come from your instructor/coach, training
partners/classmates, and whenever possible home video. Taping your workouts and sparring sessions
can provide you an outside looking in view. Video feedback is an incredibly effective tool that will
allow you to see areas for improvement in a unique perspective that facilitates enhancement better than
verbal coaching or instruction. The US Army Special Forces Military Free Fall Parachute School uses
video feedback with amazing success to train military special operators to perform this highly technical
skill with rapid precision. It’s important to find reliable sources of feedback to keep your training
mission oriented. Train as you intend to fight because you will certainly fight as you have trained.
Think of it as creating a default computer program that will boot up your hard drive with the right
skills under stress.
SELECTING AND PERFECTING – One unmistakable
key to the US military’s recent success has been the
development and application of new technology. The right
weapons employed in the right way by people with the right
training have proven to be a devastatingly overwhelming
machine. Force modernization is a must for any competent
fighting force and the martial artist is no different. Bruce
Lee identified and personified the need to keep only what
works and throw the rest away. In the mid-90s the Gracie
family caused the whole world to evaluate the effectiveness
of their arsenals with their display of lethal efficiency of
ground grappling in the UFC. Especially from a self-defense perspective it’s vital that only the most
effective techniques remain in the arsenal. Many techniques and some entire arts serve no practical
purpose for self-defense. Some techniques of highly effective systems don’t work well for certain
individuals due to body type, flexibility requirements, or strength. Every technique should undergo a
process to evaluate its relevance to your arsenal. The technique should be trained and practiced to a
degree of individual proficiency. Once learned the technique must be evaluated to determine your
ability to make it work under the most realistic conditions possible within acceptable risk for training.
If after a reasonable effort the technique can not be demonstrated to be effective then it’s as useless as
a civil war musket in a modern automatic weapons firefight – get rid of it. Before you through it out
like a bad VCR make sure you did in fact read the programming directions. Be sure that the deficiency
is in the technique and not in your incorrect execution. Beware of amazingly effective techniques
demonstrated by others. If your main goal is self-defense then it’s important that you can execute the
technique effectively. The mark of a good instructor is not what he can do, but what he can teach you
to do. The chances that your instructor will be there with you when you need to defend yourself are
right up there with the odds of winning the lottery without buying a ticket. I’ve seen a number of ninja
death-touch masters that could drop to the ground with a spinning foot sweep and incapacitate an
armed enemy pedaling their program to us in the Special Forces. The real trick was how could our
operators do it after only 40 hours of training and under the fatigue of combat with 65lbs plus of
equipment on their back. I never bought it and you shouldn’t either. Don’t be easily distracted by shiny
objects. Flashy techniques are great for demos but stick to the stuff you can execute after a moderate
investment of training time.
COMBINED ARMS TRAINING –
The US Army stresses the importance
of training as a combined arms team.
This means that elements of different
types of units and weapons systems
are integrated for training, as they
would be employed during combat.
Integrating air support with artillery
and ground forces during live fire
training exercises minimizes the chaos of employing these separate systems during actual combat.
Applying the principle to your training would involve combining different component elements under
realistic conditions. Full contact sparring that includes striking, grappling, and stick or knife techniques
would be an implementation of combined arms training at the individual martial artist level. If your
mission has been identified as self-defense, train all the aspects that impact your mission effectiveness;
striking (punching & kicking), grappling (standup & ground fighting, supplemental weapons (sticks &
knives), firearms (rifle, shotgun, & pistol), fitness (nutrition, aerobic & strength conditioning), and
verbal skills (conflict avoidance & de-escalation). Use both compartmentalized training and integrated
workouts to develop the full spectrum of your skills. Compartmentalized training is the process of
separating the component parts of your training to refine specific skills or train realistically while
minimizing risk. For example if firearms training is part of your self-defense skill set it will be
necessary to go to the range and fire live ammunition at non human targets in order to maintain safety
as a portion of your training while you gain proficiency with the weapon. During other sessions you
may reintegrate this component of training into your combined program by the use of mock weapons
or specialized sim-munitions (a paintball like bullet fired through real weapons using a conversion kit).
Refining components of an engine can increase performance but it’s impractical to wait til race day to
put it all together and test drive it.
Progressive, goal directed, and combined arms training under realistic and demanding
conditions has made the US military the greatest fighting force of all time. Applying these same
principles with a clear end goal in the form of a mission statement, using periodic performance
assessment, and continued training plan refinement will maximize your opportunity for success when
failing isn’t an option. Fighting is the engine that drives the vehicle of Martial Arts and you should
demand peak performance from your machine. Get it by planning and executing realistic battle focused
training. Randy McElwee is an active duty Master Sergeant
(MSG) and decorated Special Forces combat veteran in the U.S.
Army. He has served 18-years with Special Operations Forces
to include top secret, classified Special Category missions,
Combat experience and service in the Persian Gulf, Saudi
Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq, Central America, Kenya, and Panama. He
has conducted training and operations with Special Forces, the
US Navy SEALs, and US Army Rangers.
His military experience includes service with 3rd
Ranger Bn and with 5TH Special Forces Group during the unit’s
participation in the Persian Gulf War, Somalia, and Afghanistan
during Operation “Enduring Freedom” where he served as the
Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge of a Joint Chiefs of Staff
directed classified Special Operation.
Special Forces Master Sergeant MSG McElwee has appeared as the Feature Instructor
in the Century Vision production Special Operations
Randy McElwee Combatives Instructional Video Series and currently serves as a
Military Science Instructor at the University of Georgia.
For more information contact Randy McElwee @
firstname.lastname@example.org or PH; (770) 262-5671