REALITY CHECK GAMING UNDER THE MICROSPCOPE

Fisticuffs vs. firearms

How the hell did it come to this? I’ve gone from scoffing at Splinter Cell Blacklist’s hand-to-hand takedowns, to being in a real-life stand-off against Australia’s foremost authority on Krav Maga, the martial art favoured by elite military units everywhere…

Words: Adam Mathew

Unfortunately for me, head instructor Ron Engelman is playing Sam Fisher. I’m the NPC goon who’s all of a sudden wishing he’d gone potty before going on patrol.

In my favour, Engelman’s unarmed and a full 18-feet away from me in a state of panther-like readiness, daring me to quick-draw on him. I have an empty rifle relaxed in my right hand, and there’s a life-saving clip on the left side of my belt. If I can ‘shoot’ him before he reaches me, I might just make it out of this with all my teeth and testicles intact.

The theory we’re both testing: how is hand-to- hand even viable at all in a modern battlefield filled with automatic projectile weapons – I mean, what kind of idiot brings their fists to a bullet-fight?

I instantly regret saying ‘idiot’ in my pitch. It makes my memory recall a photo from Engelman’s website. It shows him in some godforsaken desert, disarming a man in army fatigues while elbowing him square in his blurred face. I figure that blur exists for one of three reasons. A, to protect the identity of the volunteer; B, it’s an out-of-focus phenomena caused by Engelman’s ninja speed; or C, it’s to censor viewers from the grim realities of face obliteration.

My brain also reminds meof the credentials of the man I’m currently in a showdown with. At the age of ten Engelman began training with Krav Maga grandmasters, muchlike somebody in Japan might study under a karate or judo sensei. At age 18, he began his mandatory service in the Israeli Defence Force, and due to his background was selected to undergo the IDF’s toughest training to achieve the rankof Sgt First Class and become the Krav Maga Instructor of a renowned paratrooper unit.All of that real-world experience is being pitted against my three decades worth of intense videogame hand- conditioning. “If we redirect his assault into a thumb- wrestling scenario, our victory is assured,” shrieks my brain, enthusiastically.

“Ready?” Engelman asks with a raised eyebrow, the friendliness present in our pre-interview noticeably absent. My rifle, an object of +10 Bad-assery not ten seconds ago now feels like a limp noodle tucked under a chicken wing.

“This is not going to end well,” my brain chimes in one last time, “and your beatingwill be captured on film forthe amusement of others.” Ignoring this, my left hand hovers over the magazine clip and twitches like a gunslinger teasing an opponent at high noon. Unfortunately, Engelman takes this as a ‘yes’. He explodes toward me like a cobra shot from a cannon...

Apologies for the intermission, but we really ought to give you some background about why we’re risking so much life and limb. You see, ever since Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater made it popular, players have been bombarded with CQB (Close Quarters Battle) mechanics, most of which have a grounding in Krav Maga.

You all know the drill. Your player character closes the distance in the shadows, and you hit a button to disable or kill a baddie in a brutal fashion. If said enemy is alerted to your presence you might even get the chance to contextually disarm your foe of his weapon, either via a cut scene, or a quick-time event that’s insultingly easy to do when compared to the real thing.

In the peaceful moments before I asked Engelman to assault me, we’d debated over a video reel of takedowns drawn heavily from the MGS and Splinter Cell series. “Many of these moves are pretty accurate,” he tells me, “though I cannot let you film my interpretations of them, because they have the potential to be misused. I don’t want them to be showcased to [the more nefarious elements of] the general public.”

Before I can mentally congratulate games developers everywhere for a good job on their accurate motion-capture, Engelman continues with a but.

“I think perhaps the person who does the mo-cap for some of these games is a good stuntman, but a lot of what’s being achieved is due to them having a willing participant who’s working with the attacker. A real-life version of the same event is obviously quite different. Try that same ‘no-fuss’ move on a surprised and unwilling participant and you might break their arm in three pieces when they resist. Fighting is dirty and more unpredictable than what’s in these examples.”

I try to get him to pointout specific, overly-elaborate offenders and how he’d conduct himself within similar contexts. He’s unwilling to pick holes in another practitioner’s approach. He does however call overa student to demonstrate a handful of similar techniques– sleeper holds that can knocka man unconscious in seconds, eye-gouge takedowns which end in skull-caving ground strike – that sort of thing.

True to what I’d previously read about Krav Maga, and seen in games like The Bourne Conspiracy, every takedown is no-nonsense, speed-economical, and would really ruin youryear. In short, I can see why Krav Maga and videogames are a match made in heaven. It’s the perfect melee solution for any action game developer: you use the minimum amount of animation keyframes to keep the player’s momentum going in a fight, and their satisfaction levels stay high too.

Speaking of The Bourne Conspiracy, I ask Engelman if there’s any accuracy in High Moon Studios’ gift to game mechanics: environmental takedowns (i.e. using everyday objects in a room to readjust the feng shui of your attacker’s face).

 “We definitely use such things in Krav Maga,” says Engelman. “We train in the use of common objects, like using a chair to block an attacker with a stick or a knife, for example. We also train on how to use backpacks, thowable objects, and how to fight and manoeuvre in confined spaces. A wall can be turned from being a danger to you to quite a useful weapon. Spatial awareness is something Krav Maga specialises in.”

I could believe it – I’m keenly aware of the disappearing space between Engelman and I ashe’s closing the 18 feet between us. By the time my hand grasps my ‘magazine’ (a small bottle filled with non-lethal water) he’s eaten up half the distance. A heartbeat later I’ve linked it with my weapon (the modified stock of an actual rifle), and as I’m raising the muzzle of the gun to a hip-fire position, it’s intercepted by a recently teleported Engelman.

He twists the business end away from himself and uses his forward momentum to lock my arms to my torso, as he makes a knee strike to my groin. The rest is a bit of a blur. All I know is my rifle has been reversed on me, and I’ve been poked backward with a muzzle thrust to the chest. I’m gobsmacked (without being literally being smackedin the gob) at the effortless efficiency of it all. Engelman graciously suggests thatthe rifle was probably too cumbersome a weapon and he offers to reset the test with a pistol instead. Scarily, the results are more or less the same. I die like a punk.

Myth not busted. CQB isn’t some sort of Hollywood fantasy borrowed acrossby action games. Shouldyou place your faith wholly in a boomstick and stray within 18 feet of a trained professional, there’s a very good chance you’re not in full command of the battlefield.

You’re going down, son. Most likely from a bullet fired from your very own gun.