Street medicine is relatively unknown to martial artists. The world of the martial artist is one in which glory lies within a simple combination of personal development and victory over an opponent, in sparring, in practice, and sometimes in real life. The last part of that equation is unfortunately the one which most martial arts practitioners are rarely exposed to. The unfortunate part not being the bloody combat, rather the lack of practical experience and real life “on-the-job-training” that most people have if they call themselves “specialists” in any given field. The common training that teaches combative techniques to kill or injure people without understanding the result of that action is a flawed system that must be changed. And this lack of exposure to real life post-fight situations creates knowledge gaps that can prove to be critically dangerous in violent environments; the medical knowledge gap is one such critical pain point in the martial artist’s development. This is where street medicine comes in.
The Medical Angle
The Inside Reality – As a professional Silat combatives instructor for years, I have a fairly good idea of the kind of injuries that can result from force on force training, partner drilling, tough guy one-upping, and plain old fashioned stupidity. Regardless of how safe you try to make your training environment, there will always be someone who wants to prove they can and someone else who proves they can’t. The martial arts training hall is conducive to injury, whether it be to your physical person or your pride. The latter can be massaged back into shape, the former on the other hand, is a can of worms most people can’t handle when opened. The lack of basic emergency care skills is such a serious knowledge that people rarely understand how important it is until it happens to them. I’m also a culprit. Before I entered the medical profession I witnessed stab wounds to hands, concussions, heart attacks, fall injuries, broken limbs, etc, without having the slightest clue what to do other than call 911 and hold the person’s hand. Such a knowledge gap was considered “normal” in my mind and standard for my peers in the combat training community. Only after I got sufficient training, understood the seriousness of the situation and the risks involved, did I see the need for reality based training in the medical field. Everyone will realize that need once they read this article and think back on their own experiences.
The Outside Reality – Understand what you are doing! As a martial arts practitioner you knock people down, learn to slice people open, drop guys on their head’s and smack incoming limbs with sticks. The obvious result of such an engagement in the real world could be legal considerations, communications with law enforcement and medical staff, psychological trauma, and personal injury to yourself or to your adversary. Take a closer look at the first five cuts of any Kali or Silat knife system and you will suddenly be prompted with graphic images of speedy exsanguination, yet martial artists perform these techniques completely detached from what they are doing. I dare to say most martial artists show more emotion eating a Big Mac than they do when training these lethal techniques. This detachment from reality and the subsequent lack of education about the actions one is performing creates the medical knowledge gap that is so dangerous.
The Benefit of Knowledge – Having proper street medicine training and education not only increases your understanding of what you are doing but also your post-conflict management capability. Imagine downing an attacker with the weapon he attacked you with, then the police arrive on the scene to find you performing CPR on him after he went into cardiac arrest. Or a maniac unleashes a hail of bullets into your company cafeteria and you suddenly collapse with blood gushing out of your leg. What if you returned from work to find your girlfriend on the floor overdosing on the Fentanyl patch she habitually sucks and you didn’t know about until now? This all seems very dramatic and moviesque, but I sighted REAL incidents. These things can and do happen. Never disqualify yourself from the possibility of life throwing absolute insanity in your path for a while. Hell, I moved to Sudan and two months later the capital city was attacked by Darfurian and Chadian rebels! Anything can happen. Preparation is the key to surviving it when it does. And street medicine is just one more tool in your box. In the examples I cited, CORRECT training would improve the chances of managing the situation effectively. I’ll explain the “correct” part later in the article.
The Mental Angle
If we are talking about combat in the real world it can never really be “real” unless we mention something about the mental angle of things. The physiological response or “fight or flight” is a very real boogeyman that surfaces when you don’t need it and don’t want it. One of the great advantages for the martial artist is that he/she is already receiving (hopefully) some training to help develop the combat mindset and thus reduce the effect of stress when in a violent situation. Mental preparation through visualization, reality based training, stress inducing drills, and other methods will help in controlling those butterflies in the stomach and shaky fingers if you have to perform in a dangerous environment. As I always teach my students, Fight or Flight is a blessing, the real nightmare is for those who don’t fight, refuse flight, and then freeze. Such a sad situation is usually a result of poor preparation. And if it’s your child or wife on the pavement when you freeze, a whole lifetime of regret can be ahead of you for not training yourself mentally to handle real life violence.
What is a Martial Medic?
You’re not a Combat Medic, they have years of experience and training and have a huge scope of practice. You’re not a Paramedic, they have years of training and experience and a large scope of practice. And a really big ambulance. You’re not a Tactical Medic, they also have years of training and experience and a varied scope of practice. You’re not a First-Aider, they have basic training but most lack any sense of tactical issues or combative training. So what are you? Well…once you embark on the path of the Martial Medic you will be in a class all by yourself. A street medicine practitioner. It’s lonely sometimes but you’ll get over it the first time you can actually apply what you know in order to help someone else, even if only a little. The “Martial Medic” is the martial artist who takes it upon himself to learn and understand what he is doing in a deep way rather than a superficial one. He has skills to seriously injure people as well as skills to help people when faced with the need to render emergency care to someone. The role of the Martial Medic is to try and increase the chances of a person surviving serious injury long enough to get to professional medical care. That’s the core purpose of street medicine. The Martial Medic is a person who loves life, respects death, and sees himself as a protector of the people close to him. When a person truly understands the martial arts training and has made it a part of their life and psychology rather than a hobby, learning to save a life will become as important as learning how to take one.
What are the Training Options?
At this point most people will probably be thinking of getting training or burning my article because they wasted eight minutes of their lives reading it. Either way a decision has probably been made. For those that say burn it, I promise I won’t say I told you so later on in the future. I’m usually pretty quiet at funerals. For those of you who want training, the next logical question will be “What training do I get?” The answer to that question will define the shape of your experience if you are ever in a medical emergency that evolved from violence. Now let’s explore options in this street medicine game.
The best option is to get professional training as a combat, tactical or paramedic. This will ensure that you have the competency and mental skills to perform medical procedures under pressure. And you will have the tactical skills to understand how to deal with violence and avoid it when possible. If this is a viable option then go for it as you’ll be better prepared than most humans, including most doctors and nurses. The only problem is you’ll need a lot of time, money, and education in order to get certified and stay certified. But it will be well worth it if a career change is coming your way or you just want this badly. If the best option is not an option for whatever reason, than seek training from one of those individuals I mentioned above that can provide you with a tactical mindset and basic emergency care skills. This will make you understand your martial arts training better than you ever did before, and give you real skills to help other people when it all hits the fan.
The most expedient option is to get some basic first aid training. It’s not the best solution available but it’s much better than having no clue whatsoever on how to manage an injury or medical emergency. Make sure that you receive CPR, first aid, AED, and anaphylaxis training as a start. Then take it upon yourself to continue your medical training through articles, books, publications or our basic training course in the video library. This approach is probably the easiest and cheapest route. The major drawback is that it lacks the tactical eye that you need when dealing with medical issues in a hostile environment. The last training option and one that I feel is mandatory for all serious Martial Medics, is life training with professional people who do this work daily. Ambulance ride-alongs or volunteering in hospitals will inoculate you with a massive dose of reality that is invaluable. Most paramedics who see a serious practitioner of street medicine in front of them would probably be very inclined to share their knowledge and coffee with them. Learn from people who do rather than people who don’t to avoid the knowledge gap. If you follow the advice in this article you’ll quickly see how important and precious street medicine is to your martial arts training.