Could an average nobody really teach themselves to be a commando?

I was going to ask this about becoming a costumed superhero, in reference to a couple of threads in Cafe Society. But upon some thought I realized I had to broaden the scope of the question.

Think Sarah Conner in Terminator 2. Or the protagonists in any number of horror movies like Phantasm. Or The Punisher in Marvel comics; or Batman for that matter. A former average nobody becomes sufficiently motivated (by vengence or sheer survival) to become a fanatically determined warrior. They push themselves to Olympic levels of physical fitness, learn every hand-to-hand combat skill there is, become experts with military grade weapons, and also bone up on numerous ancillary skills like surveillance, electronics, lockpicking, escape artist, computer hacking, etc. etc. etc.

My question is, is anything like this really possible? I’m skeptical because in real life there are any number of terrorist groups or militias who would love to be ultra-badasses but aren’t. I remember that when the US invaded Afghanistan and captured intelligence on Al Qaeda training methods, the conclusion was that Al Qaeda members were trained to the level of “basic competent grunts”. This was the best a fairly large and well funded organization could do? How much less could a lone would-be vigilante hope to master?

The Punisher was trained by the US Army and was a Vietnam veteran. Batman trained from childhood. They weren’t nobodies.

Sarah Connor is more impressive, but I’m not at all sure that she was on an elite commando level. She knows her guns (that’s easy enough to do), she can fight with (relatively) untrained opponents, but would she even have a fighting chance against the Punisher? And she did hang out with former Army guys, militia types and the like.

I haven’t seen Phantasm, I’m afraid.

Good point, and I think you’re right.

The first thing to note, is that none of these people are “average.” All of them have extra-ordinary motivation, and that’s an important part.

I’ve never seen Phantasm. Never read Punisher, but if he was a military veteran, he’s already got more experience than most criminals would. Batman, well… That’s over the top. But he’s also not even close to average. He’s presumably an incredibly smart person naturally, well into genius-level intelligence. But even then, with training constantly since childhood, some of it’s a little absurd.

Sarah Connor, IMO, is the most realistic one of all. She trained fanatically for over a decade for one goal. She has an extremely highly-motivating factor, that of saving the entire human race. And how skilled is she? Basic hand-to-hand and self-defence techniques (Which most people could learn), basic firearms use and maintenance, lockpicking, and escape techniques. Due to the years of exercise (Which she had plenty of motivation to do!), she was quite fit, but certainly not olympic level. Very easily believable, especially for someone who spent a decade training.

I’m not so sure if the Al Qaeda comparison holds completely true. Most of these characters either had much more formal military training, were above-average to start with, or had access to better resources and equipment. More importantly, they probably all had access to learn better tactics, and that is perhaps the biggest difference between regular soldiers and commandos. IMO :slight_smile:

Using Sarah Connor as the only reality-based possibility, I’d say NO, you can’t train yourself to come anywhere’s near to what that character could do. Remember she didn’t really train herself; she shacked up with every mercenary and two-bit wannabe terrorist she could find - and they trained her (in exchange for God-knows-what… I’m surprised she didn’t have a flock of 7 or 8 kids by the end of that decade :D). It’s really equivilant to the military, only much less structured and (propbably) incomplete with varying emphasis on certain aspects of being a badass.

Training yourself as far as I’m concerned means not only doing everything alone, but coming up with all the procedures and knowledge through experimentation and trial & error. Even reading books or watching videos doesn’t really qualify as purely training yourself - you’re using someone else’s knowledge/routines/experience (put out in a training manual format) and just copying it.

One could try and devellop all the workings of a badass in a hut out in the jungle with no other human contact for 10 years, but they’d never know if anything worked until they tryed it out. And those types of violent activities are notoriously unforgiving when you screw up (which one would undoubtedly do if they truely trained themselves), and such a person would most likely end up shot dead by the first 15 year-old packing heat they encountered, thus ending the experiment.

It depends on what you mean by “teach themselves”.

I think Phoenix Dragon hit it on the head - with sufficient motivation, people can become quite adept in the skills of a warrior - or most other things.

If one has access to weapons to learn on, perhaps some books on the subject, and plenty of time, I think you could become quite the bad ass, if sufficiently motivated.

If you can’t use books or any other human interaction, it would be much more difficult. I assume you’d at least have access to the things you’d need to learn - guns, locks for lockpicking, etc.

In that case, I think it would be easy to become proficient with guns, proficient at moving silently and surveilling (you can become good at that simply by practicing out in the woods somewhere on a regular basis), and various other skills on a trial and error basis. Obviously, you could become physically strong on your own.

The hardest thing to learn on your own would be hand to hand combat. The best techniques are passed on, and while you can probably get some basic stuff worked out on your own, you’d need at least someone to practice with to form any sort of trial by error combat ability.

Using Sarah Connor as an example, I think that’s entirely plausible. Even without all the mercenary friends, through the usage of trial and error and books to give you a basic understanding in various fields, you could become a very competant killing machine. Not on par with actual military special forces, but more capable than an average military grunt.

I have no military training, but I certainly wouldn’t be clueless in such a situation - if I was in better shape, and I haven’t dedicated anything to becoming a bad ass. I’ve got a firm grasp of small unit tactics from lots of reading, and some realistic wargaming - both computer and out in the field with friends. I’ve got quite a bit of experience with weapons, and could handle them quite competantly. I can move silently in the woods due largely to experience with it when growing up.

It doesn’t take all that much to become at least somewhat competant in a combat situation, if you’re not prone to panic. With extreme motivation and time, I have little doubt that it’d be hard to become quite a bad ass - not the best of the best, but certainly capable.

Just a note of clarification. By “teach themselves”, I didn’t mean having to reinvent the wheel; but I did mean acquiring these skills outside of joining a larger organization, like a national government’s military or intelligence services, or even an organized guerilla group like the PLO or the IRA. Maybe “amateur commando” was what I was trying to say.


What do you think hitmen are?

Did you watch the Jackal?

(can’t remember if he was trained)

And then there is Leon from the Professional.

Yes, but those are characters in a movie. Not real. Sorry if bubbles are burst. :wink:

Characters in a movie can get hit in the head with a 5 gallon paint can and fall down some stairs on their back/head area and only shake their heads like they are seeing stars. Does that mean that anybody can do that?

Yeah, if the only restriction is to stay out of groups dedicated to teaching these sorts of things, I think it’s entirely possible for someone to train to Sarah Conor levels, and probably better, on their own. All it takes is motivation.

Actually, Ilich Ramirez Sanchez (AKA the Jackal, Carlos the Jackal) was a Venezualian-born terrorist, trained in the USSR and with the Bader-Meinhoff underground. Although his actual attacks were more show than body count, the fear (remember, terrorism stems from terror) was about as good as it got.

Oh yea, and as a former member of the USAFSOC, I disagree with the concept that anyone can be ‘book’ or ‘self’ trained to come anywhere NEAR the basic level of competence of even the dumbest infantry private, let alone operator.

Just my $.02.

I’m trying to find out if Bob Denard was self trained, or had an army background.

If he was self trained then I would argue he was certainly of commando standard.

What it takes is knowledge and some amount of training in that knowledge.
Physical training is one thing but in order to survive or accomplish anything, you need to know how bombs&guns work and you need to know tactics and tricks and subterfuge.

Question is: can you get that knowledge solely from books and apply it in real life, without any instruction?

Anyone who has the will and motivation to train themselves to be a commando is not an average nobody. Teams and teachers are powerful motivational enhancers. Ask a commando type about the guys he trained with. Most’ll tell you that they had thoughts of giving up at some point. Getting past these points on your own, (or even in the more standard ways), is more than the average nobody can muster.
An extraordinary nobody maybe.

And the answer is no.

Reading does not equal practice.

So you preclude the ability to practice things you have read about?

The basic skills and certainly the physical strength can be aquired on one’s own. But the fieldcraft - how to put those skills to use against an opponent who’s going to have a few tricks up his sleeve himself - that takes practice against someone willing to act as enemy.

It’s a good bet that every military unit there ever was failed spectacularly the first time it tried to apply classroom skills in a halfway realistic exercise. To name a stupid example, it’s one thing to memorize that concealment is based on “background, lighting, movement, obstacles”, it’s quite another to train to always, always move according to those principles. And it’s very hard indeed to do so without someone to point out where you failed. Of course, carrying out a successful commendo mission is much, much more demanding than just moving inobtrusively.

Proper military units train against live opponents for a reason. Until you’ve been out in the mud trying to outwit someone who’s just as decided to win the battle as you are, you’re not going to accomplish much. And if something goes wrong, even the world’s meanest commando won’t accomplish squat against a couple of platoons of fresh-from-basic riflemen with radios and trucks.

Well, if you start practicing what you’ve read about you sorta leave the parameters of the question: “can you get that knowledge solely from books.”

Sorry, I meant to emphasize the instruction bit.

Would you dare to fool around with detonators based on the booklet “Become an Anarchist in 5 Easy Steps”?
Or fiddle with a Soviet anti-personell mine with only the russian instruction leaflet?

Just taking apart a rifle you’re not familiair with can be challenging if you’re not shown how first.
As Spiny pointed out you need someone to show you what to do and not to do.
If you have to find some things out by trial and error… well, there isn’t much room for error, is there?

Well, regarding the “average nobody” thing, I guess that’s sort of incompatable with the idea of extreme motivation.

Some people can never push themselves as hard as it can be required, even if something is very important to them. For the purposes of this discussion, I’ll assume the person we’re talking about has an extreme amount of will behind him.

I guess we also need to clarify what this ‘commando’ is going to do. If we’re talking about pitting them against some real special operators in a field exercise of some sort, then they definitely stand no chance.

But if we’re talking about, oh, I don’t know - taking out a gang of criminals you’re really pissed at perhaps ala Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse (and I do realize that character had military training), I think that’s entirely possible.

Certain fieldcraft can be learned pretty effectively on your own. You could just try to travel through woods at night silently every night for a few weeks or months, for example. By the end of that, by experience, I think you’d be pretty capable of moving reasonably well in that environment.

Weapons training is probably the easiest part to do alone. If you have land to work with and can set up various ranges for different applications, you could become adept in quite a few skills.

More complex things like using demolitions would be harder - but even the average commando isn’t always well versed in that - they typically take demolitions experts along with them, so I think you might be applying an unfair standard. Although I doubt it’s too hard to become familiar with a specific type of device, assuming you can gain access to anything.l

Now I certainly don’t think one can achieve the level of a good special operator this way, but to say that you can’t achieve the same level as even the dumbest grunt is elitist, I think. Military training isn’t magical - it doesn’t physically transform you. To say that the only people who can be a bad ass require that just strikes me as some sort of elitism.

I agree. Sports may be the metaphor we’re looking for, here: You can become really good at all the skills it takes to become a great soccer player on your own - kicking, dribbling, penalty kicks etc. - but you’ll never amount to much if you don’t practice against other players.

Also, the enemy doesn’t have to be “very special operators” - a military unit is more than just the skills of its men, it’s also a set of structures, procedures and tools - “more than the sum of its parts” is a cliche, but in this case, it’s pretty relevant.

You’ll become much better, that’s for sure. But without someone to point out that “Just to the left of that tree, you let yourself become skylined” (or, to put it in military terms, “YOU CLUELESS BROOM-WIELDING PARODY OF A TOY SOLDIER! EVEN MY GRANDMOTHER KNOWS NOT TO SKYLINE HERSELF LIKE THAT! NOW GIVE ME 20, RUN BACK TO THE INSERTION POINT AND START OVER, NOW NOW NOW!”), how will you know what worked ? Hunters, btw., have a lot of it down, but deer generally speaking don’t put out tripwires or wield thermal scanners.

I almost concur, except that I think you overestimate the complexities of demolition - blowing stuff up isn’t all that hard unless you’re very concerned about not harming the surrounding environment, and it IS something you can practice on your own, given privacy, time and ressources.

Mnyah. If you want to be a bad enough ass to tackle other people with military training, you ought to get some yourself. Soldiers are taught the lessons aquired though a lot of lost battles, but if you want to go it on your own, losing just one battle is not an option.

As you say, nothing magical about it. Then again, there’s nothing magical about practicing football against another team, still it’s not something you can afford to skip if you want to become a big league player.