Kelly Mc Cann and Modern Combatives: A Review

Kelly McCann and Modern Combatives: A review

In a previous blog, I looked at W.E. Fairbairn and how his training methods have influenced modern self-defense methods. In this article let’s have a look at Kelly McCann ( aka Jim Grover ) and his modern version of “combative” fighting methods.

Kelly McCann is a former U.S. Marine officer and while serving, was responsible for standardizing hostage recovery tactics and equipment, and training counter-terrorist forces.


He now runs a specialist company, Kembativz, that teaches many of the methods he has developed over the years to the general public.

So what is his relevance to Contemporary self defense?

His methods are simple, effective and use awareness as one of the key elements to surviving a hostile encounter. In his videos and books he goes through the process of how you should stay aware to pre-empt any attack. How you should then deal with any attack and how you deal with the aftermath. A complete picture, so to speak. He constantly emphasises,

  • training gross motor skills
  • all out aggression to gain the momentum in a conflict
  • simple and effective weapon defence
  • that realistic training is the key to being able to defend yourself
  • that even though you train there are no guarantees how things will play out in a real conflict
  • knowing what you can or can’t do legally to defend yourself is an important part of the training system


One of the important things about what he teaches is that he has tested the techniques consistently over the years and discarded ones that don’t work. When teaching the military it had to be efficient and very quick to pick up, as with Fairbairn. This means that anything you may read in his publications, or see in his videos aren’t mythical ideas based on some ancient code, but realistic fighting methods that have been proved to work under the highest pressure. To quote,

“Combatives aren’t complicated or heavily stylized. They’re distilled to the bare essentials, so each technique is simple to recall and execute under duress in disadvantageous environmental conditions… Combatives training has a single purpose. Combatives training doesn’t provide the practitioner with any structure, discipline or other benefits derived from traditional martial arts.”

McCann, Kelly. Combatives for Street Survival: Volume 1: Index Positions, the Guard and Combatives Strikes (p. 1). Independent Publishers Group. Kindle Edition.

Which clearly states what his self-defense method is all about. Add to this his teaching on aspects of situational awareness and you have a very near complete system.

The system does have it’s downside, in that the training is very hard because of it’s realism. In my view, any worthwhile system has to have this aspect to it. It has similarities to the Northern Kung Fu style I trained in and you were guaranteed to suffer bruises and pain, but it was the only way to improve and test techniques properly.

Emphasis on the individual

Another aspect of his method of training echoes this statement from Bruce Lee,

“I believe the only way to teach anyone proper self-defense is to approach each individual personally. Each one of us is different and each one of us should be taught the correct form. By correct form I mean the most useful techniques the person is inclined toward. Find his ability and then develop these.”

Bruce Lee

That training isn’t one size fit’s all, but teaches that you as the student, are part of the process of understanding what works for you. This process is fitted in with a realistic analysis of what can work and what doesn’t. Part of his teaching also emphasises the importance of dealing with the possibility that what might work against one opponent may have no effect on another. Be ready for all possibilities.


Here is a small clip where he explains the process of preparation to deal with a potential attack. You can see the difference straight away between his training and traditional martial arts. He is wearing street clothes, the discussion is about what to do before you are attacked and also how you are planning your next move. Not something normally worked on in a traditional class.

Here is another example with him showing a simple explosive technique.

As you can see, not only does he explain the process from start to finish but defines when you might use it, how you plan to use and what it will potentially do to your attacker. This, again, isn’t something that normally happens in traditional styles. You simply mimic a punch or kick and work out what it might do as you go along. Very different.

Similarities to traditional arts

Although I have highlighted some of the differences his system has to the traditional arts, it does have many similarities. Especially when it comes to techniques. Those in common are,

  • use of body weight and the floor as a base to create torque in generating power
  • use of the fingers in gouging, poking and tearing
  • open hand, hammer fist and slapping techniques
  • low leg kicks
  • emphasis on explosive power and pre-emptive striking
  • working on body movement and angles to gain an advantage and create space to strike
  • developing concussive striking power
  • manipulation of the joints

I experienced hard sessions on the punch bag, pad work and realistic sparring which have similarities to the Combatives training methods. The Kung Fu style I trained in had its traditional parts based on respect and code of honour. But my Sifu consistently emphasised how things would work in a real situation. Fighting in full contact tournaments also helped develop skills and ability to deal with the effects of adrenalin in a fight situation.


So there are things in common but they diverge when it comes to the specific focus of his training methods. In Combatives, if it doesn’t work, you get rid of it. With traditional martial arts, you tend to keep plugging away at something until you get somewhere near to mastering it, even if you might not end up using it in a real fight. In Combatives the focus also tends to be on mastering a simple set of a few techniques that you would use rather than training a lot of techniques that you wouldn’t. This is developed specifically to deal with the issue of adrenalin rush and the ensuing related problems so that you don’t dither looking through a library of too many answers, but use the few that you have mastered.

To Conclude:

If you are involved or thinking of being involved in self-defense training, I would highly recommend looking up his work in books and DVDs. It’s very direct, very useful and has many things that you could add to your own training or could even inspire you to change direction or take up similar classes. From a perspective of “modern” self-defense, Kelly McCann ticks most of the boxes. I will leave you with another clip which shows him working on knife defence. Excellent.

Author: Andrew Johnson

I trained many years in Kung Fu, fought in full contact competitions and am a qualified instructor at The Combat Academy in the UK. The aim of this blog is to look at what modern self-defense training actually is and what it most probably should be.

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