Clan Combative Systems

I grew up steeped in my clan combative systems and constantly in harm's way but I'd my family behind me and Paddy as my personal mentor. He taught me what I needed to know and instilled in me my addictions to the outdoors, training, fighting and adrenaline rushes.

Paddy, I then thought of as a family friend and my 'sponsor'. Later, when I investigated my adopted father’s background, I learned that Paddy was, in fact, my great uncle on my father’s side. My family, it appears, have a long history of keeping secrets.

Not having a direct heir of his own he found what he sought in me. For my part I found fatherly approval, pride and acceptance, as well as time meaningfully spent, in my ramblings, training and ‘work’ with the man who liked me to speak of him as my “Uncle Paddy” and to address him simply as “Paddy” when alone and only as “Sir” when we were working.

Using names when working was forbidden so Paddy addressed me as ‘Lad’ spoke of me as ‘the wee lad’ and, eventually, ‘my wee lad’. Alone, he called me Plib (never Philip).

As is often the case with ‘fathers’ and ‘sons’, Paddy was harder on me than he was on anyone else and indulged me more than he would have tolerated from any other student or equal in our combative systems.

Over time we fought together and for each other, proving and refining the lessons I'd received in our combative systems. Eventually, we both knew that I had to get out or become a statistic.

Life took a hand and I’m still here and now train civilians, law enforcement and security agencies in various combative systems and defensive tactics modalities. I guess I beat the odds. If giving up all and most of the people you've ever known is ever ‘beating’ anything.

But I am alive and living in Canada with my parents, siblings, ex-wife, wife and kids from both marriages. I have grandchildren, aunts, uncles, cousins, family – clan. That is what it’s always been all about. So, I’ve no right to complain and, rather than missing Paddy, I’m grateful we were there for each other in the time we did have.

Yet times have changed. I’m told that I am the only remnant of Paddy’s complete combative systems. I’m further told that even if I look only at Irish stick fighting (Bhataireacht) there are only a handful of instructors left in the world.

While I was born in Ireland and learned Paddy’s combative systems there, these really are family ‘systems’ and, in my family there are as many Scots and islanders as Irish. I will not offer these relatives any offense by calling what we have an “Irish” system. Further I am now a Canadian citizen.

Likewise to now call it the Bradley, Coyle, Sweeney, Mc Cauley,
Mac Intyre or Doherty combative systems would be to ignore or negate the contributions of each of the others. So they are simply Celtic family/clan combative systems. Whilst I may be their last (current) inheritor, I’ve no more claim to them than to my own name. Both were given to me and it is now my intent to honour both, to the best of my ability and to continue the traditions of my family and our fighting style.

Likewise, if there are faults or shortcomings to be found with these combative systems, I and I alone must accept responsibility for them. Over the years I’ve lost people who where far better fighters than I but there is more to survival than any one factor. If some of them were alive today I would not even be writing this for I might not then consider it my place (although it appears Paddy did intend it this way).

I also have a tattoo on my chest to remind me of one relative who stepped, deliberately, between me and a couple of bullets. Such is the strength of the bonds of love and blood.

I now understand that Paddy was always grooming me to be a master instructor. The best fighters Paddy drilled constantly until the few tactics they were good at, they became incredible at. But with me he was always getting me to learn more, understand more and teach more. I was always hungry for more. Again Paddy let people, myself included, self select. I never wanted to be the best fighter. I always wanted to learn all that Paddy knew. I pushed for that and he let me.

Now he and all those fighters I knew are gone or physically broken. He gave me his systems and left me to select what I would do with them.

Ours are old systems of hand to hand or so called ‘empty hand’ tactics (Gráscar Lámh), together with stick fighting (Bhataireacht) and blade work (Scianóireacht). These three form the ‘Trinity’ or ‘Shamrock’ of our system. Today we include firearms and explosives training for those students with appropriate needs for such skills. Behind all of these must be a near inane awareness and acceptance of the harsher realities of life and an unstoppable will to survive.

We were first taught old style boxing and wrestling, mostly to limit what came at us while we learned to take a hit or the pain and keep functioning. This was also done as a means of separating the masses from the serious contenders. Those who couldn’t take the rigors and pain or whom lacked the discipline wouldn’t make it in that world anyway and worse, they might be made to give up the rest of us.

It was better all around to simply exclude them. Really, people were simply allowed to self select.

Nothing was as it first sounded. Hand to hand really meant learning how to target every part of your opponent’s body with every part of your body. What was easily survivable in training was devastating, even deadly on the street. Even seemingly innocent statements were anything but innocent or simple. “Talk to the man”, really meant hit him and keep doing so until the outcome was clear and in your favour, not his.

Stick fighting was learned in both one handed and two handed styles. Then every variation of stick length and configuration was practiced with and in every combination imaginable. You quickly learned that stick fighting really meant adding a stick, or sticks, to the hand to hand skills already learned and that, if you made the mistake of focusing on the sticks, you’d get hammered by any and all of your opponent’s body ‘weapons’.

We also learned that anything that wasn’t sharp, was an impact tool. If you could move it then you struck the opponent with it. If you could not move the object then you struck the opponent against it!

Your entire body and environment are impact tools. We spoke of tools because this word was overlooked by listeners but say ‘weapon’ and heads would turn immediately.

Your body and much of the environment is also available for grappling. If anything did not fit these two categories then it would be a ‘sharp’. You could drive it into your opponent or drive your opponent into it. The appropriate choice of ‘tools’ was critical to any ‘job’.

Blade work quickly became an education on how to effectively use any edged surface or object to subdue or finish an opponent.

Firearms and explosives are merely other ways of delivering sharp or blunt force trauma to one or more targets, rapidly, simultaneously and at or from a distance. Then you begin to figure out that these two also have a myriad of other potential uses.

Garrotes and other ‘soft’ weapons/tools were considered ‘grappling assists'.

The whole premise of combative systems training was to always ask more of a student than they thought they could or would do and to never ask more than they were ready for. It was a grooming process and you had to always be ready to accept when any student had gone as far as they could.

The ongoing process of breaking a student down meant getting them to grow. If you crossed that thin line and actually broke them, now they were ‘expendable’ or a ‘liability’. In both cases all the work and effort and all the time and emotion, even the relationship itself was now wasted and needed to be ended, on the job or on the spot. The decision was simply further risk assessment, practicality, opportunity and ‘mitigation’.

This was not some martial arts class that they could simply leave and not return to. It was absolutely not something they could be allowed to talk about ‘out of class’. By the time anyone is privy to this part of the deal it has become a lifetime commitment or you are trusted enough to leave the country and keep your mouth shut. If they broke, then that trust was gone, and so were they!

Yet again, times have changed. Now there is no-one to be put at risk by divulging the old ways and the system itself is in danger of being lost, permanently! I'll do my part to see to it that our clan combative systems and traditions are continued into the next generation and beyond.

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