During the winter of 1994, I spent 8 weeks in Fort Jackson, SC for Basic Training in the US Army. Out of the 8 weeks, I don’t remember exactly why now, but I ended up at the medical center for most of one day. I missed the half-day session on hand-to-hand combat. Personally, It didn’t bother me a whole lot, I was seemingly well versed in the martial arts by then and as much as I wished I was present at that training session, it wasn’t a huge deal.

Unlike training and qualifying with an M-16 rifle, the hand-to-hand combat training wasn’t a critical task and did not affect basic training completion. Which was sad. Perhaps if I was a combat arms soldier, the hand-to-hand training would have been more robust, but they must have figured us support troops didn’t require it.

Which in retrospect was true. I spent 6 years in the service and didn’t see any combat or conflict time. I was in between Desert Storms, and only spent a year in peace time Korea, while the rest of my duty was in Virginia.

I didn’t have the Afghanistan and Iraq rotations like the troops do now. A report just came out of Fort Lewis, WA where they are attempting to deepen the hand-to-hand training due to the more stressful situations that the soldiers are currently expected to deal with. It is becoming less and less uncommon for deployed soldiers of various backgrounds to be faced with a situation where some sort of physical hand-to-hand or self defense related confrontation may arise.

Whether it is restraining a unarmed, but non-complying Iraqi prisoner, or facing a knife-wielding terrorist, some extra training goes a long way. When 3 or 4 untrained soldiers struggle trying to handle one guy, there is a problem.

Sure these soldiers are trained how to read a map, survive in the desert/jungle, shoot a rifle and a wide variety of other extremely useful military training tasks. But what if they never actually got into a fist fight or other real physical altercation?

“You have a kid out of high school, he’s never been in a fight before, they get a chance to learn what it feels like to get hit in the nose,” says a Fort Benning Army Combatives trainer.

“And then they get over it. They realize they’re OK, it wasn’t that bad.”

During the U.S. Army Combatives School training, “They get their first fight out of the way,” says the instructor. “Because you don’t want the first time they ever get in a fight to be when they’re over there (Iraq, Afghanistan, etc.).”

If this sounds too harsh, you are missing the point. We are talking about the men and women who are thrust into harms way to defend the freedoms near and dear to your hearts.

“In some of our units this is ingrained in our culture, the combat arms,” says Sgt. Maj. Frank Grippe of Fort Lewis. “But I’ve got to have it throughout all the units…”

“We owe it to the trooper, we owe it to the families that they come back alive,” he said. “We owe it to the taxpayers that every trooper out there has the most positive effect on the fight, and negative effect on the enemy.”

Many more non-combat arms units are now employing various training sessions at basic, intermediate and advanced levels, and hopefully this becomes ever increasingly wider spread. I wish I had more of this training while in the military, but like I said, I didn’t end up a clueless support troop in the desert hiding behind the sufficiently trained combat arms guys.

So what does all this mean for the vast majority of non-military civilians “safely” living state-side? well ask yourself the question. Have you ever been punched in the nose? Have you ever been knocked to the ground in a physical altercation? Do you know what to do if you are being bullied by 1, 2, 3 or more aggressive individuals?

If you are not capable of handling yourself in a basic self-defense situation, you are doing a disservice to yourself and a disservice to your loved ones looking up to you to protect and provide safety and security.

And we aren’t talking about a scene in a Jason Statham or Jet Li movie where he single handedly takes down 15 men armed with handguns, baseball bats, and steel chains. But I did just read a news article about a man attacked in a parking lot by two unarmed teenagers. The man had about $300 bucks in his wallet, a really nice watch on his wrist and a briefcase with at least an expensive Blackberry and Ipod.

The two assailants, didn’t steal any of these items, they just beat the hell out of this guy in broad daylight and put him in the hospital. No reason was known, the police just ruled this an isolated case of thrill seeking assault. Not too thrilling for the beaten and bloodied guy. Probably his first fight ever.

To use another movie reference, I am also not talking about starting up a local Fight Club like the Brad Pitt and Edward Norton movie. Because we all know the first rule of Fight Club…

Yes, you can learn some basic self defense from a instructional fighting DVD. No, you will not become the next Bruce Lee, but if you watch, listen and practice the moves, you can become proficient in some basic techniques that may help prevent getting hit in the nose, or worse.

Of course, for the less hands-on types, a shot of pepper spray from 6-10 feet away is just as good as a forceful shot to your opponent’s nose. Again, once you practice, practice, practice using it. Spray, run to safety and call the police.

To appease the many “best defense is avoiding bad situations” advocates, I will be the first to admit that if you are not there in the first place, it is better than all the self-defense training and pepper spray in the world. So yes, keep avoiding potentially bad situations, do not go out after dark, and lock your doors with a dead bolt.

But if some bad buy seeks you out in a parking lot in broad daylight, or breaks the window on your sliding glass door in the middle of the night when you are sleeping in your own house, I hope you can still passively avoid the danger. Can’t happen? Read the news; look up assault, home invasion or robbery.

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