A few weeks ago, I was teaching a combatives class, and the initial focus was combinations. I ask the class to continue the warm-up with “the scales.” The scales are named for and are similar to a music scale, expect in combatives class, we run a sequence of combatives based on punching. Each number corresponds to the number of punches utilized in a pre-arranged pattern.

In this case, I’m using the word “one” to signify a single punch (the first punch in a four punch pattern). Then I call “two” to signify that the puncher should throw the first two punches in the pre-arranged pattern. The scale then, is called out as so, 1 -2 – 3 – 4 – 3 – 2 – 1. Once the class understands the entire pattern of the scale, each student can work on his/her own as part of a structured shadowboxing warm-up or slow warm-down.

Today, I ask the class to take the process a step further – each student should create his/her own pattern and associated scale. We take one minute to consider this – at most. Then, we begin.

The result is a bona-fide mess.
The classroom is awash with abject non-sense.

This, by the way, is my fault. After all, your students are the fruit of your tree. I stop myself from yelling aloud, and consider the problem. It’s not a long consideration. Typically, if my students are confused, I’ve assumed too much, explained to little, or both. I stop the class and ask a few questions about how a combination should be considered. I even ask why some combinations are so popular.

In the end, I realize I need to do some teaching. As a result, I walk to the white board and begin to make a list. The list encompasses many of the most important considerations in developing a combination sequence (and how to articulate and assess a combination). Here’s the list title:

Understanding Effective Combinations

1) High line/Low line: I first explain that it is unrealistic to believe that every combative within a combination is going to land on its intended target, and therefore, one of the principles utilized in a well-planned combination is the process of moving the defense away from the forthcoming combatives. One way to express where the target is on the defender (relative to the high or low line) is to describe where the combatives will land and/or where the punch defense will be made.

A defense made under an imaginary line below the point of the elbows (or waist depending on your paradigm) is called the low line. The low line requires the defender to move his/her defense down and away from the head and face (the high line). So, a right straight punch to the lower abdomen is considered, for the purposes of this discussion, as an attack of the low line.

This is significant because the low line is relevant 1) to where the defense is initially set-up and 2) where it is likely to go in response to the low line attack. In this case, we expect the defense (if made) to drop down to the impending right straight to the abdomen. If the defense is made (or not), you’ll have a tough time reacting with a second punch in real time. So, instead you’ll create an assumptive combination to take advantage of the required defense. In this case, the hands or elbows fall to defend, opening a hole in the defense of the head and face. This is why many low line combatives are followed by high line combatives in a combination sequence.

2) Straight and Rounded Attacks: Another way to describe a combative is to assess the path the combative takes to the target. This concept works in the same way that the high line and low line does. In essence, straight combatives (e.g. straight punches) tend to close the defenders defense at his/her centerline and rounded combatives (e.g. hook punches) tend to open the defense up at his/her centerline. So, in conjunction, one punch moves the defense and the other exposes the weakness in the altered defense. This is why the right straight/left hook combination is one of the most effective and popular combinations of all time. In addition, combatives that move the defense in front of the eyes also often allow the second punch of the combination (e.g. when using the straight/rounded concept) to land on target without the defender seeing the punch.

3) Level Changes: Level changes in the puncher often create momentary confusion in the defender and frequently cause the defender to over overcompensate (moving the arms farther out of position) in his/her defense. For instance, a right straight punch to the abdomen with a sudden drop of the punchers entire body during the punch delivery, can and often does create an exaggerated defensive response – further opening targets at other levels (often to the extent that the defender cannot recover in time to make a defense to the second or third punch).

4) Lines/Paths: This concept is best explained by imagining a baseball bat. If I grab the bat with two hands – one at the bottom of the bat and one at the top – and thrust or jab the top of that bat at you, I’m attacking on a line. A line is defined, in this case, as a specific line of attack focused on a very specific target – that requires the defender to minimally remove the targeted area of his/her body to avoid the attack entirely. A jab is an example of a line. The defender simply slips his/her head left a bit, and the jab misses its target. Lines are specific and deliver focused, targeted power.

Paths, however, are not as focused or targeted – but a path requires the defender to make a substantial movement to avoid the combative. Using the baseball bat analogy, a path would be equivalent to swinging a bat from the handle at an intended target area. In this case, the bat could hit at multiple levels and in multiple zones (kicking range, punching range, grappling range) due to the length of the striking surface. Paths often lack the focused power of a line but are more reliable in landing percentages (not necessarily more effective). An example of a path is a round kick with the shin.

5) Distance: It’s worth noting that combinations should be developed so that each combative is launched from its appropriate distance. This may seem obvious, but I’ve seen too many combinations lacking thoughtfulness in this regard to simply leave this unmentioned. In summary, combatives must fit into a combination while considering distance as one of the most important development factors. We all know this.

6) Angle: Another obvious note – angles create a new sight picture, changes in target presentation, and modified platform and/or weight considerations. Simply, as you or your antagonist change the angle (the relative angle of your centerline to your targets centerline), some combatives will be more appropriate than others. Suppose I step left and pivot from an orthodox fighting stance, a left hook now lands on the back or side of the skull, but a right straight has a clean path to multiple, clinical targets (temple, entire jaw line, and chin). The new angle has changed how I might develop a combination from this anticipated position. Consider this concept as you approach combinations during advanced footwork/movement.

7) Soft/Hard Striking Surfaces: It is important to assess, within the context of the issues raised above, what targets may be most accessible yet not highly desirable. For instance, I may not want to strike the skull, but given highly limited options, I will. In these cases, I use the soft part of my palm (palm heel strike) to attack the hard part of the head (and vice versa).

Other considerations would include the punchers inability to make a fist due to any number of potential limitations and/or the puncher’s weakened hands or wrists, requiring that a combination include mostly soft striking surfaces.

8) Multiple/Varied Weapons: Your personal weapons vary greatly in several ways, including length, strength/hardness, durability, and flexibility to name just a few. As you advance in developing combinations, incorporate all of your weapons using the guidelines above – utilize kicks, knees, punches of all kinds (add hammer-fist and mouth of the hand at a minimum), elbows and head-butts within combinations that “make use” of your weapons and “make sense” using the considerations presented above.

Finally, consider the following combination as a memory jogger. With three combatives, we can cover the most essential concepts introduced in this article.
The combination is 1) right straight to the body, 2) left hook to the head, and 3) right round (shin) kick to the knee/leg. Check it out:

  • Advancing right straight to the body
    o Distance change to close to punching distance,
    o Angle change left to line up the punch to the centerline,
    o Level change down to deliver the punch properly,
    o Low line (vs. high line) attack at the body,
    o Straight (vs. rounded) combative as a straight punch, and
    o Line (vs. path) attack as a straight punch
  • Left hook (or power slap) driving/stepping right and out/away slightly
    o Angle change driving to the right,
    o Distance change slightly,
    o Level change up to attack the head,
    o Rounded punch (vs. straight) as a hook,
    o Line attack (vs. path) as a hook, and
    o High line (vs. low line) attack to the head
  • Right round kick to the knee stepping right and out/away
    o Distance change stepping to kick,
    o Angle change stepping across,
    o Rounded attack (vs. straight) as a round kick,
    o Path attack (vs. line) using the instep to the upper shin, and
    o Low line attack (vs. high) at the leg

Check out the video. We walk you through the relevant issues. Use these concepts and your combinations will start landing with more frequency!

As always, walk in peace…

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  1. john cameron

    As always C J is great at making things simply but effective.

  2. shaman light

    Thank you!! Very informative!! I will be applying these concepts to my next class!! Thanks again for your time to ensure advancement and learning!!!