1. Train against attacks to the head
The head is an obvious target. Not only can we be knocked unconscious through strikes to the head, our ability to hear, see, shout and even our balance can be damaged. We do have natural reflexes to protect the head which will be activated should our eyes receive a stimulus once it is too late to access and execute a trained protective action, but these reflexes are not always effective. The best way to become skilled at protecting the head is to have to defend against attacks to that target on a regular basis. It does not matter whether those attacks are intended to make contact or not, all that is required is the incentive to continuously protect our head from impact and to learn carry the arms in such a way that we can do so speedily with ease.
2. Train against HAOV
Pushes, shoves, grabs, wild haymakers, head butts, headlocks, shoulder barges, tackles, clinches, stomps… the use of habitual acts of violence in training can be controversial. From a self defence perspective they are essential training tools, for in a violent situation you are far more likely to be attacked using haov than any more precise form of attack, even if your attacker is themselves a skilled martial artist. The downside of training against haov is that it means that a proportion of the training time is spent delivering a skillset in which you do not want or need to become proficient at employing. How much time you spend on training against haov should be weighted according to your primary skill development aims.
3. Train at Close range
By close range I’m referring to tactile contact and working at a distance where you are generally within at most ¾ of the arm reach of your training partner. Most violent confrontations quickly close to this distance no matter how skilled a ‘long distance’ fighter one participant may be, and this infighting range is one at which it is important to be comfortable.
4. Make Contact (actually hit people and pads)
Contact in training is tremendously important. I’ve written about it here and here. Both types of contact are important. Experiencing contact in training so that real shoves or knocks don’t faze you or affect your will to continue is invaluable, and it doesn’t have to be knockdown or dangerous/damaging to do so under the supervision of a good teacher.
5. Use verbal abuse and distraction
Verbal abuse, whether by one person or a group, can freeze a person unused to personally experiencing it more effectively than the shock of contact. Exposure to bad language at a distance, or on the screen is not the same. There is a big difference between facing a silent focused training partner, enduring the kiai of a confident partner, and having one or more people swearing and shouting directly in your face.
6. Train against multiple opponents
Dealing with multiple opponents isn’t easy and it isn’t pretty. There are lots of different ways that this can be done: some that genuinely put the trainee under gradually increasing pressure, others that are frankly ridiculous either because they are always so intense that they offer no chance for progression or learning outcomes, or because they are so spaced apart that there is no added pressure or learning gained. There’s no guarantee that training against multiple opponents is going to enable you to fight more than one person (and you should try to avoid even fighting just one person), but this form of training will make you aware of the difficulty, give you indications as to things that definitely don’t work, and possibly provide a more appropriate focus for your one on one strategies.
I haven’t picked these six training paradigms at random. From the experience of observing many trained and untrained people from a range of backgrounds in hundreds of simulated aggressive and violent confrontations, these are the six factors that determine how easily a person is able to access their combative skill set. The more of these a person deals with in regular training the easier it will be to access their skill set, the fewer of these they work regularly or have experienced the harder it will be to access that skill set. This model helps explain why personality, upbringing, martial arts styles and training regimes all have an effect on how successfully people can physically defend themselves.
Not everyone is able to meet all six of these criteria in their regular training, but that doesn’t matter. I have seen people who meet only three criteria in their martial arts class (attacks to the head, contact and close range) do exceptionally well because in their work as LEO (Law Enforcement Officers) they have encountered verbal abuse, haov, and dealing with multiple opponents. The more you meet the easier it will be. If you identify a gap in your class, and if you are not in a position to fill it (or your instructor doesn’t want to) then it is usually easy to gain experience and have fun by cross training at a seminar, or inviting an instructor to teach at your club or workplace.
Have fun and train safely!
A few weeks ago I discussed the value and importance of training alone, but solo training is only one part of the bigger picture. There are very good reasons why you should always make the effort to train with other people.
Timing and reactions
Practicing a movement many times increases our ability to perform that movement, but only training with a partner can develop our ability to know when to apply it. Paired and group training teaches us to spot the little telegraphs or behavior patterns that indicate an attack is imminent. We can develop our striking power on our own, but to properly develop our evasive tactics and to learn ‘when’ to move and how to recognize the stimuli we need lots of paired training, and the more people we train with the better we become.
Impact work is an essential part of training any repertoire that involves striking, even if that striking is only a redundancy or distraction element for control or holding techniques. The bag, the makiwara, the speed ball and the wooden man are all excellent tools that can be used for power development in solo training, but they do not teach or train the ability to apply that power in a dynamic context. Training with a partner holding focus mitts, thai pads and kick shields is invaluable in teaching and training to gain the right distance and angle to apply power to a moving and reacting target.
Contact & resistance
It is one thing to hit another pad, it is something else to hit a person, or even to be hit by another person. I discuss both in earlier blog posts here and here. There is no substitute for this in training. It does not have to be heavy, it should not cause injuries, and it should be appropriate to the age, ability and health and fitness (both physical and mental) of the individuals concerned.
No plan survives contact with the enemy. Working against resistance is essential for learning and applying the nuances that make techniques, especially tactile techniques, work. Anyone can apply a technique against a static non resisting weaker person, but it takes practice (and the practice with lots of different people of different heights, strengths, limb size ratios and flexibility) to be able to do so with minimal risk. There is no substitute for paired practice.
Tactile sensitivity is an important attribute for effective grappling, controlling, holding or close quarter striking. It is an attribute that can only come from paired practice, and the more the better. To those unfamiliar with close quarter training this is not a matter of skin sensitivity, but a sensitivity of touch or pressure that can be felt through clothing.
We are all prey to our own judgement. Training with other people presents us with two important opportunities. Firstly it gives us the opportunity to be observed and critiqued by others and it doesn’t matter whether that feedback is right or wrong because what it does is force us to examine what we do from an alternative perspective. Secondly it also gives us the opportunity to be asked questions by other people that answering may lead us to look at the way we approach things from previously unconsidered angles. Both of these are invaluable tools to help shape our training.
So the next time you get home later than normal, feel more drained than than usual, and say to yourself that you’ll ‘skip this one’ or ‘make it up with a little bit of solo work’ – if you aren’t actually ill, pick up the kit bag and head out to that class. You’ll be a better person for it.
Environmental awareness is a crucial attribute in self protection.
The majority of self protection lies in the assessment, avoidance, deterrence, and de-escalation of aggression and situations where conflict is likely, but regrettably this is not always possible.
Training your physical skills against habitual acts of violence increases your understanding and recognition of their telegraphs, an attribute that can increase the likelihood of reacting in time to a physical attack. Scenario training can increase your comfort in dealing with verbal aggression and increase your ability to identify the behavioural precursors to a physical attack.
Unfortunately we can often miss these indicators due to our focus on trying to resolve the situation peacefully. Our brains can become overloaded by the tasks of watching the person in front of us, trying to hear what he/she is saying, trying to think about whether to talk or hit or run, wondering what our friends will do, or what our partner or children will do, working out what to say and watching other people etc… This means that despite our knowledge of the telegraphs – we often miss them.
In this video students and instructors from a range of different styles get caught off guard and hit by role playing aggressors. I hope the footage proves useful to you in your own training.