“Combat System” is a term used for “a set or body of ritualised behaviours which have been pre-planned, devised, organised and designed for a combat function”. Although I have described many times how a Martial Art is at its heart a Combat System, I would like to describe some of the dynamics involved in its creation.


A science for studying such phenomena exists in the form of Cybernetics[1]. Cybernetics was a term coined by the French physicist André-Marie Ampère (1775–1836) who used the word “cybernétique” in 1834. The first use of the term in English was by Norbert Weiner in his book Cybernetics, or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine, crediting Ampère with its first use. The term itself stems from the Greek word Κυβερνήτης (kybernētēs) and means “steersman”, “governor”, “pilot”, or “rudder”. Definitions of Cybernetics are difficult to apply to a combative context, apart from Couffignal’s description of it being “the art of ensuring the efficacy of action”[2]. In which case, we can instantly see the validity of Cybernetics to understanding the root eskirmology of Combat Systems.


The concept of a System is in a set of elements which combine to create a functional and often automated, and as such it is an integration of and relation between elements. Cyberneticists recognise that all systems are defined in this way, but they also are composed of Philosophy, Theory, Methodology, Application (according to General Systems Theory).


Properly considered, any academic study of the Martial Arts should actually be a study of the cybernetics of the Combat Systems. The development of a Combat System begins from previous experience as well as the creative capability of an individual. When we begin to develop a Combat System, we must attempt to create a system which is capable of successfully coping with a wide variety of potentially unpredictable exponential conditions. The majority of Combat Systems are defined cybernetically as “Closed-Systems”, which means that, as a body of knowledge, it is not informed by a wide range of environmental conditions which it might be required to cope with. A Martial Art such as Karate is therefore defined in the certain techniques which it uses, and any techniques which it uses should be universal enough to cope with the greatest number of situations. A master who created the System is not capable of knowing all combative situations, but his system should be efficacious enough to withstand any potential pressures. However, as a Closed-System it is not likely to adapt to environmental pressures.


Adaptation permeates all living creatures and is the basis of most modern theories of biology and cybernetics. An Open System is based upon feedback from its application. The use of feedback is known as the Algedonic Loop which states that all systems with a functional purpose (even living organisms) must assess the results of their behaviour as it applies to the outside world[3]. If a technical approach does not suit its environment, or it fails to meet its function, then we re-assess it within the context in which it failed. Most Martial Arts do not require any form of “field feedback” or practical testing. This is why I consider Martial Arts such as Karate to be Closed Systems since as a body of knowledge, they are defined – their syllabus and curriculum will not change if a technique fails to meet the intended function. This means they are governed by a faith in tradition rather than an open assessment of the curriculum and what function each part of that system has.


A Closed-Combat System as a body of knowledge is made of several parts, the physical, the tactical and strategic. Each of these parts is commonly separated by various pedagogical devices in which this vast body of knowledge is offered to students in stages. These stages are devised in order to make the subject matter much easier to digest, and also due to the physical requirement it allows for the body to become accustomed and trained for such practice[4]. The desired state in which one reaches with mastery (one which the student has retained the entire Combat System) is sometimes no different from that of the beginner other than he has been granted the secrets of the more murderous techniques (such as Kyusho-jutsu). We can argue that, when experts taught warriors these techniques for actual warfare, this moral requirement was absent and the techniques were taught in their entirety; from biomechanical technique to eskirmological (dangerous) function. Therefore arts such as Kyusho-jutsu would have been the first techniques to learn along side the actual physical technique. They would not have been retained for a higher level of “understanding”. This practice seems to me to be common sense; even a modern army would not restrict the learning of immoral techniques if they made the difference between life and death in combat and war.


The development of certain Martial Arts is based upon the choices made at any point in the development of the Combat System. As I have stressed, a Combat System is the development of a body of knowledge which has made certain choices where numerous choices could have been made. In eskirmology we study all the choices available and using Game Theory attempt to understand which of those choices are most eskirmological. Elsewhere I have described the three core Eskirmological Rules[5], but there are of course other choices involved in the development of a Combat System. These choices are known in Cybernetics as bifurcation. Umplyby, after Prigogine (1980, pp. 105-6) made a useful description of Bifurcation;


To know the state of a system at any time implies knowledge of the [choices] paths taken and not taken.


In other words, to truly know a Combat System’s composition and character is to be aware of the choices it could have made and how the choices it did make affects its character and defines its difference from other Combat Systems.

[1] Although I use the term Cybernetics, others use the term Systemics which is also a commonly used synonym for the same science.

[2] Couffignal, Louis, “Essai d’une définition générale de la cybernétique”, The First International Congress on Cybernetics, Namur, Belgium, June 26-29, 1956, Gauthier-Villars, Paris, 1958, pp. 46-54

[3] Algedonic Loop is the term first used by Stafford Beer to refer to the way in which an organism’s behaviour receives either Reward (pleasure et al), or Punishment (pain et al) through which it adapts its behaviour accordingly.

[4] In some cases, the pedagogy develops into such a rich series of diversions (based upon abstracted behaviours) that we can argue that my Moral Responsibility Hypothesis may be witnessed.

[5] In my 2009 work, The Science of Fighting.

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