The Will to Engage

[This is an archived post from Mad Science Defense, currently on indefinite hiatus, and may not reflect the usual tone and content of Author J.R. White and/or the Storyteller at Large Blog. If you have arrived here via links from a website elsewhere in the tactical and combatives training community, we wish you the best in your skill development journey.]


“The Defining Characteristic of a Warrior is The Will to Engage the Enemy.” – Matt Larsen

*- There is a drill performed in the Modern Army Combatives Program known as the “Clinch Drill” (AKA: Option 3 Drill) in which a soldier must successfully clinch with and control a striking opponent. He is not allowed to strike or throw; he is forced to engage, close and control. It is his one goal and he (or she) does not pass the course without passing this drill.

This piece was written shortly after I finished conducting such a drill for a MACP course at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas in 2011. Although I have moved on from the Modern Army Combatives Program to teach my own content in the civilian market, I remain connected with and proud off the MACP community. They are great instructors providing our fighting men and women with invaluable skills.

The Soldier in front of me had a pretty simple task; close the distance and achieve the clinch. My job, in mouth-guard and leather-wrapped knuckles, was to stop him. Once he had secured a solid clinch the drill would be over. Close the distance. Take control.

I could tell he was nervous. He had already seen me ring up some of his colleagues, witnessed a couple bloody noses and at least one pair of wobbly legs. He knew he would have to do his job well. I wasn’t going to disrespect him by going easy.

We squared up at just beyond arms reach and paused until a voice barked “go”. I hit him in the face, hoping that it would be the only punch he had to eat as he barreled inside. But instead of engaging, the soldier stepped back. I followed him. The emotion I felt in that moment was a mixture of frustration (he wasn’t doing as we had spent hours training him to do) and a primitive prey instinct to pursue and destroy a wounded opponent. He backed away, so I followed him and fed him leather the entire way.

Soon voices rose up in the ranks; “get in there!”, “get inside!”, “clinch up!” Finally he came inside my punches and secured a crushing pair of under-hooks. Closing the distance and securing a dominant clinch cut off my ability to keep punching. The drill ended. He had done his job, but he was a little sore and bloodied because of that initial instinct to step back. The next soldier stepped in front of me. He had seen the impact of leather on his predecessor’s face. He did not step back.

“This is the core of the combat mindset, the will to engage. All else branches from, and is an extension of, this Will.”

The point of this story is simple. If you consider yourself a warrior, then you must be willing to engage. Skill is important, but not as important as the will to use it. Like a firefighter who scored head of class in his training but is too afraid to enter a burning building, or a surgeon with all the skill in the world who faints at the sight of blood, a warrior who is unwilling to engage the enemy is antithetic to his own profession. This is the core of the combat mindset, the will to engage. All else branches from, and is an extension of, this Will.

To inoculate yourself and your students against violence and foster the will to fight, sooner or later you will need to use hard sparring and pressure testing of skills. This is not a new idea; everyone knows it and everyone agrees. So why do we see so little hard sparring, force on force exercises and live drills practiced? Perhaps it’s because we’re worried that we will scare off potential clientele. Maybe we’re concerned about injuries or hurt feelings. Nobody wants to have their illusions shattered or their egos crushed, and in sparring that is a pronounced risk. In an increasingly litigious society, maybe we’re worried about liability. But if we give in to these fears we do no service to ourselves and our students.

“Whether or not you have the will to engage is not a lesson to learn at the hands of your enemies.”

If you’ve never thrown your punches at someone punching back, never felt the pressure of someone else’s full strength against your own, never changed out your magazine or fired your gun while being pressured, screamed at and forced to think, how do you know if you really can?

This applies to all combative pursuits, whether in the military or the civilian sector. It doesn’t matter if you’re training to kick down doors in a far off land or to respond to someone kicking in yours here at home. Whether or not you have the will to engage is not a lesson to learn at the hands of your enemies. They should not have the honor of being the first to test you. Be tested now among your colleagues, so that when the time comes you will have seen that terrain before.

More Posts