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How Isochain Training Can Make Your Combatives More Lethal

ISOCHAIN Overhead Press
Lethal Laura — one of my best-ever combatives students — worked in the criminal psycho ward of a large Pittsburgh hospital. Given the extreme danger this presented for the female physician assistants, the hospital decided to hire a pair of highly qualified martial arts instructors to offer self-protection advice.

These two large men asked the dozen eager young women if they’d had any past martial arts training. LL, as I called her, quickly volunteered and mentioned WW2 combatives maneuvers when asked what she had studied. Immediately the male instructor suddenly lunged at her, screaming, "How would you defend this?!" After his partner finally REVIVED him, the simulated attacker groggily muttered, "Well, I guess YOU don't need our help!"

Adding insult to injury, the other ladies immediately pointed to LL, speaking together as one - "We want to work on HER wing!!"

Now, to be sure, Laura was not only skilled, fast, and ferocious, but she was STRONG. No, strength isn't everything for self-defense, of course, but weakness is never the answer to anything where any serious physicality is required. LL always found limited time to barbell train with me after intensive combatives sessions, and even developed the excellence in All-Round weightlifting to set female USAWA national records.

Considering LL's busy daily schedule and struggle to attain further training, I only wish, in retrospect, that an Isochain would've been available to her and other students for just five minutes of hardcore power work after twice-per-week combatives workouts!

During the 1920s, career military man William Ewart Fairbairn of England formulated and simplified his Combatives approach to unfailingly successful use for extremely deadly wartime situations. These days, his basic, no nonsense methods can be instantly applied to even more dangerous attacks on our own city streets. With essentially four basic hand blows, and a very few other strikes, this system can be easily home-trained. The best resource for this style is inexpensively available as an e-book ("Light, Wind, & Motion") from (Yours truly was privileged to write the foreword.) Yet, as I've discovered, the Isochain is of paramount importance toward the essential power development needed to hasten one's proficiency and enhance martial skills!

Let's consider the key Isochain exercises, which IMO allow the Fairbairn strikes to be so devastating. First and foremost is core training for the thighs, hips, and low back, as all Combatives work involves the TOTAL body. The straddle lift, shown in the photo by my son, Rob, is especially important considering that the legs are positioned forward and back which is necessary in all attacking situations. (Combatives is never defensive, always "attacking the attacker"!) During a short, upward leg thrust — much like performing an explosive clean and jerk — maximum impact can be delivered to the chin-jab strike (an open handed, palm outward uppercut).
ISOCHAIN Straddle Lift
With Isochain-built strength, an efficient chin jab will literally snap an opponent's neck, or at the very least yield an immediate one-strike knockout.

Still considering the chin jab and other maneuvers, Rob is shown doing his favorite — the Isochain press behind the neck. This lift allows a slight leaning forward position of shoulder and tricep strengthening, which magnifies the initial drive from the hips for the chin jab. Also these Isochain-trained muscles enable cobra-like speed and high impact force for the brutal face smash, an open handed straight forward jab that looks like a horizontal shot-put (and feels to an attacker like he has been hammered with a 16 pound shot!)
ISOCHAIN OverheadPress
Next is the power row, performed in the photo while overlooking Lake Erie. Though the picture is calming and serene in appearance, the pulling power from Isochain lifting can be a life-saving event in speed-dragging a mugger out of position by neck, arm, or back (or to remove his unconscious body in the event of multiple opponents!)

In addition, this lifting motion can build a loud, damaging snap for Fairbairn's circular cup hand strikes. Having been the "victim" of cup hands to the neck or ear by accident during training, I can assure that even a mild blow will put you in "la-la land"!

The fourth photo shows what should be a part of every martial artist's training, the Isochain wrist curl. Gripping strength is, indeed, vital in any tussle with another human being. Both Rob and I are enjoying our constant digital improvement in this "isolation exercise" (not usually a norm for us), and the pump from the iso hold can be incredible! It might be noted that the Isochain handle is a thicker bar, which we have found aids our expanding grip strength. Then again, the strong handhold of the bar or grasp during the wrist curl toughens one's hand for the deployment of Fairbairn's neck crushing axe-hand strike. Besides, forearms are used for almost everything in Combatives — so best they be muscular!

Some may wonder about our aerobic "combative warmups" prior to the four Isochain lifts. I simply follow the advice from my personal nylon strap isometric "guru," Al, from California. Together, Al and I fashioned a proper length of 4" wide polypropylene strap which we hold behind our backs as we march around the house (or Al's West Coast beaches) throwing hand strikes while using friction (like drying yourself with a towel) from upper back musculature.

Striking Forearm forkliftstrap
By gently sliding straps against our bodies, with additional limited but meaningful resistance from the opposing hand — alternating left and right hands during individual strike simulations — we get a fast paced, fun, fighting sequence. These "moving isometrics," first conceived by famed Heavyhands creator Dr. Len Schwartz, are much like Doc's Heavyhand "shadowboxing," but with resistance from flat straps rather than light dumbbells.
In our final photo, Rob is throwing the eye-plucking, nose-breaking face smash with a heavy-duty, doubled poly "Forearm Forklift" brand strap.

Of course, martial artists everywhere can also adapt specific Isochain exercises for their own particular favorite maneuvers. Use imagination and enjoy the empowering sense of isometrics to vastly improve any strike which your art favors. Be strong, get yourself well prepared, and always hit the bad guy FIRST!

John McKean has won multiple local, state, national powerlifting titles, Masters Olympic national titles, and national and world all-round titles during the past 50 years. He has written extensively for all major strength magazines starting with Strength & Health under John Grimek and was featured in Dr. Len Schwartz's famous book Heavyhands Walking. A certified instructor in flex band training and American Combatives, Mr. McKean offers his consulting services at