close combat

In this article from the Black Belt archives, retired Marine Leon Wright teaches military personnel -- and you -- the physical and mental techniques needed for survival in close combat!

Editor's Note: This article was originally published in the January 2012 issue of Black Belt. As such, its time references have been left intact.They say there's no such thing as an ex-Marine, so it's not surprising that while the service record of a certain gunnery sergeant named Leon Wright says he retired from the U.S. Marine Corps in 2003, "private citizen" Wright has yet to complete the transition and ease himself into a relaxing life of golf and gardening. On the contrary, for the past nine years, he's worked as a civilian-defense-industry contractor, clocking as much time with the Marines in the combat zones of the Middle East as he did on active duty. In the spirit of the Corps' semper fidelis motto, Wright has dedicated his post-military life to serving his country and its men and women in uniform. So while his retirement job as a civilian "area site manager" has him overseeing the daily operations of numerous coalition forward operating bases in the no man's land of Afghanistan, Wright is engaged in a more hands-on activity to support his fellow Marines. It's an activity that combines his enduring sense of duty to the Corps with his lifelong passion for the martial arts: He volunteers his free time to teach a growing cadre of students his personal martial art, souseiki ryu sekkinsen shigaisen.

Martial Arts Credibility

Truth be told, Wright is not merely a guy who's generous with his time and happens to love the ways of mano a mano. To understand why so many students accept his pro bono offer, a quick scan of his résumé is required. With 41 years of experience in a range of Asian fighting styles, Wright is a 10th-degree black belt and the founder of souseiki ryu, an art that's formally recognized in Okinawa and Japan, as well as the United States. The recognition of Wright's art in the Far East endorses more than just the man. "The masters there are not as interested in the individual who founded the art as they are in seeing the students of that art," Wright says. "To them, the quality and character of the students determine the legitimacy of the system."

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Marine Corps Martial Arts Program (MCMAP) instructor Leon Wright digs into his martial and military training, showing you how to handle a "haymaker" attack!

Leon Wright was inducted into the Black Belt Hall of Fame as its 2010 Self-Defense Instructor of the Year. This was not a lightly granted honor for the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program (MCMAP) expert because his martial arts credentials and expertise in the field of self-defense moves are impressive. With more than 40 years of experience in a range of Asian fighting styles, Leon Wright is a 10th-degree black belt in and the founder of souseiki ryu sekkinsen shigaisen, an art that is formally recognized in Okinawa and Japan, as well as the United States.

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Whenever someone comes at you with a knife and you are empty-handed, you are automatically at a 90-percent tactical disadvantage. Even worse, 99 percent of the disarm techniques and self-defense moves taught today are too complicated and unrealistic to be effective in an actual confrontation. Furthermore, if you do not practice self-defense moves against attacks launched at full speed and full power and at the angle of the attacker’s choosing, any drill will be merely a choreographed pattern that reinforces a false sense of self-confidence. After years of mulling over this dilemma, I finally discovered a way to transition from step-by-step practice to full-speed training in self-defense moves to survive a knife attack. The “Jim Wagner Defense Rule” was born while I was teaching knife disarms to members of the Canadian army. To demonstrate that my reactions were genuine and not part of a prearranged defense that worked only when I knew what was coming, I told one soldier to attack me using any technique he wanted. He lunged immediately, and I had no time to prepare a defense.

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My first exposure to the work of Michael D. Echanis was in a copy of Soldier of Fortune that my martial arts instructor gave me back in 1977. Frustrated with the impractical knife-defense tactics of the art I was studying, I had approached him to ask for a new, more realistic direction in my training. The magazine had an in-depth interview with Echanis that turned out to be the catalyst I needed. I was studying a "modern" martial art at the time, but like most traditional arts, it was still very structured and technique focused. When my training partners and I increased the intensity and realism of our training to try to replicate real attacks, its techniques often fell short. In reading the profile on Echanis, it was immediately obvious that he had taken a different approach to his training and the instruction he was providing to the U.S. special-operations community. Based on his own hard-won combat experience in Vietnam, he had developed an uncompromising set of standards as to what constituted practical, realistic, combative tactics. While he readily acknowledged that the classical fighting arts had a lot to offer, he drew a hard line between martial tradition and martial technique that was still viable and relevant in modern warfare. Echanis' irreverent, results-oriented approach to the fighting arts also embraced the full spectrum of weaponry, favoring the most practical and efficient, which included the knife. Other articles in Soldier of Fortune and Black Belt during that time provided additional insights into Echanis' fighting methods and the system of hwa rang do on which they were based. However, it was the release of his Special Forces/Ranger-UDT/SEAL Hand-to-Hand Combat/Special Weapons/Special Tactics book series that really revealed the direction of his training. That three-book series was distinctly different from the other martial arts books that had been published before that time in that they actually addressed close-combat situations that were relevant to a military operational environment. They also pulled no punches, presenting hard-core tactics of knife fighting, stick fighting and unarmed combat that would enable real warriors to kill and win on the battlefield. And in the process, they served as both a turning point and a powerful catharsis for countless martial artists seeking to understand the reality of close combat — just as I was. Using Echanis' books as a template, I and several like-minded students in my martial arts group drastically changed the direction of our training. We abandoned classical martial arts weapons and focused on practical ones — particularly knives. We increased the intensity and realism of our training and put it into context, practicing in the areas and environments where our skills would most likely come into play. Based on the understanding we gained from that process, we also realized that we'd never again go back to traditional martial arts training. Years later, I had the privilege of speaking with a number of special-operations veterans who had trained directly with Echanis or experienced the close-combat programs that he created. Through their comments, it was clear that the effects of Echanis' programs were profound and had indeed set a new standard in realistic, combatives training. Many of these men still used Echanis' methods as a basis for their personal close-combat tactics and shared the belief that his training represented a distinct turning point in the evolution of modern warfare. Although his life was cut tragically short, Michael D. Echanis had a profound impact on the martial arts world and the direction of modern military combative training. He combined his personal quest for a comprehensive warrior art with an uncompromising commitment to combative function. And in the process, he gave us an enduring legacy of close-combat philosophy and technique that will continue to inspire us for generations to come.

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