The Art of Combat Innovation

Innovation in the martial arts is not a modern phenomenon. Contrary to popular misconception, innovation did not begin and end with Bruce Lee. Although Lee was one of our foremost contemporary innovators, innovation is as old as the martial arts themselves. In fact, many of the traditional martial arts are a product of innovation. The annals are full of examples: Jigoro Kano (Judo), Morihei Ueshiba (Aikido), and Kokaku Takeda (Daito Ryu) are but a few.

Although martial innovation is not new, there is a very troublesome trend developing among many of today's practitioners. It is the tendency to launch cavalierly off to proclaim new systems of self-defense, supposedly each better than the last. In fact, far too many of these so-called innovators are motivated for all the wrong reasons. Some seek ego gratification, money, or fame, while others simply lack the discipline to persevere in a particular martial art.

Many practitioners are unaware of the inherent complexity, responsibility and sacrifice of valid combat innovation. They fail to realize that innovation is an evolutionary process of methodical modification and refinement, rather than a revolutionary product rendered out of whole cloth. It takes serious intellectual analysis and research, not to mention strategic experimentation. Motivation must come from deep within the soul, heart, and mind.

I hope to give the viewers of this web site a closer look into my own search for and accomplishment at innovation. I will provide an intellectual overview of the foundation, premise, and research necessary for valid self-defense innovation.


It is absurd to think of founding a new system of combat without an extensive foundation or background in the martial arts and related disciplines. By foundation, I am not referring to superficial excursions into various styles and systems. A knowledgeable foundation can be built only on consistent training and extensive study. All great innovators were obsessed with training and study, and each had an extensive foundation in the sciences before even considering innovation.

A strong foundation establishes the physical, mental, and spiritual attributes of the true combat scientist. Extensive physical training develops and refines the physical attributes of self-defense (i.e., speed, power, timing, balance, accuracy, fluidity, etc.). A broad intellectual grasp of various combat sciences and strategic concepts is critical to any effort to modify and refine. Theoretical and conceptual analyses are touchstones of innovation. Finally, a sound foundation will begin to open the practitioner's inner self to the spiritual component of the martial arts. The innovator must become his art.

Simply put, there are no shortcuts! Every innovator starts at the bottom and works his way up. The greatest were beginners (white belts, if you will). If you are unprepared to embrace the rudiments, forget rushing ahead to modify and create. A self-defense innovator can only succeed with a deep comprehension of the various tools, techniques, and related elements of armed and unarmed combat. Innovation requires that you learn to walk before your run.


Innovation in every major field is based on a premise. The premise may be an axiom, a concept, a rule, or any other valid reason to modify and go beyond that which has already been established. Generally speaking, a valid premise is the consummation of an analytical process. It is not something "thought up" or created on whim or fancy.

Every foundational premise for innovation has roots in what has gone before. For example, in science Einstein's theory of relativity would not have come about without Newtonian physics and the significant prior discoveries in electromagnetic physics. In art, the cubists and abstract expressionists owed much to the discoveries of traditional realists.

The same is true for the martial sciences. Modifications and innovations in the sciences are based upon scientifically established premises. Premises for combat innovation may be the result of cultural eccentricities, moral codes, or any number of other factors, including geography and topography. For example, historians attribute the development of acrobatic high kicks of northern kung-fu styles to the tall grassy plains upon which combat was waged. In contrast, the rapid hand movements and lower stances of some southern styles are attributed to the urban terrain.

Given the critical role of the premise for innovation, it is disturbing that far too many modern "innovators" set out to create and promote new styles or systems without the background, study, and analysis necessary to formulate a valid reason for change. I know for a fact that some of these self-proclaimed vanguards are motivated for all the wrong reasons. For example, the "so called innovator" would discard a high-line kick because the former takes too much time, flexibility and coordination to master. He may establish legitimate reasons for advocating the low-line over the dramatic high-line kick, but only after mastering both and then articulating very specific strategic premises and conditions for using one over the other.

In my case, I have devoted more than 20 years to training, studying, researching, and analyzing the combat arts. This eventually led me to the awareness that many essential concepts, methods, and tactics were NOT being taught or established in American martial art schools. More and more it became alarmingly obvious to me that too much information was being neglected. My primary concern centered on the aggressive and destructive capacity of a vicious street criminal, Consequently, the premise of Contemporary Fighting Arts (CFA) was formulated on efficiency, effectiveness and safety geared totally to real life self-defense.


Research is a continuous and painstaking process of gathering, analyzing, testing, and documenting information relevant to the innovator's premise. There are two broad categories of research that, in reality, overlap in very significant ways: academic and practical research.

Academic research is a scholarly process requiring dedication, patience, and an insatiable desire to learn. The innovator truly must want to know all there is! Once again, his premise enters the picture in the all important role of a beacon, directing him to information that has some relevance and bearing on his ultimate goal. Without this direction he is likely to waste time sorting and separating valuable data from a tremendous amount of junk.

Academic research involves voracious reading. The body of printed materials on martial arts and self-defense has grown astronomically over the last 10 years. Instructional video tapes and the Internet has added a whole new and interesting data base, and provocative seminars are offered around the country. But let me offer a word of caution: the innovator can't just expose himself passively to these sources. Literature must be dissected and noted. Videos must be viewed over and over again.

Strategically sound and weak points should be recorded and analyzed in personal journals. And finally, seminars and training programs should be attended with an open mind, balanced with healthy skepticism.

Practical research thus begins. The innovator's information has been analyzed, cross referenced, and refined to theoretical applications. It's time to break away from the black board and head for the lab. Obviously there are some difficulties in approaching safe and sound practical or experimental research. Somehow, somewhere, the innovator has to get it right. The street is the answer, but it is a dangerous one. The innovator will need numerous combat experiences to test the result of his finding. However, these "experiences" must be legally and morally justified. The law must never be broken! Perfecting self-defense techniques and strategies takes a lot of guts and most likely will result in injures. However, there simply is no way to test the innovator's hypotheses without the situational reality they've been designed to address. The bottom line is - the innovator must have the on-hands experience of combat if he is going to preach it! He must walk the talk!

Finally, once the innovator's academic and practical research have been compatibly merged and his hypothesis adequately tested, he will be in a position to crystallize and articulate a combative truth. Over time this process and the resulting truths will build. Eventually, if successful, the innovator's research will lead to the structuring of a complex array of truths. This will be the innovator's self-defense system. This may sound easy to some, but I assure you that it is not.

-Sammy Franco CFA Founder