Skip to main content

Fightin’ Words: Clausewitz & “Suspicious” Discipline by Mark Hatmaker

Let’s ask a question about your local martial arts school, MMA club, “combat hard” discipline du jour. Hell, you can even ask this question of yourself, and that is likely the most valuable subject to ask it of as you can alter course in a heartbeat if you don’t like the answer and get on the path to truth not theory or supposition—or mere show.

We will look to the answer in the great unfinished work Vom Kriege [On War] by the acknowledged brilliant military mind of the Prussian General Carl Philipp Gottfried von Clausewitz. In the below passage he is referring to peacetime armies in comparison with combat-hardened troops.

One should be careful not to compare this expanded and refined solidarity of a brotherhood of tempered, battle-scarred veterans with the self-esteem and vanity of regular armies which are patched together only by service-regulations and drill. Grim severity and iron-discipline may be able to persevere the military virtues of a unit, but it cannot create them. These factors are valuable, but they should not be overrated. Discipline, skill, good will, a certain pride, and high morale, are the attribute of an army trained in times of peace. They command respect, but they have no strength of their own. They stand or fall together. One crack, and the whole thing goes, like a glass too quickly cooled.”

Let’s unpack this a little.

I’ve had the honor and the privilege of standing in many a fine school, dojo, club, warehouse, cage, garage, alleyway, hell, any place that rarin’ to go folks gather to work on improving their fighting wares.

It has been my observation that the more spit polish, the more hard-assed the discipline in manners of protocol not on the mat or in the training grind but in the overall Parris Island Marine DI shouted “YES SIR!” “NO SIR!”, the more dogmatic lip-service given to titles and tenets as recived wisdom the less, well, pragmatic ability I witness.

I will not further define what I mean by this description, but I’m wagering if you’ve been around the martial block a few times you know exactly what I’m referring to.

That observation is a broad-brush and does not hold 100% of the time, but enough for Clausewitz to prod the observation.

Often the uniforms are spotless, the politesse of respect is observed to the nth degree, and the drilling is often of machine precision.

But…and remember this is a general observation, most all spit polish schools I’ve had the honor of treading in, overall there is little contact or chaos introduced outside of the drill-sets.

That is, the focus or be-all end-all is eloquence and elegance in drill execution. Demonstration performance standards are valued highly and far less [or in some cases, no time] spent gloving up and banging, getting tossed willy-nilly, or at least taking those fake blades outside when it’s raining and shoving one another up against old Fords and pulling sweatshirts over heads old school Detroit Wheels style.

The first sentence of Clausewitz’s observation has also been mine. Those who tussle or who have tussled have their own version of discipline, their own version of drill, their own incarnation of respect and tenets.

In many cases the rough and ready garage, warehouse, and alley trainers I’ve gotten to know are more than ready with their “Pleases” and “Thanks yous” and “Yes sirs’ and “No ma’ams.” It also strikes me as organically generated and not matter of rule.

The conditioning and drills are manifested from actual combat scenarios and not a textbook idealization of what scenarios should be.

Contact is above the norm and mighty frequent.

And the post-training BS sessions often devolve into ad hoc talks on, well, what it means to be a good person. How to be in this world. These discovered tenets are revealed by inquisitive minds probing one another and sharing their own views and allowing those views to re-shape plastically in the face of an idea considered of value. These conversations are of an open and loose nature and not mere recitations of a placard on a wall.

Overall, what Clausewitz sees, is not a flaw in people where we elevate some as warriors and condemn others as wannabes. He is advising us that, there is more to be being a warrior than the show. The warrior is created not by the drill, not by the norm, not by the title conveyed, but by the knockabout time put in with other willing spirits and the stick-to-it-iveness to keep going back to sessions that ask us to get knocked about.

The bumps and bruises that lead to intelligent analyses and drills to reduce our own bumps and bruises while raising the contusion ratio for others is very often the only real discipline that is required.

It is quite possible that much of what looks good, merely looks good.

If you are uncertain about your own pursuit, ask a wrestler to shoot a hard-double leg on you. Ask a boxer for a 1-minute demonstration of wares wearing full protective gear. [If you’ve not been hit before, really hit, you don’t want the full 3-minutes.]

Take your big athletic brother-in-law out in the yard, give him a training knife, and ask him to shove you up against the wall while you try to disarm his rubber blade.

Ask your BJJ friend to slap that triangle on you as you bite just like your Krav Maga instructor advised.

Such experiments, such contacts with reality are mighty informative and often ain’t as pretty as drill.

Clausewitz asks us never to go through the motions of battle. We will learn nothing that way.

The learning motion is within the battle itself.

The tenets are learned in the real-live conversation had after while you brag and bitch about your “war wounds.”

That has been the way of soldiers from time immemorial, it fails to be no less true today.
For more such observations see this blog, and for pragmatic applications of old school tactics historically accurate and viciously verified see our RAW Subscription Service.]


  1. Funny how you and I synch up. Yesterday, while you were writing this, I had a pen and paper in my hand in a quiet room and I was imagining that I was Royce Gracie and I was looking at how my club trains. I wrote down all of his imagined criticisms. Then I put myself into the shoes of a few other respected figures and did the same. When I was done I boiled down my notes into a to-do list -- things we can do better. Criticism is like the soil that presses down on a seed and makes it grow upward toward the light.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Warrior Awareness Drills by Mark Hatmaker

THE Primary Factor in self-protection/self-defense is situational awareness. Keeping in mind that crime is, more often than not, a product of opportunity, if we take steps to reduce opportunity to as close to nil as we can manage we have gone a long way to rendering our physical tactical training needless [that’s a good thing.]
Yes, having defensive tactical skills in the back-pocket is a great ace to carry day-to-day but all the more useful to saving your life or the lives of loved ones is a honed awareness, a ready alertness to what is occurring around you every single day.
Here’s the problem, maintaining such awareness is a Tough job with a capital T as most of our daily lives are safe and mundane [also a good thing] and this very safety allows us to backslide in good awareness practices. Without daily danger-stressors we easily fall into default comfort mode.
A useful practice to return awareness/alertness to the fore is to gamify your awareness, that is, to use a series of specific…

Apache Running by Mark Hatmaker

Of the many Native American tribes of the southwest United States and Mexico the various bands of Apache carry a reputation for fierceness, resourcefulness, and an almost superhuman stamina. The name “Apache” is perhaps a misnomer as it refers to several different tribes that are loosely and collectively referred to as Apache, which is actually a variant of a Zuni word Apachu that this pueblo tribe applied to the collective bands. Apachu in Zuni translates roughly to “enemy” which is a telling detail that shines a light on the warrior nature of these collective tribes.
Among the various Apache tribes you will find the Kiowa, Mescalero, Jicarilla, Chiricahua (or “Cherry-Cows” as early Texas settlers called them), and the Lipan. These bands sustained themselves by conducting raids on the various settled pueblo tribes, Mexican villages, and the encroaching American settlers. These American settlers were often immigrants of all nationalities with a strong contingent of German, Polish, and …

Awareness Drill: The Top-Down Scan by Mark Hatmaker

American Indians, scouts, and indigenous trackers the world over have been observed to survey terrain/territory in the following manner.
A scan of the sky overhead, then towards the horizon, and then finally moving slowly towards the ground.
The reason being that outdoors, what is overhead-the clouds, flying birds, monkeys in trees, the perched jaguar—these overhead conditions change more rapidly than what is at ground level.
It has been observed by sociologists that Western man whether on a hike outdoors or in an urban environment seldom looks up from the ground or above eye-level. [I would wager that today, he seldom looks up from his phone.]
For the next week I suggest, whether indoors or out, we adopt this native tracker habit. As you step into each new environment [or familiar ones for that matter] scan from the top down.
I find that this grounds me in the awareness mindset. For example, I step into my local Wal-Mart [or an unfamiliar box store while travelling] starting at the top, t…