Martial arts are quite literally skills of war. Since the beginning of codified fighting systems, martial arts have been developed for both unarmed and armed combat. Their sole purpose for existing is to train the individual to survive. Now in our civilized society we have decided to focus on the side effects of martial arts training, such as character and personal development, etc. But in truth, that's like eating a side salad without the steak and potatoes. No one doubts the tremendous and countless benefits that the martial arts has on your life, but the essence cannot be lost... And that essence is to give you the tools to protect yourself and the ones you love.
Of course, this has opened the door for MMA to steal the spotlight claiming to be the most realistic form of training around. While we can certainly debate that for a host of reasons, like the fact that fighting a consensual one-on-one unarmed encounter on a padded floor with ample space couldn't be farther from the reality of the majority of violent attacks, the foundation of the argument comes down to one simple truth: individuals who train to fight often fight more in training. They consistently test their training against opponents who are actively resisting. But why can't we do that as well?
First and foremost, you must have a base. Whether this base is striking, joint manipulation, throws and takedowns, or ground fighting, you must have a repertoire of techniques to work from. These must be learned initially under idealized conditions in order to develop the sensitivity and muscle memory to perform them unconsciously. It is important that at this stage, techniques are learned and practiced as "perfectly" as possible, because under duress your skills will deteriorate. In the police academy, officers are taught that if they shoot 100% at the range, they'll only shoot 50% on the streets. Therefore, how can we afford to be anything less than 100% in the dojo? Now, this is often done in choreographed scenarios or within the confines of predetermined movements. Unfortunately this is where the majority of traditional training ends. For us, it is only the beginning.
Once you ingrain the shape of the technique, you must learn to apply it against increasing levels of resistance. Of course, it is much easier to resist and neutralize a technique you know is about to happen (do not underestimate the role that spontaneity plays in the overall effectiveness of a technique) so a certain level of "give" does need to take place on the part of the attacker, but they should be actively increasing how much force they are attacking with so that the person applying the technique has to work for it. Eventually, this can be worked up to both people actively working against each other to accomplish a specific goal (submit the other, for example).
One method we use is to face two partners against each other. They have a specific technique that they both know and the objective is to apply that technique on the other. Then, each partner is given a short list of additional techniques they can use unbeknownst to the opponent. We practice this drill often with standing grappling and clinch fighting, but I am sure it can be modified for all styles.
Now, it doesn't matter how many techniques you know or even if you can apply them consistently on a training partner in the dojo, even if you are both working at full resistance. There is another component in surviving violent attacks, and like everything else it's one that must be trained. Under duress, the body's natural biological responses begin to affect you. Some common symptoms of this heightened state include tunnel vision, inability to process complex thoughts, and an adrenaline dump which increases your heart rate.
Perfect example: have you ever gotten an emergency phone call that a loved one is being rushed to the hospital? You are in a hurry, you are upset and full of anxiety. You go to get your car keys and you fumble around with them trying to put your key in the door to unlock it. Because of your psychological state at the moment, your physiological responses are affected. Even the simplest of fine complex motor skills are extremely difficult to pull off.
Complex motor skills are multi-muscle involved movements as found in all martial arts. Interestingly enough, at about 115 to about 145 beats per minute is the optimal survival and combat performance level for complex motor skills. At 145 beats per minute, your complex motor skills immediately begin to deteriorate. At 175 beats per minute the only movement ability you have left is gross-motor skills.
Unless you have specific drills designed to simulate the adrenal response in order to condition yourself to functioning in such a heightened state, whatever techniques you know will fail you. Contrary to popular belief, there are actually five recognized responses to a perceived threat. They are not mutually exclusive, and all must be addressed in training as they all play a role in the paradigm of threat management.
- Freeze - Not responding at all
- Fight - Fighting against the threat
- Flight - Fleeing the threat
- Posture - Display of aggression to diffuse the threat
- Submit - Cooperating with the threat
In order to induce this heightened state, there are several methods. The simplest method is to do an intense cardio workout prior to practicing your techniques as described above. It doesn't matter if you're repeating choreographed drills or working against resistance at that point, you should be so fatigued that you struggle to complete the technique anyway. Repeat this method until you no longer struggle, and then increase the amount of cardio.
Other training methods I use in my school include:
- Bully Ring - Defender in the center with the rest of the group circling around them. They then attack in random order. To reinforce the lessons taught in the dojo, the defender is given a limited number of acceptable responses regardless of how they are attacked. Anyone can devolve into sparring or wrestling, and while those are invaluable training aspects, they are very different from practicing self defense.
- This can also be done blind-folded, but I recommend at this point the attackers focus on grabs, chokes and restraints only that the defender must free themselves from.
- Throwing Lines - In rapid succession, the defender is faced with a line of assailants they must dispose of. Again, they are given a limited number of acceptable responses and there are penalties for hesitation.
- Scenario Training - This involves some role play between the attacker and defender, including conversation and other props to simulate an environment or situation where random violence can occur.
For static defenses, once the practitioner is comfortable we often introduce a live, unsharpened blade. We then proceed to practice the same techniques at 50-75% speed. This is done to de-sensitize the student to seeing a steel object coming at them. For this, I only use my most trusted and controlled students (or myself) as the attacker and we take other safety precautions as well. But even with as much control over the situation as possible, there is still an air of "oh shit" in the room necessary to simulate that heightened response. For dynamic defenses, we always use rubber or other training knives.
Our firearm defense training methods are pretty similar. We start off working against static attacks, and then ramp up the intensity with scenario training as described above. It's one thing to be asked to demonstrate gun defense #72, but it's another when I'm shoving the muzzle in your mouth demanding your money or kids. Once the student is comfortable, we then move up to airsoft guns while wearing safety goggles. If you do not clear the line for fire, you know it. Understand, of course, the context for this is not active shooter training but rather situations where the firearm is being used as an intimidation tool.
DISCLAIMER: DO NOT BRING LIVE WEAPONS ONTO THE TRAINING FLOOR WITHOUT BEING PROPERLY TRAINED IN THEIR USE BY A SPECIFICALLY CERTIFIED INSTRUCTOR. WE ARE NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR ANY INJURIES OR DEATHS THAT OCCUR DURING YOUR MARTIAL ARTS TRAINING IN RESPONSE TO THIS OR ANY OTHER ARTICLE.
If you notice, nothing I have mentioned above is style-specific. That is because these drills can be adapted and implemented regardless of what system of martial arts you practice. While in my opinion there are certain techniques that work better for certain attacks, it is more important you know how to apply what you're doing under duress. For the last millennium, martial arts have always been synonymous with arts of war. Those traditional styles that are often mocked by the RBSD and MMA communities only exist today because someone trusted their life to them and they survived. In order for classical martial arts to return to their place of prominence, they must be practiced less like museum artifacts and more like the sophisticated fighting systems they were intended to be.
For more information about my school, Trio Martial Arts Academy, please click here.