ISR Matrix: The Definitive Review and Interview

ISR Matrix is a self defence system which teaches a linear response that aims to overcome an attack in a progressive manner. The defenders response can be scaled depending on the nature of the attack. In particular, the response is scaled according to the legal use of force continuum. For a more aggressive attack, more force can be used where necessary. Where little real threat is present, control is used to neutralize the attack.

This organic ability within the system is one of its strengths. Although ISR Matrix is targeted primarily at the Law Enforcement (LE) and Armed Forces (AF) communities, they also cater to civilians. It is well understood that LE and AF personnel need to adhere to strict use of force guidelines however, most self defence systems for civilians ignore such a reality. Everyone needs to be concerned with use of force. A person defending against an attack can legally use too much force purely out of a reaction or overly aggressive training and end up in court and then prison. CCTV is everywhere. This is very important.

Review and Interview

This post is an independent review of ISR Matrix so that subscribers and readers of Low Tech Combat can better understand the system and make an informed decision as to whether they should pursue opportunities to participate in one of the ISR Matrix courses. Included is an exclusive interview with Dave Pauli who is the Australian representative for ISR Matrix. This in itself is excellent reading! Some of the key strengths and weaknesses of the ISR Matrix system will be explored as well.

UPDATE: Since first writing this review, the writer of this post (Adam @ Low Tech Combat), has participated in an ISR Matrix course, so this post has been updated where necessary. Not much has needed to be changed actually. Indeed many of the comments at the bottom of this post (which are numerous and positive) make more sense since having now done a course. The quick version, it is highly recommended!!

Note: This is a long post, even for Low Tech Combat standards.

ISR Matrix was founded by Luis Gutierrez in 1996. It is based on the principles of Aliveness. Luis Gutierrez is also the vice President of Matt Thornton's Straight Blast Gym. Therefore, we can see straight away that the system is very much focused on closing and clinching. This is how the system pressure tests its students. This is how the founders and instructors are able to test their system and prove that it works. Can they apply their system against a 100% resisting opponent in realistic scenarios? With much of the focus being on the LE and AF community, the focus is teaching that which works in real dynamic environments, within the use of force continuum.

ISR Matrix

ISR is an acronym which provides an overview of the entire system.

"I" stands for Intercept.

"S" stands for Stabilize.

"R" stands for Resolve.

The 9 Core Components

Within ISR Matrix there are 9 core components.

Within the "Intercept" phase there are the "Helmet", "Dive" and "Arm Drag".

Within the "Stabilize" phase there are the "Wrist Weave", "Harness" and "Underhook and Pike".

Within the "Resolve" phase there are the "S Position", "Back Rides" and "Arm Wrap and Knee Ride".

Overall, the system teaches a 3 stage response whereby the defender intercepts by either outflanking or closing aggressively with the attacker and achieves a controlling position to momentarily stabilize and neutralize the attack. When physically engaging, this is the first response to all attacks. From that moment and position of stability, the situation and resolution options are quickly assessed and the defender choses how to resolve the situation with due regard to the nature of the attack, the likelihood of it continuing and the legal considerations of the use of force continuum. The defender may chose to disengage, restrain or indeed apply striking techniques. This the beauty of the system in a day and age of legal prosecutions and a widespread network of CCTV cameras spreading through society.

Within the Use of Force Continuum

In a self defence setting, a simple locking or restraining hold may be all that is required to stop the threat. Remember that most assaults occur between people who know each other. You do not want to knockout uncle Bob just because he has been going through a rough patch and has had a few too many drinks at a family bbq. 

For an attacker who is still being aggressive and is still trying to attack the defender, further techniques can be used to stop the attack from a controlling position where the attacks are mitigated. Where there may be more than one attacker, a more destructive technique could be used. The person being held could be positioned between the defender and the other attackers or forcefully directed into them. Striking, dynamic takedowns and forcefully directing attackers into obstacles is always an option. At any time, the defender can disengage if required. 

The point is, once in this controlling position, an appropriate technique can be deployed depending on the level of threat. From these stabilising positions, the defender can think. This is very important. Thinking under pressure will enable smarter decisions to be made rather than just reacting through an entire encounter. It is known that in a real encounter, under pressure and stress, thinking rarely happens. This is normal. These stabilising positions facilitate and enable the defender to think. The advantages of this should not be overlooked. ISR Matrix has obvious advantages to any practitioner.

Aliveness is Central

One other aspect of ISR Matrix which is also key to its success and growing popularity is its ability to train its students in the system gradually and progressively. At first, the system can be taught slowly until it is understood and then it can gradually be stepped up in intensity by having the "attacker" resist the moves more and more until they are resisting 100%. This is important. 

Indeed, as an opponent resists, this leads to follow up transitions. The resisting opponent determines what technique the ISR Matrix defender will employ. They are not trying to force their techniques on the aggressor. This is one of the aspects of the training that impressed the writer of this review. The defender can easily transition from one hold to another, based purely on how the aggressor tries to resist from a stabilising hold. This happens to a good standard in a very short period of training time on an ISR Matrix course.

Like has been said many times here at Low Tech Combat, any system that aims to be teaching self defence as one its training benefits (be that self defence courses or martial arts), needs to be utilizing Alive training drills, so that students can apply their techniques and tactics under pressure.

Sensory Depravation and Overload

Once proficiency has been gained in utilizing the 9 Core Components against resisting opponents in various scenarios, there may be further additions to the training, venue permitting. Music is turned up loud. This is to overwhelm the sense of hearing. The lights are turned off. This is to limit the use of sight, humans most powerful sense. Lights are flashed on and off from a torch and shined over the place and into the defenders eyes. All of this aims to take the student out of their comfort zones and raise the heart rate and apprehension.

In such a state, no fine motor skills will work. Such lengths are gone to because in real situations, the conditions may not be ideal as well. ISR Matrix is designed to work regardless of environmental conditions and stressors. Drills such as those briefly described above greatly enhance the participants confidence in the event of experiencing similar stressors in the future.

Interview with the ISR Matrix Australia Head Representative

Low Tech Combat has been in touch with Dave Pauli, who is the head ISR Matrix representative in Australia. I have asked Dave to answer some questions about ISR Matrix for the subscribers and readers of Low Tech Combat. Dave has surprised me very much with some very comprehensive answers which make very interesting and informative reading. I got a lot out of it. I am sure you will get a lot out of this interview as well.

Let’s get into it.

What do you feel are the 3 best aspects of the ISR Matrix system?

Dave ISR Matrix:

The core ISR techniques enable the participants to train with high levels of intensity for extended classes with practically zero risk of injury. High levels of intensity in training are essential for the participant to have confidence in themselves and the system and to burn the system to memory. Systems that rely on bone breaking, joint manipulations and so on simply cannot be tested under pressure in training.

All ISR techniques are truly multi-purpose and interchangeable, offering a lot of bang for your buck across a wide range of situations. Less is more… fewer techniques means quicker reaction times and more training time available to build expertise in each of those skills. This aspect, along with the emphasis throughout the ISR on structure based defence, dominant positioning, environmental control/situational awareness and ready transitions between techniques and use of force options ensures street applicability.

The training method and the people behind it cannot be overlooked. The ISR Board of Directors is comprised of some of the finest sworn law enforcement and military use of force training professionals worldwide. The proven coaching methods and techniques have been refined in their own successful and progressive MMA gyms and within their special operations teams. We have one instructor that served in a military special operations unit followed by over 30 years on a busy full-time SWAT team, all the while training and competing in functional combat sports. Most have over 20 years experience at the sharp end.

The ISR approach has been validated by the ISR Board of Directors, both in competition against trained resistors and in the streets, jails and night clubs from Iraq and Afghanistan to the United States, Canada and Australia where the bad guy is not bound by rules. The ISR material has been tested under extreme levels of resistance during our internal R&D and the team routinely beat up on each other to validate the truth in combat. I have not seen this level of commitment nor this level of operational and training expertise evident in other systems that I have trained under.

What are the 2 biggest shortcomings of the ISR Matrix system?

Dave ISR Matrix:

Currently the single largest shortcoming of the ISR is that demand is close to outstripping supply. Our ISR Matrix LE Instructor Trainers remain full-time Law Enforcement Officers and run MMA gyms part time. ISR Matrix is in demand worldwide and although we regularly conduct courses for various agencies, we simply don’t always have the instructional staff on hand to readily deal with every short notice course request that comes our way. That said we are not about to compromise on the training standards required of ISR Matrix Field Instructors and Instructor Trainers.

Further to the above, we simply don’t have the time, the staff and in many cases the interest to create a full-time marketing division to raise awareness of the ISR and the extent of our training programs. We are well known in LE/MIL training circles amongst the better units as that’s our core business. We aren’t as well known in civilian circles as some of the better known systems out there that are run by retired Officers or civilians. ISR was established in 1996 and only advertised to civilians in the past couple of years. ISR Matrix has 3 different streams and numerous levels and modules available within those streams.

ISR is best known for the subject control material, however there are further training modules available that integrate with our core material such as ground survival and escape, attached and unattached striking, vehicle based combatives and clinch with cloth, all of which are exceptional and battle tested programs in their own right. All too often, potential students and sometimes even those that have trained with us for one course, have an incomplete view of the depth of the ISR system.

What areas of ISR Matrix are likely to evolve in the future?

Dave ISR Matrix:

Although we continually pressure test our material, the actual techniques themselves will likely not evolve a great deal. They have stood the test of time over hundreds of years in their respective combat sports and thousands of encounters over 15 years of our own internal R&D. That said in the unlikely event that we find something more functional we will pressure test and adopt it if it meets our needs and enhances the system.

Our training methodology is undergoing continuous subtle refinements as we closely monitor developments in adult education, sports psychology, performance under stress and use of force training research. We are often developing new drills to teach or reinforce our proven tactics in a more efficient manner.  We recognize the limitations placed on training budgets and training hours and seek to develop the finest possible exponents within the constraints of Departmental realities in training.

We are continually getting operational feedback from our course graduates, workplace liasions, Field Instructors and Instructor Trainers that are actively involved in high threat law enforcement and armed forces operations worldwide. As a specialist training provider without a large instructional cadre and without restrictive hardcopy “doctrine” we are well placed to quickly respond to emerging threats and new developments and nowhere is this more evident than our ISR Matrix AF stream where there is always an abundance of new variations and drills to be dissected at each of our regular Instructors summits.

We have been reluctant to release manuals and instructional DVD’s in the past given concerns over quality control and the potential for people to take this intellectual property and teach it as their own without ever having attended a course or properly understanding the material. However as the ISR grows in popularity and demand from our affiliates thirst for knowledge increases, some of our clinch with cloth material will be offered in instructional DVD format and some of our core material will become available in manual format.

What is one of the best drills used in the ISR Matrix courses?

Dave ISR Matrix:

From the very first low pressure drill, through to the last high pressure drill, each drill has its place and is a stepping stone that contributes to the students success. That said it’s not possible to identify the best drill as they are all important for the students development. Feedback from students indicate that the better drills are those that prove challenging to their previous skillsets and highlight the importance of choosing function before form, especially in low light environments and confined spaces. ISR isn’t about aesthetics, it’s about what works in the real world.

That’s fair enough Dave, there may be no ‘best’ drill, but could you just explain one of the basic drills found in ISR matrix for the readers of Low Tech Combat?:

Dave ISR Matrix:

I could take the easy option and give an example of a simple drill, but that would be both short changing you and not giving an accurate picture of the ISR. A single drill in isolation would appear to be "just another tool for your toolbox" or just another party trick. What's more important to ISR than the drill itself is the desired learning outcome of our systematic progressive drilling. A key strength of the ISR is the ability to control, assess and reassess while transitioning to other core techniques within the matrix. We don't train to get stuck in a rut by over training a certain pattern with a compliant partner.

Although there is a small selection of techniques in the ISR, there is an infinite number of drills or sequences available. Each drill I teach is an evolution of the previous drill  and a step to the next drill. We introduce new drills every few minutes throughout the course by inserting another variable, another movement, another tactical consideration and/or another element of subject resistance and 99% of our drilling involves degrees of resistance (aliveness).

My aim through drilling and stimulus response training is to have students reach a stage where their initial physical control response to a hostile act occurs without conscious thought, leaving the students mind free to consider the situation, the environment, their options and consequences for selecting a course towards resolution - i.e. restraint, disengage, induce trauma or employ a weapon or other tactical option.  Think of it as instilling tactical problem solving ability on the fly.

To answer your question,  an example of a basic drill that illustrates my point in layman's terms could be: the subject throws a punch (any punch), you cover, intercept and take up a modified clinch then push him away to disengage to safety. That's an example of a basic drill and it's a drill that won't work all the time, that's why I chose it to illustrate this example.

ISR students however would constantly train a series of minor environmental, situational and subject variations, drawing on tactics from the rest of the ISR where necessary to enable that tactic to apply with a wider range of situational and environmental considerations - i.e. rather than the student learning a single technique, they now have a functional and adaptable skill with the ability to apply it to multiple situations and problem solve mid fight.

Adam @ Low Tech Combat:

Fundamentally, cases of Assault and other attacks such as Muggings and Robbery are quite different to each other with different mind sets, approaches  etc. One is very Predatory in nature (muggings and robbery) and one is what we call Alpha Male in nature (Assaults).

What type of attack does ISR Matrix mostly concentrate on?

Dave ISR Matrix:

While an understanding of criminal methodology and profiling is a most useful pre-fight self defence skill, when a fight breaks out, the reason why a fight erupted is of secondary concern to actually dealing with the fight. ISR picks up where the other systems leave off in that a students first course especially, the training is almost all about the in-fight. We don't engage in drawn out  reality based style scenarios that may try to establish or deal with an attackers motives when we can instead be drilling and attaining proficiency in functional self defence skills. With that in mind, we train for probability not possibility.

Historically speaking, with a background in training private security, corrections and police, ISR students are at risk from a physical assault ambush during a field interview or resistance during restraint. That's primarily what we train towards. A committed attacker will most likely come at you with either punches, a tackle, a grab or push and ISR deals with that very well.

An attacker who resists the control and restraint process is another typical threat that is thoroughly addressed by ISR. Given that our tactics are functional and multi-purpose there's no reason why they can't be utilized in other less common self defence scenarios that become physical. For the hardcore RBSD scenario fan, many utilise the ISR Matrix tactics in conjunction with their existing pre-fight awareness and communication skills.

Will someone be proficient at dealing with most self defence situations after doing one ISR Matrix course? Please expand.

Dave ISR Matrix:

ISR deals with probability, not possibility. If you are seeking an intensive course that offers tangible benefits and measurable success in dealing with common assaults then you have come to the right place. ISR training instills immediate instinctive reactions to these common attacks and students are physically performing well after 3 days, far better than an equal amount of time spent training in less functional systems or with a less functional training method. We will perform around 1000 repetitions of each technique in a course under progressive alive resistance through many different drills and thousands of technique transitions.

After 3 days hard training, students with no previous martial arts background are able to consistently deal with larger, stronger, fitter and better trained attackers. The many testimonials on our website speak volumes of the speed at which our students develop functional skills. That said, more is always better and a students performance and understanding improve dramatically on subsequent courses – another reason why we don’t award instructor status after just one course.

Can you provide some real world examples of some people who have done an ISR Matrix course and have applied what they learnt in real situations?

Dave ISR Matrix:

There are many. Some that immediately come to mind –

  • A bouncer that successfully applied a torso control technique on an aggressive patron only hours after his first day of ISR training.
  • Numerous watch house officers who have earned reputations as the go to guy to restrain hostile prisoners because they have demonstrated functional subject control skills.
  • A Crowd Controller who was jumped by six offenders in a hotel and was able to defend himself until backup arrived without suffering injury or escalating to higher levels of force.
  • A Police Officer that witnessed a brief demonstration of just one ISR technique and used that technique successfully on numerous occasions despite never having practiced it themselves.
  • A friend of a student who avoided an armed robbery or assault with a weapon in Indonesia because one of our students had talked with him about some of the pre-threat cues that were integrated into our ISR drilling.

If you had to give away one secret about self defence, what would it be?

Dave ISR Matrix:

Nobody ever won a fight, there’s always consequences and rarely is anyone deemed a hero. The best you can hope for and indeed train for is to go home in one piece, surviving the fight, the trial by media and the courts with your integrity, bank balance, employment and relationships still intact. Training appropriately to achieve this outcome is vital.

What is one thing from the ISR Matrix system that readers of Low Tech Combat can take away right now to enhance their self defence skills?

Dave ISR Matrix:

Adopt an instinctive non-diagnostic, ambidextrous response that stops you from getting knocked out. All else fails if you are unconscious. Surviving the physical assault ambush, immediately gathering your senses and countering appropriately are essential to self defence. Question, test and filter your current techniques via alive resistance and only retain that which is functional - better still, save yourself the decades of research and development and come an learn it direct from us to get it right the first time!

Dave, thanks very much for your comprehensive answers. Its been thoroughly enjoyable.

Dave ISR Matrix:

Thanks for the interview Adam, it’s been a pleasure.


Great stuff. I am sure will all agree. Now we will have a look at what can be perceived as being the strengths and weaknesses of the ISR Matrix system.


  • Legal considerations covered by operating within the use of force continuum.
  • Alive training allows for pressure testing and quick learning times.
  • Gross motor techniques work under pressure.
  • Realistic physiological responses are stimulated.
  • Technique selection and progressive training methodology ensures safe training despite the high level of intensity.
  • Emphasis on training for position later lends itself to striking and combatives from a position of safety.
  • Once foundation skills are established, there are further modules available to address ground and striking applications that integrate with the foundation skills


  • Lack of training at the pre-fight stage.
  • Use of strikes are limited in the earlier stages of ISR Matrix training modules.
  • Closing can be unnecessary/dangerous in civilian circumstances.
  • Closing can be a bad choice if an attacker turns out to be a trained grappler.


Let's address the weaknesses first.

Lack of training at the pre-fight stage -

ISR Matrix is unashamedly interested solely in the actual combative phase of any conflict. It lets other systems deal with, and teach, the pre-fight aspects such as recognizing the nature of the approach and pre-attack signs and indicators. This allows the system to focus purely on drilling and attaining proficiency in the physical responses of any type of physical encounter. If you are interested in learning about and understanding the pre-fight stage of conflict, ISR Matrix courses are not for you. If you want to quickly achieve a good level of physical skills, this is the course for you.

Use of strikes are limited in the earlier stages of ISR Matrix training modules -

From such a base where control is first sought (as in ISR Matrix training modules), strikes can easily be delivered from a position of control. In particular, elbows and knees. This is why in earlier modules, the focus is on first achieving that control or position. One can argue that this weakness is actually a strength in that attempting to apply strikes from a poor position or even trading blows is a poor tactic. The ISR trainers are generally Combat Sport coaches so in later modules, striking is covered well and effectively. Once a base in achieving a good position has been attained, strikes are then taught in later modules. For people who like striking, they just need to wait and learn the fundamentals of control first. And then they can unleash their awesome strikes hehe.

Closing can be unnecessary/dangerous in civilian circumstances -

The topic of closing vs not is a larger topic than there is room for here. Some like to close, some like to stay away from an attacker. Some like to control the attacker, others like to stay away from their weapons. The approach used by ISR Matrix in their civilian modules is always to escape where possible. 

It is the belief of both ISR Matrix and Low Tech Combat that closing is actually the better option as that is the best place to control the encounter from. Less force can actually be used. Strikes are not necessary, but possible. Once control has been achieved in close, it is easy to disengage if necessary. Closing does not have to mean going nuts and going for the knock out elbow or pulling out an eye. Attempting to evade and slip and dodge an incoming attack from a distance can be seen to be a high risk approach as eventually, one of the attacking techniques will probably hit their mark.

Closing can be a bad choice if an attacker turns out to be a trained grappler -

The argument of closing against a grappler can be said also of trading blows with a Muay Thai expert or boxer. There are no final solutions. If you do close and the attacker is a trained grappler, then it really is not your day. Such a scenario is very unlikely. The opposite can be said to be true. Much more people have a basic understanding of striking and that is the most likely basic skill set (or simply behavior), of an attacker. Choosing to close is most likely to move the conflict into your strength area (up close) which mitigates the attackers most likely strength (strikes). There are no final solutions.

Less people in society are trained at grappling range than striking range. This gives a little advantage to anyone who closes rather than tries to 'box' an aggressor. Closing to a position of advantage (such as an aggressors back), is obviously a good thing, even against a grappler. As is often the case as well, grappling range often just happens regardless of either persons intent to close to that range.


Much of these weaknesses once they have been looked at, are not really weaknesses at all but can be seen as strengths in a solid reality based self defence approach.

With these weaknesses considered, along with the strengths, Low Tech Combat has no issue with recommending ISR Matrix as a Low Tech Combat approved training provider. Such training with a basis of Aliveness and Use of Force (Legal) concerns is absolutely vital in todays day and age for anyone interested in time effective self defence training. We can see a similarity between what ISR Matrix offers and what Low Tech Combat offered as a possibility some time ago as to what would make an excellent Reality Based Self Defence (RBSD) course.

Upcoming ISR Matrix Courses

Of note, there are numerous ISR Matrix courses coming up soon around the world. You can check out when one is coming to a place near you soon HERE.

What Do You Think?

What are your thoughts? Have you participated in an ISR Matrix course? What did you think? If not, do you intend to do one? Do you have any questions for Dave? If you have any, I will contact Dave and let him know and give him the option of replying here. Leave your thoughts below.