On a non-descript residential street in Depew lies a tiny two-level gym where the United States Combat Sombo Guild (USCSG) has been training students in martial arts and self-defense for the last year. Instructor Jeordan Hill is in the basement of the minimalist building Sunday evening, leading a group of six students through a battery of defense movements, designed to be welcoming enough for even the greenest pupil, but not entirely coddling.
Over the course of the next hour or so, with hardcore and death metal pumping from the in-house boom box, the rag-tag troupe sweat and laugh together while learning the beginning principles of American Combat Sombo.
“Since we teach by concept and not by technique, it’s more about the students understanding what they are doing and why. We start off practicing ‘trapping hands,’ to get the students to start thinking about rhythm in their movement and how to read movement in others. We learn stances, footing, and lunging in order to demonstrate the calculation of distance needed during a fight. Then we work on timing, by allowing each student to spar with me for 3 minutes. Timing is the glue needed to make both the skills of rhythm and distance calculation effective in a fight situation,” Hill — recipient of the Shorinji Kempo Black Belt of the Year 2015 from the USA Martial Arts Hall of Fame — said, describing a typical session.
American Combat Sombo — a strain of the Russian Samozaschita Bez Orujiya (officially recognized as a martial art in 1938) — is a relatively new discipline that draws from several different methods of trained defense. This particular Sunday’s class learned movements from Wing Chun (the Chinese form of Kung Fu), Jeet Kune Do (Bruce Lee’s martial art system), and American Kickboxing, Hill said. “These styles all have similar concepts behind strikes and timing, so they incorporate very well with each other,” he continued.
Hill offered these free Sunday evening classes for several months until recently, introducing new students to the discipline in a comfortable environment with others new to the world of American Combat Sombo (ACS). The classes have since gone on hiatus until the fall – the USCSG will instead be teaching free classes at Canalside for the summer 2015 season. All ages are welcome to attend, with the caveat that only serious and mature students are highly encouraged. “We aren’t babysitters; we teach people how to fight,” Hill said.
Students Ashley and Tracy, both 23 and both new to ACS, were among those attending this particular Sunday night. They came to the school for different reasons – Ashley had experienced an attempted attack and equipping herself with a safety skillset was critical; Tracy is currently working on self-empowerment and taking control of some health issues. “[The classes] gave me a newfound confidence that I really needed and has allowed me to face things that have made me self-conscious,” Tracy said.
Hill’s long-term student, Ariel, 27, was the sole male of the class and helped lead several of the movements.
“I started training for a few reasons. I wanted to have the ability to protect my wife. A lot of people will say ‘get a gun’ but you don’t always have that. A friend of mine who’s a gun advocate got jumped a while back. Didn’t have his gun. We also train to disarm people. If I can do it, what’s to say they can’t? So I’d rather start from the ground up. I’ll always be with myself,” Ariel said.
USCSG owner John Lehmann, who began the school last year after 10 years of service in the United States Air Force, described the basic mission of the school, “The overall goal of the United States Combat Sombo Guild is to bring self-protection and confidence to our families. Our mission is to engage the local community with our anti-bullying campaign and offer services to victims of domestic violence by making the home a safe place, giving each person the self-confidence and self-respect they deserve through teaching self-defense.”
In service of this mission, the USCSG will be teaching Muay Thai kickboxing classes at Canalside beginning May 27. Classes will be held every Wednesday and Friday from 6 to 7 p.m. through September 4.
A military-style bootcamp class will be held Saturday evenings, beginning May 30, from 6 to 7 p.m.
All Canalside classes are free and open to the public. For more information about the school and upcoming classes, visit uscombatsomboguild.com.