District Combatives

A Holistic Approach to Self Defense

District Combatives members train real-life scenarios, here Crystal has gained the advantage against a larger, taller attacker.

Last summer a young man was walking down my little one-way street in the dark on his way home from work. He was looking down and totally focused on his phone’s screen. He was texting. Within seconds he was slammed into the sidewalk and his phone and wallet were stolen. He required stitches and an overnight stay in the hospital. He didn’t know what hit him.

If the victim had known some of the basic principles of self-defense, that fateful evening may have gone a lot differently.

“Most people don’t believe it will be them until it is them,” said Ben Drader, founder and chief instructor of District Combatives. “We teach courses where students learn how to be safer immediately. We train for violence, not offer choreographed routines.”

District Combatives members performing physical conditioning training

DC’s Approach to Fitness and Self Defense
District Combatives, located across from Nationals’ stadium, has been teaching students how to navigate safely through city streets since 2015. “It’s different than many of the self-defense schools,” explained Ben. “We get specific about how to be aware of your environment. Everything we do is personalized. We don’t just teach a particular movement. At District Combatives we assess movement to discover what is preventing students from acquiring a skill or movement they will need to avoid injury and be able to defend themselves.” Ben’s assessments include evaluation of their posture, flexibility, power, agility and speed.

Classes are principle-based not technique-based. “Not everyone expresses in the same manner.” The program has 16 principles, one of which is simplicity. “Our movements are very simple. Most people cannot dedicate the time to master complicated techniques to remember and execute under duress.

Ben teaches these principles in a structured environment that can be applied to a real life situation. For example, he takes students into the alley next to the studio and teaches them how to defend themselves while wearing street clothes and work shoes and carrying a brief case, purse or laptop. He also simulates situations where a student can experience fear. “It enables students to become familiar with what to expect and how to breathe while stressed.” He also videos students and allows them to see what they are doing.

Classes include: combatives, combatives conditioning and open mat. Ben also offers private training sessions in studio and on-line.

Ben Drader teaching high school seniors of St. Stephens and St. Agnes, a private school in Alexandria, Virginia, the capstone to a course on human health and sexuality situational self-offense.

Ben’s Experience
District Combatives was created out of a need Ben saw to provide a program that is both practical and effective. He has 20 years of experience in self-defense, martial arts and combatives. He was eight years in the U.S. Army and has led teams that test and report vulnerability of U.S. critical infrastructure.

Ben studied at Harvard and worked for two national security advisors, a secretary of state, a CIA director and the Prince of Wales. He holds more than a dozen certifications including integrated flexibility specialist, postural alignment specialist and law of self-defense instructor.

He chose to use the word ‘combatives’ because combatives are a set of personal combat principles that are easily learned, quickly recalled under duress and effective when applied with the right mind set and violence of action. He adds, “But the most powerful weapon you have is your brain. Use it so you don’t have to fight.”

Who is District Combatives For?
Nico Frank, a 17-year-old high school senior began personal training two months ago with Ben. He wanted to improve his physical conditioning for the West Point admissions exam. He is enjoying his training so much he plans on continuing to work with Ben even after his exam in the middle of this month. “Ben knows what he’s doing. He understands what I need and what my capacity is. He’s good at reading people.”

Ben has designed a program that is suited for most ages and fitness levels. He said he has students as young as Nico as well as students in their 50s and 60s. His classes never have more than 10 students.

Whatever your fitness goals are – weight loss, improved balance, muscular strength or body toning- you can reach them at District Combatives. You can also learn to protect yourself or feel safer on the street. Most important, you learn how to avoid confrontation. He teach students how to become aware of their surroundings and also what that means. “I give students a simple process with which to evaluate.”

District Combatives doesn’t accept everyone who wants to take a class. Ben tests to see if a student has a fixed or growth mindset – are you open to change or do you believe you can’t change? “I don’t want to have someone come to class, I take their money and I don’t make them safer. I also don’t want to compromise the integrity of the environment I am trying to create. I take a more holistic view of what safety is. We ask the question, ‘How safe are you?’ My classes are not just self-defense. We build confidence. Our teaching drives lifestyle changes,” said Ben. Students must attend class with a willingness to change mind, body and spirit. As Ben says, “When you are ready to accept responsibility for your safety, check out our programs, schedules and prices.” Log onto: www.districtcombatives.com.


Pattie Cinelli is a health/fitness professional who offers information about subjects on the leading edge of health and fitness thought. She has been writing her column for more than 25 years and welcomes column suggestions and fitness questions. Pattie can provide lectures, private sessions and group classes to your church, home or office. She is also producing a podcast. You can contact Pattie at: fitmiss44@aol.com.