The Vital Pyramid & Combative Protocol

John “Lofty” Wiseman of the Special Air Service introduced the concept of the Vital Pyramid, which has since been used as the content framework for combatives practice by several instructors. Strangely enough, despite being common knowledge in the combatives fraternity, it isn’t something that is readily enforced in regular British Military Units (From a specific combatives perspective not generic soldiering). Something I tried to get across in my time in the Royal Marines. The constant focus on peacekeeping type operations make the likelihood of close combat much more probable but severely paid lip service to. A discussion for another day.


The Pyramid is a hierarchy of components comprising of what is needed to survive a violent engagement. This goes for absolutely anyone! from the tier 1 operator to the civilian trying to get home safe.

What is a common argument by a lot of people who conduct no self defence training or discount it’s value is “I would just run” or “I would just shoot them” even worse is “That would never work” (In some cases this is correct) or “you cannot defend a knife so why train it?”

This type of mentality can have huge consequences. Firstly you are either misunderstanding the dynamics of violence or, training yourself into learned helplessness. This mind state can make the likelihood of freezing in a violent engagement increase when things do not go to plan.

Recently in my local area a woman was slashed with a knife in broad daylight with her child. On the local community groups the discussions were immediately awash with the type of self defence tool they should carry. Considering in the UK we are highly restricted legally to what you can and can’t carry. Also consider that even if you could or do carry a weapon (in other countries) can you guarantee you will be able to get to it?

In order to maximize success you must have understanding of the vital pyramid and it’s components, You will then be well rounded and able to adapt to most situations.


This is the foundation. You must have awareness, recognize body language, and understand reaction times to realistically deal with threats at varying distances. The ability to adapt & improvise. Adding to this is State Management & State access. State management is the ability to control you emotional state under stress. State access is the ability to access aggression and determination at a flick of switch. This is key. An excellent quote from Lee Morrision -Urban Combatives is “I will prevail! If I don’t I should survive” What this effectively means is you will do what ever it takes to win and if not you should survive. Rather than having the attitude of just trying to survive, it gives you somewhere to go with it and an elevated output.

“I will prevail! If I don’t I should survive” Lee Morrision – Urban Combatives


This is having an approach and understanding the generic dynamics of violence. It’s understanding that in pre-conflict situations you need to go first! If you go, you need to keep going until the threat is finished. Use gross motor movements, all the way in or all the way out! Always assume there is a weapon, always assume there is more than one attacker. This will give you the winning game plan from the start and is regularly enforced in my classes. This is far more important than the technical skills at the early stages.


This is the technical breakdown of particular techniques and situation’s. How to punch properly, how to kick properly, how to defend edged weapon’s in particular situations, how to escape certain grabs and choke’s. As you can see this area can go really into depth. It’s pointless if the student doesn’t have a grasp of the principles. If things go wrong or they come across a situation they haven’t trained for and are unable to adapt they will fall apart.

“I can give you a collection of key’s or I can teach you to become a key maker” – Todd Fossey Integrative Defense Strategies


The final part of the pyramid and the cherry on top. In simple terms if you have the mindset to fight and use aggression when needed, understand principles and have the unarmed skills, kit is a bonus! You will be much better placed to use the taser, baton, firearm or self defence tool at the right time rather than relying on it. It all comes down to the fact do you have a tool and can you get to it? If not you have a backup plan!

Its important to note however that the vital pyramid represents the correct training methodology. In real violence yes getting to a weapon is your priority if you have one. The Krav Maga/Combative protocol is as follows:

Before an attack

  • Avoidance
  • Pre-emptive action
  • Compliance if appropriate and if it will maximize safety.

During an attack:

  • Use of weapons or improvised tools (Chairs, bags, umbrellas etc…)
  • Long range skills (Kicks, immediate disengage options to escape and/or get to a weapon)
  • Short range skills: (clinching and extreme close quarters skills)
  • Disarms: (Absolute last priority depending on circumstances. Also assume multiple attackers and if you can realistically take the weapon, do you need to?)

Remember,that ultimately it is the attacker that dictates what happens. Is it an ambush at close range? Do you have a warning or pre threat indicator that allows you to disengage or gain space? Are they aggressive and intent on physical harm? etc.. You must train for all situation’s and have the mindset to do what is necessary no matter what!

Krav Maga Bristol Instructor Jim Halton writes on the reality of defending yourself against a baseball attack on the street.

Krav Maga Bristol Instructor Jm Halton writes:

You hear a knock at the door and answer and someone stood there with a bat in their hand, it’s pulled back, chambered and… Read more

Krav Maga Bristol Tips on Groundfighting

krav maga bristol ground image

Instructor Jim Halton of Krav Maga Bristol writes:
Here are 3 tips for students beginning to train in groundfighting.

krav maga bristol ground imageIn the Titans club at Krav Maga Bristol we train sparring every session. We train stand up sparring but we also train in sparring on the ground. When new students to Krav Maga Bristol first start rolling it can be an uncomfortable experience. A mix of confusion, nervousness, fatigue, trying to use your strength instead of technique you find yourself exhausted. Getting submitted by your fellow student again and again isn’t much fun and eventually you will ask, “How can I get better at ground sparring?…. Read more

The Bravado of Self Defence

Krav Maga North Bristol Instructor Will Bayley discusses the harsh realities of violence in the context of home defence and why you should make sure you keep your training real.

I was in a bar recently waiting for a mate when I heard an all too common conversation about home self defence – what to do when someone breaks into your house in the middle of the night. You can imagine the people having this conversation. A small group of blokes, beered up. Normal, average blokes. Workers not long out of work, ties off, collars undone, sleeves rolled up for the serious business of Friday night drinking and setting the world to rights.

The common conversation and the inevitable bravado.

God help anyone comes in my house. I keep a bat by the door. I have a Maglite by my bed. I’d do em with that. I don’t care what the law says, if someone breaks into my house I’m going to drop them.

I appreciate the sentiment. Even agree with it. But I want to throw out a tiny bite of reality for you because your life may depend upon thinking about this in another way

There’s a place called violence. It’s a lonely and terrible country, torn apart by war. The people you find there are monsters, predators, everything that you, in your seat of civilisation, would call evil. How many times have you been to that place? Honestly? I don’t mean the scuffles you had at school or that time your mate got loud at that party and you shoved each other. I mean how many times have you been attacked by a wild animal and had to fight, literally, for your life?

Most haven’t.

If it’s happened to you, you won’t be full of bravado. The people who know what I’m talking about are typically silent on the matter. Humble.

And those who have been there, how many times have you been there? Once? Twice? How long each time? Most assaults are decided in seconds. So your experience, throughout your lifetime, of that place is approximately ten seconds. Does that make you an expert, a travel guide to that country’s horrors?


And I want you to imagine for me something.


Imagine this person…

He’s early twenties but he looks a decade older because of the brown he’s been putting in his arms for the last seven years. He’s lean and underfed, malnourished, his body fucked up on years of opiate abuse, on the cycle of constipation and laxitives, on junk food and chain smoking, his teeth falling out and his nose half fucked from his forays into stimulants – amphetamines adderall and cocaine. At the moment he comes through your door he’s been off the smack for a day and a half. He’s in a fever of pain, fear, nausea, cramping and worse. He knows that his hunger will deepen by the hour, until it incapacitates him, until he can’t do what he’s doing now to solve his problem. He needs his solution more than you have ever needed anything. He knows desperation like you never have and never will. He will take something from your house and sell it for a fraction of its value to fund a solution that will last him a few hours at best. And he will literally kill to do it.

Let me state that in a more complete way: There is nothing he won’t do to get what he wants. Literally nothing. If you don’t stand in his way, that means take and run. If you stand in his way, it means stabbing you or punching you to the floor and taking and running. If you go at him with a weapon – and you’d be the thousandth person to try – he’d take it off you and beat you to death to make sure you didn’t present a threat to him, before taking and running.

Your morality, he doesn’t have that. It’s gone, along with any notions of self respect, guilt, conscience. It’s been drummed out of him by years of addiction.

But don’t think that the addiction makes him weak. Once he was a strong kid, stronger than you can ever know, driven to the solace of the drug by a life of terrible violence and abuse.

When you were taking your first steps, he was sitting in a house full of addicts, starving, undernourished. When you were going to nursery he was stealing food and getting beaten when he was caught, learning how to take a beating with the minimum of damage, desensitising to the pain and the fear. When your parents came home from work and cooked you tea, his sent him out to run money and drugs, or came home loaded and beat him until his eyes swelled shut and his gums bled. When you were doing your entrance exam for secondary, he was out in the parks fighting other kids over selling territory, knowing that if he lost he’d lose everything, that he’d take it badly at home, that he might not get to eat. While you were mastering maths and english, he was mastering violence, learning through the weekly, if not daily fights, threats and skirmishes how to most effectively beat another human to the ground. While you were learning the ropes in your first job he was learning how to use surprise to paralyse a victim so that he could take what he needed with the least risk to him. By the time you were competent in your career, he was a master of his, the veteran of a thousand or more fist fights, stabbings, muggings, breakins and arrests.

He’s experienced front-line violence almost every day of his life. Immediate. Total. Around him all the time.

Home Self DefenceHe’s lost count of the amount of times he’s struck someone, knocked them down, stabbed them when he was too weak to fight any other way. And he’s lost count of the amount of times someone did that to him. The violence, it holds no real fear for him, like it does for you. And in that lack of fear, in that desensitisation, there is a certainty, not that he will win, because truly he doesn’t care about win or lose in the way that you do, but that he will fight, and do everything that is necessary to get the job done and come home with his solution. While you’re finding your feet he’s already beaten you. You’re the hundredth person that swung a Maglite at him. The hundredth person to leave a cricket bat by the door for him to arm himself with when he comes in.

And when he comes he will come without hesitation. From the moment you are aware of him he’s already had hours to come to terms with what’s about to happen. He’s got momentum, practice, initiative.

Think about this.


That land we were talking about, the country of violence, at best you are a visitor to that land. He lives there.

Real world violence isn’t a place where bravado is well rewarded. Hard training is the answer, based on solid research.

And here is some research:

Survey after survey, when we study violent crime, there are only two significant predictors of success in the survival of real world violence.

  1. By far the most significant. Exposure to previous instances of real world violence.
  2. Self Defence training that involves close approximation of real world violence through stress inoculation, contact drills and adrenalisation training.

Whatever else you do, come to the fight prepared, without the bravado, and see it for what it is. Come to the fight not with bravado but with realism and humility. See that to run is not shameful. To die defending property is hubris, and ludicrous. You fight when there is no other choice, when you’re on the stairs and you meet that man and it’s clear there’s no other way. And if you have to fight, make sure it isn’t a fight. Find a way to surprise. Hit first. Hit hard, with so much aggression you overwhelm the opponent. And train for that moment with the real world firmly at the front of your mind. The research. The numbers. The facts. The statistics.

You bend your training to fit reality. Then you don’t die doing it the other way round.

Train hard, fight easy. Your life depends on it.

Will Bayley – Krav Maga Swindon, Krav Maga Bristol Central, Krav Maga North Bristol, Bristol University Krav Soc.

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