C2: Core Combatives Seminar Oct 2010

With Mick Coup

The venue couldn’t have been more fitting. The New Spartan Gym was located in a gritty-looking industrial estate and had the atmosphere of an old-school boxing gym, except that apart from punch bags held together with duct tape it also had all the equipment a powerlifter could dream of.

The seminar started with Mick giving us an introduction to his C2 Core Combatives system. Rather than repeat what he said, I’ll point you to Mick’s website: www.corecombatives.com, and his Youtube channel: www.youtube.com/user/MickCoup, where you can spend as many well-spent hours as I have learning about his approach to self protection.

The aim of the seminar was to give us training methods to develop the basic skills and attributes needed for incapacitating an attacker in the most efficient and effective way. In this case, with repeated palm strikes to the bad guy’s brain box!

We got into pairs for the first drill which doubled as a warm-up. My partner was a bloke called Gary who is a retired firearms officer for the Met and also a Spear System instructor. Despite being in his early 50’s, he’s very much into his strength and fitness training, which I could feel the first time he hit the pad I was holding for him.

We started by going relatively slowly with individual palm strikes to the pads held at head-height, to ingrain the proper body mechanics before aiming for power. This is where Mick explained that the people who are always chasing power in their strikes will always be chasing. Whereas for those who always aim to perfect the body mechanics needed for striking, the power will chase them. Even when they try to go soft, there will still be some power there simply because they use their whole body. This is also where he demonstrated a no-inch punch! Luckily not on me, although I was (un)fortunate enough to receive some light whacks on the chest after when he demonstrated how impossible it is to ‘block’ strikes at close quarters.

We then built on this by doing repeated strikes at full force, and then further drills such as checking behind us for secondary targets (attackers) after the initial target has been dealt with, removing obstructions that may be in the way of the target (i.e his arms as he protects his head, or a 3rd party), indexing the target with the off-hand, chasing a retreating opponent, and striking an attacker who charges at you.

Before starting the charging drill, Mick explained that if anybody was to fall to the ground, nobody was to help them up. Instead, we were to all rush in and give the grounded person a few kicks up the arse whilst shouting at him to get back up. Nothing too heavy (physically), no more than light kicks aimed to the bum or legs. This is of course to ingrain in the person the tenacity needed for getting back to their feet if ever going to the ground in a real violent situation. It goes without saying that on the street, the ground is the absolute last place you want to be.

After a short break, we did what Mick calls the Stress Drill (I was pleasantly surprised to find this was almost identical to a drill we already do in our class). We did some slower drills to build up to it, but ultimately it came down to the following structure: there were two pad holders and one ‘operator’. The operator stands in the middle with their eyes closed, feet together and hands down by their side (a very vulnerable and tactically-disadvantageous position). The two pad holders or ‘trainers’ circle round the operator and without warning, one trainer will shove the operator hard and explosively. The shove (which feels more like a strike that follows through) can come from any direction and so could send the operator backwards, forwards or sideways. The operator is then to open his eyes (after trying not to fall over!) and land as many full-force strikes as possible on the pad that is held up in front of him. After a few seconds trainer2 then whacks the operator from behind, which is the signal for him to turn and destroy the pad that trainer2 his now holding up. Then after a few seconds trainer1 does the same and so on for what feels like a long time but what is in fact less than a minute. It’s very dynamic as the pad holders move around forcing the operator to chase as well as strike.

An interesting point is that the whacks you receive during the drill feel more like taps. One guy didn’t even know he had been hit at one point and had to be hit again to make him turn round. However, the first whack/shove you receive when your eyes are closed feels like you’ve been hit by a train.

I was crash test dummy again when Mick was demonstrating before we started the drills building up to the Stress Drill. He had me close my eyes and stand with my feet together and although I knew what was coming and what I had to do after being hit (strike the pad he would be holding in front of me when I opened my eyes), the shove to my chest felt like an electric shock. My breath left my lungs and I let out an involuntary gasp, my skin suddenly became very sensitive all over my body and my senses seemed to open up. I opened my eyes, saw the pad and discovered that Mick had sent me back a good few feet (well, he weighs twice as much as me and almost a foot taller!), and then travelled forward to strike it as hard as I could.

The gap between being shoved, opening my eyes and hitting the pad felt like milliseconds, but apparently I was stood motionless for quite a while before acting. Never underestimate the power of surprise! Military forces the world over have used the element of surprise to defeat their enemies throughout history. And apart from being a reminder how advantageous it can be to us when used for self defence, the drill is designed to inoculate the student to being taken by surprise and to rewire the nervous system to respond with ‘fight’ rather than the more instinctive (but tactically flawed) ‘flight’ or ‘freeze’ responses. As Mick reminded us, nobody is going to attack us when we are fully alert and aware. They will wait until we are at our most vulnerable.

One memorable moment during the drill was when one person stumbled and fell at the end of his turn being operator. This was the first and only falling person of the day and I had forgotten the rule of not helping them up. As the man fell at mine and Gary’s feet, we both instinctively bent down to help him up, only to be taken by surprise as Jon Fell (Mick’s assistant instructor for the day) came rushing in and hoofed matey up the backside! After about a second I picked my jaw up off the floor as I remembered why this man was being kicked and found myself barking at him “UP! UP! UP!” as we all ‘encouraged’ him back to his feet. Afterwards, Mick said to him “Now, if you ever fall down in a fight, you’ll remember that arse-kicking and get back up ASAP!”  

After another short break, we were invited to partake in the final test of the day; the ‘Live Drill’, which sounds less scary than the Stress Drill but is in fact one of the most hardcore drills I’ve come across in training. As we laid down the mats in preparation there was a palpable atmosphere of apprehension; an opportunity to practice some ‘tactical breathing’ to reduce the effects of adrenaline and slow the heart rate. This drill was totally voluntary and 6 out of the 10 of us had a go. It’s also worth mentioning that safety was the biggest priority; not all the safety measures are mentioned here.

The format is this: one referee (Mick) two fighters and two safety guys (each fighter has his own safety guy). The fighters - wearing head gear, neck brace and groin guard - lay face down and facing away from each other, about 3 meters apart. At Mick’s signal, the safety guys put pressure down on their fighters who have to fight their way to their feet, turn and destroy their opponent. It’s all-out, anything goes, maximum force and aggression but the fight is only allowed to go on for about 5 seconds before Mick blows the whistle. This is the signal for the safety guys to grab their fighter in a specific way, pull him off his opponent and get him back on the ground. This time, the fighter does press-ups until the whistle goes again, at which point they are held down again, fight their way up, try to kill each other and the process repeats (with the press ups) one more time.

By default, the two guys used for the slow demonstration stayed on for the first full-on three rounds. The room became very quiet as everybody watched the controlled mayhem. When it was over, Mick asked for volunteers. One part of my mind was coming up with all kinds of excuses not to (the biggest one being that I was the lightest guy and that I would have that disadvantage), but another part was happy to have the opportunity to test myself in a controlled environment. I stepped forward and was waiting to see which giant I was going to face (there was some big boys there). After a few seconds, Gary stepped forward. On the one hand I didn’t feel good about it; we had got on so well having been partners for the past 4 hours, I didn’t think I would be able to go full force on him (and later, he said he felt exactly the same!) but on the other hand, despite being stronger and broader than me, he was an inch or so shorter. So I was slightly relieved not to be fighting one of the big guys.

So, safety gear on, face down. With the gumshield in plus the effects of the adrenaline, my breathing made me sound like Darth Vader inside the helmet. The whistle went, and all I can remember of it after struggling to my feet, is getting a good knock to the head and landing a couple of headbutts that felt totally useless with the helmet on. Then I was thrown down and it was press ups time. I felt better doing something rather than just waiting motionless.

All I can remember of the second round is landing one or two shots but receiving one big one to the face which made my nose throb and eyes water. As I got thrown face down I was very much expecting to see blood pool in the face-shield, but it never came even though I was sure I could smell blood (later when I got home I wasn’t surprised to see a load of clotted blood when I blew my nose!)

In the final round I got to my feet and turned to find that Gary was still struggling to get up, not really wanting to hoof him in the head, I was secretly hoping he would get up and stand with me. My wish came true as the next thing I knew he was in my face landing some good ones! I remember switching hands as he covered against my right, and then switching again and landing a good one with the right.

When the headgear came off, I double checked my nose and it was fine. But when I grabbed the bottom of my t-shirt to wipe the sweat off with, I noticed some blood on it. Then I saw more on my left hand. Turned out my thumb nail had come away from the thumb a bit and was dripping. Gary couldn’t find any scratches on him so it must have caught on one of the gaps in his face shield.

The way we fought was obviously very influenced by what we had been doing for the previous four hours, in the sense that all we did was straight-palm eachother in the head. Nothing wrong with that though; it’s a very effective technique when coupled with intent. Which is something we both attested to as we gave each other feedback on our performances.

The last fight was interesting. One fighter was a big guy with previous martial arts experience who works as a bouncer. The other was a bit smaller with no previous fight training at all if I remember correctly. In the first round he took a hit as they closed the gap, and seemed very stunned at the force of it, but soon came-to and fought back. In the second round he took a massive hooking palm to the side of the head which had us all collectively going “Ooohh!” and that was it for him. He didn’t do the third round. Don’t blame him either; his opponent was the person I feared going up against the most! I’m sure that hit would have had me on the floor if I’m honest.

All in all, it was a great day. I took a lot away from it. There were some points Mick made which have caused me to rethink some of the drills that I teach, and certainly new ones I want to incorporate. Also, it was very reassuring to see how much of what Mick teaches resonates with what we are already doing in the class.


I’ll definitely be doing more C2 training in the future, and I recommend that you do too!