PHASES OF COMBAT
By David McGoldrick
As Martial Artists and students of combat systems, we generally concern ourselves with the strategy and tactics of fighting. I would suggest that by doing so, we often miss the bigger picture, which can, in turn severely limit our understanding of the strategy and tactics we regard so highly. I think it's fairly well accepted that Irish Stick Fighting was developed, tested and refined under the pressure of faction fighting. Factions were formed by many groups such as clans and families, towns and villages and gangs and political groups who fought over money, land, power, control, pride, feuds, local rivalries, insults or whatever aggravated them. At a time when policing was neither that widespread nor effective, factions often took matters into their own hands. Most of the phases I will be describing will be common to many combat systems in the world that were developed through local warfare, however the details may be a bit more unique to Ireland.
The first two phases of combat are the pre fight phases. The first phase concerns reputation. This is established before you even meet your opponents. If your faction has a formidable reputation, then either other factions won't want to confront you or if they do, they will have a psychological disadvantage. It is for this reason that factions were so protective of their reputation or their name. You could argue that protecting the good name of your faction was one of the main reasons that faction fighting existed. After all, most fights start with two people having an argument. Within seconds, each one is backed up by their own faction and you could have dozens (or hundreds) of people in a melee. This was very close and very fast. You see, from day one, everyone has pride in the reputation of their faction drummed into them. Any challenge to one member of the faction is a challenge to all. If someone thought there might be a weak link in your faction, you would immediately beat that thought out of their head. Ultimately, your survival depended on the faction and the factions survival depended on you.
The second phase of combat is slagging. This occurs when you first meet. It consists of insulting, undermining, laughing at and threatening your opponent. It is absolutely relentless. It is designed to intimidate, instil doubt, unbalance and enrage your opponent. It has the effect of making sure that your opponent cannot back out of the fight without seriously damaging their reputation and the reputation of their faction. In local communities, members of different factions are familiar with each other and there is nobody more hurtful than some who knows you. As you can imagine, things get very personal very quickly. If you ever want to understand how relentless slagging can be, just watch the antics of a certain notorious Irish MMA fighter. He is a master! To those who find him to be crude and unsportsmanlike, I would say "You need to toughen up, snowflake!" Some people do find that the Irish sense of humour can be hard, cruel and not very P.C. We are not always like that, but we can be.
The next 4 phases of combat are concerned with the actual fight. This is the part with which many Martial Artists concern themselves. So, the third phase is contact. There are only two possibilities here. Either I attack or my opponent does. There is a great tactical advantage in initiating but your opponent isn't stupid and they realise that too. In the Doyle system, we usually start an attack with stick punches. These are comparatively long range techniques and are perfectly suited as initial strikes. On the other hand, if your opponent initiates, we also have a set of blocks that gives us a rock solid defence. So, whoever strikes first, it will result in either a successful strike or a clash of sticks.
The fourth phase of combat occurs following the initial clash of sticks. This is the control phase. Irrespective of whether you block or were blocked, you now need to take the advantage. If you are blocking in RBUB we usually power through our opponents strike to "break the wrist". Whilst you don't literally have to break the wrist, your objective is to break the strong structure of their strike by bending their wrist back. If our strike is blocked, we usually then "Chase the stick". Whilst this is the name of a technique, it is also the name of a strategy in RBUB. It involves getting behind your initial technique and closing down our opponent in order to control their stick and thus the fight. This exemplifies the "Ever forwards!" philosophy of the Doyle system.
The fifth phase of combat takes advantage of the control you have gained to follow up. This usually consists of a move called a pivotal which rolls off the point of contact into a "Hello" which is your initial strike. You may use a "hug" to unbalance your opponent or a "Cauldron" to entangle them. Then a closer range combination of strikes and is referred to as the "Fury" in RBUB. You need to be brave and take the initiative. This is really where most of the damage is done in a fight. It requires a certain amount of killer instinct or evil intention. Each of the strikes are targeted quite specifically in order to maximise damage.
The sixth phase of combat is the finishing move known as the "Good-Bye". This needs to be a natural extension of the combination so that you can quickly move on to the next opponent, which is essential in faction fighting. The two most popular finishes in RBUB are the "crescent moon" and "bust the anthill". These are often taught one after the other in the Rince, but it is my contention that they are best used as options rather than as a combination. One moves your opponent aside and the other drives him back.
The seventh phase of combat is the aftermath. This is rarely as simple as "Win or lose". Firstly, folklore is usually highly subjective and if you weren't killed in a faction fight, you are probably going to tell everyone how you were the hero and saved the day. As I always say, the entire history of Martial Arts can be summed up in three words: "Old men lie!" We never like to spoil a good story for the sake of the truth. Secondly, when medical care may not have been the most available or reliable, even people who survive (or even win) a faction fight, could be dead within a short period of time or be left with permanent injuries or disfigured. It was a well know trick to smear the thorns of your Shillelagh with faeces, so that even the most superficial wound to your opponent could lead to infection and potentially death. Thirdly, I will refer back to the fact that within small communities many people know each other. Therefore someone in a different faction could be a neighbour, a relative by blood or marriage or someone with whom you do business. A faction fight could have huge implications even within your family and community. Fourthly, does fighting actually settle a matter once and for all? I would say "Rarely!" Often times, fights lead to huge amounts of resentment that can cause family feuds that continue for generations, which leads to more fighting. Despite being a predominantly Catholic country, we are not great at following the Christian teachings on forgiveness. Lastly, a victory (or defeat) will have a huge impact on the reputation of both you and your faction. The more observant amongst you will notice that this last phase therefore relates directly back to the first phase of combat. As my Ma was fond of saying: "The wheel keeps turning".
All of my ideas are based on my own knowledge, experience and intuition and I don't expect everyone to agree with me. I always invite people to question me, especially if you think I'm wrong.
Muinteoir of the Wolf Faction