Forty Hours of SCARS:
An Exclusive Look Inside the Worlds Most Expensive
By Herb Borkland
Want to learn how to fight like
a Navy SEAL?
The Scientific Combat Reactionary System (SCARS)
is the official hand-to-weapon fighting system
of the United States Navy SEAL Teams. SCARS
is now declassified and out on tape. It's also
being taught by its creator, Jerry Peterson,
to a limited number of civilians, on a once-in-a-blue-moon
practice at the SCARS Institute includes an
often neglected element: weapons.
I am proud to be the first journalist ever invited
to undergo SCARS training. Going in, I was more than
a little curious about a contemporary combat style
which uses no blocks whatsoever and consists of nothing
but finishing shots. A style which the Navy admirals
consider to be unbeatable.
How tough is SCARS? Our camp had already lost two
guys by lunchtime on the first day. One man broke
his wrist. He wasn't used to being thrown, especially
by someone who wasn't used to throwing. But the second
camper quit outright, despite having paid $5,000 to
be there. He just couldn't stomach the brutality.
Welcome to the world's most expensive self defense
New, greener Phoenix, Arizona was still hot and dry
last October at our 40-Hour Spec Op/SEAL Platoon Work-Up
Camp. Those in attendance were paying bargain rates
to study with millionaire shadow-ops guru Jerry Peterson,
a.k.a. "The Deadliest Man Alive".
$5,000 and traveling expenses--a bargain? Yes, since
Peterson earns up to $1,700 an hour.
Thirty-two men in their twenties to their sixties
converged on Phoenix's SCARS Institute of Combat Sciences.
They were not SEAL wannabes in camo pants who could
only talk about their knives. On the contrary, our
campers personified Guy America: skinny and large,
short and tall, white, yellow, black and brown.
Among us was a retired Fortune 50 CEO, himself a distinguished
veteran of both the Army Delta Force and the Marines.
Equally present was a plain-spoken young dude from
Kansas who claimed to "just own some trucks".
There was a polite Indian businessman who confessed
to feeling so out of character that he had told his
office staff white lies about the "subject" of this
Phoenix "seminar". And we also had a sawed-off monosyllabic
Arizona SWAT team leader with sniper's eyes and memorably
Aside from an enviable amount of disposable income,
all the campers shared one crucial distinction. Each
of us had been exposed to the most successful video
self defense course in marketing history--Jerry Peterson's
These 1993 training tapes came out of that covert
nowhere where spies work. They were advertised in
only four limited-circulation national magazines.
Yet Peterson's course went on to gross one million
dollars in only its first nine months on the market.
Business analysts were bedazzled.
There's one excellent reason why the original SCARS
tapes made so much money worldwide. They were breath-takingly
pricey--the single most expensive set of self defense
videos ever put out. Yet they undoubtedly rank among
the least expensive to produce. They were made in
one take, virtually overnight, for next to nothing,
by shortcuts which video pros kept solemnly assuring
the SCARS people could never possibly succeed.
We October campers were bedded down at comfortable
motels and picked up at 6:45 a.m. each morning for
a short mini-van drive to the Institute. Seen by early
sunlight, the 20,000 sq. ft. SCARS Institute's contemporary
western architecture recalls an Old West adobe monastery.
A Shaolin temple for cowboys?
in Phoenix, Arizona, the SCARS Institute of
Combat Sciences includes a two-story "environment
room", a weight room, a matted grappling
room and various classrooms and offices.
The Institute is a spec ops boutique which normally
deals with armed forces, military and para-military
professionals, the security staff of international
corporations and, once, even a South American billionaire
and his bodyguards.
Off the Institute's private parking lot is the outside
entrance to a two-story arrangement of office spaces,
a kitchenette and two bathrooms. The low-key decor
is functionally anonymous. Only the presence of guns
and lions suggests that this firm does anything more
strenuous than tweak software.
However, along the far wall leans a row of dummy assault
rifles and faux 9 mm semi-automatic pistols. For realistic
training, these industrial-plastic reproductions exactly
duplicate the original models' weight and heft.
A banner spread across one wall displays the SCARS
escutcheon: a naked sword between lions rampant, haloed
by the legend: "SCARS Institute of Combat Sciences--Proven
Part of what this motto means is that SCARS president
and Vietnam veteran Jerry Peterson has killed the
enemy. More than a few were taken out with his bare
hands, including, most terribly, four at once "because
there wasn't room to shoot them."
Passing through this reception area, the Institute
has a connecting room which is paved with over 2,000
sq feet of new Olympic-quality mats. A square space
and well-lit, it offers zero hiding places. Campers
got to know it very well.
There's a blackboard here for the occasional brief
chalk talk. Across the mat room, the door wall displays
medical-quality anatomy charts which locate nerves
on the back and front of the adult male body. Around
the next corner, these charts are made tangible by
three custom Peterson Attack Trainers. PATS are SCARS'
own line of practice dummies: life-size canvas gingerbread
men dotted from head-to-foot with colored striking
Finally, a yellow and red Igloo water barrel sits
on a shelf strewn with plastic cups and extra-large
bottles of several kinds of over-the-counter pain-killers.
For me, this snapshot image, captioned "Thirsty and
Hurting", sums up the basic SCARS training experience.
On these mats, for the next four days, the campers
spent eleven hours of their nonstop fourteen-hour
days. Three hours daily were given over to one-hour
catered cafeteria-style breakfasts, lunches and dinners.
We ate together at long communal tables set up out
in the reception area. And, unlike Elvis, we never
left the building.
The space beyond the mat room is a two-story 10,000
sq. ft. "environment" room where mission-specific
installations are built to suit the training requirements
of whatever contract is currently being serviced at
the SCARS Institute. Recently, when the Arizona State
Police needed an in-door repelling tower complete
with water hazard and white sand beach, SCARS put
We campers never got into the "environment" room.
However, its very existence powerfully underscored
one humbling fact. Training the occasional handful
of civilian amateurs is not really what this Institute
is all about. If you are only used to studying with
teachers whose qualifications center around having
won a lot of plastic trophies, you begin to feel the
difference in authority, immediately. Heavily.
The SCARS Institute feels serious. This place is not
a martial arts school. It does not teach sports or
sportsmanship. Most of the people who train here are
paid professionals of covert violence who are about
to go in harms way.
The basic staff consists of Jerry Peterson, an ex-SEAL
named Tim Larkin, Peterson's talented son Blake, plus
a rotating personnel of hand-picked "operators" proficient
in various specialities who are brought in on an as-needed
During breakfast on the first morning of the camp,
without any fanfare, Jerry Peterson appeared among
I examined him carefully, reminding myself: "This
guy makes a seven-figure living by walking into roomfuls
of bloody-minded security experts and proving to them,
in front of their superiors, that they don't know
squat about their own metiers (occupation)." Something
only a genius could get away with, much less make
In person, California-born Peterson is a
tanned, trim man of medium height who projects
easy-going candor. A youthful forty-something,
Peterson looks like a morphing of three cinematic
icons of no-sweat masculinity - Kris Kristofferson,
John Voight and Nick Nolte, depending on which
angle of his face you see.
L. Peterson is the founder and sole developer
of the SCDARS program for the Navy Seals.
Jerry Peterson is a decorated Vietnam-era Army veteran
of "C" for Charlie Company of the famed 173rd. The
173rd took the brunt of the fighting during the 1968
Tet Offensive. Peterson survived what military historians
concede was among the harshest combat of that ugly
war. His unit's job was to go into hot zones and pull
out other troops in trouble.
In recent years, Jerry Peterson has done extensive
contract work for various units under the U.S. Special
Operations Command, which controls the Army, Navy
and Air Force special-operations forces. He has been
employed by the Department of Energy's critical-materials
transport people, various Drug Enforcement Agency
counter-narcotics units, and the Department of Treasury's
U.S. Secret Service members. This is documented by
the numerous thank-you plaques that hang on the Institute's
Other government and federal units have also been
trained by Peterson, but SCARS will neither confirm
nor deny anything. And that makes sense, because before
anyone can train such groups he has to sign a pile
of documents saying that he'll never say he trained
And that's just Peterson's Washington resume. Currently,
a small infamous Eastern European nation wants him
to revamp their entire military. Meanwhile, back in
Hollywood, a SCARS TV show has been scripted and cast
and only awaits the green light. The "Today Show"
keeps calling up, too.
Jerry Peterson's second-in-command is a fellow-Californian
named Tim Larkin, a big, thirtyish ex-SEAL who looks
like he ought to play rugby. As a combat trainer,
having a body-builder's physique lends him instant
credibility. It doesn't hurt the corporate image,
either, that Larkin sports a gallant scar on one cheek--souvenir
from a demolition exercise screw-up--which would have
been the envy of any 19th century German fencing master.
Peterson and Tim Larkin demonstrate the type
of dynamic ground fighting taught in the SCARS
system. The hold shown simultaneously attacks
the opponent's neck an shoulder.
On Day One, Larkin introduced himself and passed
around spiral-bound copies of "Manual #1 Hand To Hand
Combat For United States Operations Forces Army/Navy/Air
Force". Every single page of course material is slashed
diagonally with "Restricted Copy Property of SCARS
The meat of this text consists of twenty-five Combat
Lessons. Each of these Lessons is a sequence of four
or five techniques, usually including a throw, which
are initiated off an opponent's punch or kick. These
sequences contain no defensive moves whatsoever. Instead,
all checks to attacking arms or legs are delivered
as intercepting counterstrikes aimed at specific nerves.
Whenever Jerry Peterson taught us, he wore a wireless
microphone. A staff video cameraman followed him around,
taping every move. On this first morning, Peterson
gathered us in the mat room. He began by outlining
the value of what SCARS calls "the offensive mindset".
"This is why defensive fighting systems cannot win
against SCARS," he told us. Diagrams on the blackboard
indicated that direct offensive action is always quicker
through the nervous system than the stop-and-catch-up
reactions of a defender. "SCARS is literally faster
than any other kind of fighting."
Then, to demonstrate, Tim Larkin or his son Blake
would attack Peterson. And what does the best-paid
self defense teacher on Earth look like in action?
Plain and simple. Peterson moves like a younger man
demonstrating unhurried economy of motion. His "colorless"
efficiency spares students that pang of dismay most
of us feel when asked to duplicate a flashy self defense
technique. Today so many black belts who aspire to
big paydays cultivate a blinding athleticism which,
in truth, has little or nothing to do with successful
self defense. But, from the git-go, SCARS instructors
make you confident of being able to duplicate their
teaches participants the proper way to use close
kicks. to illustrate, Blake Peterson uses his
shin to strike his opponent's throat.
What is the thrust of the training? Is there a "secret"
Yes. It is a core concept which Peterson calls "Autokinematics".
Briefly put, he has spent twenty-plus years researching
the effects of shocking force on every vulnerable
nerve, bone and organ in the human body. Not just
the various injuries which can result but precisely
how the entire body will react at the instant of being
What is ground-breaking--Peterson's flash of Eureka!--comes
from grasping the combat implications of one simple
physiological fact: When it comes to absorbing punishment,
every human body always reacts exactly the same way.
So, from its first blow, SCARS attacks the autonomous
nervous system, which controls such "instinctive"
behavior as pulling fingers out of fires, lifting
bare feet off of sharp sea shells and everything else
people do which gets done before we can stop ourselves
from doing it.
By knowing in advance, in detail, what reactions the
enemy will be unable to suppress--and, therefore,
which targets his recoiling body will next expose
to attack--a SCARS fighter can seize control of his
opponent and work the man like a pain puppet. SCARS
puts the enemy through a non-stop series of traumas
which will increasingly incapacitate or, ultimately,
kill him. Peterson refers to this as "a rhythmic cascade
What is truly unprecedented is how complete, detailed
and scientifically absolute is Peterson's grisly research.
Since it is proprietary information, it's difficult
to cite examples of SCARS. However, to give the smallest
sample, suppose you poke somebody in the eye. SCARS
can tell you, absolutely, not only how his head and
torso will instantly and involuntarily react, but
also exactly where he will move both hands and one
of his two legs.
SCARS extends this sort of merciless insight over
every single inch of your body. This leads, among
other things, to a whole genre of combat techniques
which are new to most martial artists.
For example, I had never appreciated the variety and
lethal effectiveness of "compression" attacks before
taking this camp. One such killset involves, first,
making your opponent throw up by twice striking a
certain nerve plexus and then insuring, by a brutal
compression, that, while gasping for the air he can
no longer get, the man breathes in only his own hot
Chalk talks were few and far between at the Work Up
Camp. Almost always, we were paired-off and practicing
Combat Lessons at half-speed.
SCARS is so fast, you practice it slowly. In conventional
two-man self defense sets, the opponent attacks, gets
blocked and then stands around straight-faced while
his partner follows up with multiple high-speed blows.
SCARS partners, on the contrary, must learn to precisely
mimic the Autokinematic reaction caused by striking
any given body part. We don't just stand there; we
flinch, fold, lurch or fly, depending on how a real-world
opponent would actually react.
Total immersion in the course material is the SCARS
teaching method. The focus of training is not so much
on committing sequences of moves to memory. SCARS
is about learning to fluently, ceaselessly attack
body "targets": the vulnerable nerves, bones and organs.
And in the learning process--make no mistake!--you
are expected to get a little banged up, for your own
Working through the 25 basic Combat lessons took three
days of remorseless practice. We were not permitted
to buddy up for long, so every set of techniques was
tried out over and over again on every one of the
thirty-odd campers. Since most Lessons also contain
a throw, everybody was hitting the mat endlessly.
By the second day, we were doing it by the numbers
and the pace got even brisker. Over the long 40-hour
haul, not being able to handle getting repeatedly
thrown seemed to account for most of the problems
Another difficulty, foreseeably, was guys accidentally
eating a technique. One camper took a heart shot and
proceeded to demonstrate the precise Autokinematic
reaction we had been taught to expect. The incandescent
pain only abated, but never ended for this camper.
It kept him awake at nights so that he couldn't sleep.
Nonetheless, he completed the course.
Peterson's training style is reasonably grueling.
One camper thought he broke a rib. Peterson said:
"Hold your arms over your head." Wincing, the camper
did so. Peterson slapped his flanks hard with both
hands. The camper went white-faced with pain. "No,"
Peterson continued affably, "you're okay. If any ribs
were broken, you'd be on the floor by now."
To change the pace, our long training days were broken
up by supplementary drills. One involved putting on
so-called "flak jackets". Then we proceeded to drive
our partners backwards the length of the room, using
full-force fist, elbow and palm strikes to the torso.
At the far wall, partners would then exchange the
jacket, and the beatee became the beator.
Our SWAT team leader hit so hard, Peterson finally
asked him to pull his punches. And that nice Indian
fellow fetched me a sternum shot that I could still
feel on Christmas morning.
Later, after trying out all our upper-body weapons,
we went on to further explore various ways of kicking
each other to and fro.
When asked why we performed this exercise, Peterson
spoke of "learning the Autokinematics." But, I think,
a large part of it also has to do with his strong
conviction that a fighting course in which no one
gets banged up is a phony. "You have to learn how
to take shots," he remarked later.
The training peaked in intensity on Saturday night.
After another long sweaty day of grinding it out,
we were by-God told to stop acting like a bunch of
sissies and start really trying to hit our training
partners. By now, if somebody wasn't deft enough to
stop an attack--well, tough dart, as the Brits say.
We got into doing line drills in which you kept personally
creaming the entire class. Every student free-styled
with everyone else over and over again. By now, a
few guys had opted out and were standing around the
walls just watching. But the rest of us were going
through a roomful of fighters single-handed and never
once repeating a sequence of moves. We had achieved
impressive combat efficiency.
Overall, the curriculum also turned out to be more
varied than I had expected. During the 40 hours, we
practiced hand-to-weapon attacks, using padded clubs
and knives. Then we went on to study disarms of rifles
and semi-automatic pistols. The same basic SCARS moves
and principles always carried over seamlessly to all
these ancillary exercises.
At another point, Peterson discussed Brazilian arts
and demonstrated how SCARS treats grapplers. Some
wrestlers among us put him into so-called "inescapable
death holds" and he always broke free within two or
three seconds. As always, too, each camper was immediately
capable of doing exactly what Peterson had done. Bland
as this may sound, it is what trainers are paid to
do and rarely achieve so well.
After being challenged by one camper, Peterson duplicated
a stunt made famous by his magazine ads. Thirty of
us could not pin him against a cinderblock wall. A
minute later--having seen him do it once--each of
us was making Peterson's escape work for us.
Peterson is able to do all these "miraculous" things
because he is applying universal physical principles
to specific situations, not just remembering moves
shown to him by somebody else. The significance of
this cannot be over-estimated. It means that SCARS
is alive and still evolving.
The camp's emotional climax came after our last lunch
together. We all sat around the long tables, applauding
the other guy for having made it through. Peterson
and his staff handed out handshakes and certificates
which cited "extreme training conditions including
extensive physical hardship." We were named "qualified
SCARS Training Partners".
Instead of a handshake, our Indian partner insisted
on hugging Peterson--to great laughter and applause.
The rest of Sunday was largely given over to a seminar
on how to deal with carjackers. Garage-size doors
were opened, the mats peeled back and a sweet-looking
cherry-red pickup was driven inside.
We were told that these teachings have already saved
real-world lives among SCARS adepts. But tomorrow
was another manic Monday; and various guys had various
planes to catch. One by one, the campers began peeling
out of formation and heading home to nurse their bruises.
And me? In forty hours, everything I thought I knew
about unarmed combat got turned on its head. I found
out that the Navy SEAL fighting system is simple and
groundbreakingly complete, easy to learn and yet unanswerable.
I have seen the future of self defense, and it is
About the Author
Herb Borkland is a nationally known writer and journalist
who has extensive experience in both Korean and Chinese
martial arts. He is a former Associate Editor of Martial
Arts Illustrated and Contributing Editor to Black
Belt magazine. In 1977 he was named Inside Kung Fu's
(Hall of Fame) "Writer of the Year." He is also the
producer and on-air host of the national martial arts
weekly TV program "Black Belts." He also serves as
advisor to FightingArts.com and several Chinese national
martial arts organizations.
by Rick Starkman Photography
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