AAR:  Kembativz Brand (Kelly McCann) “Basic Combatives” (Take Two), Fredericksburg, VA 4/2-3/22

Lee Weems and his guests in a recent episode (aired April 11, 2022) of That Weems Guy made an analogy that taking a class more than once is like watching a movie more than once; you will always pick up things on a second viewing that you missed the first time.  What a great analogy!  Oddly, despite the many courses I have taken over the last decade, it was not until last year that I repeated a course.  I didn’t wait another decade to take another course twice.  Even if it was not my intention going into 2022 to repeat courses, the first course I took this year (Kembativz Brand “Basic Combatives”) was a repeat of one I had done just four months before.

Why was it not my original intention to repeat this course? The fast version is that I was already registered for the Kembativz “Combatives Principles” class, which would have been a nice way to tie everything I learned in 2021 together. Unfortunately, my ENT doctor said my nose would not be fully healed until mid-February, about two weeks too late. So I bumped to this course instead. While I do feel like I missed out on the “Principles” class, I also felt like repeating this course was a fine alternative.

Course Description

The course description found on the Kembativz website is as follows:

You owe it to yourself to read the reviews of this course on our Kembativz FaceBook page. We hadn’t run this course for a few years and decided to offer it again in 2021. The response was fantastic, the course was full and based on the after action reports (AAR’s) it once again, hit the mark with the target audience.

If you’re looking for an entry point into the combative skill set, this is the course for you. We combine multimedia academic content with practical skill set development to rapidly achieve a solid foundation in each student. All the necessary elements of a credible self-defense capability are taught, reinforced and overlaid with lawful, reasonable use of force guidance.

You will learn what a principle based system consists of and how to consistently apply the principles in dynamic and duress filled situations. The course has been positively reviewed by attendees as instrumental in developing a reliable personal skill set.

You will need basic training equipment (mouthguard, groin protection and MMA gloves), we will provide all other necessary training equipment. Suitable for beginners through experienced practitioners.”

Shameless self-promotion, but can you guess who wrote one of those AARs mentioned in the course description?

Anyway, the class was again held at the Renegade Combat Sports Club in Fredericksburg, Virginia.  Cost of the course was typically $250, but I got in on a sale earlier this Fall and got it for $200. I am not affiliated in any way with Kembativz, McEntrick, Renegade Combat Sports Club, or Kelly McCann in any way except as a satisfied, sale-price-paying customer.


My gear was identical to the class in December.  As per the information in the course description above, I had my groin protector (cup…..if you show up to a Kelly McCann class without one, you’re way more optimistic than me!), a mouthguard, wresting/mat shoes, and MMA gloves (some were also available to borrow).  That was it. I again wore “regular” clothes to the class, nothing especially athletic.  I brought a small cooler with snacks, drinks, lunch, etc., and in my overnight bag was a healthy supply of ibuprofen.

Training Day One

I like to arrive to class early when I can.  I arrived around 0830.  Kelly was making coffee behind the bar when I walked in, and he immediately greeted me with a “Hey Rob, how’s the schnoz?”  As the other students filed in, I was happy to see that I recognized one from the handgun class I did with Kelly last year, and there were also two students present who are members of the monthly training group in which I participate.  Unlike the class in December, however, this class was much smaller in size.  There were really only six students in all.  Kelly taught most of the two days, but he was very ably assisted by Jason, Mario, Rod, and also Michelle Ly, his partner in business and life. 

I will note here that, as this was the same course that I took in December, there were many similarities, and I will not rehash all of those.  However, despite the fact that I had taken the course only four months before, there were TONS of differences.  Some of those differences were in the order in which things were presented, while others were in the content itself.  During one roundtable discussion at the start of Day Two, I even mentioned this, and Kelly confirmed that part of the changes was due to the very different students who showed up to this particular class, and part of it was due to the ever-evolving curriculum as well as simply rethinking how best to present the information.  It is nice to see an instructor always tweaking things.

The course began in the same way as last time, with a roughly one-hour PowerPoint presentation about what combatives is, what it is not, combatives principles, knowing the law, fear, courage, duress dysfunction, and causes of failure in confrontations.  This was all review for me but did provide me with a chance to get a few things written down that I had missed back in December.  One of my favorite lines from the presentation was one of the first:  “If you want to be safe, don’t get in fights!”  Kelly does a PowerPoint presentation at the start of all of his classes, and they are incredibly well done and honestly worth the price of the courses. 

With the PowerPoint out of the way, we took a quick break to warm up a bit, put on any protective gear/make wardrobe changes, hit the restroom, etc., and then met on the mats.  The morning of Day One proceeded much as it did last time, beginning with basic combative stance, footwork, and angles.  So these included things like forward, backward, and sideways movement followed by movement designed to get an angle on an opponent, such as the sidestep pivot.  Again, a solid and welcome review for me, especially since I move athletically like the classic dancer with two left feet. 

At about noon we broke for an hour lunch.  It was after lunch that the course quickly changed as compared with the December class.  Apparently, in a discussion over lunch, Kelly and Michelle decided it might make more sense to now move to the ground in order to illustrate how to “get the angle” on the ground (thus covering the same principles that we had covered upright in the morning).  It was hard to argue with the logic.  We started out on the mats, and later moved into the cage (where we went through the same actions that had resulted in my nose injury on Day Two back in December…..I am happy to report that I suffered no similar injuries this time around) to work on wall-walking with our backs against the cage after having been driven to the ground/wall junction by our partners. 

After a welcome rest and hydration break, we moved into some hand-fighting.  This was all-new as compared with the December class.  My hands, wrists, and forearms absorbed a decent amount of punishment here (nothing bad, just minor scrapes and contusions), but I found this portion of the class to be very beneficial in helping us to begin to learn to “control the chaos”.  This theme came up numerous times over the two days.  Kelly said several times that the more we are presented with chaotic situations to control, the better we will get at it. 

This hand-fighting continued as new elements were added all the time.  So in addition to just hand-fighting to get our hands on top of our opponents’, we also started to incorporate—when possible—half and full-clinches.  As we rotated through different partners, eventually we also got to add in a leg grab as well.  Needless to say, when my diminutive self got to go against a 6’4 police officer, I did not bother trying to get the clinch, but tried to make quick, darting moves to grab a leg (and enjoyed at least some success doing so). 

We finished out Day One with some different punches/strikes (jab, cross, hook, uppercut, etc.), some basic combinations, and then blocks.  This block of instruction was similar to what we covered in December.  Missing from Day One, as compared with last time, was any pad work.  As Kelly said numerous times, is it better for us to go at each other, or hit stationary pads while making mean faces at each other? 

We wrapped up Training Day One at around 1645, cleaned up a bit, and then met at the bar (if you have not read my AARs of other classes with Kelly, then you may not know that there is a bar right in the gym).  I enjoyed a couple of drinks and some great conversations with fellow students before heading out to a solo dinner, checking in at my hotel, and calling home to check in with the family.

Training Day Two

We began Day Two at around 0900.  The day kicked off with the aforementioned roundtable discussion, going over what we liked and perhaps did not like so far about the class, what we were learning, etc.  Kelly then had Jason lead the class in some pretty extensive warm-ups for the day.  I guess now is a good time to mention that throughout Day One I was suffering from light cramping in my right calf.  Sleep, rest, and some quality warm-up time had my calf feeling much better as Day Two got under way.

Next, we moved into review of activities of the day before.  This included some review of the footwork, angles, the clinch, and the other major themes of the day.  We spent more time on angles on Day Two, including how to get to the side or even behind an opponent in the upright position (such as with an arm-drag or a push-pull) as well as on the ground.  We spent a lot more time on the ground in this class than we did in December. 

After lunch, we did some more upright work that included arm-drags and push-pulls, leading into “moves” like the chin-rip, which is always a lot of fun.  We also did similar sequences but leading into rear-naked chokes.  It was during one of the chin-rips that my opponent’s bare heel came up and caught me in the back of my right calf.  As noted earlier, this had been causing me some minor discomfort, but somehow now I either developed a severe cramp or perhaps even a pull.  I was down!  Kelly had to break out the electric massager and use it on my leg for a few minutes to loosen thinks up, which worked well enough to allow me to continue.

Unlike in December, we never did the round-robin of “fights” with each other.  Much of the remainder of the afternoon was spent on the heavy bags developing power with punches and elbow strikes of various types (spearing elbow, slashing elbow, up-elbow, etc.).  I would estimate that we spent more time on the heavy bags in this class than any of my prior coursework with Kelly.  Unfortunately, weak me–who had always had issues developing power in my strikes–really struggled with my calf, as pushing off with my right leg as the back leg was tough.  I muddled through with my strikes appearing even more anemic than usual.

We finished out the course with some more work on the ground.  As with all of the “opposed” work that we did in this course, Kelly and the other instructors (Michelle typically partners with Kelly to demo a lot of the groundwork, as this is her forte) would always show what the one person is trying to do while also showing what the counter is.  So then, with our partners, we got to practice what to do when you get back mount, for example, but also how to avoid it or get out of it.  Some of this was welcome review for me from last time, but some of it was new (to me) material.

We wrapped up Day Two around 1630.  I had a quick drink for the road, chatted with everyone for a bit, and hit the road.  I recall making unusually fantastic time on my trip home.

Final Thoughts

While, as noted, it was not my original intention to retake this course this year, I am glad I did.  So glad, that I am considering taking it a third time!  Yes, it’s that good.  If every iteration of this course is indeed built around a framework but manifests itself differently each time, then it would really be worth it.  For me, I would get more repetition of the work I have put in so far while also expanding my horizons a bit into uncharted territory.  This would be the perfect pace for me of review mixed with new learning.

I must confess, however, that my body does take a bit of a beating in these classes.  It took the better part of two weeks for my calf to feel back to normal (which is why I am leaning toward the injury having been a pull rather than a really bad cramp).  I’ll take that over a displaced septum any day, but I feel like I am getting a little old to continually test myself like this.  To be fair, I feel like the calf injury could have happened almost anywhere (playing tennis, for example), and even the nose injury in the previous course was kind of a freak, accidental event. 

Still, I like that I had the guts to walk into Kelly’s gym over a year ago, and have returned six times since.  Kelly McCann is now the instructor with whom I have trained the most, and I am proud of that.  I am under no illusions about being able to handle a younger, fitter, more skilled opponent just because I have put in this work.  However, I have added just a bit to my skillset, and along the way learned a lot about myself.  Perhaps the best lesson I have learned is that I really do not want to “mix it up” with anyone, which, if you think about it, is a really valuable lesson to learn!  Still, if the chips are down, I feel at least slightly more confident in my abilities than I was a year ago. 

Combatives is all about simple, effective techniques that can be learned quickly and recalled under duress by someone without a lot of background in “martial arts”.  In essence, I am the perfect candidate for a combatives program (the “target audience” mentioned in the course description), and there is no one I would rather learn this from than Kelly McCann.  To him and to all of his co-teachers, I feel indebted, and recommend him highly to anyone who is in similar shoes as my own.

As always, thanks for reading.  If you have any questions or comments, please post them below, as we always welcome civil discourse. 

One thought on “AAR:  Kembativz Brand (Kelly McCann) “Basic Combatives” (Take Two), Fredericksburg, VA 4/2-3/22

  1. Funny that you mentioned the Weems Guy podcast, as I just started listening to it last week. Funny how some things come together in ways we don’t expect. Anyway, sounds like a great class! Yet another entry in ‘classes I need to look into in my area’ list.

    Liked by 1 person

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