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dhogsette's picture
Seeking Advice on Pressure Testing Techniques

Hello all,

I teach a few beginners at my local YMCA, and I seek to train practical karate as best I can, given the resources at hand. From reading this site and listening to podcasts, I've learned some interesting things about the importance of pressure testing techniques. However, I have limited resources; namely, I don't have padded trainin "armor" for individuals to play the role of aggressors and to take aggressive beatings safely. My students only have basic sparring gear (no head gear), and we have kicking shields and target mitts. Any advice on how to engage in pressure testing our practical bunkai techniques safely? I am starting them on basic kata based sparring, and we will be doing some scenario training soon. Other than that, what else should I consider doing to engage in effective yet safe pressure testing of our techniques?

Arigato in advance!



JWT's picture

Hi David

Interesting question and a challenge that many face.

'Normal' sparring is a good way to test the ability to apply techniques, but is mainly useful for the competitive dynamic. It can't easily replicate the stresses posed by aggressive body language and verbal abuse, or the act/don't act/retreat/engage/de-escalte/preempt/buy-time/move-now decision making processes of actual conflict or the limitations on range or movement that that entails.

Armour can obviously play a key role in this type of training and it is something that I use, but it is not the only approach and nor should it stand in isolation. 

I think there are a number of things you can do safely in isolation witout recourse to (much) armour that will enable you to pressure test.

Verbal Abuse. Words can change things a great deal as I have written here. Try getting students to hit pads while under a stream of verbal abuse. One exercise I have had great success with is putting both 'aggressor' and 'target' in face masks (failing to see the face and dehumanising facilitates the aggressor's ability to abuse the target and makes the aggressor seem more threatening (less eye contact, less smiling) to the target) and having the aggressor approach the target shouting verbal abuse while holding a thai pad in front of him/her. The victim has to hit the pad.

Physical pressure. Elsewhere on this forum Graham Palmer shared a video illustrating the effect of sustaimed aerobic impact work on fine motor skills due to the elevated heart rate. While this does not fully replicate the effect of adrenaline, getting a student to perform defences to attacks immediately after such exercise comes close and may even result in an adrenaline dump due to the increased pressure caused by the high heart rate and fatigue. Alternatively you could combine Graham's drill with the verbal drill I mention above and then go into some paired close proximity attacks.

Failure cascade. Interlinking drills in training is a great way to improve student competence and confidence. I like to have students practice a sequence of drills independently, where the start point of each drill is the failure point of the preceding one. If the speed is upped later then there is a higher chance of failure in the initial drill which can lead students into a fresh one. This not only gives good feedback as to the training weighting and needs of each student, but also works each drill under greater pressure and can actually improve performance as the realisation that they can work through a failure gives students more confidence which improves drill execution in turn.

How you scale the ttacks will make a big difference to the type of pressure you can give your students. You could find some useful stuff on  this short related thread here. You might want to have a quick look at what I've written here about creating aggressors for scenario training. I also wrote a short 'how to' guide here for more 'full on' immersive scenario simulation training.  

Hope that helps!  

John Titchen


dhogsette's picture


This is fantastic! Great ideas, and thanks so much for the other links as well. This will help tremendously, especially as the students become more advanced. At the moment, it is rather easy to push them to the point of "failure," as they are beginners and sometimes just struggle with the movements of a single technique, let alone combinations of practical techniques. I really like the failure cascade idea and will experiment with it for sure. I'll need to be careful with the verbal abuse scenarios, as I'm teaching in a YMCA setting with some younger students (13 year olds). But, I can certainly scale it back a bit and do more loud shouting and bullying scenarios, as well as non-cursing verbal abuse and insults for the adults (yeah, not quite as realistic, but given the teaching context...).

Thanks again! Great information and ideas.