U.S. Army Special Forces Combative

written by Kevin Underwood


U.S. Army Special Forces carry out five basic missions: Special Reconnaissance, Direct Action, Unconventional Warfare, foreign Internal Defense, and Counter Terrorism. Each mission has its own distinct operational requirements, tactics, techniques and equipment. There may be a certain degree of overlap concerning the tactics required to perform each mission, but for the most part specific techniques must be modified in order to fit each mission. Special Forces, in their continuing pursuit of excellence, have borrowed tactics and techniques from military unites in other countries and have maintained a training environment that lends itself to creativity and experimentation.  


Combative techniques, like equipment and tactics, must be modified to support a given mission. Datu Kelly S. Worden, Filipino Arnis practitioner and primary Combatives Instructor 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne), has been assigned the task of developing a system of techniques that will address the missions that Special Forces soldiers may need to execute. Recently, I joined Datu Worden and solders from 1st Special Forces Group during their combatives training.

Prior to training, I spoke with SGM Michael Sherlock, the 1st SFG(A) Operations Sergeant Major. Regarding the 1st SFG(A) combatives program, SGM Sherlock stated that, "....the program is mandated by the United States Army Special Forces Command (USASFC). Our program taught by Datu Worden is an integral part of our overall training strategy. Datu Worden is a world class martial artist who has an extensive background in combatives, and an intuitive knowledge in their application with regards to our mission. He covers all ranges: stand-up and grounded fighting as well as weapons skills including impact, edged, and improvised weapons. He also provides valuable instruction in the escalation of  force, and the use of force from varying degrees ranging from controlling to lethal."

Being the professional soldier they are, the Special Forces troops were all business once the training started. I felt that I was witnessing something very special. Here were wold-class operators - SF warriors, and Datu Worden, a martial artist and warrior himself, sharing his knowledge while staying completely open to the input of all participants. There were no egos getting the way, only professionals going about their business.

Datu Worden put the soldiers through an intensive workout that targeted tool development and flow from one weapon (or tool) to another. The Special Forces soldiers approached the training with a high level of intensity. I could see the determination in their eyes as they stabbed, punched, kicked, and head butted their way through the session. I got in on the action and "played" with some of the guys. They were quick, tough, and in top condition.

Worden says that it's a concrete world and the only way to successfully test a concept is to"Get Real." The soldiers train on concrete, agains walls, on grass, and among tress. They also train in different uniforms and equipment. Teams will train in field gear and mission specific equipment in order to fine tune their techniques or a battlefield engagement. Worden analyzes equipment along with combative techniques, and makes small changes that allow effective use of a technique that would otherwise be useless. 

The Special Forces soldiers had much to say when it came to the instruction that they receiving from Datu Worden. "I've never learned so much, so quickly, from anyone in my life" one member stated. Another said, "He moves us along quickly from on tool to the next, never letting us stagnate or get bored. At first I couldn't see the line that connected all the dots, but when I did, bang! It all became crystal clear." Worden echoed some of the remarks made by the soldiers; "I want to set their minds free. I teach them the concepts of tool development and then let them loose. it's really a feeling of accomplishment when one of the soldiers comes back and shows me a variation on a technique that he believes might be more effective. It shows that he has taken the concept and run with it. He's thinking for himself."


There was, however, a learning curve for all participants in the program. Datu Worden has had to learn the specifics of the Special Forces' missions and then apply combative techniques effectively and seamlessly in order to enhance mission accomplishment. Worden has had to change his mindset when teaching the Green Berets. "I've had to put myself in their place and remove myself the the civilian minddset as it pertains to martial arts." He smiled when asked what he thought of the Special Forces soldiers' ability to learn the combative concepts he is teach, "These guys are all in solid condition..I've never once saw one of them back down or slack off in their training. They are smart, tough, and quickly internalize everything that I present."

I asked Datu Worden about his training philosophy for combatives. "The military program doesn't glorify one particular style, just the combative value extracted from the most functional systems available: boxing, Wing Chun, Filipino arts, Muay Thai, Sambo and others," he replied. "I believe that the most important thing is to develop the ruthless intent and mindset required to execute these techniques...that is the main objective."

Ruthless intent, as Worden described it, could be seen in all the techniques that were presented during the training session. All the moves were quick, direct, and vicious. He expanded on every technique and showed the relevant cognate technique with open hand, knife, machete or rifle. 

Datu Worden also covered techniques with a rifle that could applied while never taking on's finger off the trigger. I was surprised by this an asked one of the soldiers why one wouldn't just shoot. "There are certain instances where you might have to maneuver a non-combatant out of the line of fire, without causing serious harm, while maintaining your firing hand on the weapon at all times, " he explained. "You might also have a 'bad guy' attempting to surrender and blocking your view of the rest of the area...you need to take him down quickly, but short and deadly force...that's where these techniques would be extremely useful."

Worden's practiced eye never stopped sweeping the area. He continuously moved about the group, encouraging the solders and making corrections to their technique.

Datu Worden finished the morning with a short recap on of the session, and shook hands with eery participant. Equipment was packed away, vehicles were loaded, and the Green Berets moved out for their next challenge of the day. It was a pleasure to observe and train with our nation's best. Datu Worden and his combative training are one more asset the U.S. Army Special Forces utilize to stay the best of the best.

Written by Kevin Underwood

Kevin Underwood is a retired U.S. Army Special Forces soldier with 24 years of service. He is also a martial artist and freelance writer, and resides in Olympia, Washington.


Impact weapons are a common weapon in intercity, rural, and Third World Countries, facing a stick wielding attacker in bad lighting helps the Soldier understand the deception of the weapon in a negative situation. Extracted from Modern Arnis, counter techniques to neutralize the aggressor become more effective when combined with takedowns and the reality of eating concrete.

Special Forces training covers all ranges from stand-up to ground fighting. The grappling mind set applied to the Military creates a false sense of reality, ground fighting means edged and improvised weapons are key components in combat efficiency, in most cases quickly neutralizing and regaining dominate position.

Empty hand tactics against impact weapons force the soldier to intensify his aggressive nature and face the fact that life is unfair, he must make quick decisions to negate vicious attacks swiftly and decisively, his life and the life of his team members depend on function, not flash or sport techniques.

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