The Nuts 'n' Bolts of Interpersonal Combat - ITS Tactical

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The Nuts ‘n’ Bolts of Interpersonal Combat

By George Matheis

When it comes to martial arts, the arguments over which is best never seems to stop. Many people consider their art almost a religion. And like religions, loyalty to beliefs in martial arts can get out of control.

Similar to those who are secure in their spiritual beliefs, people who are secure in their martial beliefs should be able to consider others thoughts, ideas, and perceptions without necessarily accepting them as their own. You may learn something.


Let’s take a look at some things that all martial arts have in common:

  • They involve cultural aspects such as ethnicity, national origin, and even world views.
  • They train the student to defend themselves against other human beings, with and without weapons.
  • Originally, they were all open-handed. Later, some adopted impact weapons, edged weapons, and firearms.

What do all people have in common?

  • We are bipedal and walk upright.
  • We have opposing thumbs allowing us to grip tools.
  • We have two arms that are only capable of three things: pushing, pulling, and swinging. What is in the hand can increase the range of an arm’s use.
  • When we are startled by a loud noise, even as a newborn, our extremities contract. This is known as the Moro Reflex, and is the only innate fear. We are born with the fight or flight response.

What does interpersonal open-hand and contact distance weapons have in common?

  • The attacker must be able to touch you with the weapon to hurt you.
  • To defend, you must be in contact with the attacker, inside the range of the weapon.
  • Most combat of this type begins with some sort of verbalization.

Phases of Interpersonal Combat

Interpersonal Combat is broken down into three distinct phases:

  1. Strikes and kicks
  2. Take downs and throws
  3. Ground control

Some say that most fights go to the ground, but many more start on your feet.

Trauma in Interpersonal Combat

During interpersonal combat, trauma is caused to the human body in two basic ways: cutting and crushing. Even a bullet is nothing more than a hybrid that both penetrates and crushes the body.

The most common trauma is crushing by way of personal weapons like fists, feet, elbows, knees, head, shoulders, and body. Crushing injuries are inflicted by movement into contact, such as a strike, or by squeezing, such as a choke.

Besides the teeth, a human needs handheld tools to puncture, rip, or cut human flesh.

Applicability of the Art

In closing, remember that you are training to fight humans who may or may not have handheld tools and firearms. Does the martial art that you are practicing provide you with the skills for dealing with these attacks, under various conditions? If not, you may want to consider supplementing your training to fill in what you feel is lacking.

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  • Tyler Barge

    Good to see George writing for ITS some more.

    If you have an opportunity to go to an MCS class take it. You will not be disappointed.

  • Fab

    “This is known as the Moro Reflex, and is the only innate fear.” Maybe this is the most important one if you’re dealing with firearms, but there are certainly more fears you get born with. The fear of the unknown which results in fear of darkness, the fear of falling which results in fear of heights to give two examples. Since it’s evolutionary, we’re not afraid of firearms by nature, but a knife (resemblance to teeth) triggers something.
    Sorry about being a smartass, I just firmly believe that knowledge has to be shared to be of any good.

    Well, on the topic: I’m not proficient in any martial art because I lack the time due to work/class, working out and hitting the range but in my past (always have lived in big cities) I made the experience that deescalation and evasion is my best choice. For anything else I have to rely on my knife and cell, thank god I can talk myself out of a lot of situations.

    • JB Gilpin

      Fear of falling – you are correct – is the other fear that is present in newborns. Fear of the unknown/darkness? Not so much. Given that the baby just came from a fairly dark place, the womb, and doesn’t really “know” anything in the sense that we use the word I would be forced to disagree. The two fears, falling and the “startle response” to loud noise are the two generally recognized infantile fear responses.

  • Fab

    By the way, thanks a lot for sharing your wisdom with us – it’s great to get a experienced point of view.

    Can you give any recommendation which martial art you consider best in terms of self defense? I know it depends a lot on the people you train with, but there are just too many “fancy” self proclaimed experts out there.

  • It is more about the teacher than the art.

    Glad you guys like the article.

  • Rob

    Kabujenko I hear is a good form of practical self defense, look it up. A lot of the military oriented styles are applicable in the civilian world as well. They are usually developed to stop/prevent and disable the attacker, which I feel is the most reasonable to approach learning self defense. I was “fortunate” enough to grow up having to learn how to defend myself so I have yet to dedicate my time to a specific technique. I did, however, try some Jiu-Jitsu classes alongside a few members of my local law enforcement community and that was very fun. Though, if you are interested in Jiu-Jitsu to be used in self defense, I would avoid the MMA style of JJ and pursue a class what involves the Gi into it’s teachings. Their holds and grapples involved gripping the Gi which can just as easily be a sweater or a shirt. Thanks for the informative post ITS!

    • Daggert

      Did you mean kakukenjubo? 🙂 It has a nice history of being one of the first practical mixed martial arts in the U.S. I also like krav maga because it is easy to learn and apply YMMV.

  • Very true, my core art is Yoshin Ryu Ju Jitsu and Judo. I always made it a point to not use the Gi as a handle for my grips and throws. I hook the rear of the neck and insertion point of the bicep into the tricep. For those who like my articles I would like to invite you to visit my forum on

  • mattp28

    For the last couple years, I’ve been studying the system pioneered by Carl Cestari, now taught by Damian Ross. It’s simple and effective.

    And you gotta love any self defense system when people’s average response is, “You can’t do that in a fight, it’s not fair!”.

  • Darrell Kuhne

    Thank you for the time you spent on your article. I will definitely check out your forum.

  • you should add “freeze” to the flight or fight response.

    People tend to fight – freeze or flee in a stress situation.

    Very nice article!

    • martin bishop

      First rule of a knife fight, everyone gets cut, the sooner you can accept that the better.

      The idea of a ‘Fight or Flight’ response in the face of potential danger is actually entirely correct or as realistic or decisive as people are often taught or preached about. The fight or flight condition is a survival response yes, that is most commonly found in nature and of course people. But the truth is the possible responses are not just fight or flight, there are actually 4 behavioral responses one of which is very very important in the LE world, but certainly also in the self defense, armed citizen, head of the family whatever role.

      When confronted with a potential threat or an actual threat of violence, a person like almost all mammals will almost always display one of 4 specific behaviors. fight and flight, also submission and the fourht being posturing. People like anmials generally don’t want to get hurt for little or no reason, hence the posturing behavior. Once you are trained to recognize it (the mannerisms are not teribly complex) it can make all the difference in the world between being in control, or not, or trying to disarm a situation or going straight to clearing leather.

      Posturing is incredibly obvious whenever the potential for a fight starts to manifest in a bar among any drunken college aged men. natural protection of the core and bringing the hands closer to being able to react by keeping your arms crossed. very obvious dominant leg posture. tucking of the chin etc.

  • What’s just as bad than the freeze response is the numbing that comes from constantly being aroused and put into the fight or flight response but neither fight or flight is appropriate. This has been associated with PTSD in troops, police, and corrections. You are stimulated by noises and movement that would naturally provoke a fight or flight response but cannot be acted upon because of the environment and repercussions. Basically not being able to beat the shit out of someone who desperately needs it. I know this causes 99% of my stress and I am retired.

  • chris paterson

    The beginning of the article reminded me of a quote from Aristole – “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”

    And on martial arts…I gave up on trying to learn old forms of self defense. For the passed 3 years, I’ve been training using the guidance of Richard Grannon of No ego, no bullshit techniques, just straight survival fighting.

  • 5thprofession47

    Hey George, nice to see you here. I too know full well the stress caused by inability to act based on situational repercussions. Stay safe!

  • Nice write up George, you’re right on the money about the risk of relying on any one given style or method for defense. Take karate for example and all its variations, it is traditionally a standing martial art form. Force a karate expert to the ground and they’re lost for the most part, remember UFC #1 and how Royce kicked ass?

    I’ve trained in Tang Soo Do (karate) for several years yet even I recognize the need for being able to cover my ground defense. Jiu-Jitsu gives me that and combined with karate I feel like I have most of what I need.

    The real key is to know how to improvise, if something isn’t working then change it or try something else. There’s no right way to defend yourself in an all out street fight.

    Looking forward to reading more from you soon.

  • Erich

    I think it was Grossman that expanded on the fight or flight response… Fight, Flight, Posture, Submit, Freeze. He took it from a simple 2 step scenario to a 5 point one. And the Freeze response is the most difficult one, because it can be both an affect and an effect in the situation. There’s all sorts of freezes. (a tactical freeze like a sniper setting up shop or waiting for the opportunity to act. Or a cognitive freeze where someone is just stuck in the moment overwhelmed by stimuli.

    The problem with alot of martial arts, is people think they go hand in hand as self-defense. Where as if you were to actually apply what you learned without the legal justification of use of force then you’re up that fecal matter creek with the other guy, because it’s no longer self-defense, but it’s assault. And typically it’s both parties getting arrested for fighting. Self-defense is an affirmative defense. Which in most places means that you have to agree to the fact that you were justified in doing something that is typically looked down upon.

    Self-Defense is an incredibly complex beast, and one of the biggest issues I see as an instructor, is not people teaching danger management, but fear management. I see instructors teach it all the time, but they’ll skip the basics of awareness and avoidance, and most don’t know how to teach awareness and avoidance skills. Alot of guys that I see forget, or don’t know about, things like the Yerkes-Dodson law, justifiable use of force, E&E, and typically what happens before it all hits the fan. For most people, again this all in my humble opinion, there’s alot that is left out. Probably not because of laziness, but ignorance I think….

    It’s kind of one situations where all martial arts can be used for self-defense but not all self-defense is martial arts….

    Sorry for the rambling guys. Great article by the way George.

    • volk_odinochka

      George thanks. I believe like religion there is a certain amount of ‘ego investment’ in the martials arts arguments.

      Erich, you’re not rambling. If a self-defense program of instruction doesn’t include appropriate level of detail of legalities then I would be weary of attending. I also think most have to take a certain amount of self-responsibility if legal instruction is lacking. The student should take the initiative to ascertain if his/her residence state have ‘home is your castle law’. Malicious wounding vs. self-defense, etc. I think actually knowing the legalities and practicing danger avoidance/de-escalation makes a student more lethal as they know exactly what will happen during the fight and the reality afterwards. ok, now I’m rambling…

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  • jason

    how do i use a knife in self defense without actually causing life-threatining wounds on him?

    • Chris Meyerson

      There really is no such thing ever… I have been around Kali for a good while and where this has taken me with edge weapons is a much grater understanding of them, but you need to know that a knife is Lethal period. As far as the legal side Surrive the encounter and have a plan. I have a lawyer that is on retainer and a bailbonds office that knows me and will get me out.. I also have family that knows where to get cash and money when needed and has the right paper work to do so.

      You can not leave this to chance at all… because if your locked up for defending your life you dont want to be wondering and your better half should not be in the dark… There should be a REAL plan…
      If you want to learn how to use a knife I would say first find a Sayoc class,… Good luck

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  • Chris

    @Jason- A knife is a lethal weapon, and should only be deployed as such. Merely pulling a knife on someone is Aggravated Assault w/a Deadly Weapon (TX). I’ve seen you post this question twice… If you don’t want to cause serious injury, don’t utilize a knife in a fight. As it is said, the first rule of a knife fight is that you WILL get cut. And a cut caused in a dynamic situation, such as a fight, is likely to be deep and life-threatening.

    Here’s what it boils down to: Only use a knife if you feel your life was being threatened. If you pull a knife on someone who is merely cussing at you, pushing you, etc., you may very well be charged with Aggravated Assault. So, it doesn’t matter if you don’t cause life-threatening injuries, because you still used deadly force. Remember, ‘The threat of force is same as the use of force’.

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