Six C’s of Combat

A Guide for Travelers on the Path to Martial Arts Proficiency
by Sifu Dan Anderson

When I started in the martial arts, following in the footsteps of my instructor Terry Gibson and his instructor Dan Inosanto quickly became my goal. Unfortunately, it was one I had no idea how to achieve. It slowly dawned on me that any goal in life is most efficiently reached by following a path on a map. In the martial arts, my journey had begun with passion and good intentions but without a map.

Through trial and error, I gradually learned that getting to one?s martial arts destination involves a step-by-step process. You approach attaining proficiency in much the same way you work toward the solution to a math problem. That realization prompted me to develop a guide to the path to proficiency that’s composed of the “six C’s of combat.”

As you implement each one in your training and watch your skill level rise as a consequence, don’t make the mistake of overlooking the basics. Your peers may become preoccupied with acquiring as many new techniques as possible, but in most cases, they would be better off devoting more time to mastering all the variations and applications of the basics.

1. Cooperation:
The Process of Working Together

Vince Lombardi once said, “People who work together will win, whether it be against complex football defenses or the problems of modern society.”

It’s easy to see why cooperation is the first “C” on the path: When you’re cooperating with your partner, you can more easily internalize the techniques presented to you—and so can he.

In cooperation drills, it’s important to slow down and not oppose your partner’s natural energy. Many new students automatically neglect cooperation and “fight” their partner during drills, but this isn’t the time to use maximum strength. It’s the time to familiarize yourself with opposing energy, while learning techniques. And as you learn those techniques, you’ll benefit even more because each one will feel different with different partners. One of your goals in the cooperation stage is to figure out how to adjust to such variables.

Working with others often means you must learn to work with yourself. To truly cooperate, you must find your personal tempo, putting your mind and body in a relaxed and calm state. It’s irrelevant if you’re doing pad work, energy drills, counter- for-counter drills, isolated motions or reactive techniques. In cooperation, it’s vital to work with your partner on application and efficiency instead of resistance. Try to bind with him through a common rhythm. Find a natural speed and level of resistance, then try to capitalize on them without overstepping your force. Understanding another person’s energy so you can adjust to it is the first step in developing your skills—without it, you can go no further.

2. Coordination:
The Organization of Different Elements of a Complex Activity

After you’ve learned how to cooperate with your partner, your next objective is to coordinate your techniques and drills into a progression of action. In pad work, for example, that means understanding how to move with and feed your partner when holding. In grappling, it means understanding how to give the correct energy without fighting the motion—all while offering the correct amount of resistance for your partner to benefit.

To better understand the concept, think of the martial arts as the study of movement, both individually and with a partner. Coordinating your movement with various partners will enable you to build motor skills, internalize techniques, sharpen tools and understand strategies for different opponents. When training in this stage, aim to find a common flow between yourself and each person you work with.

3. Contest:
An Event in Which People Compete for Supremacy

After you’ve acquired skill through cooperation and coordination, you must test your ability against a live opponent—in sparring. Here, your practice starts to become functional. You read energy and cultivate your ability to formulate strategy. Remember that “contest” refers to sparring, not fighting. Sparring is your time to experiment with techniques, to read resistive pressure and to practice your timing, placement and strategy. Don’t be intimidated by the word “sparring”; it’s a stage of training just like those that came before it. It?s the best way to test yourself and your techniques.

Students often go through their true first phase of self-discovery when engaging in a martial arts contest. If you approach it correctly, you’ll be able to assess yourself, an act that entails making mental notes, identifying your strengths and weaknesses, and improving your shortcomings.

4. Conceptualization:
The Formation of an Idea Based on Observations and Experience

You cannot become proficient unless you have the capability and experience to conceptualize within your art. It’s important to continuously build new ways of learning material, recreating responses and sharpening abilities. You must not stop at the understanding you’ve acquired; the martial arts compel you to constantly improve.

As you get older, you’ll see inevitable changes in your mental capacity, physical capability, interests and values. Likewise, you’ll notice changes in your martial arts goals. Conceptualization will enable you to evolve in sync with those changes.

5. Compassion:
A Concern for Others

To proceed along the path to proficiency in martial arts and self-defense, you must be humble. Yes, being humble means never underestimating your opponent in a fight, but a more frequently used facet of it is showing compassion in the dojo.

Every martial artist has different priorities. One might train for personal development, while another might aspire to become a teacher. One might be preparing to compete in tournaments, while another might be preparing for the type of combat one encounters in police work and military service. The spirit of the martial arts encourages you to strive to understand them all and help them learn whenever possible—even when their goals clash with yours.

6. Combat:
The Act of Fighting

Combat is a form of fighting in which rules don’t apply. You’re free to use any and all tools and strategies to prevail, and that freedom must be recreated as much as possible in training. For most people, this is the scariest of the six C’s, a realm in which anything can happen and for which you hope you’re prepared. The reality is combat is always different, always unpredictable and potentially lethal.

While it’s crucial to prepare yourself for combat, it’s equally important to be able to identify when combat isn’t worth engaging in. The ability to make that decision can be the most difficult to develop—especially after all the painstaking work you’ve put in—but it also can be the one with the greatest payoff.

See you on the training floor at Anderson’s Martial Arts Academy and we can all go through each one of the C’s together.


About the author: Dan Anderson is a New York-based jeet kune do and Filipino martial arts instructor under Dan Inosanto. He’s also a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt and has trained extensively in Muay Thai. For more information, visit