Combat Hapkido’s John Pellegrini on Women’s Self-Defense, MMA and Military Training

To help us learn more about traditional training in a modern world, our friend GK Zachary from AdultMartialArtist.com sat down with combat-hapkido founder John Pellegrini.

Pellegrini’s been inducted in more than 20 martial arts halls of fame and has been on the cover of 17 self-defense magazines, including our own. Why? Because he’s the perfect ambassador for the arts.

Long before Pellegrini became one of the world’s most popular self-defense instructors, he served in the elite 1st Airborne Regiment of the Italian army. Following that, he used his martial training to work in law enforcement, corporate security, investigations and executive protection.

Pellegrini now holds ninth-degree black belts in hapkido and taekwondo, and his combat-hapkido system is extremely popular with law-enforcement and military personnel. As if that weren’t enough, he is also a certified jeet kune do and aikido instructor.

If ever someone deserved the title of grandmaster, it’s Pellegrini. Enjoy.

—Jon Sattler

GK Zachary: Do traditional martial arts still have relevance for martial artists in an area increasingly dominated by MMA and reality-based martial arts systems?

John Pellegrini: Absolutely. Mixed-martial arts practitioners are wonderfully trained and highly disciplined fighters. But this training is only for a few individuals willing to dedicate themselves entirely to the sport and accept the rigors of the training, the pain and the inevitable injuries. Most people will not ever contemplate that kind of training.

By contrast, martial arts are for the other 99 percent of the population. They are not just a sport or fad. Instead, they are a philosophy of life and a discipline of combat that requires serious training and dedication but also the right martial spirit. True, some overly traditional and ritualistic martial arts will continue to lose popularity and maybe fade from the scene, but the major traditional, mainstream arts, such as jujitsu, aikido, hapkido, kempo and taekwondo will always be popular because they have so much to offer to so many people.

Zachary: What are the three most important principles an adult martial artist always needs to remember?

Pellegrini: First, self-preservation. In other words, don’t get hit. Avoidance of physical conflict is extremely important. You want to understand the range of a confrontation. If you can’t walk away from a potentially violent confrontation, you want to know how to close the gap on your opponent and take control of the situation.

Second, the speed and accuracy of a technique are more important than simply being strong. You don’t want to get involved in a slugfest with an assailant.

Third, self-control. Adult martial artists need to exercise exceptionally good judgment within society’s moral and legal framework. A measured response to any threat is essential.

This moral angle cannot be emphasized enough. The “gladiator approach” that MMA and other fighting sports have popularized are often inconsistent with the martial arts philosophy. Consider, by contrast, the samurai of feudal Japan or the Hwarang or Sun Bi warriors of ancient Korea. Yes, they could be violent. Yes, they could kill. But they always did so within the context of a strict, indeed indispensable, code of honor.

The unrestrained violence that typifies gladiator sports is not a good role model for today’s youth. It is in part responsible for a culture of violence and as such has lost much of the spirit of the traditional martial arts.

Zachary: There have been several notable cases of sexual assault in the media lately. Is combat hapkido a good choice for women looking to learn how to defend themselves from rape and sexual assault and why?

Pellegrini: Combat hapkido is perfect for women because its self-defense techniques are easily learned and do not require great strength. They are based on science. When a 100 pound woman can confidently and routinely take down a 200 pound man using combat-hapkido techniques, you know that there is a science behind it. That’s what makes combat hapkido exceptionally effective for women’s self-defense training. Knowledge and skill, not brute force, is the key.

And it blends well with other women’s self-defense training programs such as Melissa Soalt’s Fierce & Female, RAD, PPCT’s Sexual Harassment and Anti-Rape Program, and similar programs.

Zachary: Your commitment to the U.S. military is well-known (and appreciated) in the martial arts community. Are you continuing to train military personnel here and abroad?
Pellegrini: Yes, but our policy is to talk about such training only after the fact. There are issues of security and confidentiality that require us not to disclose the sites of our future training seminars for the military and the specific units involved. But, yes, we maintain very close relationships with the military and the law-enforcement community. For example, two weeks ag,o we conducted a military combatives seminar for the German Luftwaffe (air force) at their base in Germany. Military combatives is what we call the techniques designed specifically for the armed forces. The material must be mission relevant, and it’s one more defensive tool against those who want to do us harm.

There is no such thing as too much training. If they need it and want it, we will provide it. The International Combat Hapkido Federation is willing to go any place and any time to train troops — even in a war zone as we have done several times before.

(GK Zachary is editor and publisher of AdultMartialArtist.com, a blog devoted to self-defense training, combatives and martial arts fitness.)

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