9 posts / 0 new
Last post
PASmith's picture
Escape drills

One thing I've been thinking about alot recently is the notion of "escape" in a self defence context and how it can be drilled in a class. It's something I struggle to put into physical practice even though I know (as Iain says) it's so much more than just telling people to simply "run away". I think there's a real gap in the market for a series of drills and ways of training this. Something with a structure and progression that people can integrate into their classes (much in the same way people are integrating practical kata bunkai).

Iain recently put a short description and photos of one such drill on facebook (a sort of smash and dash type drill) and that's prompted this thread.

It immediately but some substance onto the thoughts I'd been having and was a bit of an "aha" moment.

So rather than Iain show his approach (as I said I think there's room for a DVD of this kind of thing) how do other people tackle this type of thing? What sort of drills?

One drill I came up with was for people to start laying face down on the floor being held down by the pad holder (between the shoulder blades). They then get to their feet (against appropriate resistance), hit the pads 5 times with venom and sprint to a designated spot. A third (or forth or fifth!) person can be in place to try and stop them getting there (like a british bulldog type situation). So people are learning to fight back against a poor position, aggressive striking to counter and also observational skills as they try to escape by spotting who is in their way, dodging and evading movements, etc.

Anf's picture

I play games with my kids. Some wouldn't work in the dojo, as they require various obstacles that need to be vaulted etc to develop balance, confidence and agility. One drill that we did play that would work in the dojo, involves the kids starting off lying on their backs. I have a foam stick. Completely harmless but clearly representing a stick. On a given signal, I attack. They get points depending on completion of certain objectives. First one to their feet and in a fighting stance (formal or not, as long as they are ready to do something) gets points. 1 point deducted for every time I manage to hit them with the foam stick. 10 points if they effectively disarm me, out of the round if I manage to hit their head with the foam stick.

i haven't taught them much in the way of 'technical stand up' for two reasons. 1, I was never taught any specific technique for that, so I'm clearly in no position to teach it and 2. I think if you're in the dire position of being on the ground while someone is trying to hit you with a stick, if it's for real, you're probably going to struggle to remember anything beyond instinct.

So what do they get from this drill? They learn that they have to get out of the way of the stick, that they have to move very quickly, that they can move more quickly once back on their feet, that they can't just get up whenever without timing it right, and because a single contact between foam stick and head means they've lost the round, they very quickly figure out how to protect their head.

PASmith's picture

Been thinking about this some more and tried to identify what a tactical "escape" may entail. As opposed to just running away. Things we can think about to include when structuring drills.

Incapacitating the pursuer to inhibit their ability to pursue. Obvious examples here are creating mental confusion (KO, stun, disorientation), body shots or throat attacks that inhibit breathing, creating physical/mechanical damage to the legs (low kicks, stamps), create doubt and fear by reacting so decisively and aggressively you are no longer a desirable target (they don't want to chase you anymore because they don't want to catch you...the honey badger effect perhaps?!).

Idenitfying good avenues of escape while under stress. Where are the doors, exits, etc? Perhaps that's part of the code yellow scanning type awareness we should be doing anyway?

Use of, and perhaps negotiating over and around, intervening structures/people. I saw a video one time of someone thwarting a knife attack by running around a safety fence at the side of the road. Each time the attacker climbed over or went around it the defender went round the other side. Eventually they saw their opportunity and ran for it and they were far enough ahead the attacker gave up. This would or could be related in some way to parkour or free running? Being able to dodge, swerve and maybe even vault or climb walls/fences? Also an obvious avenue into maintaining cardio and anaerobic fitness?

Identifying areas of increased safety. Rather than just blindly running "away" actually looking for suitable areas to run towards. Areas that may have more people/law enforcment/bouncers that may help. Areas with more CCTV, people or passing traffic present that may put off the attacker as they don't want witnesses. Areas with more light or exposure.

Again...I struggle to see how we can formulate drills that address these sorts of issues so this is largely brain storming at the moment.

deltabluesman's picture

Iain put out an excellent video today that relates to this subject.  It's on the app and called "Six Vital Drills."  Really enjoyed the material there.  

My own training is probably deficient when it comes to legit escape skills.  I'll share only what I know.  

Drill One:  Survive the mount.

Fighter A ("the Escapist") puts in a mouthguard and lays on the floor.  Fighter B ("the Enemy") puts on 16 oz. boxing gloves (and a mouthguard) and takes the mount position.  This is a light contact drill . . . no need for hard strikes in this one, and the boxing gloves are just there as a precaution (and also to make it harder on Fighter B).  Start a three minute timer.  The Enemy begins raining down strikes.  His only job is to keep the fight on the ground and to deliver as many strikes (again, with light contact, just taps) as possible.  The Escapist has to (1) cover up and defend strikes, (2) improve position, and (3) escape. 

It is very common for the Escapist to have a hard time.  Maybe the top fighter is more skilled or maybe he's just much heavier.  If that happens, the "Enemy" has to lighten up and give less resistance.  Push the bottom fighter to the brink of exhaustion, then let him escape to guard, then let him sweep over to mount, and then fight like hell to keep him from escaping.  You want to create this feeling of pushing through adversity and then being successful.  Switch roles after the timer goes off.  Stop once both fighters are too tired to have remotely acceptable technique.  Prequisities:  both fighters should be experienced and capable of staying cool under pressure.  Fighters should know trap and roll mount escape and elbow escape.  Fighters should know scissor sweep and one other sweep from guard.  

Drill Two:  fight off the wall.

We've been doing this one fairly often lately.  Fighter A (the "Escapist") starts with his back to the wall.  (You want a padded wall in the dojo for this, and a lot of free mat space.)  He's about a foot from the wall, maybe a little less.  Fighter B (the "Enemy") is facing him, just outside of striking range.  Both have mouthguards and gloves (we use training gloves that are probably around 10 or 12 oz.).  Set a timer for two or three minutes.  The Enemy charges in with a barrage of punches.  His goal is to brawl his way into the clinch, push Fighter A against the wall, take Fighter A down, and deliver ground-and-pound until the end of the round.  The Escapist wants to get away.  One common strategy for the Escapist is to parry one or two punches, then slip the jap, take an angle, and strike his way out of the situation.

I honestly dread doing this drill because it is exhausting to fight off the wall.  And it really sucks to be exhausted and then have someone throw you to the ground.  But it is valuable because you end up in all kinds of unexpected positions.  Because the gloves are open-palm, you also see a lot of wrist grabbing (either on the wall or as someone tries to escape).  You get realistic, close-range takedown defense.  You will usually have to strike while moving (and usually while moving backwards).  You get a lot of scrambles off the takedown.  Plus, you see a lot of different strategies that work effectively.  I personally have learned that I am not very good at striking on the wall, so I almost always try to go for a quick takedown, scramble into the mount position (if I can), land three shots and then leap up and run away.     

Prerequisites:  I recommend reserving this drill for advanced martial artists who are comfortable fighting at all ranges.  Both competitors should be comfortable wrestling out on open mats before they try wrestling against the wall.  Important to have good mobility here as well because sometimes you can fall at odd angles and stress the knees or ankles.  Given the intensity of the drill, it's best to just keep light contact.  I might hit a little harder to the body (25% or so) if someone starts to ignore my strikes.  

Obviously, these are drills that originate in a sport context, but I think they can be adapted for self-protection.

Other considerations:  in today's world, it might be worth thinking about "after the escape."  So you've been threatened, you've preempted and run away, and now you're three blocks away from the criminal.  Do you reach into your pocket and try to call Uber?  Do you look for the closest taxi?  Do you call 911?  Do you keep running?  How far away is enough?  I'm not well-educated on self-protection, so I can't give definitive answers.  My gut instinct would be to get away from the criminal and try to blend with the crowd in a well-populated area.  My #1 goal would be to get in a taxi.  My #2 goal would be to call 911.  I don't think calling an Uber is a reliable escape route (because they usually take 5 to 10 minutes to arrive, and you have to constantly be looking at your phone to see where they are, and they sometimes get lost if there are tall buildings around).      

Other considerations:  for people who carry self-protection weapons, I think it's useful to explore the realities of accessing them in a fight.  In my limited experience, it is very difficult to safely access any weapon in the middle of a close-range fight.  For example, it is very dangerous (and very difficult) to try to draw a gun and shoot someone off of you during a groundfight.  So if someone intends to use a weapon for self-protection, I would recommend thorough training on how and when to access that weapon during unarmed combat.  Also, for someone who carries less lethal implements (like tasers or pepper spray), important to be aware of their limitations and to understand how they are used to create openings for escape, rather than as fight-enders on their own.

Those are just a few ideas.  I liked your suggestion about having someone start face down on the ground and fight their way back to the feet.  (And I also strongly agree on the effectiveness of body shots, throat shots, and stomps as ways to take away the enemy's will to fight.)  

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

I think this is a difficult topic to address in a forum post because of its wide scope. There are many elements to escape skills, with each component having numerous drills attached to it.

Escape is not well understood or effectively practised in martial circles because the default field of study is one-on-one fighting skills.

If we were to ask people to describe or breakdown the drills for fighting, then we’d accept it’s an impossible task and whatever we do share is sure to be incomplete in some way. I think it’s the same with escape; which is why I’ve held off on contributing to this thread because I’m unsure where to start, or for that matter finish.

When it comes to escape the aim is to effectively remove ourselves (and others) from the risk of harm in a way that is congruent with the law of the land. The skills associated with this aim need drilled in many ways including technical drills, tactical drills, live scenario drills, attribute development drills, etc. It’s a big topic. Some things that should be included are:

The effective use of dialogue / de-escalation

Pre-emption against individuals and groups

Escaping with others

Removing the ability for the enemy to effectively give chase

Removing the motivation for the enemy to give chase

Awareness of environment (dividing attention between enemy and soundings)

Awareness of third parties (both friend and foe)

The use of the surrounding environment

Breakaway skills


Witness perception

Summoning help

And on and on.

There are many, many drills associated with all of the above. Like all things, they need practised regularly so the best actions become habitual.

The approach is always to:

1) Clearly understand the problem

2) Identify the optimal solution

3) Identify what attributes and skills that optimal solution requires

4) Create drills to develop and test those attributes and skills

What most martial artists do is start with their existing skill set and then try to reinvent the problem in their own image i.e. “I’m a kickboxer with kickboxing skills, so I will approach violent crime as if it were a kickboxing bout in ‘the street’ and I will – through ignorance, self-deception or laziness – ignore or ‘explain away’ the incongruities of what I present as criminal violence when contrasted with how it plays out in the real world.”

Escaping is one example of this. They practise “fighting for the win”, or simply state “run away” and consider the topic addressed.

I know this is me restating the problem and not describing specific drills, but that’s because there are so many drills it’s hard to know where to begin … and I fear describing one or two could wrongly be seen as the totality; or one or two will be critiqued for their incompleteness and I find myself having to write an encyclopaedia of escape in order to adequately address the topic.

App users will have seen the videos on escaping groups, weapons, defending others, etc.

For non-app users here is one example of one escape drill: https://youtu.be/RWYOwdbe4CI

It’s currently a private video (went out in the newsletter last week), but it will be shared publicly in a few weeks. I’d appreciate people not sharing it in the meantime.

It is not the totality of escape and there are many other drills and skills needed. However, I hope it shows what one such drill could look like and how it can be built up.

I’m not sure if this has been helpful or not, but I hope it has.

All the best,


PASmith's picture

Absolutely helped Iain. Thanks. Much to think about there. As I said I think ideas and drills that tackle the "escape" part of self defence training are a bit of a missing piece.

Ideas of awareness, the fence, pre-emption, context specific skills, the law and the legality of certain actions, etc seem much more imbedded and established in mainstream self defence training and "culture" compared to 10/20 years ago (as well they should).

"Escape" on the other hand seems less developed, less covered and in need of "catching up" with the other facets. Seeing just one drill (your facebook post) really put some meat on the bones of what training "escape" can be like.

deltabluesman's picture

Very helpful, thanks for sharing that information.  I agree with PASmith that it's hard to find all of these elements addressed by a self-protection school.  I imagine that a lot of people are in a situation similar to mine:  they really like their school/s + and instructors, but they don't have control over the curriculum and so aren't in a position to make sure these elements get addressed thoroughly and effectively on a routine basis.  I just try to be honest with myself about the gaps that exist in my own skill set and make efforts to reduce them through seminars and other lessons.  The majority of my instructors are also clear about the fact that they primarily teach combat sports, and they don't market themselves as offering self-protection (though there are a few exceptions).  Having said that, and acknowledging that it's a broad topic, I do think the two drills I shared above could find a home in a comprehensive self-protection curriculum. 

Perhaps more schools will start to move in this direction as the martial arts culture shifts and evolves.  It would be great in the future if a person could walk into a typical martial arts school and find this kind of fully-fleshed out approach to self-protection on offer (in addition to the purely physical skills).

Heath White
Heath White's picture

Just thinking about this, especially in light of Iain's post ... maybe teaching/training "escape" is too broad of a category to be useful, like teaching/training "combat."  Maybe we don't actually have a topic until it's "escape from ____" where the blank is filled in with the mount, a group, a guy with a knife, against a wall, a threatening but so-far-not-violent drunk, etc.  These are all quite different situations and call for different skills and strategies.

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Hi All,

PASmith wrote:
Ideas of awareness, the fence, pre-emption, context specific skills, the law and the legality of certain actions, etc seem much more imbedded and established in mainstream self defence training and "culture" compared to 10/20 years ago (as well they should).

I’d agree with the observation. There is still plenty of work to be done though because I would have to say that, on the whole, martial artists still teach consensual fighting skills to be one and the same as self-protection. However, information on the true nature of self-protection is now greater in volume and ease of access than ever before (so there’s no excuse for martial artists not to know it).

PASmith wrote:
"Escape" on the other hand seems less developed, less covered and in need of "catching up" with the other facets.

I’d not considered that, but I think you may be right. Here in the UK, it was Peter Consterdine and Geoff Thompson – through the vehicle of the British Combat Association – who undoubtedly did more than anyone one else to get martial artists to reappraise the nature of self-protection.

In the early days of the BCA (early 1990s to early 2000s), escape was definitely a topic covered regularly and in depth at many of the BCA Instructors’ courses. It’s certainly been a topic that’s been widely taught and practised in the circles in which I move. However, that aspect may not have infiltrated the wider martial zeitgeist to the same degree as other aspects. Maybe because it’s perceived as the “least martial”? Maybe because those who do practise it have not evangelised it enough? Either way, if is starting to catch on more, that can only be a good thing.

PASmith wrote:
"Seeing just one drill (your facebook post) really put some meat on the bones of what training "escape" can be like.

I am pleased that helped and I’ll make an effort to share more examples.

deltabluesman wrote:
It would be great in the future if a person could walk into a typical martial arts school and find this kind of fully-fleshed out approach to self-protection on offer (in addition to the purely physical skills).

That is definitely where we need to be headed. As it stands, we have a lot of “false advertising” with people purporting to teach self-protection when they are in fact teaching “martial arts / combat sports in jeans”.

The great thing is that, having addressed self-protection legitimately, we are then liberated to enjoy all the other aspects of martial arts without needing to falsely “validate” those other aspects with a harmful and erroneous link back to self-protection (as we see done so often).

We can enjoy combat sports, martial culture, artistic expression, anachronistic methods and weaponry, health, athleticism, etc on their own terms. To me, self-protection is the entry level aspect of a healthy and holistic approach to martial arts in their widest sense. Getting self-protection right therefore enhances all elements of the martial arts.

Heath White wrote:
Maybe we don't actually have a topic until it's "escape from ____" where the blank is filled … These are all quite different situations and call for different skills and strategies.

It’s true that we need to replicate a given scenario in order to practise escaping from it. It’s also true that the topic will remain forever ethereal without specific examples. Escaping during dialogue also requires different skills than escaping from a headlock. However, there are definitely universal concepts and strategies that apply across the piece.

Techniques are our physical motions. Tactics are the actions taken in order to achieve a specific immediate objective. Strategy is the overarching “game plan” that determines the ultimate destination and how to get there.  

The strategy therefore determines the tactics. Or, to put it another way, the strategy is the map showing the destination and the routes to it, and the tactics are the steps taken in order to effectively reach that destination.

The strategy is therefore to effectively remove ourselves and loved ones from danger in a way that minimises the risk to us physically and legally. That’s universal. We therefore need to practice applying that strategy in various scenarios so that we learn to employ the right tactics in order to achieve the strategic goal.

The goal determines the strategy. The strategy determines the tactics. The tactics determine the choice of technique.

In practising escape, we need to drill the specific techniques and tactics; whilst never forgetting that they are determined by an overarching universal strategy.

All the best,