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Combat Calisthenics

July 22, 2004 08:52 AM

I've been training and teaching martial arts & combatives since 1967. During a career that has now spanned 30+ years as student, athlete, instructor and coach, I've been exposed to a variety of conditioning and training advice. I've worked with every type of student, from children to soldiers and everyone in-between. Before I delve into the heart of 'combat calisthenics' let me offer a disclaimer: This article is not intended to compare or condemn any form of exercise. In a nation plagued with laziness & obesity, I respect, admire and support anyone who is working out. But that doesn't mean your training regimen exploits every necessary aspect it can. Cross training is great, but at the end-of the day performance is paramount.


Functional Combative Training became a major focus from the time my first student got his butt kicked in his first real-life self-defense confrontation. I took his loss seriously and personally. How had I failed him? (Certainly it would've been easier to blame the student, but at the time, I blamed myself and my system's toolbox.) That fateful fight back in 1980 helped spawn my training methodology, inspire a new combative system as well as my revamp my approach to conditioning for self-defense & combatives.

As a result of that first fight and many observations made during subsequent training, I started to question the applicability of conventional conditioning when it came to martial & combative athletes. While my contention was mostly intuitive, there were a variety of signs:

1. Average performance from above- average athletes.
2. Seemingly unrelated or irrational injuries.
3. Complex motor skill failure during intense scenarios or real street altercations.

Out of respect for the opposition and concern for the outcome, performance enhancement was the key objective to training for real life self-defense. The result of all this introspection gave birth to an approach to training I refer to as Combat Calisthenics.


Most athletes cross-train in a variety of disciplines to work their stamina, strength & endurance. Most athletes also train their skills competing in their chosen sport so they force specific athletic demands on the very motor skills they need. This allows these athletes to successfully blend conventional conditioning because they can also get reps in on the specific skills they need during sparring or competing.

Most practitioners of street systems also use conventional training methods because the notion of combat 'specific' calisthenics is little known or mistaken for sparring. Remember, combative sports like boxing, Thai boxing, kickboxing & Mixed Martial Arts allow practitioners to spar with the same rules, rounds and contact as when the athlete is actually competing. Realistic self-defense training and combative training DOES NOT provide the same sport-model options, and it's this paradigm shift that is crucial to fully appreciate the rationale for the combat calisthenics approach.


In every sport there is a time, place, weight division, safety gear & select targets that are agreed to. This allows the athlete to fully visualize, train specific tools & targets and condition specific to the time-line of the agreed to match. Simply put, in the sport realm there is consent, awareness and preparation for every event no matter how physical or potentially dangerous. This is not the case in combatives and self-defense. In combat, in the street attack, there are no weight divisions, no refs and there is usually 1 Round and it's really short (10-20 seconds).

In the street attack & in combat, there is no true consent (at the time of an assault). Preparation is based on theory & anticipation. There truly are no rules. Most telling is that when something goes wrong, it goes wrong fast. There is no padded floor, mouth guard or medic standing just outside the ring. Thus, preparation for the street needs to be different.


While there are many iterations and evolutions for this program, the short explanation and philosophy is this: I've created drills that replicate actual real-life attacks. Specific portions of real fights are studied and then key Murphy Moments are replicated. The athletes execute specific attacks at slow to medium speeds so that attacker & defender replicate the actual angles present in real world incidents. Contact is made, energy is generated and resistance training is based on a force-on-force formula where athletes, working as partners, train core strength, stabilizers flexor/extensor motion through gross & complex motor skills. Rather than warming up with jumping jacks we warm up with real life attacks.

Here's an overview of the recipe:

a. Replication Theory (Use of scenario analysis to common determine attacks and off-balance positions)
b. 3-Dimensional Training Theory (Using a real scenario allows us to integrate the Emotional, Psychological, Physical elements of real confrontations into our drills)
c. The "Off-Balance/Point of Domination" Training Model ("In a real fight, when we are the target, we are off-balance!"

Drills start off-balance on purpose!! The defender starts in a position of adversity and then uses micro adjustments including isometric & isotonic principles to regain balance and hit the 'Point of Domination' (a tactical and athletic position of advantage).

Here is a visual example of Combat Calisthenics:

SCENARIO: Tackle attempt. Reflexive Interception/Jam - Reposition to Point of Domination.

Here we work startle/flinch conversion (SPEAR System), extensor muscle development, off-balance conversion (stabilizer & core strength development) all through a field of resistance to a tactical point of domination. (Weight training but using the actual angles and feel of a human being.)

Photo 1 (Below). Starting off with an arrest scenario, SPEAR Coach and police officer Sean Mulligan plays the role of aggressor.

Photo 2 (Below): Sean parries the hand and moves inward. Blauer allows this move to replicate the sudden ambush. He allows the attack to occur so he can catalog pre-contact cues. *Safety Note: Parry is done at half speed to warm-up & stay away from striking the elbow joint.

Photo 3. Blauer reacts with the primal flinch to protect his body, but as a research athlete he allows Sean to continue his attack by driving his shoulder in and grabbing around the waist. This puts him off-balance and in a position of dis-advantage.

Photo 4 (Below). Blauer systematically drives his arm outward and begins to lower his center of gravity.

Photo 5 (Below). Blauer continues to drive outward, slowly shifting axis position, applying kinaesethic perception to explore & exploit muscle recruitment until he reaches a full tactical position and POINT OF DOMINATION. Repetitions using this methodology build & burn key synaptic paths, help visualize where the combative athlete needs to be. Real-life tactical proximities are also blueprinted by the combat athlete.

*Important training note: If Sean's lock and restraint were too much to work against, I would simply ask him to 'lighten up' the same as selecting a lighter kettlebell or weight plate in a bodybuilding training exercise so we would avoid injury and continue the set with proper form. Combat Calisthenics is weight training?but with a human being rather than a dumbbell! (Though sometimes these two can be confused : pun intended!)
Combat Calisthenics attacks three inter-dependent training components necessary for theoretical combative confidence; we lovingly call them the Tactical Training Trinity:

They are:

1. Physical Conditioning.
2. Physical Skills Development.
3. Strategic & Tactical Conditioning.

The principles & philosophy of Combat Calisthenics comes closest in addressing them all because of how it uses real world scenarios to create the conditioning drills, works on core strength, technique and scenario awareness.


Most of our drills are partner drills because most confrontations involve at least one other person. Your partner/aggressor is like a bio-resistance apparatus, (As demonstrated in the photo section). If you were training solo, you'd still apply the same principles from the recipe. For example when I run I imagine myself chasing or being chased. This adds a scenario to the training (Did you know you run faster when you visualize yourself being chased?!) If I'm doing push-ups I think of the extensor muscles used in palm strikes, or the lift I need to elevate an opponent on my back etc so even though I'm only doing a pushup I'm also visualizing a scenario or a tactical problem, etc.

A Combat Calisthenics routine also creates more effective coordination, because it coordinates YOUR actual skills to suit the problem [ability to fight a person - not a pad!], real time adjustments and even 'use of force' choices can be injected. Proximity sense is developed [based on a moving opponent, maneuver or flinching], you can even blend speed vs. power adjustments, multiple assailant considerations and possible weapons issues.

I've been training since 1967 and I've been teaching 24+ years. As a coach, I've had to explore various types of training methods to condition, toughen and enhance my student's capabilities. I've been exposed to all sorts of training principles?there are some great tried, tested & proven methods out there. Today, many of my students cross-train in a variety of systems from running to kettlebells, but still, the glue that keeps it altogether is the Combat Calisthenics approach. It has not only created more confident & skilled exponents, but it has also reduced injuries. I hope this article inspires you to explore this process. Train hard but train safely.


Tony Blauer


We've been bombarded with some questions about the upcoming camp Pavel and I are hosting in San Diego in August. Interestingly many have emailed and called in with similar questions here are the top 3:

1. Is the SPEAR SYSTEM a strengthening "move" or "workout" along the lines of the kettlebell workouts?

The SPEAR SYSTEM is a behavioral based combative method. Its most important asset is that the system is based on hard-wired elements of the body's survival system, making the movement highly reliable under pressure and stress.

At the core is a survival response converted into a tactical reaction. Our unique training elevations are logical extensions of the tactical kettlebell objective and that is to make the combat athlete stronger, faster and harder. The SPEAR System workout attacks core strength at a slightly different level but the approach is harmonious and synergetic with the kettlebell routine. Both Pavel and Jeff Martone are advocates of the SPEAR System and Jeff Martone (Power Behind the Punch, Hand-to-hand-Kettlebells) has completed SPEAR System training.

2. Will we only be shown the SPEAR strengthening drills or will we see the tactical applications as well?

We will use the SPEAR Systems, core strengthening drills as a warm up into the tactical applications. So yes, participants will definitely experience the tactical application of the SPEAR System during this training workshop.

3. Are the kettlebell workouts and the SPEAR system something that works hand in hand? For example, can I use one to improve on the other and how so.

Absolutely. Pavel's routines create stronger, leaner, athletes. The SPEAR System utilizes core survival reactions as the launch point of its tactics. Blending the two is not only synergistic, but they will create intense extreme close quarter strength for grappling, clinching and close quarter striking.

Hopefully some of you will be able to attend the workshop Pavel & I have designed for this August. It will give you a greater chance to feel how core tactical strength training can be achieved through resistance training using both the kettlebell and your training partners.

Train hard, stay safe and I look forward to seeing you on the road!

Tony Blauer