08 July 2009

The Two Faces

I remember a few years ago now when I first read an absolutely well researched and well written article called The Two Faces of Combatives. It was truly eye opening and changed the way I thought about human to human combat.

It was the first time I realised that there is more to consider than just being able to defend against an attack. There are different types of attack and these differences are truly fundamental. The psychology behind these different attacks are also very different. Indeed, these differences are just one aspect of study into what is now called 'Evolutionary Psychology', as the article states.

The International Hoplology Society

The Two Faces of Combatives was written by Hunter B. Armstrong, from The International Hoplology Society. Hoplology is the term used to describe the study of the evolution and development of human combative behaviour and performance. It is essentially the study of how different cultures engage in combat and why they do this and differentiating between what is natural and what is taught.

A profound impact

The work conducted by this organisation is very important and I wanted to showcase what I have found to have the most profound impact on my own personal development and understanding of what I refer to as Low Tech Combat.

The following post will present some quotes from the article and some commentary from myself. Regular readers and subscribers will be able to detect that this piece was very influential on me and was the catalyst in many ways for my own template of the Alpha Male and the Predator being fundamentally, the two different types of attackers.

Human Combative Behaviour

It is appropriate...to look into both man’s culture and his biology, (i.e., animal behavior) to understand man’s biologically based, culturally manifested, combative behaviors.
This article really delves deeply into the real roots of how humans engage in combat. This passage means that the study of human to human combat and how it is engaged in, is not complete without analysing what is instinctive or natural or even at its most base, how the animal inside each human is 'wired up' to engage in combat. On top of that, we cannot ignore the effect that our upbringing and how our culture that surrounds us impacts on human combative behaviour. Examining human to human combat at these very fundamental, root levels gives Hunter B. Armstrong a very solid foundation to work from.

Combat Between Animals of the Same Species

Intra-specific aggression is that aggression displayed between member of same species when settling territorial disputes, hierarchy, mating, etc. Typical of this type of aggression are the mating duels of male animals within a species.
Armstrong refers to this type of aggression as 'Affective-Aggression'. This type of behaviour is also clearly seen in wildlife documentaries. This is typically seen when one or more male lions encroach on the territory of another male lion. Once they first make eye contact, there is much posturing and positioning. Each male lion will stand tall and proud and will strive to appear the more dominant. Often, they will roar as a show of strength. When and if they do actually engage in physical combat, the result is rarely lethal. Generally, one male lion will be injured and will saunter off, prideless.

Combat Between Different Animal Species

Inter-specific refers to that aggression shown by members of one species, such as a wolf, towards members of another species, such as a deer. The aggression would be typified by the predator wolf stalking, chasing, and attacking its prey, the deer.
This type of behaviour is clearly seen in wildlife documentaries where one animal slowly and painstakingly stalks another animal. Here, the intent is to kill. This type of behaviour is typically conducted by an animal for its own survival. The hunter will kill its prey and then eat it. It must do this to survive.

Fundamental Differences

As can be seen, both types of combative behaviour are very different. Consider the approach. With combative behaviour between different species of animals, the hunter stays low and utilises camouflage and concealment. The hunter does not want to be detected by the prey. The hunter is calm. The hunter requires the element of surprise in order to ensure good chances of success. The attack is launched at the last possible moment.

Now compare this to the combative behaviour between animals of the same species. There is no surprise. Both animals are very much overt in their displays and intent. Often, each animal is determining their chances of success in the event this 'dance' becomes physical. In this type of combative behaviour, each animal is 'adrenalised', meaning they are both 'pumped up' and probably feeling the physiological effects of combat such as loss of fine motor control and a movement of the blood away from the extremities. Their bodies are preparing for combat.

This Animal to Animal Combative Behaviour Shines Great Light onto Human to Human Combative Behaviour

Instinctly, I am sure you are already drawing parallels between the two different types of combative behaviour of animals and the two fundamental types of combative behaviour of humans...

Armstrong then goes on to highlight these same two types of animal combative behaviour, and applies them to human combative behaviour. I have paraphrased these below:

Affective-Aggression Combat (Alpha Male)

Internal action

  • High arousal
  • Substantially influenced by hormones
  • Intense activation of autonomous system
External action

  • Goal - To intimidate
  • Threatening posture, language and tone/pitch
  • Emotionally provoked by opponents action
  • Often spontaneous
  • Often results in minor damage inflicted

  • Mood of heated emotions
  • Often territorial/spatial rather than economic motives

  • Opponent is known
  • Emotionally weighted enemy
  • Eye contact
  • Insult or hurt given or received
  • Dignity/Honour often involved, related to self esteem
These are just some examples of what Armstrong presents in his article. This type of combative behaviour is typically found today, in bars and clubs around the world along with almost all fights between friends. Now I will highlight some key examples of 'Predatory-Aggressive' traits.

Predatory-Aggression Combat (The Predator)

Internal action

  • Low or no arousal
  • Very slightly influenced by hormones
  • Slight activation of autonomous system
  • Non emotional
External action

  • Goal - To subdue
  • Ready/luring posture
  • Controlled respiratory/vocality
  • Not provoked, but initiated
  • Results often incapacitation or lethal

  • Dispassionate
  • Often economically based motive
Not personal

  • Unattached to opponent
  • No eye contact
  • Sometimes play, insult/vengeance not factors
Very different findings here. A typical predatory attack is robbery. A case of robbery is very different to a fight between males over a dispute to do with a female. The list above provides key indicators of this.

Affective-Aggressive Behaviour and the Group

The following is a reproduction of what is perhaps the very best explanation of 'Alpha Male' behaviour I have ever come across.

Within the social group, those types of aggression and combative behavior that enhance the individual’s position/status and survivability, without threatening the group as a whole, would be adaptive. In the realm of combat this can be seen in that type of behavior we call affective combative behavior, which generally results in minimal injury and only infrequently in death. This type of emotionally aroused behavior can be aimed at enhancing status (both selfand group-esteem), mating conflicts (stimulated by jealousy), enhancing/preserving personal property, etc. While these situations often lead to violence, when kept within the parameters of the group, they rarely involve mortal combat in cold weapon contexts.8 Only in rare, “rogue” situations will an individual risk ostracism from the group by violating group-cohesion.
This is a very clear, and I feel important, area of human to human combat to understand. A simple question would be this. If we have two groups and two individuals that become engaged in a fight, what group will have the highest morale afterwards, all other things being equal? The group that contains the 'winner', or the group that contains the 'loser'? The group that has the winner will feel that their position or status has increased. I am not saying that this was the known intent at the time but is perhaps certainly working at the sub-conscious level??

This implementation of the social factor to human combative behaviour cannot be ignored as indeed, humans are a very social animal, and surviving independently is very difficult and dangerous.

Predatory-Aggressive Behaviour and the Group

Again, the following is an excellent explanation on how 'inter species' type combative behaviour can eventuate for humans.

Group-identity is consciously and subconsciously a vital part of self-identity. This is further evidenced by the actions of individual members of a group when the group comes into survival-related conflict with members of a separate group (inter-group conflict). Here, group identification can be heightened to the extent that the members of the other group are no longer recognized as being members of the same species (known as “pseudo-speciation) - “they are not like us; they aren’t really human.”...By dehumanizing opposing group members, they “others” become “no more than animals,” and both social and biological inhibitions against killing fellow humans can be circumvented to a greater or lesser degree.
This dehumanising process allows humans to willingly inflict serious injury or death onto another human being. My opinion on this matter is that the group doesn't even need to be present for this dehumanising to happen. A person may have strong bonds and connections with a certain group and anyone else they come across in their travels are different. They are not the same, they are 'others' and can be freely hunted like a lion hunts its prey.

Conflict Resolution

I have a thought I would like to share here regarding the above. For security personnel, negotiators and Police and others the world over, perhaps herein lies the answer to conflict resolution with a person who is very dangerous. An attacker will likely feel that their intended victims are very different to them, they are from another 'group', they are a different type of 'animal'. After all, that is what makes predatory-agressive behaviour possible in humans.

The main effort in these instances should be to close that perceived gap in differences to the aggressor. Show that the intended victim is similar to them. Breech that gap that makes it seem that they are different. This will be unique to each situation. Perhaps nationalism can be used to show commonality, perhaps demographics, perhaps being a father. Using the intended victims name regularly would also assist here.

The above are just examples I quickly considered. A professional in the area would have better experiences to draw on than I. There are smarter people out there and people better placed than I, however I really feel that approach would fundamentally be the most effective method in serious conflict resolution.

Non-Mortal Affective Type Combat More Common

Armstrong goes on to state that the less lethal, affective combative behaviour is more common due to much of our time as humans involves dealing with other humans. We are very social animals and the 'group' makes up a large part of our lives. He states that it is only natural that much of human to human conflict revolves around 'Affective-Aggressive' combative behaviour.

This is probably why this continues to be the trend today. Indeed, affective combative behaviour is still very much the most likely type of combat engaged in by humans today. I have discussed this in posts in the past from my research into statistics in Australia, the UK and the US. All three countries have a significantly higher amount of assaults than robberies.

Different Combative Traits Affect Martial Systems too

...these two types of combative behavior determine intrinsic factors of all combative-systems (respective to their combative applications). That is, the affective and predatory combative behavior traits of man are inherent in the learned behaviors and performance traits of combative-systems...
This is an interesting point Armstrong makes. Indeed, when looked at in this light, many systems of martial arts or self defence today, are focused primarily on just one of the two types of human combative behaviour. Which type of combative behaviour does your martial system focus on?

It must also be stated, that many martial systems today are not even aware of these fundamental differences and teach one approach for all types of attack. As can be seen now, this is a flawed strategy.

Systems focusing on affective or Alpha Male combative behaviour are common. Of Predatory combative behaviour, only defence is taught in modern martial arts. How to defend against robbery, rape and kidnapping for example. Rarely will Predatory type attacks be taught.

Armstrong goes on in some detail about this being the main difference between 'martial arts' and what is taught in combat arms units in the military today. The military get taught and practise Predatory-aggressive behaviour along with all of the tactics that go along with these essential military skills, such as how to actively seek out and kill other human beings.


'The Two Faces of Combatives' changed the way I look at human to human combat. I hope you got something out of this post. For more information on this matter I thoroughly recommend going over to the Hoplology site and checking out the various articles and other resources there.

Image by Philipp Klinger

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  1. Very good article. Clarifies the distinction and introduces any of the key technical distinctions and introduces some of the deeper implications. Thank you.

  2. Thanks for the nice comments. The work of the IS is some of the most important in the area of Low Tech Combat.


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