There are s**t-hot SWAT cops/military operators, military and LE combat vets, who "rule" in a guns up, team centered, tactical environment but are fish out of water when dealing alone with a single, motivated bad guy who manages to close with them, let alone take them down and get on top.
One of the things I have tried to impress on our tactical guys was not to be so wedded to solving all their problems at the point of gun - because tactics can fail, bullets don't always hit, and don't always stop a guy when they do, and you may not be in position to use the gun to solve it to begin with.
Little consolation in being some "elite" shooter/tactical operator if you can't fight your way out of a paper bag hand-to-hand. A fellow trainer and former SWAT guy recently said something to me that made a lot of sense: working in a team environment often covers up for lack of individual skills.
I think that "combat" is relative easy to define... It's combat when you cross the line at which the threat is "deadly". When you perceive the threat represents a reasonable risk to you (or someone else) of serious and lasting bodily harm, then you are at the Deadly Force" level of confrontation. At that point it is combat.
Law Enforcement is difficult because they are expected to deal with an entire range of force and do so routinely. The percentage of their encounters in which the subject(s) fail to comply and physical force is required is about 1%. The number which end up in a full out level II confrontation in which impact techniques are required is even smaller by quite a bit. The number of those which end up in a situation which crosses the line into all out "combat" is very small. But when it does, due to the lack of good training for our officers, the risk to the officer is VERY high. Most training officers are given is geared towards restraint. What deadly force training they get typically revolves around the use of the firearm. Very few get what I would call Level III empty hand training which would contain deadly force empty hand techniques. Officers die regularly due to this situation.
With the military or high risk law enforcement personnel, it's even more difficult, in my opinion. The role of the military in recent times has changed. They are frequently in situations in which their roles move between combat and peace keeping, between combat and policing. One of the things that the military has had to do is introduce low level force training into what had traditionally been simply combat training.
Then when you look at counter insurgency missions in countries like Viet Nam or Iraq, you get such an untenable situation that for the average guy out there under fire from folks he was told he was there to help, it becomes very hard not to fall back into the "kill them all, let God sort them out" mindset. When you can't tell the difference between your friends and the enemy, or they can change at any moment, it's quite clear that the "perceived threat" that justifies deadly force in civilian law enforcement is there pretty much 24/7 for those folks. So the continuum of force gets really simplified... Verbal then, if no compliance, then deadly force. For these guys, hand to hand skills represent the very last mine of defense. Hand to hand only takes place when firearms have failed.
It's interesting that, we tend to give the wrong people, the wrong training. So-called "high risk" teams are apt to get by far the most training. That's logical. But that training might include things like DT. My partners and I developed a DT for SWAT and High Risk Entry Teams block of instruction. Several of the area departments did the training and incorporated the block into their regular training.
But in actuality, when was the last time you heard of an officer having his weapon taken away and getting shot with it on an entry team? How often do the members of an entry team get in a knock down drag out fight in which an officer is seriously injured or killed?
It doesn't happen very often and if it does, the fact that there is a team doing the entry, that the whole thing was known to be high risk from the get go, tends to make the whole thing less likely to result in serious injury or death for the team members.
Most of the officer involved fatalities have taken place on the street in the type of encounter which happens every single night for a patrol officer. Six to eight feet away in low light conditions. The subject goes for a weapon and bang, an officer or a subject (or both) is shot. In any number of these encounters, if the officers had had good Level III or deadly force empty hand skills, it would have been more effective to have delivered physical technique before trying to access the sidearm. At that distance, if the subject has initiated and the officer is surprised, the officer will not reliably access his weapon before the subject does. The higher percentage move would be to deliver some serious impact technique and then access ones weapon. But officers are not typically given this type of training so they get involved in a wild west shot out type scenario, hoping they are the fastest.
The ground fighting issue is an interesting one. I don't know if there has been any study which has shown the percentage of officer losing his gun to a subject between the ground and standing. Of hand I would suspect that the majority would be on the ground. Anyway, what we do know is that 95% of the time, if an officer loses his firearm to a subject, he is shot with it. So automatically, if a subject goes for an officer's gun, it's deadly force or combat, if you will. If a statistical connection could be made between the likelihood that, if he goes to the ground, an officer will lose his weapon or sustain a serious and lasting injury, then going to the ground with a violent subject could be assumed to be a deadly force situation.
There is a clear need for training of the type which Kit has worked on developing which focuses on close quarters empty hand as an extension of weapons retention and this should include ground work with deadly force techniques. Ground fighting practice should always be done with a holstered practice weapon so that grappling is always considered as an aspect of weapons retention. Typical mixed martial arts moves do not do this.
I am sure Kit knows the guys from our King County Sherrif's department who developed the "Arrestling" program. It's a fine program which teaches ground fighting with the firearm aspect for law enforcement.
Anyway, since the thread is about what is combat. I would reiterate that any situation in which in which I think it possible that one or the other of us will die is combat. In law enforcement this is typically a short term, incident related mind set. In the military it can be almost a state of being when in extended operations in time of war.